We have done long and short trips with our daughter at most ages/stages since she was 8 weeks old. We took her to Cozumel last week and as I was stressing out about the babysitting at our hotel, my coworker said to me, “I can’t believe you’re not more stressed about about traveling with her. That is all I would be worrying about.” And I kinda shrugged and was like…well, I pretty much know how it’s going to go. Which is and isn’t true, because every time we have traveled with our child we have traveled with a different child than the last time. But my parents are also extremely high maintenance people who moved to Germany with my sister when she was a baby and traveled all over the world with two small children and I refuse to admit that they were somehow more capable than I am. Plus, getting used to travel with my child is the only way I get to go anywhere. And so, we go.
A friend asked me recently about traveling with her daughter at nine months or at a year. They both present their own challenges. So I thought I would sort of round up how traveling went with different ages and what trips we did.
8 Weeks: I will never travel with an 8 week old again. This was, I think, the worst vacation I have been on. We went to Florida, we were all getting over the flu, we didn’t know ourselves as parents or our daughter well enough and had no routine. We packed too much and too little stuff, and she basically cried the entire time unless we managed to get her to sleep, which was a huge challenge. Plus, we forgot the sunshade for the stroller, she kept getting really hot, she was too little for most sunscreens, she couldn’t sit in a high chair, it was just a disaster. I would avoid a huge temperature shift for a baby this young, for a lot of reasons. We brought our stability ball for this trip, which felt ridiculous but also totally necessary, and it was totally necessary.
5 Months: This was mostly a good age to travel except I was overly stressed about napping. Look, your kid may not nap well on vacation and if they nap in the stroller or carrier, just lean into it for the trip and worry about their nap schedule when you get home. She decided she hated her carseat halfway through the first 2 hour drive and then screamed in it for the entire rest of the trip which included a 4 hour drive. This was the first trip where we splurged and bought her her own seat, since we were going to England on an overnight flight and wanted some hope of sleeping on the plane. It turned out to not be necessary, and she slept better when I was holding her and nursing her anyway. We spent a lot of time at people’s houses on this trip, but we didn’t want to haul a ton of toys for her. I think if we had been willing to spend a bit of money on new/appropriate toys, this trip would have gone better. At this age, she loved hanging out in her bouncer and her baby gym. We thought she would be willing to hang out in her carseat with some Lamaze toys clipped to it but she was not interested. I can’t remember if we owned our GoPod at this age, but we should have brought it because it would have been handy. I wish we had just brought something foldable like this because she was very close to sitting up and liked sitting up and looking around at that age. Plus, having a place where she could hang out and look around quietly would have been so nice at my grandmother-in-law’s houses. Jet lag wound up not being an issue at all on this trip because she had been having such a hard time sleeping anyway. We also brought the Merlin suit on this trip, since we were using it at this time. I would recommend maybe weaning off the Merlin suit before a big trip to England because washing those things in the UK and then hanging them to dry is a lengthy process. We also brought less clothing on this trip generally because we would have the ability to do laundry, but I wish we had brought more because we wound up with a lot of clothes being still slightly damp from drying in the airing cupboard in England in March. We did just bring footed sleepers on this trip and that wound up being great except that in all the pictures she’s wearing footed sleepers and she’s at an age where those are a bit goofy on her. But we didn’t have to bring socks, so it was still the right choice.
8 Months: We did a group house in the Poconos with some friends at 8 months and a family trip to Lancaster, then stayed at my cousin’s beach house at 9 months. This was a challenging age because she was crawling and so the houses needed to be babyproofed, but she wasn’t super mobile yet so could be relatively easily contained. The one house with a lot of breakables was pretty much a nightmare, particularly for the day I was there solo. This was a great age for our Summer Infant Pop and Play, which I highly recommend to anyone traveling with a mobile infant. (In Lancaster, I made my Dad go buy one from the local Babies R Us because my daughter kept trying to pull up on glass vases.) We were on a 2 nap schedule at 8 months, and she wouldn’t just stay asleep in the carseat, which made planning things a little hard, but often with group trips we would be up at 7 and she would nap at 9, and nobody else was really ready to get going before 10 or 11 and then we would do the second nap in the car or carrier, so it was manageable.
9 Months: At 9 months, she was fully cruising and close to walking. This was the most difficult age to travel with. Partly because we went to Seneca Falls to go wine tasting and hiking in gorges and going to wineries with a cruising/crawling baby who wants to pull all the wine bottles and displays down on herself is kind of the worst. She also was at an age where she needed to be really physically tired to nap but couldn’t safely run around a playground, so it was definitely a struggle. This is the age for which a trip to an indoor playspace or a kids museum is kind of perfect and a little bit necessary. She also went through a phase of hating high chairs, which made going out to dinner pretty challenging. She also refused to eat most food. I think we realized later she was getting a couple of teeth. We also realized eventually, after getting some good advice, that most children eat poorly on trips. We’ve leaned into this a bit and just pack a ton of extra pouches and assume she will eat mostly junk when we travel.
14 Months: At 14 months, we went to Florida again. This was when traveling actually started to get easier again – she was walking, she was signing so we knew when she wanted milk or food, she had consolidated to one nap, she could entertain herself with toys for a decent amount of time, and she was really interested in anything new. Our flight got delayed 5 hours, which was extremely challenging but we just let her run around the airport and followed her around. We were traveling with a lot of family, so there were tons of people around to help keep her active and happy. I actually weaned on this trip and it wound up being okay because we were spending so much time together that she didn’t lose her mind every time I walked into the room and ask to nurse. This was the first trip where she was taking cow’s milk and it was partly very convenient because I didn’t have to pump at all, but we also routinely would leave our house without bottles because we had never needed to be that organized/prepared before. I came down with severe food poisoning right before we traveled and so the whole flight home was me feeling like I might die and my daughter refusing to sit with nobody else but me because she sensed I was sick and needed to be comforted.
15 Months: At 15 months, we went to California. This was the longest flight we were going to do with a very awake baby, since neither time we were flying was naptime. We drove to the airport that was an hour from our house and she threw up on the way there. She was getting over a respiratory virus and a stomach bug was going around, so we wound up renting a hotel room for a day and postponing our flight to that evening. It was actually perfect – our flight took off right around bedtime and I wore her in the carrier and paced up and down until she fell asleep. We got super lucky and had an empty seat next to us so when she fell asleep we just draped her across the middle of the plane and she slept the whole rest of the flight. This was the first trip where we hired a babysitter and it made a huge difference in how much we enjoyed the trip – we went wine tasting without a toddler, and we went to the San Jose Tech museum which is great for older kids but not with a tiny kid. Otherwise, we tried to focus mostly on kid-friendly activities like Happy Hollow and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Fortunately our friends that we were visiting are fellow museum and animal lovers, so they really enjoyed some of our kid-friendly plans. The flight home was a little rough – she napped for maybe an hour of the 4 hour flight – and the rest of the time we needed to entertain her and we just hadn’t brought enough toys. We ended up breaking out the iPad for the last hour of the trip and playing a game called “baby bubbles” in which you tap bubbles and they pop. For some reason I feel better about this type of screen time than watching TV?
19 Months – We went to Cozumel at 19 months. We flew into Cancun and took the ADO bus and the ferry to get to Cozumel. I think that while flying direct is usually my preference, I would rather change planes and fly directly into Cozumel because schlepping to a public bus and then a ferry is a giant PITA. We brought dive gear so we were bringing two huge bags. We could have paid for a private transfer, but for some reason that seemed harder to me. We didn’t bring a carseat on this trip, since we weren’t renting a car. We did end up taking a few taxis, and just held her on our laps. I know there are a lot of parents who refuse to do this because it is extremely unsafe, but we decided the number of times we were taking cabs was minimal and hauling a carseat was just really unimaginable. We hired a hotel babysitter so we could go diving. We also hired a woman I found a recommendation for on TripAdvisor and in the future we will hire her because she was fantastic. This was actually a great age to travel with, other than we were going through some separation anxiety and some sleep regression. But she’s talking and able to express preferences and you can use things like, “do you want to go to the pool? Then put on your swim suit.” in order to get them out of the house. A lot of places didn’t have high chairs, which was hard, but fortunately 18/19 months with a very tall baby is sort of the age where you can sit them on a regular chair and feed them food. The flights there and back were also not at all at naptime, so she was completely wired, which was pretty tough, but I was much better prepared this time and had picked up a bunch of fun dollar section toys to entertain her with. Gel window clings will give you many tens of minutes of fun on a plane. We also used regular stickers and some coloring toys and then just some new toys she hadn’t played with before. Again, we broke out the iPad for the last hour of the flight. She was perfectly happy to play with the bubbles game, watch videos of herself, and play the “create a scene” sticker app that I had downloaded awhile ago. I hadn’t had a chance to download any actual shows to the iPad before we left, but that wound up being fine. She also entertained herself with my kindle for a long time and seemed very into trying to change the font size? I told myself this wasn’t screentime.
So those are my thoughts on flying/traveling with a child of various ages. I think everyone’s experience varies a ton, and it’s really hard to plan for whether your child will be crawling or walking at 11 or 12 months, but I also think travel is a lot more doable than some people think it is. It’s more a matter of knowing how to roll with the age you are traveling with. My 8 week old was completely uninterested in an aquarium, my 19 month old loves it. I’m excited now that she is at an age where she enjoys doing things, because while it means that there are sometimes things we can’t do because they won’t be interesting to her or age-appropriate, unlike when she was tiny and portable, it is so much fun watching her discover the world and experience new things. Plus, I finally have an excuse to do things that would be totally weird if we were childfree, like going to ride miniature trains.