First I would like to say that my husband and I have traveled for many years with my 4 children from the time they were babies. Now we travel with 4 grown children one son-in-law and 2 grandchildren. I truly enjoy our family vacations as chaotic as they can be at times. When I was a parent of young children I would opt for a vacation with children, as tough as it may be with schedules etc, to no vacation at all. For me getting out and away from the cold weather and having a break from the same routine day after day, was important. That said, there is a lot of work preparing for a vacation with children and being prepared is key to a pleasurable break. You can actually enjoy your vacation with children, my best advice, expect the worst and you will probably be pleasantly surprised. I found when I dreamed of a peaceful getaway, I was in trouble. Let’s face it, life with children is never peaceful at home or away. That doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable, it simply means you won’t be on your second honeymoon.
When my oldest child was 6 months old we decided to take our first vacation with child. My husband and I didn’t make this maiden voyage alone, thankfully our two friends Ron and Gail accompanied us. Out of pure ignorance, not understanding how the long flights would effect us, we decided on the lush Hawaiian archipelago. It sounded wonderful to me 10 days away from the winter, in the tropics. I was ready to get out of the house but not yet ready to leave my 6 month old baby behind. So we mounted up our horses and headed for Logan Airport. You would think we were going away for months when we were checking in, with the number of bags and paraphernalia we had. Disposable diapers took up a hefty share of the luggage, in addition to a fold up seat that hung on the table for our meals, a car seat, a stroller and several good sized bags for clothing, babies, you know, go through quantities of clothing. Thank God we had our 2 friends to help us cart everything around. Once everything was checked in we were unburdened, only the necessities remained, a stroller and a well packed diaper bag, I hoped.
Now, imagine a 6 hour flight from Boston to San Francisco with a 6 month old baby. Thankfully the reservation clerk at the airline suggest we book the bulkhead seats. In those days they had small bassinets that hung on the wall in front of these seat, making it possible to lay her down to nap for part of the trip, which was a real blessing. We stayed over night in San Francisco and departed early the next morning on another 5 1/2 hour flight to Honolulu. Everything went pretty seamless with the exception of carting around all the baby necessities. We had a wonderful 10 day vacation, saw 2 islands and once again departed for our long and grueling plane rides home, less the bags of diapers. I have to say we were really lucky, our daughter appeared to be a wonderful little traveler, but that is not always the case when you travel with children.
The next time we decided to venture out on a vacation with child, however, it was going to be someplace closer with plane rides approximately 3 hours or less. 12 months later we were on a flight to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, with our same 2 friends, our 18 month old and this time a babysitter, something I highly recommend if your budget allows. (More on this later.) With past experience at hand we had booked a 3 hour flight to Fort Lauderdale, FL with an over night and then a 1 1/2 hour flight to Grand Turk. Much better. We had a wonderful restful vacation.
Vacation Rental vs. Hotel – Once we landed at our destination we would settled in. If you are traveling with babies or toddlers, I would recommend a vacation rental over a hotel. LIfe is so much easier when you have everything you need at your fingers, which most often revolves around food. Having a vacation rental is great for the family, being in a fully furnished home or apartment, you can cook in at the time you need. Evenings can be more enjoyable too depending on the vacation rental spot, you can sit on your patio or balcony with a glass of wine or a Margarita and watch the sunset or watch a movie on TV while your child/children sleep in a quiet separate room.
Dining Out – We would try to dine out as early as possible but, especially in the Caribbean, dinners start late, we found it difficult to eat earlier than 7:00 so we would feed the children about 5:00 and then take them out with us to dinner where they can still nibble from our plates or have some dessert. The stroller comes in handy as they became tired. We would plop them in and rock them to sleep and then finish our dinner in peace. If you have more than one small child this may not work well for you and you may opt for cooking dinner at your rental. At some destinations you can get take out dinners or arrange for a local person to come in and cook for you.
With babysitter – If you can afford the additional airfare traveling with a babysitter can be the perfect solution to making it a restful vacation too. Often teenagers are happy to travel to wonderful destinations as a baby sitter simply for the airfare and lodging provided. You just have to be clear in advance what your expectations are as well as hearing what theirs may be. We would always make sure the babysitter had the opportunity to dine out with us a few times and do a little sight seeing with us too. They would have time during the day to beach bathe and we would have a few minutes in the evening to dine. I recommend tipping the sitter at the end of the vacation too.
I always pack more than less when going out of the country because you don’t know if the items you need will be readily available. I’m a firm believer in Murphy’s Law “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. If you plan for Murphy’s Law when you pack you are always prepared, some items may never get used the, being prepared saves you from some very stressful situations.
It’s worth it a check with your accommodations to see if they have a washing machine and dryer. If they do, you can pack less, just don’t forget the powdered detergent. When you begin packing be sure to mix everyones clothes up. If any of the luggage gets lost – which has happened to us – Everyone still has something to wear. I also recommend that each person bring an outfit in their carry-on (Underwear, a clean top, a T shirt to sleep in and a tooth brush, if you are heading to a warm climate you might add a pair of shorts and a swimsuit.)
Below is a list of necessities and helpful items to pack or bring on your trip:
- Stroller – For children under 4 especially if you plan to do a lot of walking. Children tire easily and a stroller can make your life so much easier. I purchased a simple umbrella stroller to travel with, being light weight and pretty compact I found it easier to deal with. Be sure the one you choose can recline and has a netted compartment for items like diapers, bottles or sippy cups, sweathers and blankets. Strollers come in handy as an extra seat if the restaurant does not have high chairs. (We found when we would travel to small islands in the Caribbean the restaurants frequently did not have high chairs so we would feed them in the stroller) When you are on vacation small children tire out early and often fall to sleep during dinner. If you can rock them to sleep in a stroller, you can dine in peace.
- Car Seat – If you will be renting a car on the other end or have booked a seat for your child a car seat may be helpful but remember it is another item to cart around. Car rentals often have car seats if you request it in advance.
- Pack “N” Play – Check with your accommodations to see if they have a crib available, if they do not a Pack “N” Plays work beautifully be sure to bring a pad and sheets for the bed, you can use the blanket you carry-on to cover them.
- Disposable Diapers – Figure on bringing enough diapers for the amount you use per day and then add a couple more diapers for each day to that figure. Example: If your child uses 6 diapers per day put in 8 per day. If you are traveling to a destination where you know you can get disposable diapers easily you can do with a lot less diapers and plan to purchase as you need. Be sure to put some in each of your bags (see note in packing).
- Clothing – always be prepared for at least 1 outfit of the opposite weather – you never know. For instance if you are heading to warm weather be sure to bring a jacket and long pants and a warm sleeper, just in case. Or if you are heading where it is supposed to be cooler – bring a T-shirt and shorts, I have seen the weather not cooperate on several trips. Sometimes in the warmer climates the evenings can be cooler than expected and a light jacket comes in handy.
- Children’s Tylenol
- Benadryl for stuffy noses – may be helpful for the plane ride and congestion.
- Any frequently used medications or salves
- Diaper bag – For children under 3 that are not toilet trained, or if your child is newly toilet trained. Reverting back to diapers just for the airport and plane won’t make them regress but it will take a lot of stress and worry off you. Items for the diaper bag:
- Disposable Diapers – Bring double what you think you may need.
- Wipes – I would bring the whole big package of wipes. Now they make plastic refills that have a self seal top so you don’t have to pack the big plastic box. You may want to bring 2 packages of wipes because you will use them for all sorts of clean-ups from quick wash-ups and sticky fingers to diaper changes. Again this would depend on where you are going and access to the items.
- Bottles – 1 to 2 – filled with water. I would bring powdered milk or formula and mix up what I needed and you can also purchase little pouches of juice to mix in with the water as well.
- Change of clothes
- Earplanes (These help with the pressure in the ear at take off and landing).
- Baby food, finger food and snacks – bring plenty and try to bring different things like, raisins, cherrios, goldfish, pretzels, graham crackers, sliced or pieces of fruit or veggies – Take a walk around the grocery store to find items that your child doesn’t get often.
- The child’s cuttle toy
- A baby blanket from their bed to make there sleeping time is less stressful. Just the scent of home can help the child settle in better.
- Plastic grocery bags – I would bring 4-5 of these tightly rolled and tucked away for dirty diapers and soiled clothes. They come in handy for a lot of things.
- Toys and if traveling with toddlers – coloring items – Aim for small items but a good variety to keep them occupied.
On The Plane
A well packed diaper bag with lots of food, bottle, both water and milk, formula or juice, lots of snacks, a pacifier (if your child takes one), their special sleeping toy and blanket are essential for baby happiness. I also recommend taking an excess of diapers on the plane, you don’t want to be caught short handed. I always packed several plastic grocery bags, these are easy to roll up into tiny balls that don’t take up much room and they come in real handy for dirty diapers or soiled clothing even making noise to entertain the baby.
It was inevitable when we were ready to depart for our trip, someone would have a cold. I found Benadryl to be helpful with the stuffy head at take off and landing. I would give the child the appropriate dose about 1/2 hour before take off. When the plane begins to taxi down the runway then it’s time to put one of the bottles into use. I recommend bottles over sippy cups because the sucking action actually helps alleviate the pressure at take off and landing. Try to encourage your child to take the bottle and continue sucking. If you are a nursing mother even better, this would be the time to begin nursing. But if the child is under 3, and not nursing, a bottle is great. With older children chewing gum works really well to help with the pressure. I discovered a neat little item called Earplanes. These are small plastic plugs that regulate air pressure, you put them into your child’s ear for takeoff and landing. The package states they are only good for 1 time use on the box so be sure to bring 2 sets or more depending on the number of flights. I found them to be helpful with the pressure, not 100% but an improvement over none.
Just because you have small children, it does not mean you can not go on vacation. You simply have to plan well, have a sense of humor and pack well. If you can bring a sitter, you will have a wonderful break. If a full time baby sitter isn’t in your budget ask whom ever is your contact at your accommodation about hiring a baby sitter, they may be able to recommend someone responsible to you for a night out or even a lunch. It’s nice to to have a change of scenery even if it isn’t a break from parenthood. The days where you and your husband can get away alone will come.