Let me guess: you’re a couple of weeks out from your next trip and desperate for advice on travel with a baby? In 6 Tips For Travel With A Baby, I share some practical tips for flying but today, I’m sharing details from our latest trip and what we’ve learned.
Reu has been on 13 flights and he’s 11 months old. He’s probably traveled more than the average full-size kid. As a parent that makes me feel a bit more prepared because I’ve seen it all: inflight poopy diapers, tiny changing tables at 30,000ft, traveling with a sick baby, preemptively medicating, canceling trips, getting a passport for baby—but these are all tactical. Today, I’m talking about our mental state, and preserving what’s left of it, when traveling with baby.
I’ll admit something now: I’m a little bit nutso when it comes to travel with baby.
I never wanted to be one of those parents. The ones who buy the minivan. The ones who bribe their kid with dessert if he finishes his dinner. The ones who only ever take day trips in the car because flying with a baby just seems like an impossible feat. I never wanted to be that parent. Not that I looked down at those parents, after all, those are the ones who are much more realistic than I am. Those parents are choosing their sanity. The ones who are finding ways to make life a bit easier, less stressful, and in turn, probably more fun.
I’m one of the crazy ones. I didn’t want to admit that having a baby would change the way we’d travel. So there I was with an almost 3-month old, boarding a plane to St. Louis because we couldn’t miss my niece’s 1-year old birthday. There I was, wedged between two men in business class, where I’d managed to get an upgraded seat because I was traveling solo with my infant (for more tips like this, you’re going to want to read this earlier post).
There I was googling passports for infants
There I was a few months later, boarding a plane with my parents and my baby, taking Reu back East for the first time. We had a great visit in Upstate NY with my family before heading down to NYC. There, we were fashioning a makeshift crib out of our suitcase and his DockATot, crammed in my sister’s apartment on the Upper East Side for a few nights. We didn’t stop there.
My husband flew out to meet us in the city and to remind me that we didn’t need to do too much to be happy. I had a few delis on my list plus Central Park and maybe Chelsea Market, which to me seemed like just the right amount of things to do with a 7-month old.
And I still wasn’t done.
Our final leg of the trip was taking a nonstop flight from JFK airport to Bermuda, where we’d stay at beachfront boutique resort. By then, we were 4-hours off our Pacific Time and a full night’s sleep was a distant memory. But there were pink sand beaches, clear blue waters, and an itinerary that consisted of sun, sand, and surf. My crazy was showing, but it looked good on me.
The Exception To the Rule
Bermuda was perfect because it was simple. We stayed in the right place, and we had very little to do. We were able to relax. If I could just do that trip over and over again, I would.
The three leg trip had been a whirlwind though, and the flight home was nothing short of disastrous, with Baby Reu screaming for what felt like two hours, and me not only forgetting to preemptively medicate him but also forgetting to pack the Baby Tylenol in our carry on (cut to me sprinting through the Atlanta airport on our layover, desperately searching for Baby Tylenol). But at the end of a very long travel day, we arrived safely back in Oregon, we said goodnight peacefully, and woke four hours later to the familiar sound of a screaming baby.
We were home and it was time to plan another trip.
But, and there’s a big but: Reuben’s sleep was all out of whack. From seven months to nine months, we struggled hard with sleep. I couldn’t help but think that the cold right before we left (did I forget to mention that above?), the time on the east coast and Bermuda, and pulling him into bed with me to nurse out of sheer exhaustion, made for two very tough months after. How could I plan another vacation somewhere far-flung with a baby that wouldn’t sleep? And, once he finally started sleeping through the night again, was I really going to screw that up again?
I’m crazy but I’m not that crazy.
I didn’t want to give up on travel, and my husband did have the time off, and I was able to work remotely, so I hatched a plan that would allow us to get away without completely screwing up Baby Reu’s sleep. The plan involved nonstop flights that would keep us as close to Pacific Time as possible. We’d spend a week in Tucson, Arizona where we fell in love, and we’d stay with family who want nothing more than time with Reu.
From there, we’d fly down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and spend a week in a fishing village turned tourist hideaway, Sayulita. The flight was only two and a half hours from Arizona. The flight home to Oregon would be a longer one from there, but it would be worth it.
When My Plan To Go South Went South
After booking all of the flights, where to stay in Mexico became my next concern. I polled my travel community on Instagram and received some suggestions but was warned that a sewage treatment plant had been set up beside the vacation rentals that had been recommended to us. I searched Airbnb for more family-friendly vacation rentals. I found a few options but I had a nagging feeling about that sewage treatment plant and I wanted to investigate further.
I hopped on TripAdvisor to search the forums and that’s when shit hit the fan, literally. Norovirus was actually a major issue in Sayulita. Some estimated that 50% of the travelers to Sayulita get sick. The area cannot keep up with the influx of tourism and the sewage is overflowing into the water supply. I sent my question to a hotel north of town: is norovirus as big of an issue as the TripAdvisor forums made it out to be? Here’s a snippet of the response I received:
Yes, we have the sewage problem. Not everyone gets sick, but many people do. It’s not just the water, it’s in the air, the food, everywhere. I can’t say you won’t get sick, because you could.
Maybe if it were my husband and I, we’d risk getting sick, but Baby Reu was in that puts-everything-in-his-mouth stage, and I knew that he could get very sick in Sayulita. The right thing to do was to cancel.
Dealing with a common cold was hard enough. It was also flu season, and there was a very real measles outbreak one state away in Washington with a couple of scares in Bend, Oregon, too. Baby Reu wasn’t a year old yet, and hadn’t had a full year of vaccinations yet.
Our trip to Mexico would have to be canceled. Traveling with a baby really changes things. Baby Reu’s needs come before my wanderlust especially in this case. So on one very sad, February day, I spent five hours calling the airlines and my credit card and cancelling our trip to Mexico.
VIVA SAN DIEGO
After weighing our options, San Diego replaced our week in Mexico. California’s second largest city was home to the nation’s best zoo, beautiful golden strands of beach, and plenty of kid-friendly things to do. I found a vacation rental in what felt like the Portland of San Diego, North Park, and planned a week of things to do all over the city: dining in North Park, sea lions in La Jolla, Little Italy/Gas Lamp walk, waterfront park, Old Town, Balboa Park and the zoo, Mission Beach, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, and riding the train along the coast. You’d think we had a month in San Diego. And baby…what baby?
Was I over-compensating for not getting to go to Mexico? Absolutely. Did I completely over plan our time in San Diego? Oh yeah.
And now, having just returned home from our time in San Diego, I should’ve done a lot of things differently. For starters, a week in Arizona was probably enough. Multi-leg trips are not for the faint of heart and not really for babies. I’ve been pushing us all a bit hard: myself to plan the perfect itinerary, my husband to be up for adventure after working grueling hours as a restaurant chef/owner, and of course Baby Reu who’s been very, very busy traveling the world. When our Mexico leg had to be canceled, I probably should’ve booked a resort experience in Arizona for a change of pace and then headed home.
If I’m being completely transparent, a couple of days into our six days in San Diego, we all wanted our vacation to be over. But we had places to go so we pushed on. San Diego, albeit all those nice things I said about it above, was overkill.
On the bright side, Reuben slept like an angel on Pacific Time and he didn’t contract norovirus. Despite our grueling itinerary, we did have fun exploring San Diego. We snapped great photos, ate excellent food. We had a lot of laughs but also some cries. I can’t complain that we’re lucky enough to get to travel at all, let alone to a beautiful place like San Diego and Arizona before that. Here are some things I learned that might help you plan a (more) baby-friendly vacation.
Beaches are more baby-friendly than city streets.
In San Diego, it would’ve made sense to stay by the beach, where even with temps in the 60s, we would’ve been able to relax. Staying in a hip neighborhood (North Park) put us at the center of restaurants and bars but there’s only so much of that we could do with our 11-month old. Three out of six nights, we wound up ordering food to go and eating in our vacation rental. Our location also meant long Uber or public transportation rides to the attractions on my self-inflicted itinerary.
If you don’t want to drive, choose a destination that doesn’t require it.
Here’s another reason we should’ve just stayed at the beach. We decided to forgo a rental car because we were sick of driving after a week in Tucson. This was probably the worst decision we could’ve made (although the convenience of not having to park or pay a meter was kind of dreamy) because a carseat is required in California. Ignorance is bliss, people. We learned about the carseat law after an Uber driver dropped us off in La Jolla and informed us. We really should’ve known better. We were later turned down by a few Uber drivers who refused to shuttle us around without a car seat. In defense of our ignorance, a car seat isn’t required in Bermuda, but it’s also worth noting that babies in car seats are much safer in the case of an accident.
We ended up taking the Coaster commuter train home from Carlsbad after visiting The Flower Fields. We took the MTA bus to the zoo, where Reuben promptly fell asleep while we admired the animals and spent $12 on soft pretzels. And that’s not to mention how much we walked. We logged 4-7 miles on foot per day. A less rigorous itinerary would’ve meant less time in transit.
Admit that travel is different now.
My advice to other parents is to choose your destination wisely, don’t over plan, and make sure you have plenty of time to relax. If you’re googling baby-friendly destinations and coming up short, the answer is simple: go to the beach. Stay at the beach. Do less. If we could do it all again, I would’ve stayed at a hotel in La Jolla, Mission Beach, or even Coronado Island. Fewer things to do would’ve made for a more relaxing vacation. With a beach as our home base, I would’ve done the Flower Fields and Old Town and scrapped the rest of our itinerary for when Reu was old enough to enjoy it.
Take it from me: don’t haul your little one all over town. Charting babies around in a stroller or carrier until they melt down for a nap or for bed leaves a lot to be desired. Travel is not the same as it was before baby, and admitting that is the first step to having a real vacation.
Next up for us? A day trip (gasp!) to see some tulips in Oregon. With any luck, Reu will sleep in his carseat on the ride there and wake up in time to see the blooms. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for me to become one of those parents after all.
Like this post? Pin it.