You can read all the “how to” guides, pack all the toys, and bring all the diapers. You can get the passport and snag a free extra seat. Those are all good, important things. But, like most of parenthood in general, you can never be fully prepared for traveling with a baby.
You can’t prepare for the whole family to get colds the day before your trip. You can’t prepare for baby to get their first tooth on your trip. You’ll never be prepared for the airplane meltdown. (Oh yes, all of those things happened to us on our first baby trip.) But while you’re prepping the diaper bag, you can attempt to prepare your heart and mind (because they might take a hit).
Prepare to go slow
We typically travel at breakneck speeds. But we knew traveling with a baby would mean slowing down. We lightened up our itinerary and were able to do it all with some extra time—much needed, valuable extra time. I’m glad we prepared to go slow. There were nap times, inconvenient nursing times, diaper changes, and sometimes a baby who just did not want to get back in the car. But it was never too stressful because we allowed plenty of time to fit in sightseeing and take care of baby.
Prepare to do things differently
We simply couldn’t do things the way we would have done pre-baby. We couldn’t soak together in the hot springs. We couldn’t take hours-long, steep, rocky trails. We couldn’t sit quietly to read, journal and admire the mountains for hours on end. But we could take turns at the hot springs, we could take beautiful short hikes with baby in the carrier, and we could use nap and bed times as journaling and reading time. A baby doesn’t mean the end to travel, it means traveling in a new way.
Prepare to make friends
We are rather reserved and don’t typically meet many people on the road, but babies are conversation starters—especially social babies. Our daughter wanted to smile at everyone, so everyone stopped to wave, smile back, say hi, and occasionally more. We met an older woman who was formerly a pediatric nurse, we met a woman who reminisced on her first trip with her now-grown son, and many more. We said “five and a half months, her name is Ellis, thank you—we think she’s cute too,” more times than I could count. It was fun to meet so many people around us.
Prepare to be distracted
Okay maybe this is just us. But we love watching our daughter observe the world around her. When we would normally have stared in wonder at a mountain, we often found ourselves staring instead at our baby. Whether we were loving the way she looked around, or the adorable way she could hardly move in that marshmallow of a snowsuit, we were definitely distracted. There was beauty far off in the mountains, and beauty right there in our arms.
Prepare to be unprepared
I’m used to the unpredictable nature of travel, but I’m still adjusting to the unpredictable nature of babies. After Ellis did fine on the first flight, I thought we were good to go. But then she cried for about two hours on the plane home. We were THOSE parents. I was horrified. Nothing under the sun, moon or stars could comfort her. I still haven’t quite recovered. But when our next trip does come around, I’ll try to remember: it never happens the same way twice. There will be new successes and new challenges. Babies are unpredictable and travel is unpredictable, you just have to decide if the risks are worth it and if they are: go boldly and go humbly.
Oh and bring a good baby carrier.