I need a vacation. Like, immediately. However, going on a vacation today means now managing the logistics of traveling with TWO children. As I'm trying to wrap my head around how to possibly climb this mountain, I thought I'd offer my advice on how to travel with one child under the age of two. Bugga traveled almost 25,000 air miles in her first year of life, and many of those miles included family vacations (we also moved to Alaska for a bit so those miles are a chunk of her total). Either way, we got to be seasoned parent travelers and lived to tell the tale.
Here's how we did it:
1.) Always bring a stroller. You will need this at some point. Even if you are totally into the baby-wearing thing (bring your sling too!) - the stroller carries both your child, and all of your child-related STUFF. And your stuff. And lunch to go in the airport. You get my point. When Bugga was still in the baby bucket we used this stroller, which I cannot recommend enough. You can even open and close it with one hand and it has a huge basket. When she was no longer in the bucket we used this stroller, which comes with a travel bag (for checking) and is still in great condition now after 1.5 years of a LOT of airports.
2.) Always bring a car seat. Sure you can get away with not bringing a car seat. But if you are traveling anywhere other than New York City or somewhere similar (and then plan to limit your transportation to subway or foot) your child should be strapped into their car seat. No, you won't get arrested for trying to get into a cab with an infant without a car seat, but if you get in an accident (and you KNOW how the cabbies drive) you will regret it. There are car seats on the market that double as strollers. Or you can get a backpack to carry the car seat in while you go through the airport (if baby isn't in the bucket already). Make sure you have a cover either way so the seat isn't nasty if you end up gate checking it.
3.) If traveling by plane, check your baby gear at the gate, NOT at check-in. Yep, you can check your baby items for free in both areas. Maybe you think it's a pain to drag all these things through the airport, especially if you don't have a ticketed seat for your baby and won't be using the car seat until you arrive at your destination. Doesn't matter. When you gate check these items, they are out of your sight and have a chance to be damaged by someone else for a mere MINUTES before they are put underneath the plane. Hand them over at check-in and they are out of your sight for potential HOURS that someone might drop or damage your goods in any number of ways that are undetectable to you when you pick them up at Baggage Claim. You will regret this too.
4.) Pick your flight carefully. If you are booking early enough, pick a time that coincides with the time your child sleeps. I now prefer red-eye flights with my child because I KNOW she will sleep then. We ran out of luck after awhile booking during nap time because it was just too exciting for her to sleep, and then we had NO nap. Not my preferred way to vacation. And avoid layovers whenever you can. Just GET THERE.
5.) Pick your seats on the airplane even more carefully. If your flight isn't overbooked, you might be able to avoid paying for a ticket for your baby, then find a row with an empty seat. Gate agents will even move you to a row with an empty seat if you ask nicely because they know as well as anyone that no one wants to sit next to a baby on a plane. Don't be offended - use this to your advantage. And try to get these seats next to a bathroom so you aren't waiting behind 5 other people who got there first when your kid has a loaded diaper. If your child is moving around on his own and can maybe even stand and walk, get bulkhead seats, so you have the extra space in front of you. My daughter loved to sit in her own "space" once we reached cruising altitude and didn't have to be constrained.
6.) If budget allows, book a suite at a hotel. A lot of inexpensive hotel chains nowadays have suites for great rates. It pays (in dollars and sanity) to do your research. A suite gives you the freedom to not be sitting with your spouse in the dark when your child is sleeping. And remember how much they sleep, day and night. With a suite you can essentially set your separate room up as a nursery and keep it dark, use white noise, etc.
7.) What if you can't book a suite? It happens for any number of reasons, but you can still survive. (First world problems, I know.) First, try to get a balcony. We didn't feel like forking over the hundreds of extra dollars on our Hawaii vacation with Bugga so the next best thing was a balcony where my husband and or I could hang out while the baby took naps. I spent plenty of relaxing vacation name with a book, a cocktail, and a view all while Bugga napped safely just mere feet from me in total darkness in our room.
8.) What if you can't book a suite OR a room with a balcony? Here's what you need to add to your luggage: a dark-colored, full-size (or bigger) flat bedsheet, two command hooks that can hold as much weight as possible, and a couple chip-style clips. Use these to drape over the hotel crib you stick in the corner of the room to create a dark area for your child when she sleeps. The command hooks (attach them to the wall) and clips hold up the sheet, and the hooks can be taken down later when you leave. You still need to be quiet in the room, but it's nice not to need to be in darkness. Now you and your spouse can at least watch a movie with headphones on the iPad or something. Wink, wink. Oh, and don't forget crib sheets from home.
9.) Bring a white noise machine. I mentioned it above, but this is an essential piece of kid gear in my book. Even if you don't use one at home, outside noises can be unpredictable when traveling (especially in hotel hallways) so if you can block out anything that might disrupt your child's sleep, your life is better! How many times have you been stuck in a hotel that has construction going on above or below your room?
10.) Baby's gotta eat. If your child is eating solids, don't forget to grab a banana from the breakfast buffet to have in the diaper bag later. Boxes of raisins travel well too. Kids under 3 usually eat at buffets for free, so take advantage of that. And don't forget to ask your server what the chef is able to do. We ordered plain pasta with olive oil off the menu from a higher-end Italian restaurant when we were there for their breakfast so we could have lunch ready to go later for our daughter. Oh, and bring bowls with lids to refrigerate any leftovers so you always have something. (Most hotel rooms have a refrigerator lately, I have noticed.)
I have tons of other suggestions for all parts of travel if anyone has any additional questions. Also, if anyone wants to offer up any tips for traveling with more than one kid I am ALL EARS!