Today I was inspired by the post What I wish I knew the first time I traveled with a baby on one of my favorite family travel blogs, motherofalltrips.com. In it, Mara Gorman shares her own advice and that of other experienced family travel bloggers. Reading their stories brought back memories from our own first trip with a baby.
My first baby was four weeks old on her first road trip. It was a family reunion in the beautiful Puget Sound of Washington State. We were anxious parents and we asked our pediatrician whether or not this trip was a good idea before our daughter was even born. With his blessing, it became the first of many family vacations. Here is what we learned on that trip:
This is the most important rule to remember when traveling with children. Once you decide to “go with the flow” and adjust your expectations accordingly, you'll be happier. When you are happier, your children will be happier too.
I breastfed my babies and the night before our departure my newborn wanted to eat nonstop, which made it difficult to get packed and ready. I called the lactation consultant at the hospital and learned that it was a normal growth spurt and that I should follow the baby's lead. So, there I was, anxious and hormonal, stuck in a chair for four hours feeding the baby. Somehow, we still left on time the next morning.
Like many new parents, we acquired A LOT of gear to help us care for our baby. How do you fit all of that stuff in the trunk of a Toyota Camry? You don't. There was no room for the portable crib, so our baby slept in her stroller, which fully reclined and safely enclosed her, for the entire trip. We have also learned that most hotels have cribs, laundromats help you pack less, and most destinations have a Walmart for diapers, wipes and everything else you need.
Our lodgings included a rustic cabin, World War II-era army barracks and a tiny bedroom in a vacation rental. It was not exactly the comfort or privacy of home, but we and our baby survived with few problems. In fact, family members occasionally sacrificed their own comfort to make the trip easier for us.
My baby continued to demand a four-hour feeding every evening for the entire trip. I did a lot of reading in a camp chair in our room at the reunion and my husband brought me s'mores from the campfire. By the time we moved to the vacation rental, I was comfortable using a blanket for privacy and was able to visit with my in-laws and watch television from a comfy recliner. By the end of the trip, my six-week-old baby was even sleeping for five hours through the night.
Our biggest worry of the entire trip occurred on the morning we were scheduled to head home. A heat wave hit the normally cool Northwest and temperatures soared into the high 90's. There was no air-conditioning in the vacation rental and on that last morning, our baby vomited and was obviously suffering from the heat. We relied on my sister-in-law's nursing training and called our pediatrician. They reassured me and gave me advice. We loaded our baby into the air-conditioned car as soon as possible and changed our route home to stay nearer to hospitals. Thankfully, our baby had no further problems and we made it home no worse for wear.
Focus on the Positives
Despite the challenges of taking a newborn on a road trip, we came home with lots of good memories. First and foremost, we enjoyed spending time with my husband's parents and extended family. It was fun to show off our baby to relatives who live far away. We loved the chance to visit my husband's grandfather, who passed away in 2009. We were able to strengthen our bonds with loved ones, and that is one of my favorite things about traveling with my family.
We saw some beautiful new places on this trip, and a few old favorites. On the way to the reunion, we were able to stay at a church camp where my uncle and aunt were working in the lush green of the Olympic peninsula. The reunion was held at Fort Flagler State Park. Fort Flagler is a lovely piece of Washington's Puget Sound and we have now been there several times. It is a great place to walk and play on the beach, explore World War II-era military installments, or just sit on the bluff and watch the ships pass by. We also took off for a few hours with our baby to see Hurricane Ridge in nearby Olympic National Park.
After the reunion, we moved to the rental home in Coupeville, Washington with my in-laws. We wandered the charming waterfront sights and shops of Coupeville and continued to enjoy the company of our extended family. My husband and I even went out to dinner by ourselves one evening.
On the way home, I insisted that we make a stop at Ikea in Seattle, since our baby seemed fine, and my husband still complains about that every time we reminisce about this trip. The next day, we took our daughter on her first hike – a short walk to the bridge at Multnomah Falls near Portland, Oregon.
My husband and I are independent by nature and we worry about burdening others when we ask for help. This trip wouldn't have happened for us without the help of our family. My mom helped us get packed and out the door, my aunt and uncle gave us a beautiful free place to stay along the way, and my in-laws and extended family helped us care for our newborn throughout the vacation. Looking back, I suspect that they would have liked to help us even more and if I could do it again, I would let them.
Having a baby changes your life, and no parent will tell you that it is always easy or pleasant. However, if you love to travel, there is no reason for children to keep you from it. Babies can be great travelers. That first road trip was challenging in many ways, but we learned from it and when we look back, we do so with a smile.