Lauren, our Head of Copy + resident travel guru, shares her tried-and-true tips for traveling with little ones.
Before my husband and I had children, we made each other promise that we would still make traveling a priority—even when it involved diapers and car seats and nap schedules. And despite a two-year Covid-inflicted travel hiatus, our 5-year-old will take her 100th flight next week, so I feel like we’ve made good on our promise.
We’ve taken our children, of which there are now three(!), to Italy, France, England, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Canada, Japan—and plenty of places stateside, too. What hard-earned lessons have we learned along the way? What are our best tips for parents navigating travel with a baby for the first time? I’m so glad you asked.
1. Remember that “vacations” at this point are just parenting in a beautiful place.
The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you’ll be delighted by your experience instead of annoyed by it. Baby needs to stop to eat on the way to the art museum? Feel grateful for the reason to pause and people watch while baby fills their belly. Blowout on the way home? Perfect excuse to pop into a local shop and pick up a sweet new outfit. Home for the night at 5 p.m. because baby can’t hang? (They get jet-lagged, too!) Hooray for takeout from somewhere that isn’t the place you always order from at home. (We had the most amazing carbonara out of boxes at our Airbnb in Rome while our kids were sleeping and I still salivate thinking about it.)
2. Lower your expectations and then lower them again.
Plan to do one thing each day. See one site. Visit one market. Take one hike. And then leave the rest of the day open to revolving around whatever baby needs. Maybe you’ll go back to your villa and all nap together. Maybe they’ll nap on the go, and you’ll get to pop by a café for a leisurely pastry. Maybe you’ll find a shady park to pass the afternoon in. The key is to count on just one very manageable thing and know that anything beyond that is gravy.
3. Pay a little more for convenience and/or comfort.
Book the ticket with as few layovers as possible. (I repeat: Book the ticket with as few layovers as possible!) Similarly, arrange a car service for airport transfer, if the train or bus route to get into town is complicated. Opt for a private tour over a group tour, when possible, so you can go at your own (aka baby’s) pace. Upgrade to a suite, so you have a separate space to hang while baby is sleeping. Better yet, book a place with a view, so even if you only leave to pick up that aforementioned carryout dinner, you’ll be able to literally see and enjoy the change of scenery.
4. Pack light. Like, really light.
Carrying a lot of luggage is pretty much the worst, and that’s especially true when you’re also toting a babe, so pare down where you can. Depending on where you’re traveling, you can likely buy most of the random “might needs” there if you end up needing them. You can also buy diapers, extra wipes, etc., at your destination if you’d rather not carry them. (Although! If you do pack them, it essentially reserves that space for souvenirs on your way home, which is not a bad thing.) As for clothes, if you book an Airbnb with a washing machine, plan to do a load or two while you’re traveling to save on space (and keep those spit-up stains from setting).
5. Skip the stroller.
Cobblestone streets. Crowded restaurants. Stairs. There are so many times it’s inconvenient to have a stroller that, in my experience, it almost always outweighs the benefits of having one. Consider leaving the stroller at home and opt to bring a wrap (or even two) with you. It’s far more compact, super reassuring for baby as they take in new sights and sounds and smells, and helps deter any well-meaning strangers from getting too close. (It’s like a look-but-don’t-touch sign that translates into any language.) We’ve traveled sans stroller a lot and never regretted it.
6. Connect with locals.
Little ones make the best icebreakers. A quintessential Italian grandmother brought out a plate of food for our son at her restaurant and stood there cutting it up herself for him to enjoy. Our blond daughter was practically a celebrity in Japan, where gaggles of teen girls would follow her and delight at her coy waves. And we received an extra little something at every bakery in Paris for our petite companion. Almost everyone we’ve encountered has been especially friendly and accommodating of our pint-sized travelers and we’ve chatted with locals so much more than we ever did when it was just the two of us. It’s been one of my favorite unexpected perks of having them along!