Baby and I have been repatriated after a wonderful 10 days in Chamonix, France. The weather was mostly more than cooperative, confirmed by a friend who said that both baby and I got some color on our faces; the food delicious (I am pretty sure I ate my weight in charcuterie, fromage, escargot, and soupe à l’oignon); and the company even better.
But I’m not going to lie, my travels with infant weren’t without their stresses. Just to give you an idea, my trip started out with me sitting in my car in what most certainly was the furthest parking lot from the airport terminal in a torrential downpour, debating whether I should wait the rain out or just suck it up and get soaked. Of course it had been 50+ degrees and partly sunny when I left the house, so my Gortex was happily packed in the bottom of my suitcase. I decided to crawl into the backseat and nurse baby while I debated my options. After 15 minutes and no signs of letting up–actually I think the rain started to cascade harder–I decided to just make a run for it.
Run is actually a funny word to use because as any mommy traveling by herself with infant knows, you’re not going anywhere fast. Not when you have a kid strapped to your front, you’re dragging a suitcase with your diaper bag that you’re pretending is also a purse hooked on top, and, in the other hand, you’re trailing a folded up umbrella stroller behind you. Did I mention the small, soft-sided cooler that I had slung over my shoulder? (Sadly, this is efficient for this stage in life.) If I didn’t feel pathetic enough, I certainly did after a man in a wheelchair tried to help me into an elevator. (True story.)
We lived to tell about it, that’s for sure, so that’s a good thing. And all the stress of the logistics of getting there and back were well worth the good times we had in France, so we’d no sooner book another mommy-and-me overseas adventure in a heartbeat. But all that’s not to say that I didn’t learn a few things. Here are my Top 11 travel tips for mommies traveling overseas with infants, particularly those traveling without an extra set of hands.
- Travel on off days. Seriously, if you are planning to have your baby on your lap, it’s worth the extra day of vacation that you will burn to travel on a slow travel day. I traveled out on Sunday and back on a Wednesday and had the luxury of an empty seat next to me on both flights. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say I don’t now I could have done it otherwise, particularly on the return flight, which was 9 hours in the middle of the day, without that luxury. At nine months old, he was crawling and squirming all over the place, so it was fantastic to be able just strap him into the seat, throw the tray table down, and give him a few toys.
- Don’t try to travel like you’re still in college. This means forget the whirlwind tours; don’t try to do three cities in a week. Just pick a really good place that you can make home base and take day trips from there. It’s hard to think like that when there are so many new places to explore, but it will be a more enjoyable trip if you can actually relax and aren’t trying to cram baby into your sightseeing schedule.
- Opt for the apartment. If you’re going to be someplace for a week or more, consider renting an apartment over staying in a hotel. Just having access to laundry machines and a kitchen are worth it, even if it costs a bit more, which often isn’t the case. The random three diaper blowouts my kid had in a single day underscored this for me. Plus, many property managers will include things like portable cribs (with bedding), high chairs, and even strollers, if requested. (Score!)
- High chairs are an issue.We may be used to every Applebee’s, TGIFriday’s, and Ruby Tuesday’s having highchairs galore, it’s not that way in Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by how many restaurants in
Chamonix actually had high chairs, but the quality, safety, appropriateness, and availability of them were most often in question. For this reason, I packed my trusty Phil and Ted’s Me Too portable high chair. This thing is seriously awesome. It hooks on to nearly every table or counter top with a pair of heavy-duty clamps, is really sturdy, and it packs flat. (Bonus!) Of course, the one time I really, really needed it, the table top was too thick so it wouldn’t hook on, which brings me to No. 5…
- Never underestimate the power of the scarf.I don’t care what
season you’re traveling in, bring a big, long scarf, if you are traveling with a baby. (Think the size of a pashmina.) Not only are they chic, but I used mine as a pillow, a nursing wrap, a blanket for baby when the wind suddenly kicked up, and even as a child restraint in a high chair where the risk of him slipping through the bottom was high thanks to a lack of safety straps or anything close to resembling them. (Let’s just say a shopping cart seemed more secure.)
- Don’t expect your baby to stick to his normal schedule. Jet lag is really hard on the wee ones. For example, we were dealing with a six hour time difference and my bundle of boy started out going to sleep around his normal time (local), but then slept until nearly noon the next day. For three days in a row. By the eighth day, he was waking up around 9:30am (local), which was two hours later than his “normal” wake up. Feel free to disagree, but trying to sightsee with a cranky baby doesn’t sound like much fun to me, so I say let them sleep and do what you can when they can.
- Dare to deviate on the nap schedule. This tip runs along the same lines as No. 6. I know this is hard for some super-regimented moms to even fathom, but I’ll just be blunt and say that if you’re that kind of mom and still want to travel (and have fun), you had better loosen up. I don’t know about you, but I find that part of the fun of traveling is eating. But trying to have dinner at 7pm or 8pm at a restaurant with a jet lagged baby who normally is in bed at 7pm (remember other cultures don’t necessarily serve an early-bird special) poses some meltdown challenges. So, to have a more enjoyable meal out, I would feed, bathe, and pajama baby as usual, but him down early–like at 6pm. I’d let him nap until 7:30pm or so, then pack him up and put him in the stroller and take him to the restaurant with us. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks or make good use of the bread basket and, above all, stay close to home base in case there’s a real meltdown that requires you to book on home.
- Have fun with food.This is sort of a takeoff on No. 7, but enjoying
new foods shouldn’t just be a traveling perk for you. So, don’t bring all the food or diapers or wipes that you could possibly need for a week or 10 days. It’s not worth the work of carrying all that stuff, especially when you are traveling alone. Just bring enough to get you through a few days until you can buy stuff on site. Not to mention when you buy locally, you can introduce your baby to some new flavors. Just check out what the French consider appropriate for those babies 6+ months: apples with kiwi and pineapple, couscous with veggies, and salmon with rice and green veggies. My kid also downed a few croissants and Petit Beurres, which are wonderful French delectables.
- Bring hand sanitizer. I won’t go into details, but I’ll say that you
shouldn’t expect Baby Koala changing stations wherever you go. I went into one public restroom that advertised a baby changing station and came out within 30 seconds, telling my mom and aunt that I would rather have my kid sit in his own feces for another hour+ than change him in that bathroom.
- Yes, you will be able to use the bathroom on the plane. So, the en-route changing station question isn’t that big of a deal. There will be one bathroom near you on the plane that has a changing station, if not every bathroom on the plane. (It’s above and behind the toilet.) It’s small (my kid barely fit on it), but it’ll get the job done. The real issue when traveling with infant is what you are going to do when you need to go to the bathroom but baby doesn’t need a diaper change. On my outbound flight, I had one very nice woman across the aisle from me (three kids of her own) ask me if I wanted her to hold the baby so I could go the bathroom. I’m not going to lie. This sounded very tempting, after having tried one strategy earlier where I kept the changing station down with the baby on top and held him while I tried to bend and scoot underneath to do my business. (Not recommended.) But for as good as that sounded, honestly, I didn’t know how it would look if I just handed my baby over to a stranger. (She did seem nice and where was she going to go?) I declined and tried a different strategy. Yes, I actually sat him on the floor of the airplane restroom. He was fine–turns out the toilet paper is right at eye level and can be pulled out and ripped up very easily–but I was pretty much disgusted with the fact that my kid was on the floor of a nothing more than a slightly less stinky PortaJohn. (This is why you need to heed No. 9.) But these are the types of choices you will have to make, so just try not to let germs ruin your vacation.
- Let people help you. For people like me, who are used to not only doing things their way but doing them completely on their own, this is a tough one. But it’s important to realize that, when traveling with an infant, letting someone share your burden doesn’t mean you are a failure. So, let that really nice, generous person who offers to carry your diaper bag on or off the plane do it. Everyone knows you can do it, but why not save yourself a little bit of effort?