This post has been a long time coming and one that Matt and I think about all the time. What have we learned along the way while traveling with a baby? What would we do differently the next time around, or better yet, as we go along? I’m sure we could create a very long list, but here are some of the big lessons we’ve learned while traveling with Paavo, starting when he was 4 months and counting.
- Go bigger than a studio – We rented a tiny studio in the Chamonix Valley for almost 2 months and at first we thought, “Wow, this is so efficient, this is all we need!” By the end of the stay we thought, “Next time, we’re at least getting a one bedroom.” When Paavo napped twice a day or went to bed at 7pm, we either hung out in the bathroom or on the balcony to work on to-do lists and that got very, very old, and we couldn’t make any noise during that time. Lesson learned: have a space for Paavo to sleep in where we can close a door.
- Go slow – one touristy thing a day, if that – We aren’t big on touristy things to begin with. They are often crowded, involve a long time on our feet, are sometimes a little boring, and overall just tiring, so throw a baby in the mix and it’s kind of miserable. We schedule one thing a day, max, that’s touristy. Otherwise, we just love walking around cities with Paavo in a carrier, no agenda and no pressure to see something special other than the stuff locals see.
- Schedule friends/family to visit – Our stay in the Chamonix Valley was amazingly beautiful with the French Alps literally outside our door. The downside? We had no one to share it with. After 6 weeks on our own in Mexico City and 8 weeks in Chamonix, we were itching for friends and family, as we had scheduled visitors for the end of our Chamonix stay. Had we known we were going to be so lonely, we would have tried to persuade (not that it should be hard when talking about Chamonix) friends/family to visit early in our stay in Chamonix or at some point in Mexico City.
- Book direct flights – We learned this lesson before traveling while we read other families’ travel blogs and wholeheartedly agree with the lesson. Layovers with children aren’t so fun because it means longer travel days, missed naps, and overtired babies. We book direct flights whenever possible and in all our travels have had just one layover out of 16 flights with Paavo.
- Carry Starbucks Via and Instant Oatmeal packets – I used to love waking up in a new place and walking outside to see what kind of local coffee and pastry I could find. Now with a baby? Not so easy. I’ve found that I’d rather have the coffee and breakfast part of the equation already taken care of on that first morning in a new place so that I can wake up to caffeine and a little food before tackling my day, taking care of a baby, and exploring a new place and its food options.
- Stay at least a week – We like to take the slow travel train, staying at least a week in a place, if possible. We can unpack, buy a few groceries, not rush any sightseeing, go for exploration walks, find local playgrounds and parks, go running in several different places, and when it’s time to pack up again, we feel like we actually got to know the place a little and had a break from traveling. Also, with Airbnb, hosts often give weekly discounts of 10-20%, so it pays to stay a week (they also give monthly discounts, often bigger than weekly).
- Stay with family and friends maximum 2-3 days at a time, with alone time scheduled in between – Staying with family and friends is wonderful. You get to spend time with others, actually have adult conversations once kids go to bed, and you get interaction with people you’re close to and want to spend time with. But, you often get less done in the evenings because you’re busy chatting, and you cross a very fine line from guest to resident after just a few days and with residence comes the obligation to play by house rules. It often makes hosts uncomfortable to enforce rules, and we sometimes feel like we’re walking on eggshells in order to abide by them, so we’ve found that 2-4 nights max with family and friends is ideal. It allows time to catch up, but we leave before we overstay our welcome, before we’re behind on our life lists, or before we cross that invisible line into becoming a rule abiding resident.
- Bring at least a manual breast pump – We decided not to bring a pump while traveling because of space but there were many times that I regretted that decision, as I was the only one who could feed Paavo. Also, my running schedule was ruled by when Paavo ate, as I had to be “empty” in order to run, so race mornings were always a little stressful in order to time the feedings perfectly. Looking back I’d at least bring a manual breast pump so that it wouldn’t take up much space, I wouldn’t have to rely on electricity, and Matt could then feed Paavo (ehem, night feedings) and I could have more freedom to run.
- Things that are important in a hotel/airbnb – We book a lot of Airbnbs and hotels and here are my most important filters (Airbnb): Wifi, Kitchen, and a Washer (and Dryer, but there are rarely driers anywhere outside of the US). For a hotel we try and find ones with an indoor pool, and before booking anything, we research where people run, where the parks and playgrounds are, and where vegan food is (using the Happy Cow app for vegan food). Our priorities each day are Paavo’s playtime, Matt’s work over wifi, our running, and eating good vegan food, so our location and lodging choices have to complement those criteria.
- Things we’ve bought – A few travel items that we’ve bought along the way which have helped are a travel high chair, and inflatable duck bath, and a space heater. The space heater was purchased once we had a car in the US because Paavo’s portable crib is on the floor and we’ve found that a lot of spaces are quite chilly on the floor vs. up higher in a bed. I’ll be sad when we don’t fly with the space heater because it’s a challenge we’ve had this entire time traveling with his travel crib being on the floor.
- WCPD? What can Paavo do? We’ve had to start thinking like a baby when it comes to choosing activities. If it were up to us we’d spend a lot more time in cafes, sipping coffee and chatting with locals and other travelers, but Paavo’s not so keen with sitting and he doesn’t drink coffee. He wants to move, he wants to play around other kids, and he wants to explore everywhere he goes. We’ve had to make an effort to find activities for him in each new place, seeking out libraries, parks, pools, and community centers. It’s kept us on our toes and helped us meet a different kind of locals from the coffee shops – other parents!
Anyone else have lessons learned? I’m sure we’ve missed some, and we’ll likely keep adding to this list as we keep traveling, and some will change, such as our ongoing debate of a carrier vs. a stroller. Paavo is getting a bit heavy for a carrier, yet strollers are so big and bulky, so we’re still not sure which we prefer, and it depends on the location. Findlay, Ohio, where we have a car, we drive to a lot of places, and have lots of space? Stroller! Tokyo, Japan, where we’ll be walking or using public transportation and where it’s super crowded? Carrier! Oh, traveling, so much fun and all the more fun with a baby!