When we had our first baby, he was about eight months old at Christmas, and our second son was only two months old when we celebrated his first Christmas. Obviously, they were even younger during Thanksgiving. So, at this point, I’ve got a lot of experience traveling with a baby during the holidays. But if you’ve never done it, you might be wondering how you even travel during the holidays with a baby. It might seem impossible. No worries. I’ve got you covered. Let’s get into it.
Plan and prepare ahead of time
This is especially important if you’re traveling on a train or flying with your baby. If you’re traveling this way, you’ll want to check all the regulations ahead of time. How do they store strollers? Do you get to board ahead of time? Do you need to book an extra ticket for your car seat? These are all questions you should consider as you’re planning your travel.
But even if you’re just driving, you’ll want to plan ahead. How long are they going to be in their car seat, and will you need to make pit stops? Your baby can only be in a car seat for about an hour or two, depending on their age. So, be sure to think about that.
Not to mention, there are the standard needs to consider. What is your baby going to need during this time and after you arrive? You’ll need to put together things like a pack-and-play, diapers, bottles, formula, nursing cover, etc. Don’t forget clothes and then even more clothes because they’re going to ruin some, and you might not have access to laundry. It’s worth packing a mini first-aid kit as well.
Have travel-friendly baby gear
Again, this is going to look different depending on how you’re traveling. If you’re flying, you’ll probably need a lightweight stroller or baby carrier. If you’ve got a real little one, I love this bassinet because it packs up into a simple bag you can carry. You might also be able to get a pack-and-play into the trunk for an older baby.
You’ll also need an effective diaper bag that carries everything you’ll need. You don’t want to be fumbling around in big packs or carrying everything. So, make sure your diaper bag is an appropriate size and well-stocked for everything you’ll need during actual travel time.
Understand that the schedule will shift
No matter what you do, your baby’s schedule will get screwed up while you’re traveling for the holidays. They won’t sleep in their car seat, or celebration noise will keep them up. They might struggle to feed with all of the activity going on, and dinner might be late, screwing with their bottle or solids schedule. That’s just how it goes.
But there are ways to help with this. If your baby does sleep in the car, plan travel time around their nap time. Make sure they have a quiet place to sleep or eat during the noisy celebrations. Bring backup food for dinner in case the planned dinner is early or late.
Above all, communicate with whoever you are visiting. Impress upon them how important the schedule is for a happy baby. They need to understand that the schedule should be messed with as little as possible. Plan things out with them so you have that quiet space. If you’ve got an older baby eating solids, make sure you know the food plan.
It’s also important to stay flexible. During a time when their schedule is going to be off, you’ll be working with your baby’s immediate needs more than usual. If they’re sleepy, try and get them to sleep. If they’re hungry, feed them. You’re going to need to adjust anyway, so you might as well follow your baby’s ebbs and flows. This is especially true if you have uncooperative hosts who think the schedule isn’t important.
Bring entertainment and familiar toys
If you’ve got a newborn, their entertainment is staying cuddled up to you. But if you’ve got an older baby, having some toys, especially ones they love, will be helpful. This can include stuffed animals, soft baby books, shakable balls, and things they can chew on. The unfortunate part is that you might spend your entire travel time keeping them entertained so they don’t cry. If they do cry, it’s not the end of the world, but it can feel frustrating and awkward. Just keep switching toys, giving them cuddles, and playing peek-a-boo. Toys and comfort items will be useful when you get to an unfamiliar place, too.
Plan for feedings and diapering
If you’re traveling during the holidays with a baby, you’re going to want to plan ahead for feeding and diapering.
One of my most useful traveling items is a travel changing pad with flaps. This is especially helpful if you’re changing them on a hard surface or changing them in an area that doesn’t have facilities for baby changing. But I also recommend having some disposable changing pads as well. I also pack plastic grocery store bags in my diaper bag so I can easily wrap up dirty diapers and wipes and throw them away.
When it comes to feeding, I would recommend using bottles. Breastfeeding might get difficult, even with a cover. So, if your baby is used to bottles, pumping ahead of time and having bottles on hand could be the way to go. Invest in a good insulated bottle cooler bag that you can stuff with ice packs. If you’re formula feeding, have ready-made formula on hand or use a formula dispenser for easy bottle making.
Also, if you’re flying, check the regulations. You should absolutely be able to get through with breast milk and formula. You can read more here.
Know that nothing will be baby-proofed
If you communicate with your hosts ahead of time or they typically have your baby, some things might be baby-proofed. But most likely, nothing will be baby-proofed. You’ll spend some time chasing after any crawlers and making sure they don’t hurt themselves. You’ll spend a lot of time holding them and passing them around so they stay out of trouble. It’s annoying and frustrating, and there’s little you can do about it. If you can bring a pack-and-play, do it. That will at least give you a safe place to put them where they can play.
Do your best to keep calm
Traveling during the holidays with a baby is stressful. It just is. You’ll need to work on managing that stress by keeping yourself emotionally regulated. If you take anxiety meds, make sure you have them with you. Being as prepared as possible and putting together a list of what you need that you can check off will help with the stress, too. Personally, when I’m stressed, I try to go through every possible scenario. It makes me temporarily crazy, but then I can calm down because I’ve thought everything through.
It’s also important to communicate with your partner ahead of time. You should be sharing the load of preparing for the trip and taking care of the baby during travel time. So, go through what you need together and come up with a plan together. Be sure to also work together to guarantee each parent has breaks and can eat throughout travel time. Seriously, you need to eat. Make sure someone is taking care of the baby for a bit so you can eat a meal. Ideally, this will be your partner, but Grandma will probably want some cuddle time too.
Stay home if you can
This might seem like a silly tip, but I feel obligated to mention it. When we had our son, we told our families that we would not be traveling on Christmas Day. We made time for them on Christmas Eve and for other family activities, but Christmas Day would be spent at home. It was important to us to give us and our son recovery time from all the activity. So, we stay home. That should be an option.
No matter what, when it comes to how to travel during the holidays with a baby, it’s going to be an adventure. Stay flexible, embrace the challenges as they come, and document what you can so you can remember those good moments. Above all, plan ahead. You’ve got this.
Erin Lafond is a writer, website creator, and mom. She survived new motherhood by Googling things a lot, calling her mother, and embracing trial and error. Now, she shares her knowledge with all new moms. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and son (soon to be two sons!).