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New Mom Dispatch: Vacationing with baby

Here’s some advice about vacationing with a baby: Lower your expectations and go!

Here’s some advice about vacationing with a baby: Lower your expectations. This tip arrived from my mom on the second day of a Caribbean trip I was taking with my husband and then-7-month-old baby last March. 

We had traveled quite a bit with her already, crisscrossing the country multiple times from our home in New York to see family in Seattle and Los Angeles. She’d already been snowshoeing in Leavenworth and swimming in Palm Springs. (What a life!) 

In fact, we took our first trip with Fiona when she was just 4 weeks old: a two-week jaunt to my in-laws’ summer house. The borrowed minivan was a clown car of gear; it took us hours to get out the door, and in the end we just barely caught the ferry after crawling through stop-and-go traffic while she cried and cried. But we made it, and the salty breeze and a ferry beer were all the sweeter for the difficulty it took to get there. (A parenthood analogy if there ever was one.) 

But the Caribbean trip — in a hotel, on our own — presented fresh challenges. Here’s what I learned: Rent a house. If that’s not possible, get a bigger room at the cheaper hotel. Creeping around a cramped space while the baby napped and the sun shined outside didn’t feel relaxing. For not much more money, we switched to a huge room with a balcony and two bathrooms, one of which became the little lady’s bedroom. Some may look askance at putting a crib in a closet or bathroom, but for us, on many a trip the dark, quiet conditions of these spaces have made for ideal baby sleep. 

On that note, anticipate that vacation sleep is a gamble. In a new place, Fiona might wake up at night (or not) and upon returning home, experience a few days of “hangover” as she gets back on schedule. Sleep for grown-ups can be restless, too. On a recent trip with friends, one (a mom of three) wandered outside at 2 am to double-check that the hot tub was covered. At first I thought this was a little batty. Then I immediately knew this would be me in two years. When we’re in a new place I inevitably sleep extra lightly, even though Fi’s still contained in a Pack ’n Play. 

It used to be that vacation was about catching up on sleep, not losing it. About sprawling out on the beach, not wrestling over hats and sunscreen. Enter the lowered expectations. When it comes to enjoying a trip with a baby, it’s crucial to realize it’s mostly doing the same things — removing sticks from the mouth, negotiating naps — just with a nice, novel background.

Lower your expectations and you very likely will exceed them. Traveling with a baby is fun, really fun. Flying has never been that bad for us (though now that she’s crawling, who knows?) and just like us, Fiona thrives on new sites and fresh faces. Nothing is better than sharing her with friends and family (and getting extra help). But it’s different, and accepting that can make all the difference in one’s enjoyment. 

A few practical things that have also helped: You must add a lap infant to your plane ticket; plastic cups and the bathroom mirror can stand in for toys on a flight; regardless of transport mode, allow for more time than you ever think you’d need.

And the best advice? If you’re waffling about taking a trip, just go. Parental amnesia will wipe out the tedious bits and only the sweet memories will remain.

Born and raised in Seattle, Becca Bergman Bull is a writer, editor and new mom in Brooklyn.

More New Mom Dispatch:

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