Traveling with a baby is different and difficult, but not impossible

November 13, 1994|By Gary S. Warner | Gary S. Warner,Orange County Register

After three hours in the plane and four more in the rental car, my wife and I collapsed, bone tired, in a motel in Pocatello, Idaho.

Our eyes drooped. Our limbs ached. Sleep beckoned. Suddenly, a painful tug on my beard and a loud squeal. "Hey!" my wife yelped as a hand whacked against her back.

Opening our eyes, we met the beaming, pacifier-festooned face of our 9-month-old son, Tom, who had wiggled his way between us. After seven hours of snoozing in a car and a plane, he was ready to party.

Traveling with baby changes everything. Goodbye, spontaneous weekend getaways. Goodbye, swanky, candle-lighted restaurants. Goodbye, sleeping on planes or driving 10-hour stretches.

But baby doesn't have to be a travel bummer. If you pepper plans with a dose of reality, the first year of an infant's life doesn't have to mean confinement at home for parents.

"The main thing is to be realistic about what you can do and where you can go," says Sandi Schwarm, director of child-care programs at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

"Travel can make babies frightened. They may cry, or they may have a great time and be fascinated by the way the passing car lights go over the top of the roof."

The parents often make the difference between good experiences and bad.

"The most important thing is that the child feels secure," Dr. Schwarm says. "For example, if you are flying, place your hand on the child during takeoff and landing so that it doesn't get that scary, falling feeling when a plane suddenly drops."

Here are other tips to make a trip with an infant a great experience:

Schedule: Slow down. Ten days in 10 cities with baby is a formula for disaster. You'll need more downtime for laundry, getting supplies and just relaxing. A good bet is to cut the number of moves you'd normally make in half.

What to pack: The days of a pair of overnight bags are gone. You're going to look more like a Victorian hunting party with baby's belongings in tow. Take a portable crib. Hotel cribs are notoriously old and sometimes even unsafe. A lightweight, foldable stroller is a must -- look for one that can fit into an airplane's overhead luggage compartment. Rental-car car seats also tend to be out-of-date models -- bring yours and save the $5-a-day fee.

Health: If you are leaving for an extended period or going overseas, get baby a checkup before you go. Bring all the medicine you need and extra prescriptions in case your bags are lost or bottles break. Bring enough diapers for the first couple of days, but buy the rest at your destination. Call local chambers of commerce to see if local stores carry infant formulas you might need. Even in the United States, changes in the mineral content of water can mean major stomach upsets. For infants younger than 6 months, consider using only bottled water or water from home.

Flying: A long flight with a baby is at best tedious and at worst torture. Children younger than 2 fly free but are not guaranteed a seat. One strategy: Parents book the aisle and window seats and hope the middle seat will be empty. You can increase your chances by avoiding early-morning and late-afternoon flights, and all flights on Fridays and Sundays -- times when they are likely to be full. Ask for a bulkhead seat, which will give you extra room. Otherwise, get an aisle seat so you can walk a cranky child.

Airline food is loaded with sodium and sugar, so bring baby's food or call ahead for a fruit-and-vegetable meal. Offer baby water frequently during the flight -- the pumped-in air is severely dehydrating.

Bring several favorite toys -- better, new toys -- to get baby over RTC the inevitable long hours in confined spaces.

Give yourself plenty of time -- arrive early and use pre-boarding. On arrival, wait until other passengers get off the plane so you can calmly get everything together for your exit.

Be kind -- but firm -- with flight attendants. It's part of their job to help you in key moments during the flight if you are traveling solo with baby. It's OK to ask them to heat baby food, but make the request during a slow period in the flight or as soon as you board. Ask the attendant to hold your baby or watch the baby while you use the restroom.

Driving: Limit driving times to less than four hours and plan road time around your baby's usual nap time.

Before you accept a rental car, make sure your baby seat fits firmly and that the car has the legally required locking devices for shoulder harnesses. Also, ask if the company can give you a free upgrade to a van, which will give you more room.

Rooms: Call ahead. Do not ask whether a hotel or inn accepts babies, but whether it is "baby-friendly." Are there free cribs, refrigerators or stoves in the room for preparing formula? How about contacts for reputable baby-sitters? If the answer is no, look elsewhere.

On the road, a quality motel where you can drive in and drive out is going to be the best bet. Try to get a ground-level room to avoid toting your caravan upstairs.

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