Family Travel Tips: Enjoy Your First Vacation with Baby

The lowdown on what to pack and how to plan, so your first big trip will go off without a hitch.

Baby and mom on vacation

In your pre-baby life, your biggest vacation worry was fitting all your sundresses into one suitcase, or choosing the perfect babymoon for you and your partner. Now you've got a car seat, a stroller and a week's worth of diapers to contend with—and you haven't even hit security. "The first time you travel with a baby is more of an experiment than a vacation," admits Erica Duecy, deputy editor at and mom to a 4-year-old globetrotter. True, but with some thoughtful planning, you can organize a first trip that your little family will love. We tapped real parents and travel pros for their stealth secrets and assembled this list of family-friendly vacation destinations in case you need some inspiration. Get going!

Before You Leave

  • Save Space In Your Suitcase A mom to two young boys, lifestyle blogger Joanna Goddard (Cup of Jo) typically pre-orders diapers, wipes, baby food and even inflatable swim wings from shortly before leaving her New York City apartment. Schedule the goods to arrive at your destination on the same day you do (there's free two-day delivery) so you can travel lighter. It's also a good idea to call the hotel's front desk to ask what gear you can rent during your stay. When you're already attempting to cram an entire baby-goods store in your luggage, every ounce counts.
  • Pack a Family First-Aid Kit You know to bring the basics—baby sunscreen, acetaminophen and bandages—but Hannah Chow-Johnson, M.D., a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System near Chicago, recommends taking an extra step: Request fresh prescriptions for any routine, necessary pediatric medications (e.g., for acid reflux or asthma) and fill them before taking off if you're running low. "Most doctors are not licensed out of the country and can't call in prescriptions to destinations like Mexico or Europe," Chow-Johnson says. If your pediatrician OKs it, also bring a powdered electrolyte solution for diarrhea and dehydration and Children's Benadryl for bug bites and surprise allergic reactions (in a pinch, it'll also quell motion sickness in adults).
  • Screen Potential Babysitters Exploring new terrain with your tiny traveler is a thrill, but what's a vacation without some adults-only time? Booking a sitter in an unfamiliar city can be tricky, but thanks to modern technology, you don't have to hire him or her sight unseen. If you have a personal recommendation from a relative or friend, follow Goddard's lead and schedule a Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout convo with the potential local babysitter pre-getaway. "It's a nice way to 'meet' a sitter and feel comfortable with her before leaving on a trip," she says. "I've even held our older son Toby up to the computer to say hello!"

    You can also call your hotel concierge to see if they keep sitters on staff. "Ask if they've already been vetted and had a background check," Duecy says. If your resort has a kids' club, you might also stop by to inquire if any counselors are available to work evenings. Duecy adds that if you use a nationwide child care service such as Bright Horizons at home, the company might be able to make a referral.

Getting There

  • Board Last When it's time to find your seat on a plane, it's tempting to climb aboard early with your partner to help juggle Junior and all his accompanying paraphernalia. But Elisette Carlson of San Diego swears that hanging back with her two young sons and sending her hubby ahead saved her sanity on many a trip when her kids were infants. "I would have him put away the diaper bags, buckle in the car seat and prep the area, while I made sure I was the last one on the plane," she explains. You'll avoid the commotion and shuffling that can be tough on wee ones. Once everyone else is settled, slip into your seat and feed your bambino or give him a pacifier; the simple act of swallowing helps equalize the pressure in baby's ears and reduce his discomfort on takeoff and landing.
  • Control for Crying We've all heard about apologetic parents passing out earplugs and candy to everyone on board their flight, alongside a remorseful, "Sorry if our 14-week-old twins lose their cool!" note. Those parents have their you-know-what together far more than most. "Traveling with a child is hard enough without trying to placate your fellow passengers with $15 Starbucks cards," Duecy reassures. As long as you're visibly attempting to comfort your not-yet frequent flyer, most people will be understanding. Or you can try the fallback Duecy used when her daughter would launch into a crying jag in the clouds: Offer to buy your seatmates a drink, then briskly move to the back of the plane where the roar of the engine drowns out wails. The steady, stimulating white noise can also help calm Baby down.
  • Pump While On the Go Traveling by car? Riding shotgun may give you control of the playlist, but logging some miles pumping in the back seat can save time and frustration. Kate Lamberton and her husband took their first road-trip-plus-one—from their home in central Pennsylvania to Minneapolis—when their daughter was 9 months old and still breastfeeding. "It's a 20-hour drive and we didn't want to have to stop every three hours to nurse," she explains. So, armed with an extra set of clean pump parts, a battery pack and a cooler, she spent part of the drive expressing and feeding her baby, who was secure in her car seat. The tactic saved nearly four hours of pit stops. Lamberton used her shirt to hide the pump, but you could also pack a nursing cover to thwart curious onlookers. Use waterless wipes to sanitize pump parts between sessions. Related: Your Pumping Problems, Solved

Once You Arrive

  • Babyproof Your Digs Let's get real: You're not going to B.Y.O.T.L. (Bring Your Own Toilet Lock). But there are some basics that every parent should practice when setting up camp in a hotel room or vacation rental with the under-1-year-old set. First, inquire with your hotel about pre-babyproofed rooms. Some resorts, such as Breakers Palm Beach, will cover electrical outlets, protect table corners and remove plastic bags from garbage cans upon request.

    Assuming you'll need to DIY, follow these precautionary steps from Arvey Levinsohn, an advanced certified professional childproofer in Northbrook, Ill.: Pack a dozen or so outlet caps and install them as soon as you settle in. Next, block access to the bathroom by keeping the door closed or moving an end table or ottoman in front of the entrance. This eliminates a slew of baby-safety hazards, including the bathtub, toilet, cosmetics and medications. Ensure all other heavy furniture (e.g., dressers, armoires, TVs) is securely anchored. Levinsohn recommends bringing a roll of painter's tape to keep little fingers out of dangerous drawers. Lastly, resist the temptation to fling open the patio doors. It may let in the ocean air, but it also brings a host of risks, including accidental falls. There's plenty of time to bask in the breeze on outings, we promise!

  • Sleep Soundly When it comes to sticking to your tot's sleep schedule, just do the best you can. If you're taking a longer trip (more than two or three nights) and you'll be several time zones away from home, you can help her acclimate: "A week before you depart, begin slowly shifting her bedtime by 15 to 30 minutes every day so when you arrive, you're already on the modified time," says Rebecca Kempton, M.D., an infant and pediatric sleep consultant in Chicago and owner of Baby Sleep Pro. (Traveling east to west, you would move bedtime later pre-departure.) In the morning, expose your little one to as much natural light as possible—it helps her circadian rhythms adjust— and don't attempt to skip naps just so you can squeeze in another museum. Even a snooze in the car seat is better than nothing!

    Kempton also recommends creating the most sleep-friendly environment possible by bringing a familiar crib sheet for the play yard, a stuffed animal or a white noise machine if Baby is accustomed to it (just make sure to keep it a safe distance from her delicate ears). A free app like Relax Melodies (available in the App Store and on Google Play) can also play soothing sounds.

    Related: Sleep, Baby, Sleep