When you’re a keen traveller, with a new baby you find yourself shielding well meaning vocal missiles from parents intending to give a bit of travel advice.

There’s the “…your life will be different now. You have no idea” statement aimed at creating a re-evaluation of how you spend money. Or more pointedly how you choose to continue to spend money on travel. There’s the “forget about travelling, your priorities change when you become a parent” statement suggestive that your selfish ways of gallivanting around the globe should shift a notch. Equally annoying is the “you plan your days different when you travel with a baby. You’ll spend your afternoons in a hotel room” statement that has you question the value of your holiday plans even before you leave. I heard someone mention they spent their holiday meals eating in the bathroom so they didn’t wake the baby, too.

Fending off the unsolicited missiles, trying to find the gem of information that could help create the best first family holiday, is like hunting for ruby off the South Coast of Wellington. But: have baby; will travel. Here’s what we learnt with our very first long haul as a family of 3.

Family outing at the beach

Disclaimer:

Travel is important to our family. We don’t have one of those miracle babies who sleeps through the night or who doesn’t cry. Quite the opposite. Our baby was born over 5 weeks early, spent days on end screaming, and still wakes at least twice a night. We are just like other parents; our baby behaves like a baby, and we want to make the most of every day we all have together.

A mini-trip beforehand sheds valuable insight

When baby was 3 months old we took a mini adventure. One sage piece of advice that came our way, which we recommend to other families. The mini adventure taught us what our daughter needs and wants, when she is in unfamiliar territory.

Here’s what we learnt:

  • She needs a personal space for her own downtime. Leaning on our shoulder is not enough; time to herself, away from anyone is valuable to her. For travelling, that means we need to take either a bassinet (with baby monitor so we feel comfortable leaving her alone in her own space), a buggy that has an enjoyable space for her (ie: not a capsule buggy), or her familiar play mat to stretch out on with toys.
  • Overhead announcements in public places (airports and ferry terminals) tend to happen right when baby finally gets to sleep. Solution: Babybanz earmuffs. A lifesaver for long airport waits on a long haul trip.
  • Flights don’t bother baby, but groups of people do. Solution: inward facing front pack for all those crowded places like malls, airports, or exploring big cities.

Accommodation is now the most important aspect

It now takes longer to become organised and leave the hotel. Sometimes too, our little one needs an hour between activities to lay down on a mat and stretch her legs out, or her nap time is an opportunity for wary parents to rest. In short; there are now times where being at the accommodation are both necessary and delightful.

But when on holiday one doesn’t want to feel like they’re trapped in a boring old square box, away from the destination they came to see. So we meticulously picked accommodation with spacious balconies which also had lovely views of the destination. We also chose places where there were plenty of things to do from the accommodation such as snorkel or surf right from the resort’s door, or grab a beer or cocktail to have on the balcony, poolside or at the beachside restaurant. Private pool villas or pool access rooms can be perfect for allowing parents to enjoy holidaying while baby sleeps too!

Pack accessories that baby sleeps in on the move

Thankfully our daughter sleeps contently in a buggy, front pack, or in the car. For that reason we travelled with our own capsule (for the hire car), front pack, and buggy. Doing so allowed us to go for hikes while she slept, explore new towns during nap time, and even have late night drinks and dinner after she’s gone to sleep.

Spend 1-2 nights longer at each place

Most parents have heard themselves lament how little it seems is accomplished in one day. Travelling is no different. Before our daughter was born we’d pack in as many sights and activities as possible each day, maximising daylight hours, and exploring every inch of a destination. With our daughter in tow we learnt it’s best to pick one activity per day, and allow for a day or two where rest might win over the very best intentions. For Hawaii, that meant we stayed for 5 nights on the North Shore and 3 nights in Waikiki (having visited previously there wasn’t a lot we wanted to tick off in Waikiki so 3 nights were plenty).

Beach days aren’t what they used to be

Gone are the days where lazing about on a beach towel with a book between dips in the ocean, made the best holidays. A 5 month old baby can’t spend long periods of time on a beach, in the heat, or in the ocean. It took me almost the whole holiday to realise day’s spent swimming and relaxing at the beach aren’t on the agenda, and if I’d had let go of the idea at the beginning of the holiday, I may have avoided unnecessary frustration. A beach day with a 5 month old means a short period of time holding her upright while she explores the sand in her fingers and toes, then holding her in the ocean for a dip. In total it’s maybe 30 minute periods of beach going at a time. Fun, but not relaxing.

Take a baby rain coat

Ever seen one? I haven’t. Wish I did though; it would mean that there were opportunities to explore even when tropical downpours hit. And downpour they do.

Night flights with the bassinet are best

Our daughter enjoyed the bassinet in the plane, and this was well worth the extra spend. We noticed that on the outbound flight she slept most of the journey because it occurred during her usual night time sleep anyway. However the inbound flight was a different story. Being a day flight she was eager to play more, and due to the noise and lights she found it difficult to nap as much.

Recognise this is a new travel style

With a 5 month old baby, mum is still figuring out who the new version of her actually is. It takes a while to realise that being Mum doesn’t end. It doesn’t end on weekends, it doesn’t end during the night, and it doesn’t end on holiday either. For mum’s entire life beforehand, decisions and choices have been up to her, but this is a new version of normal where Mum now juggles making sure baby receives everything she needs, and Dad has the holiday he wants too. The very essence of being a Mum is to release herself into giving entirely to another. And it takes a little while to really learn that. Holidaying for Mum is now about finding joy in seeing others pleased.

What making the most of the holiday looked like to us

Baby wakes the family up ready to start the day. Taking time to prepare for the day in the hotel room, we ate pre-purchased breakfasts on the balcony, fed baby, and interacted with her while we enjoyed a morning coffee with a view. Out of the hotel and ready to take on an attraction- road trip to Pipeline (we took our own car seat since baby sleeps well in it), going for a hike (we took a front pack so baby would face out if we wanted her to explore, or face in if we wanted her to sleep), maybe wandering around to explore on foot, or sometimes a short morning swim. Baby normally took her morning nap wile we were out either in the car or in the front pack. This allowed up to explore right up until lunchtime.

Somehow baby moved her own naps a little, which worked better for us on the holiday anyway. She organically switched to 2 x short morning naps and her longer one became later in the day. Perfect, as by the time her long sleep came around we were ready to put our feet up. We generally did this back in the room so baby could have a quality sleep in her cot while we sipped a beer and relaxed on the balcony. Once she woke we would usually lay her out on a mat on the balcony to play with her toys, practice tummy time, and generally be a baby of freedom.

About this time we were often keen to head out and watch the sunset or sip a cocktail before. This happens earlier than babies sleep time so we would take the buggy and a bag with all her evening paraphernalia. As 6 pm rolled around we’d begin her bottle/feed routine while out and about and put her to sleep at her normal bed time in the buggy. While she slept we would head out for dinner, back home around the time of her dream feed when we would convert her to her cot.