Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

Backpacking After Baby

Family Travel
by Deanna Niles McConnell Jun 23, 2009
Deanna Niles McConnell gives five experience-tested tips for hitting the road after giving birth.

A lot of people believe parenthood is the end of the party. The needs of a tiny person can be overwhelming, and it often feels easier to just never leave the house. There’s all that stuff that babies need (or we’re told that babies need), and you hate the idea of traveling with more than just a backpack and a smile.

But there’s no need to let your new addition keep you home. Quite the contrary: babies are portable and often don’t need as much stuff as you’d think. We traveled with our 10-week old daughter Maggie, had a delightful time, and only took one additional piece of luggage–her car seat.

Here are five tips to get you ready for traveling again:

1. Leave the stroller and portable crib at home.

Strollers can be bulky, hard to navigate through crowds, they certainly don’t work on hikes, and some smaller attractions might have you check them at the door. And those pack-and-play cribs are a heavy, cumbersome joke.

Instead, wrap baby-wearing carriers–long cloth pieces that can be tied and configured however you need–let you pop your baby in and out whenever you happen upon a place you want to see. If you’re skilled at transitions, you can move them into the carrier without waking them from naps. And if you wear the baby in the correct position in a wrap or sling, you can discreetly sneak in a feeding.

As for sleeping, call ahead to see if your hotel/hostel/B&B might have a pop up crib you can borrow. We used an infant travel bed, which folded up and fit right into our main backpack. Co-sleeping is also a great way to save space, provided you can do so safely.

2. Plan to do a little laundry.

We use cloth diapers, which sound like a traveler’s nightmare until you realize how handy a clean cloth diaper can be. They take care of spit up, make great padding for fragile objects, and do double-duty in a first aid kit if you need to apply pressure.

That said, babies do leak an extraordinary amount of goo, and you should scope out the local laundry options. This is also a great way to meet and get to know locals–babies attract attention, and if you can use your baby’s friendly smiles to start a conversation, you can ask the local opinion on things that aren’t covered in the guide book.

3. Go slow and do your homework.

We planned light daily itineraries with ample opportunities for hanging out in parks and feedings. We were pleasantly surprised when our daughter proved to be fairly hardy and we were able to pack more into the day. Respect your baby’s needs: if you have a rough baby day, you aren’t disappointed that you weren’t able to do all you wanted, and if you have a good baby day, you get to do more than you thought.

Check to see what your urgent care options are. And for nursing moms: read up on local delicacies and start to incorporate new foods into your diet before you leave. Vacation is a bad time to discover that a new dish bothers baby’s belly.

4. Use what you already have.

Got lightweight camping towels? Don’t bring extra spit up rags or blankets. A camp towel takes up little space and quickly washes up if it gets stained. And if your baby is overstimulated by the new locale and needs to be swaddled to calm down, they make an excellent large swaddling blanket–that camp towel brought us from five-alarm baby meltdown to seven blissful hours of sleep within five minutes.

Do you take a water bladder system in your backpack? Use it to store fresh water for bottles if you bottle-feed. You already take a day pack with you–repack it to serve as a diaper bag. Don’t buy into the idea that everything you use for baby has to be new, pastel, and sold by Babies ‘R Us–you’ll pack less and enjoy more.

5. Keep a journal.

Sharing the world beyond your hometown with your child is a major moment for new parents. Don’t let sleep deprivation keep you from remembering every moment.

Community Connection:

While the advice here is geared toward practical tips for traveling with an infant, Janice Stringer offers 10 considerations for traveling with toddlers and older kids. If you’re wondering why you should travel with your kids, Kate Sedgwick offers seven reasons.

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