Jett at five months old has now racked up some pretty impressive frequent flyer miles for his age! We have traveled to Denver, Phoenix (twice) and now Jamaica is a stamp on his passport. Even though we are far from being experts on the subject and we have a lot of learning to do still.. I wanted to make a list of tips & tricks, along with things we learned for NEXT time with hopes that it keeps growing as we continue to travel as he gets older.
I went into our trip to Jamaica with what I thought was very neutral expectations. I knew bringing Jett along would present its challenges, but we were determined to make it work, as traveling is something we love and want to share with our growing family. The trip had been planned for a few months...fly to Montego Bay, Jamaica to an all-inclusive resort for six days with Brandon's family - his parents and younger brother. I was prepared to take it slow, knowing bedtimes would be early, naps would be scattered throughout the day and we would probably just have to go with the flow leaving our daily plans open to account for any situation that might arise.
It seems that we were to be dealt a pretty tough hand with random predicaments thrown our way that now we can laugh at, but at the time caused us (mainly ME, as I am definitely the over-stressor of this relationship) quite a bit of stress. On the whole, we DID make some awesome memories - Jett's first time at the beach, in the sand, swimming in the pool, watching the sunset ... dinner dates spent on our room's balcony, a trip ziplining (while Jett stayed with his Grandma), breakfasts together every morning as a family and of course plentiful sunshine and warm weather! Here we are about two weeks removed from the trip and I can say I'm actually pretty thankful for those hiccups we experienced because we learned SO much and if we were to redo the week, we would be so much more prepared! All lessons for next time.
So here is my list of takeaways - things we have learned from the few trips we have taken. Now I know that every baby is different, so some of these may not work for you, but have definitely worked for us.
1. Shorter legs are better than straight flights
Our very first flight with Jett was about 45 minutes of flying time. He was pretty young and slept the whole time, but it was a great first go at the whole process of checking in, going through security, boarding etc. On our way down to Jamaica, we had a 1.5 hour flight to Houston and a 2.5 hour flight to Montego Bay. Jett is now getting to an age where sitting still for a long time is difficult. He wants to be up and about, looking at lights, people, and new things. The 2.5 hour flight went pretty smoothly, even though I was a bit worried about it since it was mid-day when he was up and active (contrasted to our previous 2.5 hour flight to Phoenix, where it was nighttime and he slept pretty easily). Totally a different story on our flight back home from Montego Bay to Chicago which was 4.5 hours. We had a very tired and restless baby. It was difficult to keep him entertained, especially when he was so overtired and found it difficult to nap just on our laps. If I were to do it again, I would have made sure our flight home were two shorter legs instead of the long 4.5 hour trek we made Jamaica --> Chicago.
2. Sit in an Aisle seat
Now this may come as an obvious choice for most of you with kids, but our flight from Houston to Montego Bay, I had a window seat. I don't think we put much thought into it when we chose our seats but this was NOT a good idea. Like I mentioned above, Jett wanted to be up and walking around and we were stuck by the window. I quickly realized this needed to change and we swapped with Brandon's brother who had an aisle seat a few rows back. Huge difference maker.
3. Bring the stroller and check it at the gate
I had read lots of different views on this before our very first flight. Some people preferred to baby-wear and check the stroller with the bags. Even though its more to lug through security, we have found that having the stroller is the best option for us. Jett loves his stroller and can easily nap in it when on the go. We found this especially helpful on our longer layovers and when we went through customs on the way home. I was able to get him to nap for a good chunk of time - that would have not been possible if we would have not had the stroller.
4. Bring a change of clothes with you - have it accessible.
On our flights down to Jamaica, I dressed Jett in his fleecy pajamas because planes tend to get pretty cold. I brought a short-sleeved onesie for him to change into when we arrived to warmer weather, but had put it on my carry-on that was stowed overhead. The flight got pretty warm on our second flight and before I was able to get into my carry-on we had to just take Jett completely out of his clothes, down to his diaper for fear it was just too toasty for him. So having that change of clothes easy to access is key - for anything from a change in temperature, to a blowout!
At the Hotel/Resort
1. Do your research
Look up the hotel online, scroll through the photos, even try going on YouTube to watch a video of someone reviewing their room at the resort. We did this to better familiarize ourselves (and maybe just so I was mentally prepared by knowing what to expect). I was curious if there was an area of the room a little bit removed from the rest that we could have comfortably put our pack and play, and where we could keep it dark and removed from where we might be making noise. (that would have been ideal, and there wasn't..but we put him in the corner where the light from outside wouldn't shine on him). I also wish I would have looked up the LAYOUT of the resort, or at least called ahead to get an idea of the best place on the property to have our hotel room for the week. This is a big lesson for us for next time! My original idea was to try and get a room on the main level- close to a pool or a beach where it would be easy to access and save us time when we are going and coming from naps and feedings. This was probably the biggest mistake and lesson learned as our room initially was right by the pool which meant loud people and blasting music.. making it close to impossible for Jett to nap. We ended up moving to a room on the second floor in a different building that was more remote and our life for the week improved drastically!
2. Invest in a good travel pack and play
We were gifted the Baby Bjorn travel pack and play before Jett was born, and let me tell you, it has been such a valuable item to us! It is assembled/disassembled in minutes and zips up into a easy to carry package with handles. We check it with our luggage and it goes with us on every trip. I have found that cribs supplied by the hotel are not always the most comfortable - plus this one is just so easy to bring I would rather Jett get familiar with this particular bed and remove that "will he sleep in this different bed" variable. When you are on a trip you want to enjoy and getting enough rest is a huge factor to your babies mood, logging quality sleep hours is that is just something I don't want to risk!
3. Nap tips
Backup nap plans: Like I mentioned above, our first room made it impossible for successful day naps. (Actually for the entire trip Jett fought crib naps) We ended up having to put him in the stroller and walk him around the resort for him to fall asleep and get some rest during the day.
What to do when baby sleeps: IF you are able to get some good crib naps, this is where having a nice balcony comes in handy! Brandon and I enjoyed our time spent together while Jett was sleeping in our room. We ended up just talking on our balcony and enjoying the nice weather. Another idea I wish I would have thought of was to bring cards, or game we could have played since we needed to stay back at the room while Jett slept.
Take turns with sleeping baby: We also took turns staying back when he napped while the other enjoyed time at the beach or pool with family. One of the days while Brandon had nap duty, I really enjoyed my hour and a half reading on the beach!
4. If your breastfeeding (and pumping) bring a manual pump, just in case!
(This one is VERY important for international travel/ traveling somewhere remote) I learned the hard way that you need to bring a backup in case your pump breaks on you! Yes, day two my pump broke, which was also Christmas Day so there was nothing open AND even if they were, finding an electric pump somewhere close to the resort in a foreign country... next to impossible! Also important to note is to make sure your room has a mini fridge to store milk/bottles is key too if you are pumping and storing for later use!
5. Diapers/wipes for a long trip
It depends on where you are traveling to for this one, but there are two methods to ensuring you have enough diapers/wipes. Buy ahead of time: When we travel somewhere in the US, we bring along enough to get us TO our destination, and then make sure to order diapers online to have sent ahead to be waiting for us when we arrived at where we are staying so we didn't have to pack them. Pack what you need: For this trip, since it was international and I was just unsure if we would be able to buy them IN Jamaica (also just wasn't sure what kind of options we would have there) I estimated how many we would need by counting how many Jett went through in a typical day, then multiplied that by how many days we were to be gone (plus added a little more to be safe). I packed what I thought would be plenty of diapers for the 6 days we were gone. ANOTHER lesson learned, be generous on the amount of extra you have if you go this route! We ended up having ONE MORE DIAPER than we needed by the end of the trip. Those last few days we were definitely rationing those diapers!
Just know that traveling with babies is much different than before babies!! We made so many great memories (and joke that the road bumps we experienced will probably be the BEST memories) but its definitely a change of pace. As you continue to travel you will learn what works best for you and your baby and how to make the next trip better. (We definitely did!) Keep traveling mamas! Take lots of photos and make memories with your little ones!