Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board
Last updated: June 2008
By the time your baby is 8 months old, she’s become used to her surroundings and familiar faces. Travel can disrupt her sense of security and routine, especially when visiting an unfamiliar place or meeting lots of strangers. “If your baby has to eat, sleep, and play in a way she’s not used to, she can get really cranky and difficult, and who can blame her?” says Susanne Denham, a child development psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University.
When you think your little one is ready for a change of scene, make sure you build up to it slowly, and schedule plenty of downtime away from all the strangers to let her decompress. At this age, she realizes she’s in a new, strange place, but she hasn’t grasped the concept of travel yet. To make your trip safe and successful, consider these tips:
Health and safety
• Before you travel, find out whether your accommodations can be childproofed before you arrive. If not, bring your own childproofing kit that includes doorknob covers, plastic outlet covers, and pipe cleaners or twisties to secure drapery and electrical cords. If you need to travel light, masking tape or duct tape provides a quick fix for most danger zones.
• Prepare a first-aid kit so you’ll have the supplies you need for dealing with minor medical problems while traveling. Be sure to take along any prescription medications that your child requires, even if only on occasion. (It’s always when you leave the inhaler at home that your little one has an asthma attack at Grandma’s.)
• Fill out an emergency sheet containing contact names and numbers and your child’s health information, including the names of any medications she takes, so it’s handy if needed.
• Take a hat for your baby or toddler to shade her from the sun in warm weather or keep her head bundled in cool weather. Sunscreen is a must, too, if you’ll be spending time outdoors — no matter what season. Use sunscreen of at least SPF 15, with both UVA and UVB protection.
• In the car, your baby should always ride in the back seat — in either a rear-facing, infant car seat or a convertible infant-toddler car seat (which can face either the rear or the front). Before you leave, make sure the car seat is properly installed and that the seat’s belts are correctly threaded. Make sure the harness fits your baby snugly and securely.
• Get removable shade screens for the car’s side windows — available at baby supply and discount stores — to shield your child’s eyes from the sun and keep her from getting too hot. Peel-and-stick shades are more secure, and therefore safer, than those that attach with suction cups.
• Keep your baby or toddler as safe as possible when you take public transit (like a bus, train, or taxi) by bringing along a car seat. The car seat will provide some protection even when there are no seat belts to strap it in.
• If you’ve paid for an airplane seat for your baby or toddler, bring an FAA-approved car seat for your child to sit in (this is the safest way for young children to fly). If you haven’t bought a ticket for your child, you’ll be able to use the car seat only if there are empty seats on board. (For more about flying with a young child, see our list of questions to ask your airline ahead of time.)
• If your baby or toddler seems to be experiencing ear pain from air pressure changes during takeoff and landing, encourage her to breastfeed or suck on a bottle, pacifier, or sippy cup. If she’s strapped into a car seat, it’s better to have her suck on something from there than to breastfeed, since it’s safest for both of you to be properly restrained. Keep in mind that not all young chldren need rescuing from ear pain — there are no firm medical guidelines on the topic, so just use your judgment. If your child is sleeping soundly, leave her be and she might get through the takeoff or landing without any trouble. (She’ll wake up and show her discomfort if she’s bothered.)
• If you’re crossing time zones and are worried about upsetting your little one’s schedule, take steps to fight jet lag like shifting her sleep hours for the few days leading up to your departure and exposing her to sunlight once you reach your destination. Try to avoid overscheduling the first few days of your trip, since you can’t predict how disrupted your child’s rhythms might be.
Food and comfort
• If you’re breastfeeding, pack a water bottle or thermos filled with extra liquids to help you stay well hydrated.
• If you’re not breastfeeding, ready-to-use formula is the most convenient thing to bring for your baby. Or just make a few bottles of formula at home to bring along.
• Bring only as much baby food as you’ll need for the journey. You can always buy more once you reach your destination. (Exception: If you’re traveling internationally or to a place where it might be tough to find what you need, it may be less of a headache to pack a full supply of food.)
• Also helpful during meals: A bib that’s large enough to cover most of your child’s outfit, has a plastic or waterproof coating that allows it to be easily wiped off and reused, and can be folded or rolled for easy packing.
• Bring enough diapers for the trip (or enough to last until you reach your destination and can buy more), bags for dirty diapers, and diaper-rash lotion. Diaper covers provide added insurance against leaks.
• Pack at least one extra set of clothes for yourself and your chlid that’s easily accessible (for instance, in your carry-on bag). You never know when a diaper leak, spit-up, or other mess might render an outfit unwearable.
• Take along a goody bag containing a few of your child’s favorite toys, plus some surprises. Possibilities include musical toys, board books, empty containers, nesting toys, and hand puppets. Playthings that will hold your child’s attention the longest are your best bets.
• Stick a travel-friendly changing pad in your diaper bag for use in public or airplane bathrooms.
• Stash some large, resealable plastic bags in your car trunk or diaper bag. They’re a simple solution for the temporary storage of messy items like dirty diapers, bibs, and wet bathing suits.
• If you need both a car seat and stroller for your trip and your child is still small enough for an infant car seat (around 20 or 22 pounds maximum, depending on the seat), a stroller or stroller frame that will carry the car seat cuts down on the gear you have to lug, as well as the hassle of getting in and out of cars and airplanes. It also allows you to move your sleeping babe from the car to the restaurant without disturbing his slumber.
• A lightweight stroller (sometimes called an umbrella stroller) isn’t as cushy as a larger stroller, but is tops for travel because it can be carried easily and folded compactly — and even stowed in a plane’s overhead bin, if permitted by your airline.
• A baby backpack is a great way to keep your hands free while carting around your child — and give her a fascinating view from on high. (First make sure you can handle shouldering her weight for an extended period of time.)
• If you’ll be staying in a hotel or motel, request a crib when you make your room reservation or you may be out of luck when you arrive. Another option: Bring your own portacrib, play yard, or portable bed.
• A portable play yard makes an instant, child-safe area that you can plunk down in relatives’ homes, hotels, or other places that may not be childproofed.