A friend recently told me, “Vacations become trips when you have kids.” That got me thinking of my own upcoming “vacations.” As a new mom, everything is a new adventure, and I’m learning you really can’t plan for anything. But I am a planner by nature. It’s been one of the hardest things in my motherhood journey — to let go. Going with the flow is not my first instinct. Instead, I thrive with advance planning, by making detailed lists and having structure. That went out the window when I had a baby, and I’m working on adjusting — but not without anxiety and stress creeping in.
With a big trip with my family looming, I went through what I always do before traveling. I made an extensive packing list, planned out each step, went through the “what if” scenarios for Hunter, and got my mind around how it will — or may — go. I talked to my mom friends and my Facebook support groups. I was ready. Or so I thought.
But things didn’t go according to my very thorough plan. As a result, this “trip” turned out to be just the learning experience I needed to let go, and to transform future trips into vacations. Here are some tips and tools that helped me. I hope they help you too!
Don’t wait until the last minute to think about packing and planning. There is nothing wrong with a little advanced organizing. Make lists of all the things you’ll need to pack — not only for your baby, but also for yourself. I planned it out by day, so I knew exactly how many pajamas, outfits, and other items I would need daily. For the baby, I learned it’s a good idea to always allow for a few more items, as unexpected spills or diaper blowouts are likely to happen. And be OK with throwing your plan out the window. Remember, your baby may have their own agenda, and that’s alright! Reframe your thinking from, “This isn’t what I planned,” to “OK, let’s roll with this.” Believe me, that’s easier said than done. But on our trip, instead of being stressed about all the changes, I laughed and saw what was happening through Hunter’s eyes. I made a point to remind myself that he is seeing everything for the first time — how exciting is that!
I have a tendency to overpack. Adding a baby on top of that triples what I’d normally plan for. One thing we realized early on is that my husband and I each only have two arms, and we needed to be able to carry all the bags we were planning for. Here’s how I managed:
Think about your space
One thing we didn’t think about when booking our hotel room was naps and sleep. We got a normal room for us all, but didn’t factor in the fact that Hunter takes two naps a day, and goes to bed at 7 p.m. We luckily had a balcony, so we sat out there while he was sleeping, and we didn’t have to stay in the dark in the room, but it would have been better if we had thought ahead and requested a suite with another living space. If your budget doesn’t allow for a bigger room, you can still make a separate space by getting some command hooks and a dark shower curtain liner — hang it as a divider between your bed and the crib so your baby doesn’t see you when you are watching a movie on your iPad. Also, that noise machine will be a savior to block out noisy neighbors and sounds they may not be accustomed to.
Plan for the plane ride
This was a big stressor for me. What if Hunter didn’t sleep at all on the flight, or cried the whole time, or had a diaper blowup? Here’s the truth: Parents so often feel like what is happening with their little one on a plane is far worse than the reality. Yes, we’ve all been annoyed at one point in our lives when a baby cries on a flight — but mostly we feel bad for the parents and have some understanding. Give yourself a break and know that everything will be OK when you get on that plane, but do plan for the unexpected.
Hunter didn’t nap at all; he was too excited and curious about his new adventure. He also decided to find his voice on the plane, and yelled excitedly — often. We, as his parents, did our best to keep him entertained and were as polite as possible to all those around us. And each person just gave us a warm smile, and many even gave us a knowing nod at our situation. So don’t be afraid of the plane, just be prepared. Here’s what I did:
Again, I am a mom that thrives on having a plan and sticking to a routine. Hunter is on a sleep schedule that we try to stick to, but on vacation, changes are inevitable. That was a hard lesson for me to adjust to. I learned quickly that if we wanted to do anything during the day, we may not be able to have him in his crib to nap. We took a family trip to the San Diego Zoo and planned for an on-the-fly nap. I brought a carrier in the hopes he would sleep on me, and he did, but only for a short time. I didn’t want to miss out on the fun, but I ended up stressing about the nap anyway, and not fully enjoying our time at the zoo.
This was a hard lesson for me, but an important one. Babies are adaptable. Hunter just went to bed a bit earlier and made up for the sleep that night. Vacation isn’t a typical day, and it’s OK to be a little flexible with how you spend your days. Also, if you are breastfeeding, I found that bringing a portable pump is a good idea — this way you can bring a bottle on the fly and not worry about finding a place to nurse. I personally like The Willow, which has no wires and which you can do anywhere, but a simple hand pump could do as well. One day of not being on schedule is okay, but do what is comfortable for you. If skipping out on an activity will make you feel better, do that. It’s better to feel good than to feel stressed all day. Take small steps if you need to, and see what works for your family.
Truly, I found that the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. This is new for everyone! Enjoy the journey, accept any stress that arises, and then move on to the positive. Take deep breaths — you’ve got this!
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