There’s no place like home for the holidays! But “home” does not always mean your home. Americans increasingly have relatives scattered all over the country. That means many families travel far away from their own homes during the holiday season to see loved ones.
Whether you are taking a vacation to a tropical destination or just spending time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house this holiday season, it can be confusing to juggle a baby or toddler in an unfamiliar environment. Here are a few tried-and-true tips for making your holiday home away from home work for you with a little one in tow.
1. Road trip or fly at off-peak periods for less-stress travel with Baby.
The holiday travel season usually means jam-packed airports and bumper-to-bumper traffic on highways. Try your best to travel at off-peak periods to avoid some of this stress. Traveling with babies and toddlers is hard enough, and parents certainly do not need to add to that! Avoid the busiest travel days, like the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday and the Sunday afterwards, if at all possible.
2. Pick lodging that works with little ones.
Where to stay can be the source of holiday stress for families too. A baby or toddler travel companion adds new logistical considerations: Can your little one share a room with parents or siblings? Will your child wake others in the house if he or she isn’t sleeping through the night? Where can Baby nap quietly during the day?
In many cases, staying with family may be the best solution, especially if Grandma’s house has rooms to spare. If the family home is going to be too much like Grand Central Station, however, consider other lodging options. Splurge on a hotel nearby. Perhaps look specifically at hotel brands that offer suite accommodations to give everyone separate sleeping spaces. Consider also a vacation rental where you could have a kitchen for easy food prep and plenty of space to spread out.
3. Take the right gear.
Having the right gear helps make your home away from home feel more comfortable when traveling with Baby. Depending on where you are going, a stroller, car seat, crib, bottles or sippy cups, childproofing supplies, and toys will probably all be on the packing list. Make your list far in advance so you can decide what is essential as well as what versatile extras would make your visit easier. Both of my children, for example, adored and often napped in their infant bouncy seats at home. I always made sure we traveled with one when they were very young so I could have some hands-free time.
If you are flying or simply do not have enough trunk space, consider buying some gear to leave with your extended family to use on future visits. When my first child was born, we purchased an inexpensive playard crib for my parents’ home on the other side of the country. That same crib has now been used with both my children on many visits as well as for my sister’s child. It definitely was money well spent. With most airlines charging checked-bag fees, it is often cheaper to invest in duplicate gear rather than paying to transport more luggage.
4. Leave the big gifts at home.
During the winter holidays, how to handle gifts can be a major source of logistical concern. Should give gifts where you are spending the actual holiday or should you leave the gifts back home for a later celebration? At the very least, give yourself a break and leave big-ticket items at home. They are difficult and expensive to transport and even harder to hide. Babies and toddlers certainly won’t notice the absence of large gifts on the holiday itself. They probably just want to play with the box anyway! Older siblings can learn a little lesson in delayed gratification and may well relish the idea of having a second bite of the holiday apple when they return home.
5. Ship smaller gifts ahead.
Of course, it is always fun to celebrate with some gifts on the actual holiday itself, so giving smaller gifts is a happy compromise. To save on the logistics of transporting and hiding them for one leg of your travels, order these gifts online and ship them ahead to your destination. Just remember to pack an extra duffle bag or two to bring everything home.
6. Go for it — and trust that it’s worth it.
I know it may seem stressful to travel with little ones during the busy holiday season, but I highly recommend doing it now. I am personally profoundly grateful for how much my husband and I traveled to see family when my first-born was a baby. She was able to celebrate the holidays with many of her great-grandparents who are no longer with us. The lifelong memories make up for the temporary frustrations.
Furthermore, the pull of home may grow even stronger as your children grow up. With my oldest child now 8 years old, I have realized how much we want to start to build our own holiday traditions under our own roof. We plan to stay put a little more often in coming years, so I am very glad we took on the challenges of holiday travel with babies and toddlers when we could.