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Tips for Traveling With a Baby: How to Take a Relaxing Vacation as a New Parent

When you’re a new parent, simply getting out the door to run to the grocery store can feel like a challenge. Remembering everything you need for a couple hours—diapers, bottles, burp cloths, toys, change of clothes for emergencies—can turn you into a professional stuff shuffler, as my husband and I joke. The thought of taking an international trip with an infant? Requiring Herculean effort. 

That’s why, when we decided to plan a trip to Mexico with our 11-month-old son, our first child, we didn’t tell anyone about it, figuring we’d be hit with resounding choruses of “you’re crazy.” Back from the experience, I’m here to tell you: Our five-day trip was packed with special memories, family bonding, a few challenges and even relaxation. It wasn’t the lounge-all-day-with-a-margarita-on-the-beach kind of trip we were used to; it was better.

I’ve heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a vacation, just parenting in a different location,” many times, but I don’t believe it to be true. Through some preplanning and mindset work, it is possible to enjoy a relaxing vacation as a new parent. (And to be honest, you deserve it.) Here are nine tips for traveling with a baby to help create a relaxing vacation as a new parent. 

1. Let go of expectations

Have the mindset that your vacation with a baby is going to be different from your past vacations without one. We went into our trip expecting that parts of it would be challenging (like getting up at 4 a.m. for our flight). When they went better than expected (he was happy waking early!), it put all of us in a good mood. When they went awry (baby getting carsick on the drive to our resort), we made the best of it.

“If you go in with these rosy Instagram expectations, you can only be disappointed,” says Tovah Klein, Ph.D., mom of three, child psychologist and author of the forthcoming book, Raising Resilience: How to Help Our Children Thrive in Times of Uncertainty. The uncertainty of traveling with babies is the most difficult part, she adds. “You’re going to have moments that you can post that will make your whole vacation look good, but what you’re doing to prepare is so important. Every moment’s not going to be an Instagram moment, but this doesn’t mean [your vacation] is ruined.”

2. Stay somewhere that’s baby friendly

The No. 1 thing to consider is where to stay: a resort or vacation rental property. “​​You have to weigh the importance of a lot of different things, like is it more important to have more space so the baby can sleep in a different room, or is it more important to you to be more convenient to the beach,” says Mary Helen Law, mom to a 3- and 4-year-old and luxury travel advisor with Law Luxury Travel.

Usually, she recommends new parents go the resort route if it’s within their budget. “When you are in a vacation rental, that’s basically doing what you’re doing, but with fewer of the conveniences that you have for yourself at home,” she says. “A resort can feel much more relaxing when you’re not having to get up for every single thing you need.”

The writer and her family on vacation at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Ogletree.)

We chose Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort about 45 minutes from the Cancun airport. It’s incredibly family friendly, with a Baby Concierge program that made our trip so much more relaxing. Our room was an ideal setup for new parents, with amenities like a crib, high chair, bottle warmer, bottle sanitizer, bouncer, stroller and new toys (including an adorable stuffed monkey) waiting for us in our room. The room service menu even had a selection of purees for babies, making mealtime a breeze. (We didn’t use it on this trip, but have in the past, and would highly recommend BabyQuip, like Airbnb for baby gear, that enables you to travel nearly gear free.)

The best resort for new parents traveling with a baby depends on where you’re coming from, Law adds. Consider options for where you want to go, then how you can minimize the legs of travel to get there, she advises. And don’t be afraid to call ahead of booking to ask specific questions about what they can accommodate for families with babies. Even if their websites don’t promote it, “many resorts will offer things and bend over backwards to help you,” says Law.

3. Be more flexible with baby’s schedule and rules while on vacation

New parents know the rhythm of planning days around nap times and feedings. On vacation, that doesn’t have to go out the window entirely, but flexibility is key to making your days away feel less rigid and more relaxing. Maybe you end up bending the wake windows or the “rules” you have at home—such as no co-sleeping—when you’re on vacation, to keep everyone happy and rested, says Law. “You just have to realize that it’s not going to be perfect, and you’re making these core memories on vacation.”

4. Take turns with your partner

Two naps a day for our son meant my husband and I splitting the time to go in and lie down with him. I’d often take the morning shift, resting or reading a book while he slept on my chest, giving my husband free time to hang out at the pool bar. In the afternoon, we’d swap. I’d spend my hour of free time swimming in the ocean and just quietly sitting alone, a luxury for a new mom. We found that both shifts were relaxing in different ways. Bringing along your parents or other family members would help to split up the shifts with a baby, too.

5. Pack your sense of humor

Things will happen that make you want to cry (i.e., our son taking a header into the sand with a faceful of sunscreen), but choose to laugh about it instead. You may have your morning on the beach, but it lasts 10 minutes; or you forget to bring a bottle, and poolside screaming ensues. “The lighter you are on yourself and the image of this, the better off you’ll be, and the better you’ll be able to go with the flow,” says Klein.

6. Minimize personal grooming

Past versions of me on vacation would spend an hour washing, drying and styling my hair and applying makeup before dinner. The new mom version? Wet hair up in a clip, fresh faced and spending that hour playing and strolling with my son instead. He had new resortwear, I didn’t; but bringing my go-to dresses and keeping personal care to a minimum on this trip made it more relaxing to me as a mother. Focusing on the memory making, rather than how the memories would look in photos, helped me to enjoy this trip even more. 

7. Don’t overplan

Planning a couple things a day is enough, leaving white space to live in the moment and see the world through your child’s eyes. “Your baby crawling through a new place and looking up with wonder is actually pretty great for a parent,” says Klein.

We had three full non-travel days at Grand Velas, and our agenda those days looked loosely like this: breakfast when we woke up, pooltime interspersed with naptime, early dinner. One day, I scheduled a massage for myself. It was incredibly relaxing, but I also would have been OK without it, as half the time I felt guilty leaving my husband and son on their own.

8. Use a babysitter, if available

Grand Velas offered a nanny service for an extra hourly fee, which we took advantage of one evening to visit an outstanding multicourse, adults-only restaurant on property. I felt guilty at first, but the nanny, Nora, was wonderful with our son from the moment she arrived, leaving me confident in our decision. We enjoyed an amazing dinner and conversation and came back to our room to a baby sleeping peacefully.

9. Delight in the simple moments

Our vacation agenda looked different as new parents—no more late evening dinners, hours chatting up fellow travelers at the bar or enjoying nightly entertainment. But we adapted to create our own special times given our limitations with our son’s schedule: For instance, making 5 p.m. dinner reservations, then ordering room service dessert a few hours later when our son was asleep in his crib. Sipping Champagne and indulging in cheesecake in the dark turned out to be one of our favorite memories from the trip.

“There are people who say, ‘babies won’t change anything for me,’” says Klein, “but actually, babies change us in the best way, and vacation with them can turn out to be the best you’ve ever had.”

Photo by PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock

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