My son is now 2 1/2 and has thus far been to 12 countries on 4 continents. We traveled a lot before he was born and simply refused to slow down when he joined our family. We have had a lot of adventures and learned a ton about traveling with a baby and now with a toddler! Along the way, I have been surprised more than once, in good ways and bad. Here is my best insight and advice about the six stages of baby and toddler travel, what you can expect from each time period, where you might want to go at each stage, and how you can time it right.
STAGE 1: 0-6 months
OK, so no one is going to hop on a plane with a one week old, but once a baby is about 3-4 months old, traveling with them can be surprisingly fun and easy. The kid is small, light, and sustained either by food you carry in your very own boobs or by small amounts of powder you can mix with water. The diapers and clothes are tiny so they don’t take up a lot of suitcase room. And the child is eminently portable in any number of fabric-based contraptions (sling, Moby, bjorn, Ergo, and so forth) and light enough to take on reasonably challenging hikes or city walks. With some babies, you can put them to sleep in a sling or carseat and head out to a nice restaurant. This will not be the case for very long! The big negative here is that your baby–and ergo, you–are probably not on a great sleep schedule yet. On the other hand, it can be nicer to nap together in a poolside lounge chair than on your own couch. Just stay away from places that are too hot, because there’s nothing grosser than babywearing and breastfeeding when it’s 110 degrees and 98% humidity (I’m looking at you, Cartagena.)
Ideal for Stage 1: poolside vacations, hiking-focused trips, places with good restaurants
Things to avoid: major time changes, places with mosquitoes, and temperature extremes
We went to: Hawaii, New York, Colombia, and British Columbia. Hawaii and British Columbia were the clear winners because we were able to eat some good food, enjoy mild weather, and take some nice walks and hikes. New York and Cartagena were exciting but way too hot in the summer, and Bogota was too cold.
STAGE 2: 6-12 months
For me, this was the golden time for travel with a small child. My kid was fun, cute, and interactive but still highly portable and thus far lacking in strong opinions. By this stage our family had some semblance of a sleep routine. And although he had started eating solid foods, the amounts are so small I could easily stash 2 weeks worth in the outside pockets of my suitcase. The clothes and diapers are still on the small side. And the key thing here is that he still couldn’t WALK. The walking is when it starts to get rough. I recommend taking a big adventurous trip during this stage.
Ideal for Stage 2: anything adventurous – this is your chance to slip one more big crazy trip in!
Things to avoid: places that require major vaccinations or malaria pills and very windy beach towns
We went to: New York (again), Thailand, Bhutan, Austin, and Palm Springs. Bhutan was a wonderful trip and made even more fun by bringing a baby because everyone there loved the baby. We mostly took long hikes with baby strapped in a Bjorn. Thailand was incredibly welcoming and friendly but Bangkok was a little overwhelming with a little one (mostly because it was hot, loud, and everyone kept wanting to touch him.) But overall I found everywhere to be pretty easy at this stage.
STAGE 3: 12-18 months