Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to vacation with a baby, part 3: out and about

This is the final part of a multi-part post about how to vacation with a baby.  Part 1 was about staying in a hotel, and part 2 talked about eating in restaurants.

Structuring your day
Having a realistic sense of what can be accomplished in a day with a young baby is the key to having a good time.  Remember that each additional stop will require loading and unloading a car, getting the baby into the stroller, and probably either a trip to the bathroom or needing to nurse.  You're bound to move more slowly than in the days when it was just you and your partner.

Wiggle time on the lawn at a Ritz-Carlton,  age 3 months
If you have traveling companions who are not parents, or who were parents in the distant past (such as, um, YOUR parents), it may be worth reminding them that they are traveling with a baby, so they should be ready to spend a lot of time at each stop.

Besides needing to nurse regularly, there are two important things to build into your day:  time to play (I call this "wiggle time"), and time to sleep.

I still have trouble remembering to leave room for wiggle time.  But I definitely think that my daughter is in a better mood the rest of the day if she gets at least 20 minutes of active play time on the floor in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  When you're traveling, this means that you have to be a little relaxed about the kinds of floors you put baby down on.  You can always use your scarf, jacket, or nursing cover as a surface for play time.

You also need to leave time for a nap or two.  Depending how difficult it is to get your son or daughter down for a nap, this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to return to the hotel.  But it does mean that you'll need to stay put somewhere reasonably quiet for the duration of the nap, whether it's in a carrier or a stroller.  I've found that my daughter does well taking her shorter, late morning nap "on the go," in a stroller, while her longer, late afternoon nap goes much better if it is in fact in a tent/crib/bed in a quiet room.

Finding rest spots
There are many places to which you can take a baby for a few hours, but which become a nightmare if you have to spend all day in them.  Shopping, museum-going, and eating in restaurants can all be done with a baby...but you're going to need breaks.  Baby needs to stretch out on a blanket on the floor occasionally, you need to be able to change her on an actual changing table rather than on the bathroom floor, and you'd like to have a comfortable chair to nurse in from time to time.

Where to go to get these needs met?  You have a few options.

Choice A:  A baby-focused business.  
These places can be fabulous, but you won't always be lucky enough to have one around.  Think of places like birth centers (Blossom Birth in Palo Alto; Natural Resources in San Francisco), cafes that are specifically geared towards kids, or children's activity centers and some shops.  They will often have changing stations, some floor space set aside for play, and comfortable chairs for nursing.

Choice B:  A five-star hotel.
This may sound like a bad idea, but trust me, it's brilliant.  Go have coffee and a pastry in the restaurant or lounge cafe of a really nice hotel.  Then proceed to use their lobby area as a base camp.  There are usually comfy couches for nursing, nice clean carpeted floors to play on, and deluxe changing tables in the marble-covered bathrooms.  Honestly, it's a great way to go if you're stuck in a big city with a baby all day.

Choice C:  A department store.
Wherever you are in America, you're usually not too far from a mall.  And where there is a mall, there is a Nordstroms, Saks, or Macy's.  Whatever.   Believe it or not, these often have, in addition to cafes and nice restrooms, carpeted lounge rooms specifically intended for nursing mothers.  Which can work for nursing, play time on the floor, or even a place for baby to take a nap while your traveling companions browse the rest of the mall and you read.  Which brings us to...

What to bring
This is going to be very dependent, obviously, on the age of your baby, whether you're breastfeeding, and whether you use 'sposies, cloth, or EC.  Most of us already have our diaper bag packed with the usual.  Here are a few non-standard things to consider bringing for a whole day away from home.
  • large scarf for you: can double as nursing cover, play surface, or stroller-cover for naps
  • magazine: entertainment for you during nursing or nap time
  • meal supplement bar:  I like Odwalla bars, personally, but anything with some protein and a couple hundred calories will work; meal-times can sometimes get pushed back by baby's schedule, and you can get starving very quickly when you're nursing.
  • reusable water bottle:  because nursing makes you thirsty
  • baby carrier: even if you're bringing a stroller, since many places are way more accessible with a carrier.
  • pocket umbrella: just in case

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