The start of a new year brings a lot of firsts. Two years ago, we took our first vacation with our (then) 3-month old baby. It was the first vacation together and my last before I returned from maternity leave. We have lots of stories and lessons learned from that trip, many of which I will get into in future posts. Reflecting back, it was the best vacation we've taken as a family to date. Despite the challenges and stress, why do we look back so fondly on this time? It just worked. I’ll explain.
Cartagena, Colombia was a natural choice for us for our first trip together. We wanted a stopover on our way to meet family in Bogota and a warm destination to save us from Boston’s winter tundra. Picking the right location, hotel and activities were key - but there were other pieces that just happened to fit into place (by luck no less!) Here’s what we learned and still apply to travel these days.
Location, location, location!
When you’re considering your first trip with your child you may think beach vacations are the only ones that work— don’t limit yourself! Look for locations that have the mix of activities you want (e.g., site seeing, beach, restaurants) that are all central to where you’re staying.
Cartagena worked for us because we wanted a mix of culture, picture-perfect sites, a pool, and delicious food (with plenty of ice cream breaks). We had access to all of this within a quarter mile walking radius. It’s worth splurging to get the location you need especially if your traveling with a little one. My son was 3 months and feeding every 1.5 hrs at the time, so it was key to be able to go back to the hotel when I needed to take care of him but still feel like I wasn’t a slave to the room or hotel.
Hotel vs Airbnb rentals
You’ll hear a lot of parents going only the Airbnb / vacation rental route, but for us it depends. For our first trip we chose a hotel that had a living room and kitchenette. We enjoyed the comfort of a buffet breakfast every morning, cleaning service and concierge help while also having a place to set up a changing station, heat bottles and wash equipment. There are a lot of benefits to both and if you can find something in between that works for you the better, especially for your first vacation. We now know what works for us in each travel situation, which is generally a mix of both. After all, it’s vacation!
Prepare for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad FIRST day
This was a lesson learned for us. And if it’s not a bad day, you have luck on your side! We found that the first day adjusting from any trip has been difficult. Whether it’s the time change, sleeping arrangements or just getting used to a new location it’s important not to expect too much from the first day. Don’t set an itinerary, go with the flow and try to enjoy your first day adjusting together. Starting a trip with these expectations helps set the tone for the fact that your first trip with baby is not like what you’re used to. You have to operate in baby steps (excuse the pun), and when they are that cute, it makes up for not operating at regular speed.
Overpack, the extra weight outweighs the extra worry— but don’t let this discourage you from travel!
I’m not a fan of over-packing, and that’s why I started Totts. However, I will say this: being prepared for the unexpected helped me ease my initial fears of traveling with baby. You really don’t know what to expect that first time so if you need to pay for extra luggage, bring more supplies or back ups (I even brought a back up pump in case my failed) — do it. While this may discourage you from taking the trip in the first place, don’t let it! If I needed to bring my whole home on this vacation I would have done so in a heartbeat to have the memories that I now have of this first trip. When I’m feeling blue or realizing how fast my baby has grown, I find comfort in the memories we made when he was 3 months old in Cartagena. And a small baby that sits calmly on top of your legs while you a sip a cold drink isn’t bad either!
So those are the highlights! Do you have any killer tips from your first trip with your child?