Years before I had a baby, a memory stuck with me til this day. I was in northern Thailand on a two-day “hill tribe” trek with my friend Jenna, and in our group of eight or so travelers was a Danish family with an elementary-school-aged son. I didn’t know a lick about kids, or babies, for that matter, but I knew that I kinda-sorta aspired to be those people when I grew up.

I traveled a lot before I had a baby, and that sounds like a complaint, but it’s not. I’m so immensely glad I had the wild travel experiences I had, in my pre-baby life, and I’m equally happy to be having travel experiences now, with our toddler daughter.

I think what’s just fascinating is how different traveling with a child is. Originally, I thought I’d just go about my travel hobby, but with a baby — you know, just casually.

You can try to prepare yourself for it, but there’s a big gap between reading an article like How to Travel on a Plane with a Baby, versus doing it.

I’ve grouped my pre-baby versus post-baby travel points into the topics below, as I gather my thoughts on just how much of a game changer it has been to start traveling as a family.

Rethinking our destination choices

Before meeting Dan, I’d travel with friends I met abroad during my studies or my working in China, or close college girlfriends of mine through the years. My friends and I went to Cambodia.

We went to Vietnam. We went to Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. We went to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, South Africa, Zambia, Laos, the Philippines and Thailand.

As a couple with no kids, I would choose where Dan and I would travel based on what felt daring and close to once-in-a-life-time wild experiences. We went to Sri Lanka. We went to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We went to Myanmar. We stayed in hostels. We took only backpacks. We slept on night buses, we ate at bus stations, we traveled on trains and we went away for months at a time.

We knew that having a child might “slow us down a little bit.” That’s why we started out with driving trips close to home. We drove with my parents to New Hampshire for our first trip. For our second, third and fourth trips, we went to the Catskills, then the “deeper Catskills,” and the Litchfield Hills in Connecticut.

We also visited family in Pennsylvania and Maryland. We went to NYC for the day on several occasions with our baby in tote.

But I wanted to travel internationally again. I knew there was a way to do it. My friends were doing it. Other travel bloggers with kids I followed were doing it.

When our daughter was 8 months old, we got invited to go to Nova Scotia, Canada. To me, this was “the Maine of Canada,” and was far from foreign. Nothing culture-shocking, no language barrier. We flew there, and with very little on the agenda, we had a nice time.

Then I thought, well, we could probably go to places where we know friends, especially if they’re places we’ve been three times before. Colombia fit the bill. To people who didn’t know us so well, it probably seemed like a bizarre choice, but I knew it was the best thing to do, for us to dip back into the marvels of Latin America.

We had a blast. Our daughter (at 14 months old) didn’t care where on Earth we were, as long as there were dogs to wave to and blueberries to munch on. She enjoyed swimming in the rooftop pool where we stayed in Medellin. She liked touching the tropical plants in El Retiro.

Now that we’ve taken the plunge back to the places “we used to go,” taking her to other destination favorites of ours in Central America, South America or Europe don’t seem too far-flung. The sky’s the limit (but the fewer time zones for jet lag, the better).

Ditching the itinerary

In my twenties, I wanted to jam-pack every moment of a trip and I really didn’t care if I didn’t sleep. It’s incredible how the tables have turned.

These days, I don’t care if I see much of anything on a trip, and I want to make 1000% sure that I sleep. It’s almost like I travel, with grand aspirations of sleeping.

25-Year-Old-Me would have smacked Current Me if she knew that I went to bed at 9:30 pm most nights on our Colombia trip, to prepare for waking up to a toddler who started babbling gleefully at 5:30 am.

Yes, correct: I needed to aim for 8 hours of sleep to have the energy of bringing our daughter around the Poblado neighborhood in our Tula Lite baby carrier because the sidewalks were too janky for our travel stroller (thanks Alex for the tip).

When I was 26, my friend Monique and I went to Guatemala. We wanted to see EVERYTHING. In nine days (two of which were spent flying), we transversed the country from Antigua to Tikal, seeing ancient Mayan ruins, natural limestone pools and waterfalls, volcano views and palm-framed sunset vistas. Oh, and we put tarantulas on our faces on a dare (there are photos to prove it). We spent every other day on long-haul buses ranging from 8 to 12 hours. We don’t regret it.

In my mid-30s on a trip with our toddler, I’m happy if everyone goes out to lunch and no clothes get soaked by a milk spill. I’m happy if there’s a good nap and if our daughter got to squeal with delight when she saw a puppy on the street. We’re all satisfied if she was content and ate during meals. I really don’t care if we get to see a famous landmark or some “thing” we were recommended to do. We have more photos of her than we do of the local scenery.

In Halifax, we walked all through the city, with a loose plan, but I was glad if we got to check half the boxes, not all. In Colombia, I considered a daily trip to one of Medellin’s coffee shops for a fresh americano to be a success, amid all the other baby requirements (naps, milk and snacks).

It’s just funny to me how travel these days with a baby has turned into “being away from home” versus my former young-person backpacker requirements of “being away from home, doing all the things I set out to do and maybe even more.”

Discovering how to pack for a trip with a baby

I’ve heard Dan on the phone with friends or on work calls with colleagues in the days leading up to us going away, and he comments on just how different it is to pack for a trip when you have a baby.

I’ve always enjoyed packing. I enjoy ticking the boxes in my travel packing checklist. I enjoy packing my packing cubes and zipping them tight, fitting them like Tetris in our backpacks or suitcases. I also enjoy that moment when Dan and I have walked out the door of various NYC apartments, about to get in an Uber to the airport, and we’re each loaded with a daypack on the front and a larger backpack on our backs.

With a baby, it’s this, plus a stroller, car seat, diaper bag and maybe some other baby travel products (travel cribs, pump bag, fanny pack diaper bag… we’ve finally pruned our packing down to somewhat of a science).

Oh yes, and then there’s the baby, who we have to make sure is fed, bathed, clothed and entertained with a stroller toy or teething ring.

When we travel now with our baby-turned-toddler, I have two packing lists. One is for us, and one is for her. I realized I might as well publish it for all to see, so here it is: my international packing list for toddler travel.

We’ve learned that we should take all applicable fever reducers with us, as well as the correct tools to deal with toddler runny noses. We need weather for all temperatures, in case we have an accommodation that “runs hot” or “runs cold.” We need her favorite straw cups, and some familiar snacks for the plane, in case she feels like rejecting the usuals. It’s really quite a journey.

All in all, packing for a family of two adults and a toddler is a challenge I have learned to enjoy. We’re no longer just two digital nomads with laptops and AirPods — we’re a family of three.

Figuring out sleep is a bit of a surprise

As a couple in our 20s and then in our 30s, sleeping in a new place can be a surprise sometimes, of course. There can be new sounds, there can be loud street sounds, there can be bars or clubs that pump music until 2 am.

But most of the time, there isn’t a crying baby in your room or a toddler who thinks the day begins at the crack of dawn.

For the first few trips with our baby, we all slept in the same room. This is pretty typical for parents traveling with babies under one year, especially if you aren’t staying in entire-home Airbnbs or hotel suites. And these both come at prices higher than a run-of-the-mill hotel room.

In any case, our first trip with our 12-week-old was to New Hampshire. We stayed with my mom’s side of the family in their big open-floor-plan basement. What could go wrong?

It was during our daughter’s 4-month sleep regression, though. Let’s just say it did not go well (sleep-wise). The baby would wake up four times a night. I was too tired to enjoy our first trip away all together. I wanted to go home and sleep literally forever. I also wanted to cry.

For our second trip, we went to a boutique hotel in Livingston Manor, in the Catskills. We stayed in a room the size of a studio apartment, and set up a Pack’n’Play in the kitchenette area with a “travel crib blackout cover.” What could go wrong?

Well, this was mainly when we found out that in traveling as a family, it was lights-out at 8pm, and our daughter is a light sleeper. So it was tip-toeing, off to bed for us adults, too, and it was wake-ups for the day at 5 am. I guess it could’ve been worse.

The real kicker (I thought) was our first international voyage to Nova Scotia at the 8-month mark. We were all sharing a hotel room (it was gorgeous, and I wrote a review about it), and this time it was a hotel crib with no blackout cover. We also had yet to discover (or pack) the SlumberPod.

This time, it was lights out at 7pm, and after a night of wake-ups, barely any sleep and quite a bit of crying, we discovered our baby was running a fever.

A month before that trip, our daughter’s sleep had taken a turn for the awesome. She was sleeping through the night for 12 predictable hours, and we were happy parents. So, wouldn’t it make sense that when we went to Colombia when she was 14 months old that she’d sleep like a champ?


We stayed in a beautiful country retreat called El Retiro, with our friends Alex and Ryan, and two factors made our sleep laughable. First, the tropical birds started chirping and I think a rooster announced the day around 5 or 5:30 am each morning. Second, our toddler once again popped a fever on the third day, leading to fragmented sleep for the next five days.

After all these trips and so much sleep lost, why were we still traveling? I’m not quite sure, but everyone’s right: you do remember the good stuff (and try your best to forget the bad).

Finding out that one room doesn’t cut it for us

Oh boy. I recently saw an ad for Airbnb that showed a cartoon couple turning out the lights in the hotel room with their child, staying quiet as mice (and bored) after the child’s bedtime. It rang really true.

One room doesn’t just not cut it because of the sleep challenges I mention above. It’s the entire parents-versus-baby thing of even being able to make noise, cook in a kitchen and eat a meal with the lights on or have a conversation after bedtime happens.

The best experiences we’ve had in separating into two rooms has been in Colombia, where we first stayed at our friends’ house in two separate bedrooms, and then in Medellin, where we had a two-room apartment with Casacol.

When visiting Maryland to see family, we were lucky that our daughter could sleep in a guest room with an entire crib and blackout curtain setup. And when we went to Litchfield, CT, for a long weekend, our baby had her own room as well (albeit sans blackout curtains).

Separating into two rooms has changed the game, and we now know that it’s what we need — not just what we want. Having larger accommodations isn’t always in the budget, though, or isn’t always what comes with the accommodation we’ve been given (like a guest room for all of us at our friends’ house in Florida).

Having two rooms is what we aim, for, though. It’s going to make travel harder, because I’m just not up for the “challenge” of all staying in one hotel room for multiple nights. It’s doable, but I know I’ll lose sleep. I wouldn’t willingly sign up for it now that I’ve had a few experiences across the board.

Keeping the baby safe

What comes to mind here is the time we went out on a limb and went really far upstate into the Catskills to a town called Andes, where we stayed in a woodsy cabin.

Without a baby, this would’ve been a time to chill out, go hiking, kick back at a brewery a half hour away or sit at a street-side cafe in a tiny town watching the day go by.

With a baby (the 7-month-old we had with us), this is not how it went. We got stuck in an entire 24 hours of downpour, which washed out all our possible activities. The Airbnb was cold and damp. Overnight at 2 am, the power went out, and shortly after that, the water went out.

Had two of us woken up in a blacked-out cabin after a storm, we might have laughed and made the best of it (or gone home in a leisurely fashion). But two of us with a baby packed up as soon as we could, locked the door, and booked it home to New Jersey in our car, so that we could have the comforts of home.

Our priority above all was to keep our daughter safe, and a cabin in the woods with no power was far from it.

So why am I traveling with a baby?

When asked what I enjoy in life, and what my hobbies are, I say, “Travel.” Sure, I like biking, and listening to podcasts and trying new cuisines and walking around New York City. Above all, though, I like to travel.

If I let the fact that we have a toddler stop us from traveling, I might lose who I am. So, we have to keep doing it, even if it looks pretty different from what we used to know.

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