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“What were we thinking?” Heath said to me.
When Ellie was exactly four weeks old, we loaded up our car with a box of diapers, a travel bed, a stroller, and a boppy with the goal to make it to Colorado before sundown.
In retrospect, I don’t know what we were thinking. We must’ve really been feeling cabin fever being stuck inside our apartment and extra trapped because of the 95º temperatures outside. She was only four weeks old! We barely had the hang of napping and breastfeeding at home and here we were attempting to drive nine hours to Trinidad in one day.
On cue, we had no sooner escaped from the sprawling suburbs of Dallas than Ellie decided she needed to eat right. now. There were no exits with easy places for us to pull over for another ten miles. Ten minutes of unceasing baby cries… no thank you.
And so was the first time we pulled over on an empty farm road to feed our daughter in the backseat of our Honda.
This was the first of many backseat feeds in Ellie’s short life and I had a feeling the next 500 miles were going to be excruciating.
But this is where traveling with such a young baby became brilliant. Newborns sleep. A lot. And after that first side-of-the-road feed, Ellie passed out in three-hour increments, allowing us to make great progress and arrive at our hotel in Trinidad with time to spare before sunset. I packed the supplies to make sandwiches, plus plenty of snacks and drinks to cut down our stops so we could time filling up the gas tank with feeds. (As it turns out, breastfeeding in a gas station parking lot is more awkward than on the side of the road.)
Other than her initial fit of crying, the day went smoothly. We changed diapers in gas stations and on the grass under trees. It was all going so smoothly…
Until that night in our hotel, Heath and I had our first “OMG we are the worst parents in the world” moment.
Being new parents, Heath and I both happened to wake up around 11:30 PM. I got up to pump and Heath called after me, “Be sure to drink some water while you’re up.”
We were at 6,000 feet and I hadn’t taken a single moment to think about the elevation. That’s a huge jump from sea level back in Texas. And the next day we’d be driving over mountain passes at over 10,000 feet on our way to the San Juan Mountains.
At those elevations, adults need to drink extra water to prevent altitude sickness, but what about babies?
I whipped out my phone and googled “can you take babies to high elevation?”
Now Google is basically the enemy of all parents because it’ll always convince you that because you heard your baby cough once, she has a rare esophageal condition that requires immediate surgery. And maybe this is an example of Google freaking new parents out.
But I’m telling you every single website on Google said do not take babies under three months over 5,000 feet elevation.
Not one site. Not a couple of sites. Every single one we looked at.
“Babies under 3 months do not have mature enough lungs to handle the altitude stress, so wait until the baby has reached that milestone to take your trip.” (source)
Well, we jumped the gun by two months there.
Freaking out, I woke up Heath who joined me in scouring the internet before hopping out of bed.
“Okay let’s go,” he responded after also reading through the first page of Google hits.
“Go? It’s after midnight. To get lower, we have to drive through Raton pass in the dark and we are already exhausted. It’s a bad idea.”
“What else can we do? How did we not even think about this?”
Two years earlier, Heath came down with a nasty case of altitude sickness. We flew from the coast of Maine to the Rockies and that night, Heath’s lips turned blue. He couldn’t see straight. He had to be driven down to a lower elevation immediately, where his symptoms slowly started to clear up. Altitude sickness isn’t something we wanted to mess with again.
“She looks fine right now. The doctor’s office opens in six hours. All we can do is stay here for six hours, call the doctor and see if she’s okay to be at this elevation. If he says no, we’ll drive straight back home.”
As you can imagine, we slept great over the next six hours while constantly making sure our little baby was still breathing. We both felt sick to our stomachs at our mistake. Our doctor had told us at her two-week check-up that we could travel with her as long as we limited her exposure to strangers or crowds until she was six weeks old. Easy, we thought. Elevation never crossed our minds!
Fortunately, every other mom I’ve talked to also said they never would’ve thought about the elevation change either, so I feel considerably less terrible.
Once the doctor’s office opened, we called and left a message with the doctor and waited for him to call us back with a response. We packed everything up into our car, grabbed breakfast, and sat in the car waiting anxiously (with Ellie sleeping peacefully unaware in her car seat).
Finally, Heath’s phone rang!
“She’ll be fussier than usual, especially when you’re going over those mountain passes because her ears will pop, and she won’t sleep as well and will likely eat more, but she’ll be fine other than that,” I heard the voice on the other end of the phone reassure us.
Heath and I collectively exhaled.
The rest of our road trip to Colorado was uneventful in comparison. We camped in Montrose, explored Ouray, and met up with our friends Joe and Rhonda. Ellie slept through pretty much all of it.
It might’ve been scary in the moment, but I’m glad we started traveling with our daughter so young because it gave us the confidence to keep traveling with her and traveling with our son when he was born. Ironically, we bought a house in the town in Colorado where we took Ellie on her first road trip so our son’s first road trip was the exact same as our daughter’s! We drove from our home in Colorado back to our family in Texas—with no elevation fears this time.
When you’re a new mom, everything is overwhelming.
Even when you’re a new mom to baby #2 and actually think you have a handle on motherhood, everything is overwhelming.
But if travel is important to you, or the holidays are coming up, or there’s a can’t-miss trip coming up and you want to bring your newborn along, I wanted to share everything we’ve learned from traveling with our little babies over the years. I’ll start with road trip tips.
Road Trips with a Newborn
I think the newborn stage (I’m going to refer to newborn as anything under three months old) is the best time to take long road trips with a baby. Babies sleep so much during those first months and they have essentially no sleep habits at that age. Later when you sleep train kids and they need to be in complete darkness or in their bed or swaddled, traveling gets slightly more difficult. But when they are so tiny, they sleep easily on the go.
We quickly learned a few things:
1. Find ways to minimize stops.
When we pack lunch, snacks, and drinks, then we can eat without needing to pull over, which easily saves us 30 minutes per meal. More like at least an hour now that we have a toddler! Especially during long drives, this makes a huge difference.
Finding a place to eat and getting food before we get hangry is a challenge in itself, as we learned during a particularly long restaurant-free stretch of I-45 on the way to visit Heath’s parents. (Also not having a fridge on road trips has easily been the thing I’ve missed most about our motorhome. We wouldn’t take our motorhome for a weekend trip to Heath’s parents’ house anyway, but man a motorhome would’ve made it easier!)
When we pack plenty of lunch and snack supplies, we end up stopping to eat lunch during baby’s wake windows at a playground. This way our daughter plays and stretches her legs and we can get out in the sunshine and move too. It takes some serious Google Maps predicting to figure out where the best playgrounds are in XYZ town where you think you might be in 45 minutes which is when you think the baby will be awake, but it’s worth it.
When we do stop, we tackle filling up the gas tank, stretching our legs, going to the bathroom, and grabbing any food we need all at once. Now, Heath parks at the pump and takes our daughter to the restroom and orders food while I nurse the baby in the car. Then he would burp the baby and I would take Ellie back to the bathroom (really just to give her something to do besides sit in the car) and pick up any food.
2. Travel early.
Babies are generally fussier in the afternoon. It’s one of those unexplainable things doctors know, but have no explanation as to why it happens. But come 5:00 in the afternoon, the babies were always more fussy than usual. This means you want to be at your destination before dinner time to make travel easier. When Ellie woke up at 5:00 AM to feed, we went ahead and packed everything up to hit the road.
We once made the mistake of leaving for Austin at 2:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon. Not only did we hit a spot of standstill traffic in Waco (curse you Chip and Joanna Gaines!), but Ellie was absolutely not having it. All she wanted to do was eat and cuddle with her mom. Great for a Sunday afternoon at home, but terrible when you’re on I-35.
Early is always better. Prep your bags the night before if you can to make hitting the road a cinch! I always make lunches the night before and stick them in a lunchbox in the fridge so it’s easy to grab on our way out the door.
3. Be patient during feeds.
Right after passing through Amarillo, we were quickly in the middle of nowhere when Ellie decided she was hungry again. We again ended up on the side of a farm road, except this time Ellie decided to eat for 45 minutes instead of 15. Other moms have told me, and I now know and agree, that around three months a baby really has the hang of eating and is much more efficient. So when she got older, she feed for no longer than ten minutes. Easy!
45-minute feeds in the backseat of the car…not easy. I believe Heath listened to a podcast, called a friend, and took a nap while he waited for us.
(We didn’t formula feed our newborns, but I imagine that would add a whole extra set of logistics to feeding a baby while traveling.)
4. Sit in the backseat.
For a good portion of our road trips, I sat in the backseat next to Ellie. This has done wonders for our peace of mind as new parents, especially during that first road trip, but also makes taking care of her easier. Holding my finger or seeing me sitting next to her helped calm Ellie down when she would get upset about being stuck in her car seat. Not to mention then I can stare at her and take a million photos and videos of how adorable she is.
However, once our son came along, this was no longer possible. Our middle row in our car doesn’t have three seats across, so it was impossible for me to safely sit next to him and comfort him during drives.
Of course more than once I’ve climbed back there and squatted between the captain’s chairs to calm a crying baby (usually when we’re in the middle of nowhere or on a mountain pass where we can’t easily pull over). Just seeing my face would calm him right down and give us enough time to make it to the next town where we could pull over and nurse.
5. Be weather aware.
Snow and cold can make road trips a little dicey. Our first road trip with our son was when he was three and a half weeks old. It was the week before Thanksgiving and there was already snow in the mountains. He woke up crying from his first nap right before we went up Monarch pass, so we pulled over. He had pooped and needed a diaper change. There was nothing around, so I had to quickly change him in the back of the car in a right-turn lane. There wasn’t even a shoulder! But it was about 6:00 AM and the roads were quiet.
It was maybe 30º outside.
I was cold, he was half-naked with his body exposed to the weather, and I’m wiping and redressing him as fast as possible. As soon as the diaper was back on, I climbed back in the car, wrapped him up in a blanket, and nursed him to warm him back up.
It was one of those “this is the best I can do right now” kind of moments, but an added stressor to our morning travels. You can’t control the weather, but you can be prepared. We knew we would have to change diapers in the trunk of our SUV, so we already had a changing mat, diapers, and wipes set up back there to make changes as fast as possible.
Baby’s First Flight
Before she was born, flying to San Diego shortly after Ellie turned two months old was planned to be our first trip as a family. (I probably shouldn’t be surprised that after five years of traveling that Heath and I couldn’t wait two months before traveling with Ellie.) We booked the trip when I was two months pregnant and Pat Flynn released tickets to his conference, FlynnCon1.
As I mentioned earlier, our doctor told us to avoid crowds with Ellie until she was at least six weeks old, which included waiting to fly with her until then.
Heath and I were justifiably nervous about the flights. DFW > LAX > SAN with an hour layover in between. How would feeding her on a plane go? Would she cry the whole time? Could we get her to nap at all?
She was asleep in my arms by the time I found my seat and stayed asleep while I watched Isn’t It Romantic? on the little TV built into the seat with subtitles on. And she stayed asleep when I switched over to Crazy Rich Asians (and mentally planned our first trip to Asia).
The hardest part was making it from the parking lot where we left our car to our terminal which involved two terminal buses and me internally freaking out when the driver was like, “yeah just set her car seat on the floor.”
THIS DOESN’T SEEM SAFE, DRIVER.
But the flights themselves were smooth sailing. They tell you to breastfeed during take-off and landing—and by they I mean both the Google and the flight attendants. This is supposed to keep the baby’s ears from popping, kind of like how adults chew gum.
I didn’t do this on our first flight as Ellie was passed out asleep or too distracted playing with her daddy on our second flight to notice any ear popping. So basically she is already a pro-flyer.
In fact, I would say our whole flying experience with her was 10x better than I ever would’ve imagined… if Delta hadn’t lost and broken the base to her car seat. This caused us an extra long delay at the airport while they searched for it (they later called us to say they found it and it was mangled beyond repair). This delay coupled with the fact that our flight ended up being delayed four hours, meant Ellie was going to bed at past 11 PM Texas time. And she was NOT happy about it. Loudly.
The good news? We now know that Delta has a giant closet of car seats that I assume they amassed from people losing their car seats and strollers over the years. They gave us our choice of car seat to use while we were in town. So if they ever lose our car seat again, I won’t be as worried. (Delta did reimburse us by check within a week for the cost of buying a new car seat base).
Eli’s first flight
By the time we took our son on his first flight, Ellie had been on over 20 airplanes. So I went into the experience with high hopes (and armed with the knowledge that you don’t even need to bring your car seat base since most car seats can buckle into cars with just the seatbelt 🤯 ).
We flew from Dallas to Orlando for a few days of Disney World at Christmas time. The flight was a little over two hours and after minimal fussing, Eli fell asleep while nursing (he was about six weeks old at the time). He slept the whole flight and woke up upon landing. He did the same thing on the flight back!
When traveling, I’ve only had success with getting young babies to fall asleep on me with a little help from milk, but both babies slept amazing on the first flights (and on their many subsequent flights!)
Jet Lag and Time Changes
One big concern with babies is jet lag. With time changes under two hours (which is the case for most domestic travelers), the babies never had any issue. Yes, their normal sleep schedule shifted a little, but their bodies adapted easily.
But (and I’m veering out of newborn territory here) we flew to Italy when our daughter was four months old and actually made the same flight again when our son was six months old. They both adapted fairly quickly to the seven-hour time change at their young age. (Meanwhile, we ate cereal at midnight wide awake.)
My personal key to making the transition easier is to book an overnight flight if possible. Many flights from the US to Europe are overnight flights and in every instance, this meant the babies slept for almost the entire flight. We then lived our first day in Europe with the sun, even though our internal clocks were at a completely different time. There was always more fussiness than usual, but they both adapted easily.
Baby’s First RV Road Trip
Our son’s first RV road trip is currently happening and he’s walking everywhere and completely out of the newborn stage! So let’s talk about Ellie’s first trip.
With Ellie’s first flights under our belts, we felt overly confident about traveling with a baby.
Of course we could buy a motorhome in the US and start camping tomorrow, but we never do things the easy way, do we?
Ellie’s first flights were a test of sorts for us. Back in 2018, on a flight from Sydney to Honolulu, Heath sat next to a couple and their seven-month-old. It’s a long haul across the ocean and somehow, I never heard that baby cry once. These parents were ninjas.
When Heath leaned over to compliment the parents on their obvious skills, the mom replied, “This is her 27th flight. She’s used to it now.”
We’ve heard it a million times by now “babies adapt to your lifestyle. If you travel, travel while she’s a baby and she’ll adjust.” This was a great example of that in action.
We took that to the nth degree when we booked a month RVing in Italy.
Our travel plans looked like this:
I’d like to think that Heath and I have done a good job of conditioning Ellie to get used to traveling so far in her life, but come October we will really put our family travels to the test.
We are flying to Italy—that would be flying 9.5 hours to Paris and then 2 hours on to Venice—to RV in our third foreign country.
So Ellie’s first RV trip was in a motorhome traveling to the Dolomite mountains north of Venice, down the Italian coast, across the rolling hills of Tuscany, and finally to Rome.
I had quite a few concerns going into this trip as a mom.
1. Do we need to haul a car seat across the ocean or will our motorhome rental offer one? While almost every major car rental company offers car seats, Anywhere Campers who we rented from didn’t offer rear-facing car seats. So we had to either buy or bring one. We decided to bring ours since we couldn’t find a place in Venice to buy one.
2. Where was she going to sleep? We brought a small travel bed along, but we know from experience that regulating temperatures at night in an RV can be difficult, especially if you’re boondocking. Making sure Ellie has a warm and safe space to sleep at night in those tiny European motorhomes was a worry. Motorhomes abroad are tiny and making room for a baby is surprisingly difficult!
We ended up outfitting a small bed for her in our bedroom which you can see more of in this video:
3. Will us and the baby drive our caravanning mates crazy?! Our friends John and Peter from the RV Geeks have beat us out in their travel spontaneity. When we told them our dates for visiting Italy, they instantly booked flights to join us across the pond. This is my favorite thing about the fact that all our friends travel full-time. They are always down for an adventure!
But I worried about slowing them down and being an inconvenience. We definitely traveled differently than our child-free friends, but we still had a blast caravanning together across the country.
The trip was a blast and you can see all the videos from our adventures in our third series on Youtube on international RVing.
The beauty of RVing is how it takes you off the beaten path, allows you to explore nature, and lets you see more of the real side of a country versus all the touristy parts. We covered so much ground during that month on the road and while it was close quarters in the RV, we loved having the amenities of our tiny home to explore the country.
Traveling with a newborn terrified me when our daughter was born, but now I’m confident that we can take our kids just about anywhere with us. There have been a few hard and stressful moments, but if the hardest part requires pulling over on the side of the road and making sure she gets to bed on time, then traveling with babies seems like a no-brainer. I can feed her at home, I can feed her with a view of the Pacific. And I definitely prefer one over the other.