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“What were we thinking?” Heath said to me.
We were sitting on the couch talking about the past 12 weeks of Ellie’s life, during which she’s visited three states and flown 3,000 miles. We knew wanted to jump right back into full or at least part-time traveling once Ellie was old enough, but this was impulsive.
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 the 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 the 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 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 want 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 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 of constantly making sure our little baby was still breathing. We both felt sick to our stomach 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.
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.
Overall, Ellie’s first road trip couldn’t have gone better and we’ve since taken her on two more road trips to Houston and Austin. We’ve quickly learned a few things:
1. Find ways to minimize stops.
When we pack a lunch, snacks, and drinks, then we can eat without needing to pull over, which easily saves us 30 minutes per meal. Especially during that long drive to Colorado, this made a big difference. Plus, finding a place to eat and getting food before we get hangry is a challenge in itself, as we learned during a particularly long 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!)
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, Ellie is more fussy than usual. This means you want to be to 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 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, terrible when you’re on I-35.
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 it comes time to nurse, she feeds 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 aren’t formula feeding Ellie, 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’ve 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 taking a million photos and videos of how adorable she is.
Ellie’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 new conference, FlynnCon1.
As I mentioned earlier, our doctor told us to avoid crowds with Ellie until she was at least six weeks old, which including 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 baby’s ears from popping, kind of like how adults chew gum.
I didn’t do this on our first flights as Ellie was passed out asleep (see the highlights on our Instagram profile for how cute she is asleep on the plane.) 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).
The Real Reason This Trip Was A Success
That first night, the time change and late arrival were hard on Ellie. Heath and I LOVE traveling west. It makes waking up early so easy! It also meant Ellie woke up at 5:00 AM sharp every morning.
We discovered the most magical thing of all.
Around six weeks old, Ellie started sleeping up to 8 hours at night. But she wasn’t sleeping that long consistently. We would get maybe two good all night sleeps a week.
But in that hotel on the soft mattress of a pack ‘n play, Ellie slept through the night every night. They were her best consecutive nights of sleep ever! I mean really, it was the best sleep Heath and I had in two months!
Honestly, I think this made a huge difference in how well this trip went. If you can travel with a baby that sleeps through the night, travel is only about a million times more enjoyable. Waking up with her at 5 AM was a breeze after hours of uninterrupted sleep and we started our mornings with walks by the beach or around the hotel pool while it was still calm and quiet outside. It suddenly hit me that this extra sleep is the most important factor in making traveling with a newborn easier.
Once we were back in Texas, Ellie had a little trouble with going to bed before 10 PM for a couple of days but she adjusted back to Texas time fine after that. She also instantly started waking up at 3:30 AM in the morning. We got a pack n’ play for her so fast. I can’t open my closet door all the way now since pack n’ plays are so big, but I don’t care. Ellie slept for ten hours straight last night. Worth it 🙌🏻
Ellie’s First RVing Experience
With Ellie’s first flights under our belts, it’s time to branch out to our favorite travel past time: RVing.
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. Last year 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.
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 will be in a motorhome traveling to the Dolomites, down the Italian coast, across the rolling hills of Tuscany, and finally to Rome. We are renting an RV for two weeks, dropping it off in Rome, and then hopping around Airbnbs while we visit less-RV friendly places in Italy like Rome and Naples.
Our travel plans look something like this:
Yeah… we have a lot of ground we want to cover! National parks, historic sites, wineries—a month in the country isn’t going to be long enough, I know that already.
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. But this is also our first trip to Italy, so we also want to go full tourist-mode checking out all the historic sites of major cities like Rome. And while we could camp outside the city and train in, that adds more logistics, takes extra time, and then if we needed a nap break, we would have to commute out of the city. Getting an Airbnb in the city solves those issues for us. (Plus rumor is that many cities won’t allow vehicles that length within city limits if we wanted to try driving into town.)
I have two major concerns about Ellie’s first international RVing trip:
1. Where she’s going to sleep. We have a small travel bed we are bringing with us, 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 is a worry.
2. Not driving 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! Hopefully they don’t get tired of us 🙂
The whole trip is shaping up to be a blast and I’m excited to make videos again as our third series on Youtube on international RVing.
Traveling with a newborn terrified me two months ago, but now I’m confident that we can take Ellie 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 Ellie 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.