Mom holding the hands of her baby while walking on the beach during vacation.
Travel New Baby Parenthood

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Vacationing With My Baby

By Laura Forrest Hopfauf

Before we had our daughter, my husband and I spent close to a year and a half traveling by living out of the back of a pickup truck and backpacks. Even before this once-in-a-lifetime journey, our vacations were adventurous. We hiked across an island in the Caribbean and slept in hammocks over boa constrictors. We stayed with a Russian in Havana. We slept in our rental car and ate hot dogs to see Hawaii. We were used to hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Or camping out to see wolves. Staying on the beach from sunup to sundown.

We just got back from our first weeklong vacation with our daughter where we drove from our home in West Virginia to a rural part of Florida’s Panhandle near Apalachicola National Forest. We had planned on hiking through Florida’s flatlands, lounging on the beach, and taking it much easier than we had in the past.

We were so, so wrong.

Vacationing with an eighteen-month-old is not like vacationing.

Even though we had scaled our plans way back to what I would consider a relaxing vacation, we were still shocked at how our trip actually went. If you are a first time mom like me, here are the five things I wish I knew about vacationing with a baby:

1. You will not sleep.

If you are gone long enough, eventually you will, but the first few days will be rough. Our daughter is a great sleeper, but being in a new room with a ceiling fan in a different place and a window air conditioning unit instead of central air was the equivalent of being on Mars. Nothing was okay. Our daughter had never slept in bed with us before. After nights of no sleep, we caved.

It was beautiful. My husband had tears in his eyes when she rolled away from me and nestled up to him on one of those nights. Once we came home there was a short-lived battle about sleeping in her crib, but it lasted less than two days. I wish we would have caved earlier. We may not have slept how we do at home, but we all would have slept.

2. You will not read.

It was silly of you to pack books that weren’t made of boards. I packed a couple of books and magazines. The closest thing I got to reading was lying under the covers in our bed on my phone while my husband held my daughter until she fell asleep.
I thought in the middle of the day I would read while my daughter napped. Turns out she would only nap when we were driving. Reading wasn’t in the cards this time around and I could have saved myself some precious trunk room and disappointment by leaving behind my collection of books. Next time, I’ll just bring one in case I get lucky one day.

3. Forget tanning on the beach.

I thought my baby would nap at the beach in our shade tent or my husband would take her on the beach for a bit and I would lay out and tan. Maybe your baby isn’t like a wild animal, but mine is. Let loose in the wild she needs all the zookeepers in the land to keep her under control. She rushed at the waves, wanted to try her hand swimming in the ocean, and liked throwing sand toward her eyes.

I got tan, but it wasn’t from laying out. It was from chasing her up and down the beach and finally finding a small tide pool we could sit in safely and dump piles of sand into for hours.

4. Slow down.

Then pretend you are a turtle with arthritis. Slow down some more. A day on vacation for us was a day of seeing, doing, and experiencing entirely new things. We were used to going from sunrise to past sunset. Maybe eating one meal a day and binging on snacks and beers for extra calories. Driving eight hours and then going to a nightclub wasn’t out of the question. Obviously, those weren’t our plans this time around.

Still, what we had planned: hiking then heading to the beach, or beach all day and then checking out a nature preserve near bedtime was too much to do with a little one. She was tired, we were tired, and the amount of stuff we take with us now isn’t always conducive to picking up and moving at the drop of a hat. Instead, we’d spend a morning at the beach, eat lunch, drive around while she napped in the car, and find something easy to do before dinner which we usually made at our rental before we calmed down for bed.

Finding a brightly colored shell on the beach or trying a new restaurant replaced chasing mountaintops but took just as much time and consideration and made me really enjoy our small family moments of studying a seagull up close or turning over a shell.

5. You aren’t on vacation.

You just moved locations to watch your kids somewhere else. No matter where you go, you’re still watching kids. Truth is this ruined nothing for me. Sure, I cried on day three without sleep, but eventually, she found her groove and we were able to rest. Yes, at times I was frustrated that the amount of time we spent on the beach in the whole week was what we would have spent in a single day before. But watching my child light up when seagulls landed close enough she could see their eyeballs was a joy.

Seeing her father hold her during her first time in the ocean and the way she reached out to the water to kick as if she was already ready to swim away is a memory that I will have etched into my heart until the end of time. Caving and having her sleep in the bed between us over our tenth anniversary was a beautiful reminder of all life used to be, is, and will become.

It's a new kind of holiday

Vacationing with your child for the first time isn’t a vacation, it’s like putting on a fresh pair of eyes and seeing the world totally new.

It is magic and light and love. Take your time. Let your child take your time. Forget the lists and what you want to see in this new place, instead see your child see something new. Seashells are a world of their own, as is sand, and beach towels,
and every single foamy white wave touching tiny toes.

What was your first vacation like with your baby?

We'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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