Vacation's Over! Why Traveling With a Baby Is Anything but Relaxing

I recently survived my second long-distance family vacation since my son was born, though the first didn't really count since he was only 6 weeks old, which, germs be damned, might be the best time to fly with a baby. This was far from my first rodeo. My now almost-4-year-old daughter has been on a ton of trips, including back-to-back cross-country flights when she was 15 months old. I was obviously in a sleep-deprived and supremely stupid haze when I made that decision, and we still refer to the second of those trips as the vacation when one toddler took down five adults. She slept about four hours a night for an entire week; wine country has never been less fun.

Yet somehow, I was actually looking forward to our most recent vacation to Florida, deluding myself that my son's more laid-back personality and better sleep habits would mean he would be an easier traveler than his sister was at his age. I was wrong. That cute picture you see here? It was taken at 4:30 in the morning, when his dad was so desperate to keep him happy that he let him play in the back of our rental minivan. And that's just one of the reasons why traveling with an under 1-year-old is pretty much the worst. Also on the list:

  • The preparation. Packing for a long-distance trip kind of stressed me out before kids, but after adding a baby to the mix, it's become just plain awful, taking no less than at least a month of prep work. There's the crib and high-chair rentals and the diaper and baby-food deliveries, not to mention the logistics of getting to and from the airport with a huge car seat and my own, somewhat irrational desire to have everything on hand that my son might need. Unfortunately, nothing's more unpredictable than a baby so that goal is destined for failure.
  • The flight. Hell is trying to entertain a wide-awake, teething 11-month-old on an airplane. Anyone who's done it should be given a medal . . . or a handful of free drink vouchers. I had definitely blocked out the sweat-inducing, stress-filled experience that is flying with an older baby, but it all came back to me about 30 minutes into our initial flight, when our little sweetie decided that all he wanted to do was cruise around the airplane. Unfortunately, it was a really turbulent flight, so our attempts to get him moving were squashed by a rather inconsiderate flight attendant. Intermittent screaming (on our little one's part, though his dad and I were close to losing it) ensued for the next 90 minutes, until he finally wore himself out just in time for landing. I've never been more excited to exit an aircraft.
  • The sleep (or lack thereof). My son is a pretty good sleeper at home, usually averaging 10 to 12 straight hours a night, and I was hoping that would continue on our vacation. How naive I was. Though he wasn't as bad as his sister was at this age (during a trip to Florida when she was 9 months old, she got up every two hours for two straight weeks), he decided that somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m. was the perfect time to start his day — every single day. My husband and I have never seen so many sunrises, and they all looked hideous.
  • My own expectations. Vacation has always been the time when I relax, sleep a lot, binge-read, and drink a couple extra glasses of wine. Only one of those things was accomplished on this vacation, and unfortunately, a wine headache and a baby who refuses to nap don't mix well. There's a reason people say a vacation with kids is really just a trip. All those things (e.g. changing diapers, getting the 15th snack of the day) you do for them at home? The little tyrants still expect you to do them. That's why the hardest part of traveling with kids for me is simply changing my mindset about what my vacation is really going to be. Are better weather and a change in our often monotonous routine worth the hassle? For me, yes. But I look forward to the days when my little one learns that a vacation should include a little break for everyone, including his mom.