Sometimes families can get too close for comfort. Last Christmas a pregnant Cindy Green and her husband Todd flew with their two children, Jonah, 4, and Caroline, 2, from North Carolina to Cindy's mother's home in Massachusetts. This time, in contrast to previous years, they didn't gather in the old family homestead; Cindy's mother had downsized to a small two-bedroom condo. So Green installed herself on the living-room couch, Todd and Jonah slept in the second bedroom, and Caroline bunked with Grandma. "It was tough, especially because the first night, Caroline came down with a stomach flu and was throwing up all night," Green recalls. "I put her on a mattress on the living-room floor, where I could take care of her," but Caroline, used to a crib, kept rolling off and waking up. Meanwhile, Jonah was restless on a cot and kept his dad from sleeping. So much for settling down for a long winter's nap.
'Tis the season for family travel--especially when there's a new member to spoil. But for new parents, heading home for the holidays can be fraught with even more headaches than the usual seasonal hassles. "Everyone wants to travel during the holidays, but if parents are really freaked out about having to visit grandparents when the baby is only 3 weeks old, I encourage them to have their in-laws come to them instead," says Dr. Marlene Coleman, author of Safe and Sound: Healthy Travel with Children and a pediatrician in practice for more than 30 years. Still, Coleman says, more and more parents seem game to brave the trip. Her advice: Be prepared--bring Infants' Tylenol, a first-aid kit and plenty of patience.
While parents can plan vacation trips around the best ages for travel, the holiday calendar doesn't wait for Baby's developmental pattern to reach its most travel-worthy state. In general, babies are most portable either before they crawl--under 9 months--or after they are established walkers. "Between 9 months and 2 years, babies are more restless and more thrown off by a change in schedule or space," says Maureen O'Brien, a developmental psychologist. For younger babies, the challenge is maintaining their schedule. Mentally scroll through your routine and remember to bring any item intimately involved with getting your child to eat, sleep or settle down: a favorite spoon, a comfort toy or a familiar lullaby tape.
Nobody wants to drag the entire nursery through the airport, but experienced family travelers say it's better to overpack than do without. Two increasingly popular options: rent a crib, a booster seat and whatever else is needed via websites like babysaway.com or arrange for a company like JetSetBabies to ship diapers, baby food and formula to your destination.
Tiny travelers need to stick to routines, so adults must be flexible, says Laine Romero-Alston, 34, of Harrington Park, N.J. She, her husband Domenico, 31, and their daughter Lucia, 2, plan to go to Maine to visit Laine's parents for Christmas, then to Mexico City and Cancún to see Domenico's mother and brother, as they did last year. Rather than a late dinner, Laine suggests eating early so the baby can be put down close to the normal bedtime. "Think about activities that might be fun for babies, or at least accommodating," she suggests. "If it's an adult-centric activity, understand that one parent may have to stay behind with the baby."