When I was pregnant and living on a sailboat in the South Pacific, my friends back home told me to “get my kicks in” before our first baby arrived. It made me nervous. The thought of waiting a decade (or more) to adventure over high peaks, open ocean, and fast rivers made me more nauseous than morning sickness.
After hitchhiking 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean as sailing crew, my husband and I conceived a child on a small tropical island in the Kingdom of Tonga. We moved home to Montana a few months before he was born, determined to still kick around aplenty in the outdoors.
Talon, now 10 months old, has been camping, sailing, rafting, backpacking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Many of our trips are multi-day adventures, and few of them are planned more than a few days in advance. Not only does Talon survive these trips, he thrives.
When friends ask if it’s hard traveling with a baby, I tell them it’s easier than staying home. Seriously: while it can be difficult to juggle packing with child management on the front-end, once we’re out in the wilderness, it feels simple. Talon stares at the trees, babbles to the brooks, watches the waves, and tastes rocks and dirt (hey, it’s good for their immune system, right?).
Camping gear creates hours of entertainment for babes. We can cook an entire meal while Talon bangs on a pot, or take a snooze while he grabs at the zippers in our tent. He sleeps best to the sound of nearby creeks. It makes my husband happier, healthier, and (I think) better parents. Here’s why I’m convinced it’s better to bring babies on outdoor adventures sooner rather than later:
Kids only get heavier
Take them backpacking or pack-rafting while their weight is nominal, and you can go farther and move faster.
Babies don’t talk
No one asks “are we there yet?” except you. Sure, crying is its own (painful) language, but peaceful journeys are more likely with calm woods and quiet water.
They don’t need as much gear
Babies don’t need shoes or sleeping bags (just zip ‘em into a Patagonia bunting) or their own fishing rod/bike/boat. All they need is a boob or bottle, your warm body and smiling face.
Naps are travel-friendly
It’s tough to resist the rocking motion of your mama or papa walking you to sleep. Wearing your baby in a front sling or backpack gives you trekking time while the little one snoozes. Boats lull babies to sleep with their gentle rocking motion, and they can sleep on you or in a pack-n-play rigged to the stern.
You’ll break them in early
Think how easy the trips will become by the time your baby is walking and talking. Your wee one will be able to help out, and won’t be scared of tents or rapids or hikes. Plus, if you put family adventuring systems in place when they’re newborns, it will feel less like a leap to get out and explore than if you take several years off the outdoor circuit.
Sold? Read on for first-time family trip ideas and tips.
Three easy trips to take with your baby
1. Float flat water
Sometimes, it’s easier to let the current do the work and the boat do the carrying when you want to get outside. Find a nearby river that offers big beaches for setting up camp, strap your wee one into an infant life vest, and untie the bowlines for a two-to-three-night float.
Trek along streams
Trails near waterways tend to be mellow, since they follow gentler grades. Rather than ascending peaks or winding through mountains and valleys, pick a path that meanders along a river or creek and give yourself plenty of play time to fish, swim, and enjoy the scenery along the way.
Bike and camp
Kid carriers come in all shapes and sizes for the traveling parent, including bomber bike trailers that keep babies safe and are easy to tow. Toss your overnight gear in the Chariot or Burley alongside your helmeted, seat-belted babe, and your family will be nestled in the woods roasting marshmallows in no time.
Tips for adventuring with baby
Plan for diaper duty
Bring extra plastic bags to contain disposables, or consider cloth diapers, since you can dry out and use the sun’s UV light to sanitize peed-in inserts in the sun.
Pack less than you think you need
This may not seem intuitive, but all a baby needs is enough clothes to stay warm. Toys are heavy, not to mention unnecessary: nature provides free, abundant entertainment.
Take breaks often
Rest breaks will give you and your child a chance to eat, drink, and relax.