My wife and I took a short trip to New York City last month. It was our first trip with our son, Jack, who was 3.5 months old at the time. Even after reading lots of info online and getting advice from friends, we really didn’t know what it was going to be like to travel with an infant. What did we learn? It’s hard. Big surprise, right?
We didn’t buy a seat for him on the flights so he was to be on our laps. He didn’t mind that for a while but he wasn’t able to sleep for more than a few minutes here and there, so that meant hours of holding him, changing positions, etc. Jack didn’t cry or scream at all during the flight, so that was lucky.
What I didn’t realize before the trip is that New York City, or probably any large city, is especially challenging. If our first trip was at big beach resort it might have been much easier. (One unrelated issue that made it even harder for us was that all three of us got sick on the trip - but that's unusual!)
So here are six reasons traveling to New York City is especially difficult with a young baby:
1. Small hotel rooms
Hotel rooms in New York are notoriously small. Unless you stay at one of a handful of luxury properties (Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, etc.), you should expect standard hotel rooms to be around 200-250 square feet. Our room was 250 square feet which left just enough space to squeeze past the crib to get to the bathroom. With no counters space anywhere (other than the desk I was using for work), the small coffee table ended up covered with formula, diapers, onesies, bottles, and pacifiers. With an older child I’d think it would be even harder since there’s no room to play.
Resorts in other destinations have larger rooms. I’d say a standard hotel room outside of a city center in the US is approximately 300-325 square feet, and it’s not unusual to find rooms even as large as 400 square feet, which would allow a lot more space to move around.
2. Getting around the city (the carseat / stroller / taxi / subway issue)
Jack has to be in a carseat when in a car, so anytime we got in a taxi we had to strap the carseat into the back seat. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it, but when your taxi is pulled over in a traffic lane and there are cars behind him trying to get by, it can feel like you have to rush. Many taxi drivers have their seats pushed pretty far back, which left little space to maneuver the carseat. A couple taxis didn’t have the kind of seatbelts that lock automatically, so he really wasn’t in as securely as he should have been. We put the carseat in the middle of the back seat and my wife and I squeezed into the space on either side of him. If we had heavy coats on, or shopping bags, it would have been too tight.
We didn’t try the subway because some stations don’t have elevators and we didn’t know what to expect at stations where we might have to change trains. We could have folded up the stroller and carried Jack in his carseat up and down the stairs but we didn’t attempt it. Of course walking is the easiest option - except when the sidewalks are packed with people, there are loud trucks or construction nearby, or the sidewalks are bumpy and broken… then the ride is jarring enough to wake and startle a baby over and over. There are also lots and lots of curbs to go up and down… sometimes there’s a little ramp but not often enough. We enjoyed walking when it was on quiet streets (instead of busy avenues) but crowded streets are unavoidable.
In a different destination there would be wider and less crowded sidewalks, and we would probably have a rental car. We’d either have a car seat base installed or we’d be strapping in the seat while in parking lots rather than at a busy intersection with cars honking at us. At a big resort we might not even need to leave the resort very often, which would eliminate the issue completely.
3. Changing diapers
We live in St. Louis, where there are public restrooms in practically every store, coffeeshop, and restaurant. I’d say about 60% of those restrooms have changing tables. While in NY we would be out for a few hours and it would be time for a diaper change. Our strategy was to find the nearest Starbucks (which always has a public bathroom). Unfortunately Starbucks restrooms in NYC follow a different set of standards than elsewhere - not one had a changing table and most were extremely dirty. Not to mention the 10 minute line to even get in. So that left us looking for benches, which we never seemed to find when we needed one. We ended up changing a diaper at a bus stop once - right outside of a Starbucks where I had just stood in line with Jack for 10 minutes hoping to change his diaper.
4. Small, crowded restaurants
Tables in NY restaurants are typically very close to each other, meaning there’s no space for a stroller. We had to park the stroller while we ate and put the car seat on a chair (and hope the stroller was still there at the end of the meal). It’s not unusual to have to wait for a table at dinner (or even brunch at a popular place). When my wife and I were only two people we could get a table pretty quickly - but a carseat makes three, which means a longer wait.
Also - at home we often feed Jack just before or after we eat. At most restaurants we visit this is not a problem. In NY there was often a wait for tables so we felt pressured to order fast and get out rather than linger for another 25 minutes feeding Jack. That's how my wife ended up feeding Jack outside a Planet Smoothie on the Upper West Side.
5. Quiet evenings at the hotel
So what do people typically do in the evening when visiting NYC? Go to a show! Not with a baby of course - unless you want to hire a stranger to babysit, which we weren’t comfortable with. We could have taken turns, one of us going to a show each night alone, but we didn’t love that idea either. So evenings in NY with a baby means you’re either in by 7:30 PM so the baby can go to sleep on time or you’re out later and he’s screaming in the taxi on the way home. And if you're in for the night, you're probably sitting on the bed because the rooms are too small to sit anywhere else.
Of course his bedtime wouldn’t be different at a different destination, but there’s less to do in the evenings at other destinations. If we were in another destination I might not have felt like we were missing something.
6. The nature of a NYC trip
Something that we didn't realize in advance is that a trip to NYC, by nature, is a “get out and do things” kind of trip. With small hotels and small hotel rooms, it’s not the kind of place we would want to lounge in the hotel room for very long, or even hang out in the hotel lobby. Even after dozens of trips to NY, there are so many options of things to see and do. It’s just the nature of a big city trip. A vacation to a resort, especially one with a beach or pool, can be a “chill out and relax” kind of trip, which would just be easier with a baby. (Of course we haven’t tried a pool or beach visit with Jack yet - so maybe it’s just as challenging!)
So that’s what I’ve learned about traveling to a big city with a baby. I hope this is helpful to other parents in planning your first trips with little ones!