Advice From A Mama Dance Instructor: The 411 On Traveling With A Child

Sarah here! I have been traveling around the world teaching for roughly 8 years. The last three were with my baby boy. I had a request from a fellow traveling dance teacher to post about my experience traveling/working with a baby. Here are some of the questions you might have if you find yourself a new parent who has to travel for work 🙂

So, I’m a traveling dance instructor with an extra carry-on – my baby. 

Nice! Hopefully, by now you understand your job description may include (but is never limited to) anything and everything from teaching a class, hosting a social dance, changing diapers, answering emails, experimenting with creative ways to get a toddler to eat spinach, rehearsing a showcase routine, delegating tasks to staff, or picking up tiny plastic dinosaurs off the dance floor. It’s never boring, I can tell you that. And they say if it feels easy, you’re probably not doing it right. 

There is obviously not one “right” way to be a mother, dancer, business owner, instructor, wife or partner. But neither am I here to sugarcoat it – It’s tough. Take any piece of responsibility or role out of the equation and it’s still tough, but it can be done. If you practice good preparation, patience, planning, and clear communication with the people counting on you, it is possible to achieve a low-stress experience without compromising the quality of your work. Especially if your work involves globetrotting while toting a toddler. 

How long is the right amount of time to wait after birth before traveling for work?

That depends! Can I ask you some questions?

  1. Where are you at mentally? Are you a first-time mom? Do you consider yourself easygoing? Anxiety-prone? 
  2. What stage of development is your child at and what are their current needs?
  3. What are the details of the job? International or domestic? Tour or one-stop trip? Etc. 

We took our first travel job when our son Huxley was 4 months old. I’d already heard so much about the importance of peace and bonding the months immediately after childbirth. I also knew how fragile a newborn’s immune system is. On top of everything, this was my first baby and I needed to get the hang of just being a mom before I thought about working and traveling. Give yourself time for what you need, and consider leaving room for additional time in case of an unexpected situation, like a C-section, that might require a longer healing period. I’m pretty happy with the 4-month start date and will probably do the same with our next child. 

Then, consider the details. That first travel job of ours as a family was an easy 2 hour flight with no time difference. We also brought our parents with us for added comfort and support. I really recommend this, if you can swing it. It made things as stress-free as possible and gave us confidence to keep going.

What negotiations did you consider regarding your contract, now that you two were parents and bringing your baby?

Let me start by saying that your contract will be an evolving document; it will grow and change as your baby grows and changes. As it evolves, it might appear excessive to others. This is completely normal. In fact, our own contract seems a little ridiculous at times (We distinctly require “hot running water” in ours) but trust me, it was built from actual experiences. It’s incredibly important that you make expectations clear. I guarantee if things are not clear and in detail, you will have spontaneous moments of surprise stress (like the time a babysitter assigned to us was a chainsmoker, or the time the carseat issued to us didn’t have adjustable straps).

How do I get started drafting a contract when I don’t yet know what I need or don’t need? 

Make a list of your absolutes and your “would be awesome” list. The absolutes are mandatory and list all the things that must be fulfilled, or wouldn’t make the job worth it. After the contract is accepted, you can open more discussions about your wishes. For example I might start a dialogue about accommodation options right after the job is accepted if this is an important topic for me. If it is not, I might wait till they email ME the info before I ask questions. And if I am bringing my own sitter, I wouldn’t send the organizer info on my babysitter requirements. Organizers have a million things they are trying to take care and as a parent, you have a lot more things you need to talk about than someone without kids so being sensitive to that can avoid them getting overwhelmed.

Everything else should be very flexible on your part. Ask if they either provide a sitter, or if they would support or reimburse the cost of a sitter you bring with you (keeping in mind some organizers won’t offer any support on child care). Usually, we found that buying flights for our caretaker was more convenient, because we could use our miles, and event organizers often get discounted lodging and food through the event so that was best for them. 

This is what part of our contract used to look like:
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Huxley (our child)

We usually do not travel with our child but in the case we do, here is what will help us. Huxley is 2.5. Loves to dance and is obsessed with cars and trains. Babies are always changing so our terms and conditions about him will always be changing as well. We really appreciate you supporting our family and I think you will find that the students really fall in love with him. While babies have a lot of needs, you’ll find Huxley is pretty easygoing. 

Mandatory:

  • Babysitter during teaching hours.
  • Flexibility on nighttime responsibilities for Sarah. Things go smoother when she can put him to bed before going to the night dance (or sometimes it’s easier to arrive and leave the dance early)
  • Babysitter during night time dances (2-3 hrs) especially when there are obligations like judging. If a babysitter is not provided, then either Dax or Sarah must not be expected to be at the night dance. Sometimes we can bring him to the dance if there are quiet spaces at the venue but Huxley can get overloaded with all the lights and music. 
  • Sleep: We co-sleep with Hux which would require a king size bed or two full beds, or if you have a crib/pack-n-play, we can use that. 
  • Huxley cannot go anywhere where there is heavy smoking or smoking indoors.
  • We know this one’s hard but we would love a separate room like a suite in a hotel or an apartment if possible. Without this we spend our nights eating dinner in the bathroom. 
  • Rear facing convertible car seat. Must be in great condition and never have been in a car accident before. Must be properly installed and easily adjustable. He is 25 lbs. 

Optional:

  • Babysitter during off time hours between classes and nighttime dances. This is often prime time for Dax and Sarah to catch up on work or to sleep to help with jetlag. It would really help to have some help during these hours.
  • Stroller, toys, and playdates

*Babysitters must have experience with children, physically capable of carrying a child, and must not smoke while taking care of him. Moms are great. In the case the babysitter and Huxley will be away from us (like during night dances) babysitter must be familiar with choking and CPR and must be highly recommended and trusted by event owner.

**If travelling with Huxley we request Sarah teaches a max of 4 hours a day. This seems the safest amount of time to be away from Hux while he adapts to new caretakers, jet lag, etc. You can schedule Dax as many hours as you’d like. 🙂 Baby free Sarah can teach 5 hours per day and 6 for Dax.

Other snippets from our contract:

  • We must transport in a car large enough to fit Dax Sarah and Huxley safely with seatbelts.
  • Close proximity to the venues. Preferably less than 15 min walk or drive. 

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In addition to the initial contract, these things are important to be discussed via email. 

What are the transportation options?

Does your kid get car sick? Ours did, so we needed to know a lot of details about how (and how long) we were getting around while there. 

Where is your residence and where is the venue?

This allowed us to specify where we needed the babysitter and when. 

What’s the party atmosphere?

Every venue is different. It’s important to know where you can “escape” with your kid if needed during parties. Personally, I needed to know if there was smoking and where, in addition to the general noise level. 

What’s the weather like during that time of year?

This could affect your baby gear, like that time we had to choose to either walk in the rainstorm for 20 minutes to the venue or take a taxi without a car seat (it’s legal in some places) because our location closed off streets to most cars at certain times. It also affects what shoes to bring if you babywear. Pro-tip: I personally don’t recommend wearing flip-flops while babywearing. Many babywearing experts say it’s safe but I have fallen a couple times while babywearing specifically and only because of flip flops. 

What are the bed options?

Consider co-sleeping so you can carry less gear, have less planning to deal with and an increased sense of security with your child during all the mayhem. That being said, we needed to understand the setup. We usually asked for either 1. King size bed 2. Two smaller beds we could put together 3. A full bed for me and Hux and a single for Dax or 4. Bed for me and Dax and a crib (though a crib was the last resort for us because that meant more waking up and getting out of bed to handle a crying baby, which sucks when you are jet-lagged). Also, finding out if we could move the bed against the wall was great if it was just me and Hux so I didn’t have to use pillows on the other side of him. 

Are you near a local drugstore and medical center?

I remember getting lucky by being walking distance from a drug store when Huxley had a random infection while teaching at Lindy Focus, and again when Huxley had a random seizure in Osaka, Japan right next to a clinic, but this is usually not the case. 

Can the bedroom be blacked out?

It makes a big difference battling jet lag/sleep when you can’t control the lighting in your bedroom. Surprisingly a lot of places didn’t have significant window coverings. In these situations we often asked for a crib for nap time because we could black it out. You could also have some duct tape on hand and tape bed sheets over the windows if needed. 

Hotel vs. Apartment?

Do you get to choose? If not, where are you being hosted? This could mean the difference of whether you get a separate living space and kitchen and a place to do laundry or not.

If you’re like me, you’ll catch on quickly that it will often be worth paying a little out-of-pocket for a much better experience. Event organizers have a budget and do their best, but everyone’s needs are different. For example, I’m sensitive to second-hand smoke and we were in a hotel that didn’t have clear separation. After one night, I offered to pay the difference and upgrade to a nicer hotel next door. Just be really clear that you understand the budget and appreciate everything they are doing so things aren’t awkward.

How do I know what to bring without under or overpacking?

This really varies, and there are a lot of good blog articles out there on what to pack. We kept things VERY minimal with baby gear because I just couldn’t carry the extra weight.

Baby carrier:

I honestly don’t know how people survive without one. It’s absolutely necessary for travel in my opinion. I can only think of two times our kid had a freak out on a plane. The amount of times we could calm him or put him to sleep incredibly fast by wearing him and walking up and down the halls was great. A carrier is one of the only places a kid can escape from all the stimulation. My heart always breaks a little when I see a mom having to struggle calming their kid when the TV light is right in their kid’s face and they are exhausted. I really believe the amount of babies/toddlers crying on planes would be cut in half if airplanes had baby carriers on hand. They also make rushing through airports way easier and faster (who has time to wait for your stroller to be unloaded or to take the one elevator in the airport?). It’s also great for dodging dancers’ dirty hands.

The Perfect blanket:

Find a blanket that is big enough to cover your child from light but small enough that it doesn’t become a hassle to carry. It should be thick enough to roll up as a breastfeeding pillow, or pillow for your head that can double as a comfy place to change a diaper or even serve as a bed on the floor if you don’t have your stroller (we often didn’t). 

Bluetooth Headphones for parents:

I usually don’t like the EMF situation of Bluetooth but it’s amazing when you don’t have to deal with the tangle and stress of headphone cords. 

Food:

Airplane food is nasty and usually not enough to last long flights. Short flights don’t usually provide food. Pack a small amount of fresh and packaged healthy snacks to get through the flight. Just keep in mind some countries are strict about what food you bring, so you might have to throw uneaten stuff away upon arrival. If possible, try to grocery shop for your departure flight before you leave. 

Kid Noise cancellation headphones:

A MUST. If your kid rips them off you could try putting them to sleep first and then putting on the headphones.

Emergency baby medicine:

Different countries have different drug regulations and labels are usually not in english. 

Other baby gear?

It really depends. For a one-stop job I typically request a car seat with optional stroller. If it’s a tour, it might be better for you to bring your own than coordinate 5 different car seats. That being said, when you bring your own gear, not only is it a pain (like with no elevator in a lot of international residencies) but it can get damaged. Our stroller got broken and our car seat got banged up a bit, which is a bummer and also not safe. Also consider the fact that a lot of European cities have cobblestone streets (or a place like Venice that doesn’t even have streets without stairs at some point!). Good luck pushing that stroller around! It was great if we could take a train from the airplane to the hotel, and if the hotel was walking distance to the venue? Yahoo! Co-sleeping in the beginning is way easier than trying to bring a crib, or trying to find one on location. Plus, with the craziness of travel, babywearing and co-sleeping can help balance things emotionally for your child. 

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We’re packed at the airport. Any tips for airplane seating strategies?

Acquiring an additional seat will make a world of difference on long flights. You might discover that an empty seat between you and your partner is better than the bassinet during daytime flights (red-eyes are great with the bassinet because they sleep most of the time). But get ready to pull some ninja moves (in other words aggressive mom moves) to pull this off. 

Be on top of online check-ins. P.s. this is great to do even if you don’t have a baby!

    1. The moment check-in opens, choose a row towards the back of a plane since they get filled the least. The best option is to book an aisle and window leaving the middle open. No one wants the middle seat, so this gives you the best chance of no one booking that seat between you. Plus, everyone is willing to switch with you if it means they get a window or aisle seat!
    2. When you check in at the airport, ask the attendant to check seats again to see if that middle seat was booked and if there are any other open spots.
    3. If you lose your empty seat, talk to the flight attendant and say it would be AMAZING if you could get an empty seat for the baby. That way they keep you in mind when dealing with people finding their seats. Just be prepared for an array of responses. Many just respond with “flight is full” even if it’s not. Others will be angels and bend over backwards to help you. And some will personally sabotage you to not get that seat because they are pissed that you are THAT mom. I’ve seen it all. 
    4. Oh wait, it doesn’t stop there! If the flight is empty enough, look for 4-seater rows with only one person in them and sit in them as soon as you sense no one else is coming. Don’t wait for the plane to lift off. Once that seat-belt sign goes off it’s like a scene from Hunger Games to rush to those empty seats. Get that seat as soon as possible. This is a dream set up. Trust me, it’s worth you and your partner being separate so that one of you can have TWO empty seats with the kid while the other gets some peace and quiet (or a place to lay down and sleep!) away from your kid and you guys switch off responsibility. Worst case scenario, you are that awkward person that is asked to move out of someone’s seat… 5 times…
  1. Keep in mind certain rows with more leg room might have armrests that don’t go up, which sucks, so use your discretion based on your needs and the child’s development stage.  
  2. Last rows (like backed against bathrooms) don’t typically recline, which sucks as well but you get the perk of not having anyone behind you.
  3. If you have a lot of flexibility, get a seat where no one is seated in front of your child, so you don’t have to be stressed about your kid kicking their seat.
  4. If it is a really small plane choose a seat up front. The back area by the engines can be really loud and do some damage to those baby ears. 

Other plane tips:

  1. Don’t get on the plane early! I don’t understand why parents rush to be the first on the plane. If your child is about to take a 8 hour flight, why put them on for the extra hour of boarding? Get one of you on the plane first so you can unpack everything and wipe down the area and have a second of quiet time to yourself. Then your partner can run around the airport with the child until they threaten to close the gate. Dax and Hux would always board the plane happy, tired, and ready to lift off!
  2. Check your baby gear. Bring gear that won’t make you cry if it gets damaged. It will get thrown around. You can get a nice cover but a lot of airports offer some sort of bag to cover your gear. I don’t recommend bringing your stroller through the airport. Wear your child. You will have to gate check that stroller anyway and that will mean a long wait after your flight to get the stroller back (which is bad news for tight connections). Also, you’ll be surprised about the amount of times you have to unload the whole thing to fold it up (like going up and down stairs because the elevator is a 20 minute wait) or through extra security places you didn’t account for. Travel light and fast through airports. Bonus: it’s a good workout to balance all that sitting!  
  3. Pre-pack your carry-on for success! When packing for the trip, separate things in priority of access for the plane. Have a gallon Ziplock bag of everything you know you’ll need in the front seat pocket right away (like snacks), and keep it stored at the top of your carry-on for easy access. Store what you’re not sure you’ll need closer to the bottom of the bag. This way you can unload and get to your seat as fast as anyone else without being the one fumbling around, holding up the line, and spending too much time trying to find your kid’s stuff. 

We’ve arrived. Now what?

DO: Rely on babysitters. In the beginning, we taught classes while wearing him, and we’d sometimes put a blanket on the ground and gave him tummy time if we had to do a more difficult demo. Once he got walking and grew too heavy to wear, we relied more on babysitters. 

DON’T: Don’t go without a backup option when your child decides to reject the new babysitter. This even happened when we brought my mom! Be prepared for your child to just want you. Dax was really good at keeping the class going when I got distracted with Huxley. 

DO: If you’re breastfeeding, try to time it during songs or breaks. I would offer milk even if Huxley wasn’t begging for it, and oftentimes he accepted the offer which allowed me to optimize class time.

DON’T: Don’t let it compromise your work. Students are really supportive of babies. In my experience, no one ever complained, and a lot of people actually thought what we were doing was really cool. But do your best to maintain the quality of your lesson. Demo clearly and don’t draw excessive attention to your baby. If students feel like they are learning and having a great class, they don’t care if a baby is around. Dax was great at taking the lead with the class and I took the lead on baby duty. He also pulled more weight like volunteering more than usual to judge, or was more active at parties, etc. 

DO: Be weary of long flights during the crawling years. This was the toughest because Huxley wanted to be mobile but flight attendants won’t let you put the baby on the ground to crawl (feet are okay touching the floor but not knees apparently). It became much easier when they could walk because walking was allowed. 

DON’T: Do not underestimate jet lag. Jet lag became a big deal by toddler years. This was the most difficult aspect, and a large part of why we stopped travelling with Huxley. No matter what we tried (and we tried everything) Huxley would be awake all night and sleep all day. This made doing our job miserable and it started to negatively affect our work (like barely making it out to night dances).  And did I mention that their plane tickets aren’t free at this age?! So now I can only accept a job if my parents can take time off work and we leave him a week at home with them or we just commit to a long tour. I do feel it would be worth trying to travel with him again once he is older. 

DO: Edit your contract and be honest with yourself when it comes to what terms allow you to do your best work. As Huxley got older, a few things changed. I just really felt the benefits of family coming with us instead of the constant new babysitters. As a baby, your kid will think EVERYONE who isn’t you is a stranger but a toddler will develop actual relationships with family and it makes things way more comfortable. So we eventually just simplified our contract to say someone is coming with us and defined our terms.

I still joke that if you want to cure your stress and gripes with international traveling, travel with a baby for a while. You’ll wonder why you ever complained! But jokes aside, my experience might be totally different than someone else’s. I tend towards anxiety and I know plenty of moms  (especially second-time moms) who have had pretty minimal stress traveling with a baby. And remember, students will be cool with it and event organizers are incredibly helpful. If you have fears or concerns about being a burden or not being good at your job, know that I had the same issues. There is no need to stress. It’s an exciting privilege to watch your child grow up surrounded by culture, exposed to live jazz and dancing all over the world. It has been such an incredible and unique experience, it’s worth it all. So give it a shot, and remember, pack the noise-canceling headphones. 😉

*Thanks so much to Alexis Justman for the editing 🙂

*DM me for any photo credits

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