Disclaimer: Whenever I get asked a question more than twice I write up the answer on this blog. I’m not writing this because I have any superior knowledge on this topic; I’m just sharing my experience. Your baby and situation may be very different!
Q: Why do you want to travel in the first place if you just had a baby?
A: With my first baby I didn’t.
When I started travelling again, after two years, people did not recognize me any more. The recent job market graduates had, of course, never seen me. People that regularly exchange emails with me have their eyes wander to my name tag now.
And: the interactions during conferences are irreplaceable. I’m lucky to be in an active department where I pick up on the big debates in the corridor. But nuances on the latest spites and especially industry reactions: not. I’m not a big gossiper, so I was also surprised at how many people had moved institution within a year!
And: That bit of distance from academia acquired via maternity leave gives me at conferences a fresh outlook and lots of inspiration.
Q: What do you do with the baby during your session?
A: 1) Some conferences have organized childcare (e.g., ASSA) and that’s usually very professional and reliable.
When Heloise went to ASSA the T&Cs of the childcare provider gave a minimum age but they were willing to make an exception once I called to ask. They said it was up to the local team and the local team was ok with her.
2) Other conferences are happy to help. There is usually a local organizing team, often with personal knowledge about childcare. My husband simply asked his conference organizers to arrange childcare and they did; promising that they can watch Eos if the babysitter was not up to the job (or Eos wouldn’t like his dog).
3) Bring your own childcare: We once shared a grandmother of another child during the Science Hackathon 2015. Both parents were participating and the organisers gave them a big family room and reimbursed the grandmother’s tickets.
I hear from German academics that their diversity office often has an in-official budget for bringing a carer. You do need to ask for it specifically though.
If the conference is more than two days long the travel costs of bringing your own childcare may well be lower than local childcare, especially if you get an Air B&B (if you don’t want to share a room) and a cheap flight.
4) Local childcare: We found the best babysitters via word of mouth. Our first conference babysitter was the nanny of our best man’s sister’s kids. The second was the niece of our previous landlord (and we knew that she used to be an au-pair and studied child psychology) and her friend. The third was the former nanny of an old friend of mine who had already moved away. The fourth and fifth were friends of a stranger whom we found while posting in the Facebook group of my former scholarship.
We like to pay a bit above the local rate and even without that we found local babysitters to be very helpful.
Often the hotel will also provide contacts of temporary childcare providers. But not all of them do, even if they are parts of luxurious chains.[Update] The LSE nursery offers “emergency childcare” and is a 10 minute walk from campus. Unfortunately, many other schools do not offer such services as their nurseries operate at capacity already. But if you are invited to give a talk or to a conference at the LSE, this is a convenient option. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How long did you engage the babysitters for and what did you do outside that time?
A: Depended on the age of the child. With 2 months I only had sent Heloise to childcare for my session.
With 7 months I had childcare during all sessions.
I took her to breakfasts, lunches and dinners, both at the conference and outside. With older children you should ask the organizer whether that is ok. Sometimes the dinners involve boats that needs tickets you know nothing about etc.
I would also often just hang out with her in the conference hotel lobby, talk to people passing by and working on my laptop. At the ASSAs quite a few job market candidates, even outside my field, came and told me that they didn’t know you could have babies while in academia at all, so just for that effect alone it was worth it.
At all those occasions I was asked these questions so that’s why I’m writing them down.
Q: How do you pump during conferences?
A: Badly. I’m usually jetlagged and my milk production on a wrong schedule. And it’s not easy to heat up a bottle from the fridge for the babysitter. Overall I have concluded that it is better to get the baby used to formula before you go to a conference. Once my baby could deal with formula I could pump-and-dump which meant I could have alcohol during the conference dinners.
If you would like to pump, here is a great blog (plus great comments) how to do so: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/traveling-to-meetings-while-breastfeeding/
My worst experiences include: a disabled toilet, a plug so high I had to pump standing, a ship where the plugs were only to be had in the dinner hall (luckily it was not raining and everyone else was on top of the ship), and a dress that wouldn’t open and had to be taken off (entirely my fault).
Q: And the flight itself?
A: There are many blogs about that. I liked this http://flyingwithchildren.blogspot.com/
I would add some random advice:
Most airports have playgrounds. Head straight for those when waiting.
Bring a book with songs so that you can pretend to (and actually do) be trying hard to stop the baby from crying on the flight without being boring. Most other passengers stop stressing you out once they see that you are trying.
Try to fly with a provider of bassinets and make sure they have one for you. Or take a sling so that you can sleep without worrying where the baby falls.
When considering flight times, be aware that you’ll need to check out from the hotel at some point and that you may need to spend the rest of the time wandering through streets or on the airport. The latter will mean that you can’t sleep because you need to watch bags and baby. I get that wrong every time.
Plan two days for sleeping after getting back.
My airport transfer firm usually keeps that car seats and picks me up again when we come back. But don’t assume they have the car seat ready if your flight gets cancelled and you come back on the same day – the driver may have gone home straight and not dropped off the seat at the office yet!
Pretend you are on one of those TV shows where everything goes comically wrong and laugh about yourself as often as possible.
Good luck and if I’m on the program contact me so that we can share babysitters.[Update] I am so overwhelmed by all of you who have written me or talked to me about this, men and women. It should not have come as a surprise: after all, many people have children, so these are probably common concerns. I hope that this blog also makes us all more willing to talk about these concerns so that conference organizers help us and reduce individual search costs. Do write me if you have other information or advice that I should incorporate. [EFA Update] The organisers recommended Nanny Express service (https://nannyexpress.pl/en). I will take Heloise with me and have a nanny (of a friend, not from nanny express) in our AirBnB 10 minutes from the conference venue, let me know if you would like to share.