Endless screaming in a confined airplane seat, uncontrollable crying while waiting in line for some cheap burgers because you simply did not have the time to eat, terrible tantrums in the middle of a shopping mall and food stained clothes, the mark of a true parent. All these horror stories are enough to cripple your grand idea of walking out the door with a suitcase packed for a holiday.
I was determined to prove my fears wrong. When my little boy, Seth was three-months old, I headed to Cambodia for a community service trip. The trip was planned many moons back and I had promised some local friends that I’d be there to help run an English camp and bring a group of 25 youngsters with me. Of course, I didn’t do it alone, my husband, who was then a new dad too, came with me. The experience of travelling with a tiny person was new and beautifully strange for both of us.
The trip was a great success. I had Seth in my sling most of the time, I breast-fed him in empty classrooms, he slept through most of the day’s activities and was a bundle of joy to the village folk. He even snoozed off in a hammock while I taught in the village. Of course, there was the occasional whimper – but it wasn’t too much to bear.
I learned three incredibly profound lessons after the trip…
Lesson #1: Life doesn’t stop after we have children. They are part of us, if we stop, then they lose out on the opportunity to experience and see the real us. And travel was a big part of me.
Lesson #2: Traveling with a baby is a case of mind over matter. Once I have determined to go, there was no turning back and I just dealt with situations as they came along. This lesson empowered me to believe that I can (and will) be stretched but holidays don’t have to be stressful.
Lesson #3: Excuses are just lame reasons to cover up our fears. I’ve heard parents say:
“I will travel after my child turns one” (Then No.2 comes along…then what?)
“It’s too troublesome”
“Way too much stuff to bring”
“My baby won’t even remember it. What’s the point?”
“He needs to stick to a strict schedule if not…”
I’m certain Seth wouldn’t remember his first trip to Cambodia when he slept in a hammock in a village among cows, chickens and dogs while I chatted away with village folks – but photos will tell and more importantly, I learnt that children are way more adaptable and versatile than we think. So let go and be open to new experiences.
Once you’ve decided on making that trip, here are some things you should do:
- Research on the destination. Is it child-friendly? Do you have easy access to baby products if you need them? Are there any activities suited for your child? How long does it take to get there and what is the mode of transport? Does the hotel provide a baby cot? You will need all this information to plan and prepare your checklist.
Tip: Try to go somewhere nearby or on a road trip just to get the hang of moving about with your child outside of your usual surroundings.
- Choosing your flight itinerary. It is advisable to purchase flight tickets with the flying time overlapping your child’s nap time. This in some ways ensures that you have a peaceful ride. Most airlines will also give priority for front row seats (more leg room and space for a bassinet, which you would need to request) to passengers flying with infants.
- Planning your itinerary. Things will change especially when you least expect it. So keep your itinerary fairly flexible but make an attempt to have a ‘MUST DO LIST’ of at least two items so that you don’t end up sitting in your hotel room for most of the holiday.
- Consult your family doctor or paediatrician. Even if you are super adventurous, you will need to do the necessary as a parent. If you’re bringing a baby with you, make sure he/she is properly vaccinated and that your doctor knows where you are going and for how long to adequately advise you. For my first trip, I consulted three doctors!
Tip: If you’re on an extended holiday (longer than two weeks), bring some basic medication for your child, for flu, fever and cough. It will save you the hassle of hunting down a pharmacy. A thermometer is also handy.
- Packing for your trip. While this might initially sound like a daunting task and everything in your baby’s room may seem to be a necessity, you don’t actually need to lug your entire house with you to have a great time (and survive!). Here’s my basic baby (1-18 months) travel checklist, mainly for tropical destinations. Depending on the type of travel and the expected weather conditions, I will add to this list as required:
On the body:
- Onesies / Rompers
- Pants / Shorts
- Pajamas (usually long sleeve onesies to keep warm)
- Shoes and socks
- Baby lotion
- Sudocream – Essential for nappy rash, heat rash and it even works on insect bites.
- Mosquito patch – Doubles up as protection for you too if you’re carrying little bub.
- Bibs – Try to get the lightweight silicone ones that are washable.
- Wet wipes
- Small plastic bags for soiled diapers to keep the nasty smell at bay
- Bottles – Usually one would suffice, but for long haul trips, I bring two just in case.
- Sippy cup –After Seth turned 6 months, I added this to the list.
- Washing detergent for bottles
- Bottle brush
- Milk powder – After 7.5 months, Seth was taking formula milk. If you are still breastfeeding, you have less to carry!
- Food & Snacks – Read the ‘Food & snacks’ section below for a variety of travel friendly food I love to have with me.
- Portable blender – A friend gave this to me and it’s the handiest tool. I’m not selling the brand, but you will probably find similar products in the market that blends baby food without the need to be electrically powered. Failing which, a fork would do the job too!
- Hot water flask – One of the most essential items to bring along. Hot water on the go anytime, anywhere.
- Diapers – Bring enough for 5-7 days as diapers can be bulky and heavy to carry. If you run out, you can buy it at any town or city you are visiting.
- Baby carrier – Best invention ever. Believe it or not, Seth has never used the pram since his birth. I just found using the carrier a lot more convenient and hassle free. A good one like an Ergo keeps shoulder and back aches away.
To keep him happy:
A toy and a book – Something to keep baby entertained. Don’t go overboard with toys, one is really enough for comfort sake. What I found interesting was, Seth loved travel brochures and magazines and we often read from these, making up stories of places and people. Tip: Improvise. Babies are easily entertained (eg. toilet roll, mint boxes, remote control).
Just in case:
- Medicine –For extended trips (more than a week) I usually stash the basic flu, cough and fever meds with me and a syringe. Thankfully I never had to use the stash, but it’s wise to have it with you to avoid hefty medical bills or hunting for a pharmacy.
Food & snacks:
Depending on how old your baby is and how long you are gone for, the food selection can vary. At six months, everything that Seth ate was bland (no salt, no sugar – as is). After eight months, the taste experiment started and since then, Seth has been pinching from our plates every time we eat. I will feed him till he’s almost full and then leave room for tasting. Now, Seth at two years old eats everything and anything.
- Must have for six to eight month olds is a small container of rice cereal to mix with veggie or fruit. Weetbix works too.
- Purees – I make these ahead of time, store them in small containers and pack them in freezer bags with ice packs. I carry the freezer bag with me on the airplane if I’m flying. At the hotel, I transfer them into the fridge. But if I’m camping or there’s no fridge available, I will bring or buy mashable foods such as bananas, papayas and avocados.
- How much food to bring? I will bring anywhere from 4 – 8 servings and spread it out throughout the trip. There is no point in bringing more than 8 servings as you would want the food to be as fresh as possible. When my supply depletes, we order baby-friendly food such as steamed veggies on the side, porridge or stews.
- Snacks – The last thing you want is to feed your baby some Twisties or Cheezels because you don’t have anything at hand and your baby is hungry. And when your baby starts teething, that’s also when they start snacking the most. Seth loves cucumber and carrot sticks, especially when they are chilled, healthy rice crispies and water crackers are great too.
That’s it! Now giddy up, plan the next trip, pack away and have a fab time exploring the world with your little one!
Note: This post was updated on 17th June 2015 to include additional tips on vaccination and more based on our readers’ feedback and questions. Thank you, our dear readers, for your responses.