A Trip for Every Trimester: Traveling While Pregnant
For years—my entire twenties, in fact—I was unsure about whether I wanted to have kids. I didn’t dislike them, and actually couldn’t really imagine being child-free in my older age. I just wasn’t sure whether I wanted to fit them into my younger life. I think that’s a common ambivalence among women who have busy lives, who have dreams and ambitions of their own, for whom career and independent adventures are important. For me, I was afraid that having a child would curtail my freedom to travel. Travel has been my driving passion for as long as I have been able to save my own money to make it happen, and I couldn’t imagine that ever changing. Therefore, I just didn’t know where a child would fit.
When I did get pregnant—in my early thirties, for what it’s worth—I had just spent a year travelling from the USA to Nepal to India to Malaysia back to Nepal to the Philippines back to Nepal to Tibet back to Nepal… I had been living my travel dream. But I also felt a little bit jaded. There were whole months where I didn’t see my boyfriend at all (um, clearly not that many months), and I actually missed working and having some kind of routine in which I was being productive. So, getting pregnant at that time didn’t feel like it would be preventing me from doing something I loved. I was actually seeking a different kind of life at that time.
Traveling While Pregnant:
First trimester: Vietnam
But of course my feet stayed itchy. Before getting pregnant I’d made plans to meet up with my dad in Vietnam. I was two months pregnant at the time of the trip, and having been assured by my doctor that so far, so good with the pregnancy, there was no reason not to go to Vietnam as planned. At that time, I hadn’t told anyone I was expecting, so breaking the news to my dad while having coffee at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City as we waited for a flight to Dalat was pretty cool.
Fortunately, I didn’t really suffer from morning sickness. But I did go off certain foods. Onions made me feel queasy, as did the smell of spices and curry. Which was very unfortunate as I live in Nepal, and lentil curry is a daily staple. Spending a couple of weeks in Vietnam couldn’t have come at a better time. Vietnamese food is full of fresh herbs, vegetables and clean flavours, and fresh fruit juices were abundant, which were all things that really appealed to me at the time.
It makes me so happy to see her smiling and looking around inquisitively when we go outside the house. If she can be that fascinated by our street, I can’t wait to see what she’ll make of the wider world.
I did however feel extremely tired at that point in my pregnancy, so after a morning’s sightseeing I was ready to go back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Fortunately, travelling with my dad, I wasn’t staying in the kind of budget hotel that I might have been had I been travelling alone, so a bit of hotel time was quite nice.
We also took more domestic flights than I would have done if I was travelling alone, which was good ‘in my condition’! Long bus rides would have been even more exhausting. We started off in HCMC and ended in Hanoi two and a half weeks later, stopping in Dalat, Hoi An and Hue on the way.
Second trimester: Lower Mustang, Nepal
My pregnancy was still progressing nicely for both mother and unborn baby, so I carried on my normal life in Nepal. Fortunately, as a freelance writer and editor, I work from home, so there was no question about whether, or how long, I would continue working during pregnancy. But, one of my jobs requires me to go on trips around Nepal when the company needs me to, and during my fourth-fifth month of pregnancy, they asked me to go to Lower Mustang for an assignment.
I hadn’t told them at that point that I was pregnant, so it was the right time to do so. I’d wanted to go to Mustang for ages—it’s a culturally Tibetan area of Nepal that sits in the rainshadow of the Himalayas. So, I really didn’t want to turn the trip down. But I knew it would be stupid to go overland from Kathmandu, as they suggested, an overnight trip on bumpy, twisting mountain roads.
I don’t actually remember whether it was me or them that suggested I fly instead, but that’s what I did. Go overland from Kathmandu to Pokhara (about six hours), spend a night in a hotel in Pokhara, then fly from Pokhara to Jomsom early the next morning. The company paying for the trip were willing to bear the extra cost to have me on the trip. I also asked if I could bring my partner along for a bit of extra support, if I paid for his air ticket. That was also fine with them (a perfect example of ‘you never know unless you ask’).
I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant, so breaking the news to my dad while having coffee at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City as we waited for a flight to Dalat was pretty cool.
I checked with my doctor first, of course, as I knew I’d be ascending to high altitudes. Jomsom sits at 2,743 metres (8,999 feet) and Muktinath, one place on the itinerary, is at 3,650 metres (12,172). My doctor told me that it is generally safe to ascend to 4,000 metres (13,000 feet), and as my pregnancy was uncomplicated, there was no reason for me not to make the trip if I wanted to.
I don’t regret going at all. At that point, I was over feeling tired. They say that the second trimester is the easiest, and I found that to be true. I was a bit slow on some of the walks we did, and I did pull the pregnant card when I didn’t want to scramble over some mini landslides. But the organiser of the trip was very accommodating to me and my needs (which, in reality, weren’t very different to everyone else’s). My partner and I were even given the nicest room at the hotel in Kagbeni, overlooking the medieval palace.
Third trimester: Bangkok
This is when things started to get complicated. Not in my pregnancy—which was still totally healthy—but in general logistics. I had hoped to return to New Zealand for the birth, as I had been advised to leave Nepal. All women who ‘have the means’ to leave Nepal for childbirth are advised to do so, as the medical facilities in Nepal are just too unpredictable.
However, my Nepali partner couldn’t get a New Zealand visa in time. A flight from Nepal to New Zealand is considered long-haul, and pregnant women aren’t generally given medical clearance to fly long haul in their third trimester. There was no way I was returning to New Zealand without him, so we had to go with plan B. The nearest city to Kathmandu with top-notch medical facilities is Bangkok, and fortunately, I had insurance that would cover birth in Bangkok.
I was a bit slow on some of the walks we did, and I did pull the pregnant card when I didn’t want to scramble over some mini landslides.
At 35-and-a-half weeks pregnant, with medical clearance and a Thai medical visa in my passport, I boarded the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Bangkok.
The lights! The air conditioning! The smooth roads! The variety of cheese in the supermarkets! The swimming pool at my luxury condo booked on Air BnB! After spending my entire pregnancy in polluted, pre-monsoon Kathmandu, with its power cuts, its water shortages, its pot-holed roads, its choking clouds of dust, Bangkok felt like first-world heaven. (I got bored of the too-easy conveniences after a few weeks, because life isn’t meant to be easy, but I did enjoy them for a time). I had been to Bangkok before so I wasn’t bothered about getting out and sightseeing. Which was just as well, because by then I was carrying around a bump the size and shape of a bowling ball, and couldn’t waddle very far.
Baby came two weeks early, by cesarean, and I was so glad to be where I was. The hospital was amazing; it felt like a fancy hotel with medical facilities. I know very few women enjoy the privilege of giving birth in an exceptional private hospital, so I didn’t take one bit of it for granted, and still don’t.
Fourth trimester: A Thai beach
That’s right, the fourth trimester. The first three-month period after giving birth is often called the fourth trimester, because this is the time when women’s bodies are closing back in on themselves, remembering how to be a single person rather than a double. Remembering how to be themselves again. There’s also a lot of mental and emotional adjustment and readjustment to deal with.
We hadn’t done very much in Bangkok in the way of touristy things. But it was my partner’s first trip to Thailand, and while he knew the trip wasn’t about him at all, he did have one request: maybe, if we had a little time, once I was feeling OK, and only if it was convenient… could we go to the beach? He’s from a landlocked country, so I couldn’t refuse.
After spending my entire pregnancy in polluted, pre-monsoon Kathmandu, with its power cuts, its water shortages, its pot-holed roads, its choking clouds of dust, Bangkok felt like first-world heaven.
We had to hang around in Thailand for a few weeks after the birth anyway, as we had to wait for my baby’s passport. So there was plenty of time. Having had a caesarean I did need to take it easy, but I am not the most patient patient (to put it mildly). After a week of being confined to our apartment, and another week of only venturing out on short walks, I wanted to get out again. So I booked three nights at semi-luxurious family-friendly resort in Pattaya, two hours’ drive from Bangkok.
I wasn’t allowed to swim, which was a bit of a bummer because we were right on the beach and there was a beautiful pool at the hotel. But I enjoyed eating fresh seafood, introducing my baby to the joys of travel (well, she didn’t open her eyes very often, but it’s never too young to start, right?) and watching my partner swim in the sea for only the second time in his life.
Can you travel while pregnant (or with a baby)?
This was never a question that I actually asked myself. I just did it. But I did make sure that I and my unborn baby (and then my born one) were healthy before making any of these trips. I wouldn’t have done them if my doctor thought anything was a bad idea.
Now that I have a little person to take care of, my freedom has certainly been limited–I can’t lie. But I have also come to realise that now I can enjoy a different kind of travel life in the years ahead. I know I’ll start to enjoy a more luxurious form of accommodation. I’ve always been a frugal traveller (out of necessity rather than preference!) but with a child, it’s nice to have a few more comforts, in the form of air conditioning, landscaped gardens, pretty swimming pools, and proximity to the beach. If this means that I end up staying in more expensive accommodation and taking shorter trips, then so be it.
I will also take my child travelling with me whenever I can. Yes, this is partly because I don’t want to miss out myself. But it’s also because I can’t wait to share the pleasures of exploration with her. Already, at two months old, it makes me so happy to see her smiling and looking around inquisitively when we go outside the house. If she can be that fascinated by our street, I can’t wait to see what she’ll make of the wider world.