10 Lessons from Travelling with a Baby
Some people think that having a baby means an end (or at least, a long pause) to their travelling life. While travelling with a young child certainly poses certain challenges, it’s absolutely possible. My daughter is just over one year old and she’s already been to four countries. Yes, there have been some challenges and I’ve had to make some important adjustments and compromises to how I travel, but it’s been totally manageable. Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way about travelling with a baby.
Always carry a basic first-aid kit
As well as needing a first-aid kit for a child (I carry antiseptic cream, band-aids, a baby thermometer, and baby-strength painkiller), it’s also important to carry a decent first-aid kit for yourself. Getting to a doctor or pharmacy for yourself when you’re travelling with a baby is an extra challenge. Just last week in Nepal, we had to make a late-night visit to the emergency room for myself because I needed antihisthamines. I should have been travelling with these for myself, but I wasn’t, and the only place I could get them at a late hour was the pharmacy attached to the emergency room. The whole family (my partner and my daughter) had to come with me, because I didn’t want to walk the streets at night by myself, and of course we couldn’t leave my daughter behind. It was an inconvenience we could have avoided if I’d been better prepared.
There is wonder in the smallest things
Babies are interested in banging pebbles together, friendly street dogs, moths that look like leaves, other children, fountains, the view from the taxi window, the noise of a dog barking, a whirling fan, a beaded curtain, mirrors, light rain, bucket showers, the height they have to jump down off a bed… Many of these are things that we adults don’t tend to notice or care much about. But when you see a child engrossed in the smallest, apparently most mundane thing and remember that they are seeing these for the first time, it brings a wonder to adult travels, too.
The quality of accommodation matters
Pre-parenthood I didn’t care too much about where I stayed, as long as it was reasonably clean and in a convenient location. Now, I tend to spend a lot more time at the hotel that I would previously. My daughter needs naps, and we all just need to rest sometimes because traveling with a baby is tiring. This means that a hotel becomes a bit more than just somewhere to lay your head, and it’s nice to have somewhere more comfortable. I don’t necessarily mean luxurious (unless that’s in your budget!), but somewhere quiet, with A/C or a swimming pool, a TV, an attached restaurant, gardens… When you’re spending more time at your accommodation, give more thought that you might have otherwise to its amenities.
Packing light is more important than ever
Packing light is always a good idea, and something I always aspired to. But when traveling with a baby, it’s even more important. However you’re carrying your baby–whether in a pushchair or in a harness on your body–there just aren’t enough hands to handle the baby and heaps of luggage. Plus, some baby stuff takes up a lot of room–nappies, tins of formula, snacks, toys to keep them entertained… The lighter you can be in other areas, the more comfortable you’ll all be.
Limit car or bus travel
While anyone can get cranky on a five-hour car journey, babies particularly don’t like them. This is especially so if you’re travelling in a place where it’s the law to keep them restrained in a car seat. Now, I do everything in my power to minimise car travel with my daughter. Practically, this means visiting fewer places, and flaying between major cities domestically. I did take an 11-hour train journey in New Zealand, but that was much more comfortable than car travel because there was space for her to move around, toilets, and a seat we could place her on when she needed it.
The locals’ attitudes towards children is as important as the facilities
The two countries that I’ve travelled most extensively with my daughter are Nepal and New Zealand. These are very different places, but neither is actually better or worse for travelling with a child. Sure, in New Zealand you can find drinkable tap water, many public toilets with baby changing tables, high chairs in restaurants, and minimal risk of sickness and bugs. Nepal has none of these things. But in Nepal, people are very welcoming of kids (even in fancy restaurants!), they don’t give you side-eye if you need to breastfeed in public, and waiters and other passengers are quick to help if you need it. I can’t say the same for New Zealand. So while it’s definitely good to have facilities geared towards children, it isn’t everything: the attitudes of the local people also makes a big difference.
Overnight flights are actually a blessing
I was dreading my first overnight flight with my daughter. But, these are actually better than daytime flights in many ways. When a baby’s tired, they’ll (usually) sleep. Handling a sleeping baby on a flight is far easier than handling a wriggly, awake, and bored baby. As long as there aren’t any crazy departure or arrival times (like 4am), I’d usually opt for an overnight flight now.
Choose long-haul flights that allow a stopover
On our travel between Nepal and New Zealand we’ve always opted for a one-night stopover in Singapore. These allow for us all to rest, have a proper meal, change our clothes, have a shower, and generally feel human again before continuing our journey. Yes, it costs a bit more than a direct flight, but it’s worth it.
Choose your cafes and restaurants carefully
In New Zealand, I took for granted the fact that most cafes and restaurants have high chairs for kids. In Nepal, I can count on one hand the number of places that have these (a shout out to Roadhouse Labim Mall, Chez Caroline, Cafe Soma, and Cafe Cheeno!) In the absence of these, we look for places with low tables and cushions on the floor or couches. It’s really the only way.
Don’t be overly fastidious about cleanliness
I’ve made sure that my daughter has all the necessary vaccinations for her age, and we practice good personal hygiene, but apart from that I don’t stress any more over cleanliness than I would if travelling alone. I figure a few bugs will strengthen her immune system. Now, at the end of our second stint in Nepal, my daughter has not yet experienced any kind of tummy bug, so I figure we must be doing something right. She eats where we eat, keeps her mouth open in the shower (because she feels like it, I guess!), jumps in puddles, shoves leaves in her mouth, licks the window, eats food off the floor… and it doesn’t seem to have caused her any harm! If I was to try to stop her doing any of these things I would just stress myself out, and wouldn’t be doing her any favours in the long-run.
While my travel life certainly looks different to what it did when I was without child, I haven’t let being a parent stop me (us) from moving around and visiting new places. I hope others can also realise that having kids doesn’t have to mean the end of travel adventures.