When I was pregnant with Baby A, a friend told me that I should say good-bye to travelling for the next few years. I’m glad that I didn’t listen, because travelling with an infant (who quickly turned into a toddler) is not just doable, but can be just as enjoyable as travelling without one. Whilst travelling with Baby A in tow has meant that we have to be more organized and perhaps take things slower than before, it has opened doors to new, immersive travel experiences. We’ve engaged with people we wouldn’t have otherwise, made new friends in unlikely places, and come so much closer as a family.
Here are my top tips for travelling with an infant/toddler.
Research your proposed travel destination.
If your child is young, you’ll need to take along a travel stroller. Choose cities with paved streets so you can push the stroller easily. I’m still nursing Baby A, so I always check public nursing laws for the countries we are planning to visit. In my opinion, you don’t necessarily need to choose a destination that will have a lot for your child to do i.e. toddlers are very happy exploring their surroundings and if those surroundings are new, they are learning and enjoying themselves without you going out of your way to take them to the zoo or to soft play areas. Choose a destination that you want to visit for yourself, and your toddler will enjoy it.
Don’t do too many cities.
Babies have a lot of stuff, and the more cities you cram into your vacation, the more you’ll need to pack, un-pack and transport. The magic number for us is usually 3 in a 10-14 day trip – day trips don’t count if we’re sleeping in the same hotel we did the night before. Remember that you’ll travel at a slower pace than you did before, so add an extra day or two to each city.
A little trick I learned the hard way, is to travel to a new city at the end of the day. So for example, last year we went to Salzburg-Vienna-Prague, in that order. We landed in Vienna and were meant to drive to Salzburg for the first part of the trip. Thinking that we’d be exhausted after the flight, I booked a hotel for one night in Vienna and decided that we’d take off for Salzburg early the next morning, and given that it was just a 3 hour drive, we’d reach latest by noon. We got to Salzburg at 8pm the next day. Between getting our car rental, lunch, diaper changes, fixing the baby seat, we lost a whole day of our vacation. Next time around, we landed in Athens, picked up a car immediately from the airport and drove directly to Nafplio. Baby A slept in the car, we saved a day and I only heard a little bit of mumbling from my husband when I directed him to take the wrong exit – twice.
Give some thought to modes of transportation.
In my humble opinion, when travelling with a toddler, choose the mode of transportation that gets you there the fastest. I love driving (well, being driven by my husband) between cities rather than taking the bus or the train, if they’re close enough – it’s so much easier with a baby to stop for diaper changes, food and photography. Always take a taxi from the airport or train station to your hotel – we made this grave mistake once and walking for 20 minutes with three bags, one stroller and a baby was not the most enjoyable part of our trip.
Choose family friendly hotels
When travelling with little ones, you inevitably end up spending more time at the hotel than you would have otherwise, so if possible, it may be worth investing a little more on hotels. Choose hotels that are safe for toddlers – this one was tricky when we went to Santorini (given that everything is just steps), but we all came out alive, so as Baby A would say, high-fives! Nearly all hotels provide baby cribs free of charge and in some hotels, children eat free as well. Most hotels would be happy to help with either washing baby bottles etc. or letting you wash them in their kitchen. You can also grab some fruit, cucumber and carrot sticks, pieces of bread from the breakfast buffet for your child to snack on during the day (I’ve always asked and never received a negative response).
Pack the necessities, but don’t over-pack.
This probably holds true even if you’re travelling without a toddler. Ensure that you take all the necessities – a stroller, a baby carrier (if your child is happy with one), enough changes of clothes, first aid kit (with medicines, alcohol wipes, band aids, thermometer, etc.), baby’s toiletries, some favourite snacks, bottles, a few light weight toys and books for the room and stroller. I’m actually terrible at packing and as my husband puts it, I tend to pack the whole house for vacations. My husband now goes over my packing and pulls stuff out, so the next bit is from his experience. You can buy wipes and diapers, as well as your baby’s formula at your destination (just Google if the brands you’re using are easily available there). Baby A has hardly played with any of the toys I’ve taken with us on vacations – she’s too interested in what’s going on around her to care about them. It’s your child’s vacation too, so instead of reading the same books as they would at home, read out the lunch menu to them, and instead of offering a puzzle or a soft toy that they can cuddle when they’re back in their own beds, let them run into bazaars they might not visit again.
Start your day early
Babies need much more sleep than adults, so if you can be awake and ready by the time your child wakes up in the morning, you’ll be able to get a lot more sightseeing done while your child is still fresh. Our most productive days were the ones in which my husband and I successfully got dressed without waking Baby A.
Be open to a different pace
Travelling with a young child inevitably means that you’ll be travelling slower than you did before. Babies need diaper changes and naps, they eat much slower than adults and require frequent snacks and milk. For those used to doing things quickly and on a schedule (like me), this was very frustrating at the start, but I’ve really grown to appreciate the different pace of our vacations now. I’ve learned that slowing down has meant appreciating more. I remember this one afternoon in Prague, right after lunch, Baby A wanted milk and a nap. So my husband and I just sat down in the Old Town Square and spent well over an hour looking at the architecture, listening to street musicians and just absorbing everything. It truly was a lovely afternoon and we wouldn’t have experienced it like we did had Baby A not been with us.
Ask for help
I’ve found that people are more than willing to go out of their way to help with children, if you ask. The manager of a restaurant once offered that I change Baby A’s diaper in his office because they didn’t have a baby changing table in their toilets. Most restaurants we’ve eaten at were happy to cook something up for Baby A on the side when she was younger – boil some plain pasta, mash up an avocado, steam some carrots and broccoli etc. Some didn’t even charge for the baby’s food. I’ve found that simply asking often does the job, and if your baby can mumble a cute ‘thank you’ at the end, that just makes it worth it for restaurant staff.
Learn to improvise
I’ve lost count of the number of times I changed Baby A’s diaper in the stroller, or in the backseat of the car (that’s one of the reasons I love driving). Once I even changed it while she was standing, but I wouldn’t recommend that. The point I’m trying to make is, improvise! As long as you manage to achieve what you’d intended to, you’re good, in fact you’re golden, because you just discovered a new way to do something. Things don’t have to be exactly like you have them at home, after all, isn’t that why we travel?
Lastly, this is my most important tip – let loose and enjoy yourself! Remember that this is a vacation, for you and for your child. If your child eats salt for a week, it’s okay. If he doesn’t eat fruit for two days, it’s still okay. Cut yourself and your child some much needed slack!
Baby A has learned so much from our trips and has grown funnier, smarter and more receptive to new people, food and experiences. My favourite story is from our recent trip to Greece. We were obviously eating out for all of our meals and Baby A had observed that we call the waiter, place our order and then the waiter brings the food. This was starkly different to how she sees it done at home – she either climbs onto her high chair and repeatedly yells, ‘Mummy, food!’, or tries yanking open the fridge door. Back to Greece, we were all waiting for our dinner at a restaurant and Baby A was particularly hungry. All of a sudden, we notice that she’s looking around as if she’s trying to spot someone. Finally, she stops, looks directly at a waiter and yells, ‘Shimmii (excuse me in Baby A’s language), FOOD!’
So pack your bags, leave your worries behind and start making some irreplaceable family memories!