Here are some lessons learned while taking our son to nineteen countries in his first sixteen months.
1. Introduce your child to everyone who can make your trip easier. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to us as soon as people meet our little guy. The people checking you in might give your luggage “priority” tags, ensure you have the bulkhead, or snag a spare seat for your lap infant. Fellow passengers might entertain your child. The hotel concierge might give you a bigger room. The waiter might suggest a special meal.
2. Ride the red-eye and skip the stopovers as soon as they start to crawl. When he was four months old, our baby happily slept day and night in the bulkhead bassinet on our flights to Australia. After he was seven months old, I preferred to take long-haul trips while he was asleep, and pay a little extra to get there as soon as possible. Note that if there is turbulence, they will make you scoop up your baby from his bulkhead bassinet and hold him in your arms. This usually when I start wishing that we had paid for that extra seat.
3. Plan for luggage to be lost. I arrived in India at 3 a.m. with one baby but no checked luggage. Luckily I had packed the essentials (medicine, bottles, food, clothes, nappies, phone charger, power adapter) in my carry-on, and checked the car-seat and the stroller at the gate. My checked luggage caught up to us three days later.
4. Double food and formula if it’s in your carry-on luggage. The good news is that you can bring water (in baby-bottles) and baby food in your carry-on luggage. The bad news is often you will be forced to taste half of it. And then you will have to throw it out because it’s no longer sterile. I had some fruitless discussions at Heathrow over this policy, but somehow my flawless logic did not compel them to change their minds.
5. Pack a pharmacy filled with items such as painkillers, antihistamines, antibiotics, eye drops, saline solution, iodine, antifungal cream, probiotics, enemas, and antimalarials. Learn when and how to use them, and don’t hesitate to take the child to a doctor if you have the least bit of worry. When our son woke up in Punta Uva screaming with a nasty rash, we were so glad to have some antihistamines on hand to sooth his allergy.
6. Bring snacks and toys to entertain young bodies and minds. Normally, our son eats four times a day, with no snacks in between. However, when I was sandwiched between two angry old men on flight to Brussels, I resorted to all sorts of bribery to get him to sit still. He ate handfuls of cereal, then once he was full he fed the rest to me. I would have eaten a packet of the stuff if it kept him quiet. Stacking cups and Hide N Squeak eggs were favourites in Turkmenistan and Costa Rica.
7. Bring gifts for strangers. In many countries, we were showered with small items that locals would spontaneously offer as gifts to our child. In Uzbekistan, our son went home with new toys, jewelery, and food. The people would not accept cash, so we carried playing cards and make-up to give to them in exchange.
8. Pampers and NAN are everywhere, while baby food can be tricky. We never had to pack too many nappies or packets of NAN, as these items were always available in corner stores worldwide. However, baby food, especially containing vegetables, was scarce, especially in Central Asia.
6. Stay in one place. Plan for a minimum of two nights in every hotel. Staying in the same place for a week is even better. Not only does it save you hours unpacking and packing, it also cuts down on time spent in the car, and ensures that there’s a welcome bed waiting for your essential afternoon nap.
10. Nap together whenever possible. When we could, we just did some sight-seeing in the morning, and returned to the hotel after lunch. Travelling with a child is extremely exhausting. We rarely could sleep in, and often there were long midnight singing sessions before our guy adjusted to the time difference. Afternoons in the hotel gave us a chance to recover from the red-eye flight and rest our bones from a morning of child chasing.