There were some very useful tips in the 2 for Couples Article and I'm so glad I found it before we departed; here are some tips based on my personal experiences, for traveling internationally with an infant.
- You may be a Super Mom, but you can't do it alone - if you think that staying home and tending house is a challenge, imagine juggling a hot and cranky baby, passports, paperwork and a full-bladder while waiting in an impossibly long line to clear customs. You NEED to have someone to pass the baby off for those moments where you are getting extremely close to losing it. I was fortunate enough to have my parents and two sets of aunts and uncles along for the ride, although the hubs had to stay home, they all made a huge difference at one time on another.
During one leg of our journey, we had to take a fast ferry between Hong Kong and Mainland China. As the boat started up there was no indication of how rough the journey would be except for the staff lady holding onto empty barf bags, her eyes steadily scanning the room. Sadly, I am prone to motion sickness; I sat in the middle of the boat, my head between my knees and couldn't even consider the needs of the boy as I did my best to keep my lunch in my belly, unsuccessfully might I add.
Fortunately my Aunt happily played with the boy, and when it was time to get off the boat, she tucked him into the carrier, despite his screams, and toted him off the boat. Thank goodness for help - I have no idea how I would have survived that particular boat trip without the support of my Aunt.
- Baby food is NOT readily available, so bring your own - The boy was eating solids at the time of our trip, but he certainly wasn't eating table food exclusively. This was particularly challenging for us as I made him all his baby food at home, but that obviously wasn't going to work while we gallivanted Asia.
I packed four large Ziploc bags full of food, which I was sure would be enough food for the boy, particularly when combined with rice, tofu and other table food that he did eat. We had meats, fruit, cereals and snacks; I felt prepared. I wasn't. The boy ate through most of his food in about 2 weeks, which left me scrambling to find baby food; at one point I was so desperate for food, that I bought pure mango juice and mixed it with rice cereal, voila breakfast for the boy.
When I did finally find babyfood (all imported from Australia, so there were some interesting flavours) our choices were further diminished as we looked for gluten-free (read pasta-free) options. My advice, pack more food than you think your little one can possibly consume and don't worry about it taking up room in your suitcase. As you little one eats the food, you'll have room to store all those great items you bought yourself.
- Bring feeding gear - If you international destination is anything like ours, high chairs in restaurants are a rarity rather than the norm. As much as I love the boy, eating with him on my lap, particularly with chopsticks, is not my idea of a good time.
Before departing I did some research on portable booster seats and originally purchased a First Years On The Go Booster Feeding Seat, but when I found (and tested out) the Totseat, which is much more compact, I knew that I had found the right option for me.
Also, don't forget some easily wipeable or disposable bibs; someone gave me a box of disposables, which were great, and I also took a couple Mally leather bibs, which were easy to wipe up on the go.
Speaking of messes, grab yourself some WYSI wipes and make sure you bring resealable containers you trust, unless of course you want baby food all over your backpack and your daily ration of clean clothes. Even open baby food jars I didn't trust, unless they were inside a sealed ziploc freezer bag. Bring lots of those too, in many different sizes.
In terms of cutlery, I loved the Take & Toss Spoons since you got 12 in a pack and I was able to keep a few in every bag without worrying if I forgot one in a restaurant or hotel room. I also brought one sharp paring knife that was infinitley useful at cutting up fruit or table food for the boy.
- Go with the flow and anticipate a minor regression - In traveling with your child, you are taking away everything that is familiar and he/she may want comforts that haven't been needed in ages, especially if he/she gets sick.
Although the boy was swaddled to sleep until almost 6 months, at the time of our trip he hadn't been swaddled for at least a month and a half, but with so much change and stimulation, he couldn't seem to settle without swaddling, rocking and some night-time songs from his Momma. I assure you things went back to normal within a few weeks of returning home, my boy needed his Momma a little more than usual, but in truth, I can't say I blame him.
Similarly, the boy had been cutting way back on breastfeeding before the trip, but quickly upped his intake upon our arrival in Asia. I'm sure it was a combination of comfort and a general dislike for the jarred baby food.
- Routine, Routine, Routine, its even more important now that you're half way across the world - Although your routine cannot possibly be exactly the same as when you are at home, think about why you started a routine in the first place. Surprises and unknowns are stressful for young children, by having a regular routine, you child knows what to expect and that can make bedtime much more enjoyable for everyone.
At our house, we do bathtime, books and then sleepytime at night and books then sleepytime for naps. We may not have had the rocking chair in the bedroom, but if I wanted him to nap on the tour bus, we read our books and then I snuggled him up for a sleep. And at nighttime, it may have been way past bedtime, and the boy had to bathe in the sink a few times, but I did my best to always give the boy his routine, bath, books, sleepytime. It just seemed reasonable that amidst all the chaos, the least I could do was try and maintain this simple routine.
- Don't forget the babe's comfort items - no blanket or bear you can buy will be able to replace the one your little one has had for months, that he/she has cried into, barfed on and spit all over. That item has sentimental value and will be essential at some point in your trip.
We brought both the boys blanket and "bear" (the small blanket with a bear attached); the blanket stayed in the suitcase and only came out at night, but he would often reach for bear when it was time for naptime on the bus.
- Sleepytime; you need a plan - you need to think about this before you leave home, particularly if you don't co-sleep. We didn't and we don't and that can certainly complicate matters when your staying in a hotel. Most rooms in Asia have a single double bed, I can't imagine how tight the sleeping arrangements would have been with two adults and a baby.
I will admit that the first few days when we were jetlagged and the last few days when the boy was really sick, he was so exhausted he would fall asleep in the bed with me, but in general he thinks that laying in the bed with Mommy means playtime.
We got around this, but using a Kidco Peapod, essentially a baby tent, complete with a self-inflating mattress. We practiced using it at home before we left; first inside the crib, then at the grandparents and our friends houses. Within a few days of using the Peapod each night, the boy would settle down almost immediately. Although each hotel room was different, HIS tent was the same. Important travel features of the Peapod include quick set-up and take-down and is super light weight so that your luggage isn't overweight. I wrote a full review of the Peapod here.
- Your "super-stroller 3000" probably won't cut it - First off, if you have a beautiful 3-wheeled stroller like me, its probably going to be huge and bulky to tote around, fit onto buses and into tiny crowded shops. Your umbrella stroller? It's not going to stand a chance against brick roads, uneven concrete, narrow sidewalks and pushy locals.
Bring a baby carrier and make sure you've tried it out at home. Make sure both you and the babe are comfortable, you might find yourself wearing your child for hours at a time. I wore the boy in our Ergo Carrier for about 3 hours a day for three weeks (this was great for my waistline, but sadly it didn't last when I got back home) and I had no aches or pains to speak of. We had poor weather while touring in China and by the end of the first week, the boy was eager to hop in the Ergo and would snuggle in and go to sleep.
It was also great in the airports, as it allows you to know where your child is while giving you two free hands for paperwork, passports and the like. You will have to take it off to clear security (which is a pain) but c'est la vie I guess. Again this is where another set of hands comes in handy. I loved the Ergo, which is a soft backpack carrier because it didn't add much extra weight while in use and it wasn't too bulky and difficult to store when we weren't using it.
- Have a well stocked supply of medicine - bring your medication of choice for teething and/or pain, and bring a whole bottle. Between teething and sickness we went through an entire bottle of infants Motrin and were lucky that my aunt (a nurse) had a bottle of childrens Advil that we could use. I absolutley would not have wanted to be trucking around with a sick baby in tow, looking for drugs and being unable to read the packaging.
In addition to pain meds, I also brought children's gravol exclusively for the plane (which worked great at home, but did not help him sleep on the plane), however when the boy was barfing his guts out, little bits of gravol did seem to help settle his tummy. If you can get powdered pedialyte, I would recommend taking some with you so that you don't end up in a foreign Thai pharmacy taking their word that its safe for your little one (like I had to).
- Don't forget to have fun - it's not really giving up your vacation if you stay in your hotel for a half day every now and then to play with your little one to give them (and you) a break from the go-go-go of traveling. But don't get so sucked into your childs needs that you forget to go out and enjoy yourself. Despite everything I've said above, children are adaptable and although a happy child definitely equates to happy parents, make sure you didn't fly half way around the world to forget to stop and smell the roses.