Travel boldly. Go off the beaten path. Get lost.
We’ve heard these travel one-liners often – they’re all over the internet. I was a firm believer in most of these “words of wisdom” (I’m not particularly interested in really getting lost, though), and to a large extent, I still am a believer, but life hit hard when our firstborn came along.
For those with kids, you’ll understand the massive changes that have to be made to a couple’s lifestyle. This was no different for Steph (the wife) and me.
While we fully intend to instil a love and appreciation for travel in our little one through his growing up years, we also made the decision to avoid non-baby friendly places, long road trips and off-the-beaten path places while he’s still an infant.
The difference now would be fewer bucket list kind of options, and more planning in terms of finding out what we can do with a baby, as well as whether the destination offers baby-friendly services, facilities and amenities.
This may not be an easy process for those who aren’t used to planning more than the flight dates and accommodation details, and it also takes guts to even want to start planning for a trip with an infant – trust me, I know.
The first trip overseas we planned with our child was to Taipei when he was seven months old – and we learnt a lot from the experience. Hope what we learnt can help you plan your very own first trip with your infant child.
Establish the objective of your trip and decide on a location that works for you and your baby
I know this may sound too structured, and will probably involve a little more planning and thought than usual. However, it’s very important to know why you’re going on the vacation, which will help in narrowing down the places you end up going to.
For example, if you simply want to relax, then perhaps a beach resort would be much more suitable to your needs, as opposed to a hustle and bustle city holiday in a place like Tokyo.
For us, we simply wanted to test out the experience of bringing our son overseas to get used to the experience of travelling with an infant in a city.
Understand your own limitations, and know your child’s habits and patterns
Be honest with yourself when planning for a trip with your infant, and accept what you can or cannot handle. While it would be nice to bring your child on a jaunt around Europe, the amount of walking, planning, and crowds may not be ideal conditions for your family.
The part about understanding your child’s habits and patterns is a little bit trickier, due to the fact that at that young an age, your baby’s patterns may change drastically in the space of a week.
What I can say is that you should do a little bit of research into when your baby will experience periods of change – for example, times when he/she goes through growth spurts. Understanding what’s coming up for the little one helps in planning around unexpected behaviours.
Try not to go with a single, tiny hotel room
It should be pretty obvious that a bigger room is better, but on our Taipei trip, we (wrongly) decided to get a cosy (read: too squeezy) hotel room instead.
Nothing against hotel for my stay in Taipei – I thought the service provided was beyond excellent. Only problem was that there was far too little space than what we were used to, partly due to the fact that the cot provided was rather big, hence taking up most of the walking space in the room. Having large luggage bags certainly didn’t help as well.
The other problem for us – and this may not apply to all you parents – was that we weren’t used to sleeping, or spending time in the same room as our baby all through the night. Back home, he sleeps in a separate room, so we have quite a large amount of freedom to do what we want in any other part of the house after putting him to bed.
On this trip, however, being in the same room as our baby after he had slept resulted in hushed conversations from 8pm onwards (he’s a pretty light sleeper), dimmed lights, staring at our smartphones (too dim to read a book) and pretty much nothing else all night, every night.
Main take away from this experience
Try to find accommodation that has a separation between the bedroom, and a living area. It can be a hotel suite, service apartment or an Airbnb apartment. I haven’t had much luck with Airbnb hosts having a cot – nor do I expect that they should have it – but do leave a comment if you’ve had better luck with finding hosts with cots.
At the end of the day, it’s worth spending a little more effort to find somewhere you’re comfortable with – taking care of a baby while travelling is tough enough, so you’ll want to avoid any other inconveniences.
You’re not the masters of your trip – your baby is
It doesn’t matter how intricately we planned our trip down to the most minute detail – our baby disagreed with the itinerary, and we obviously ended up accommodating to the little one’s needs.
For starters, with an infant along on the ride, the following list of activities were automatically “disqualified” from our agenda.
A fine dining experience? Probably not.
Late-night food and drinks? No way.
Want to catch a musical or theatre performance? Ha ha ha.
Now, I’m not saying that this will apply to all families, but it certainly did to mine, and you just have to make sure you’re prepared for such scenarios, especially if you’re travelling for the first time with a baby. You’ll end up a lot happier going in with the mindset that the only certainty in the trip is that plans will change.
Space out your itinerary, provision for breaks
This is somewhat related to the previous point. We didn’t plan much for breaks in the middle of the day, and had a pretty tough time handling our son’s crankiness in the afternoons.
A few days in, and we discovered that giving our son an afternoon nap worked well in placating his fussiness, and it also gave him added energy to last till dinner.
It definitely helps visiting a familiar place
One of the priorities we had in planning a trip with our baby was to visit a city that we had previously been to not too long ago. This allowed us to minimise on getting familiar with the place, and focus on taking care of the baby while sightseeing.
We decided that Taipei was a great option, as the wife and I had previously visited a few times before. We also knew that it’s pretty baby-friendly. This made it easier for us to know what to expect from the trip, as well as allowing us to not feel like we’re missing out on stuff should the baby prove too fussy.
Consider the weather at your destination
This wasn’t much of a consideration for us as long as it wasn’t somewhere in the middle of winter.
What we didn’t expect was how much the heat affected us. While it didn’t seem to be much of a problem for our son most of the time – we made sure he stayed hydrated, of course – my wife and I were miserable from the heat, perspiration and just general exhaustion due to the weather.
The best part was that we knew what the weather would be like – we just overestimated our abilities in being able to handle it better.
We packed a little too much for the baby, but that’s not exactly a bad thing
Travelling for the first time with an infant was always going to be tricky. We took the advice from our friends who have travelled with their infants previously on what to pack, and what wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately, that niggling, worried voice at the back of our minds told us that we had to bring this and that, and more of everything. Because, what if?
However, certain items can prove to be a little too excessive. We brought our son’s stroller along, but found that it was too large and too cumbersome. Our baby spent most of his time in the carrier anyway, with little complaint.
We brought extra clothes, which proved useful as a fresh change of clothes was welcomed, and happened often due to the hot weather.
Manage all expectations and don’t sweat the small stuff
Finally, expect all plans to go down the drain, but be ready to embrace the challenge. After all, you should have gotten the message if you have read till this point. Just remember some of the points brought up here and focus on keeping your baby in a good mood during the trip, and things won’t turn out that badly.