I was having a quiet moment - a rare moment when my husband had taken both children to the park and farmer's market - and reading Valerie's post on Traveling With Little Ones. I started to list in my mind the things I learned from my family's year abroad as well as the things I'd tell the friend of a friend who just asked for the list of things she should know before she took her baby traveling. I did that thing I often do where I intend to write a few sentences in the Comments section but end up with an essay when my computer shut itself down. My comments were lost. So in a fit of frustration, I tossed my planned post and decided to go for what I had just written in Valerie's comments. Alas, I’m piggybacking on her post.
In my family's traveling phase, we left LA for Singapore, and traveled through Bali, Cambodia, and Thailand. When my husband's project ended in Singapore, we went to Bali so my husband could recover from his work-induced exhaustion. We meant to stay just a month, maybe two, but we ended up staying five because of the friends we made, the low cost of living (including a nanny, house cleaner, and a weekly delivery of coconuts that included a person who daily opened one and left the coconut water in my fridge), and Waldorf preschool we loved that cost all of five dollars a day (hence the sticker shock I now face in New York City where preschool is $18,000 a year).
It didn't take long for us in our travels to learn a few things for the sake of our sanity as well as the sanity of our fellow passengers and the airports we were traveling through. Still, when traveling with children and laptops, I can get through airport security with the efficiency of those frequently traveling in business class.
So for my friend who asked for the things she should know - in addition to what Valerie had to say?
1. People will tell you that you are out of your mind for traveling with babies, that your babies will get the plague, will cry incessantly the entire way over the Pacific, or the Atlantic or any other body of water you happen to be flying over, and that upon arrival in your destination you will instantly realize what a terrible idea it was.
Traveling with kids was so much easier than we thought it could be. And we met loads of people who do it and who do it for months at a time with up to four children. We met families who had children who required extra pages in their passports because they had traveled so much.
People will tell you kids require structure and routine and will feel disconnected by constantly packing. Blah. Blah. Blah. Kids (and parents actually) do do well with routine, but routines and structures aren't necessarily dependent on staying still or in one place. Routines can be as simple as breakfast, morning walk, snack, outing, books and nap, playtime, dinner, bath, and bed. You can do that anywhere.
2) Ergo. Ergo. Ergo. Take the Ergo or other baby carrier. I agree with Valerie to ditch the stroller though I also will admit that while we stayed in Singapore we picked up a cheap umbrella stroller for the simple reason that until my son got used to the woman who watched him for ten hours a week it was how she would put him down for a nap. But places like Bali or Bangkok aren't exactly stroller friendly. Throw in that the preferred way of travel in places like Bali is via motorbike and well, you need a way to strap your toddler to your body. You can find a helmet for said toddler upon arrival for the bargain price of seven dollars.
3) I highly recommend delaying weaning for as long as possible if airline travel is in the cards. Air travel while nursing is a piece of cake. My husband and I developed a pretty great circus act when traveling with our son: we’d make him walk from check-in to the gate, then while I sat with our carry on, my husband would “run” our son backwards on the moving sidewalks much like a hamster on a hamster wheel. He loved this as he thought it was a fantastic endless game of chase. We’d board the plane and our son would climb into my lap, nurse, and fall asleep for the flight.
While continuing to nurse made my traveling life much easier, I will throw in a few things to think about. One is that if you are traveling abroad and you are a mother who pumps check the voltage of the country you are going to. If it is different than the one of your pump, it won’t work. You will need to find another kind of pump or hand express. The other thing is nursing while traveling can take a toll on your immune system for the simple reason that your body is working really hard, so eat well, drink loads of water, and avoid sugars and processed foods. Don’t shortchange your sleep, especially when jet lagged. If you’re going to someplace hot, either take or find in a pharmacy there, WHO rehydration salts to put in your water to help keep the family hydrated.
4) On the occasions when our son would not immediately conk out on the plane, our pediatrician said – if we were comfortable with it – that we could take sublingual melatonin tablets and crush them up, and give a fraction of it to our son. This also helped with some of the jet lag. Because our son was still teething, we also took Hyland’s Teething tablets, which eased his teething pain enough so he could sleep. This worked great with him. That said, all kids are different; my daughter is having a much rougher time with teething and the Hyland tablets don’t work the same magic on her.
5) If you are traveling for an extended amount of time, maintain your friendships and connections even if it’s just via facebook or other social media. While I loved the experience of living and traveling abroad, I also at moments felt isolated. When my son started scratching me while he nursed, I consulted a lactation consultant, yet Singapore has even lower breastfeeding rates than the US. I was literally one of four women (all of us ex-pats) on the entire island who had continued to breastfeed her baby longer than the usual Singaporean three weeks. Nursing a baby into toddlerhood was almost unheard of even in the ex-pat community. Her advice? Wean him. Because I couldn’t fathom such a thing, I immediately contacted my stateside lactation consultant who was able to offer some helpful ideas and get me through my rough spot.
6) Take adult and infant/child vitamins, basic medicines and Probiotics with you – especially the Probiotics as they can help boost your child’s immune system while traveling. Even if such things are available where you are going, when you need them, you will be glad you have them and don’t have to search the city to find them.
7) We found disposable diapers to be ridiculously expensive while overseas, and, often, they were the equivalent of a trash bag outfitted with Scotch tape. Our son, at 14 months, protested the wearing of them – and we could hardly blame him. We handled this by toilet training him early and he was out of diapers by 21 months. We still maintain that this was one of our best parenting decisions – partly because we both get grossed out by poo and partly because we trusted our son’s communication and partly because of our decreased footprint on the planet. Also, it was easier to toilet train him while he was imitating us already rather than establishing his independence as a three year old. So, I highly recommend early toilet training if you can stand it. (I referred to a little book called Diaper Free Before Three for help.)
8) Start a blog for your family to capture your travels. It’s a good way for friends and extended family members follow your adventures and to participate in the growth of your little ones. Take your laptop and you can post anywhere you find an Internet connection. Kids love to look at pictures of them selves and later on, they will love to see all the places you dragged them.
9) When you or those close to you express doubts about traveling with kids, gently remind them that the place you are going has children. Thankfully, children exist and survive in every single country on the planet. And I can’t think of a better way to teach your children that you value new experiences, learning through living, and different cultures and diversity than through traveling.