Andrew: In addition to being the most photographed baby, our little boy is probably one of the most well-travelled babies too, having gone to 3 countries even before he is 1 – Bali, Shanghai and Taipei (Jas, her mum and sis went with Dilly when I was on reservist). And that’s not including Tasmania, which he went to when he was still inside Jasmine. Heh.
Having travelled so frequently, we thought we’d share a few tips we’ve learnt (many the hard way) over the past few trips. We’d have to caution though that these were tips that worked for us and for Dilly; but nonetheless, we think they could be useful for most parents.
1. NEVER choose a connecting flight if there’s a direct flight available.
Andrew: We learnt this the really hard way when we went to Shanghai. In trying to seize the cheaper tickets, we chose a flight that left at the break of dawn (around 4 a.m.), which had a stopover in Hong Kong and then reached Shanghai around 5 p.m. the next day – that’s almost 12 hours of travelling and lots of movement across different modes of transport.
Dillie was still calm and happy during the first leg of the journey as you can see below (especially since that was Mummy’s seat he koped, while Mummy sat on the floor):
…. but by the time we reached our second connecting flight, he was so cranky. The flight back was worse, because there was only a thirty minute allowance between flights, which of course meant we missed it and had to wait almost 2 hours for the next flight. At the end of it all, we were spent and exhausted. No more connecting flights for us!
At least we had the option of unrolling the Supermat in transit so that Dilly could stretch his legs.
2. Request the bulkhead seats- don’t assume the airline will just assign you one.
Jasmine: I had to email both the Cathay general reservations desk and the Cathay Singapore office to ensure that we got the bulkhead (front row) seats. These come with a bassinet upon request and of course, more leg room, for all the baby stuff you have to bring on board. At times, you may even wind up sitting on the floor while baby takes your seat.
However, there were a couple legs where despite our request, they squashed us in some middle seat, and even when the flight attendants asked people (middle-aged, no kids) in the front row to exchange seats with us, they wouldn’t. I made sure to walk Dilly near them whenever he cried. Hmph.
At least they gave us a little bag consisting of diaper and some Mustela samples, for diaper changes on the fly. The white dish came with the Heinz baby meals (more on that in point 4) and was quite useful for holding stuff or, um, as a toy.
3. Bring an old favourite or new toy while travelling. This will keep baby occupied and quiet, especially during takeoff or landing.
Jasmine: We brought Dilly’s penguin (it was less smelly then) and favourite electronic book, which was a lifesaver on flights. Nursing him during takeoff (or giving a pacifier) also helped him regulate the popping of his ears. If you have enough luggage space, bring one hand-carry specially for baby’s stuff. You can put it close to you and it makes it easier to find baby things in a jiffy.
4. Bring a nursing cover or enough expressed milk.
Jasmine: Taipei was outstandingly breastfeeding-supportive, with nursing rooms in every Metro station in the city centre and shopping malls.
Nursing rooms with change stations, sinks, bin, chairs and water dispensers in Taipei Metro stations
However, most places we went to did not have such facilities, so the nursing cover was very handy (with manual ventilation).
In addition, I made the mistake of not bringing enough expressed milk to Bali, thinking I would be able to express enough. However, I did not factor in that with the amount of time spent outdoors and the considerable energy needed to care for baby overseas, I would not be able to produce enough on that trip, even though I squeezed in three pumping sessions a day. Thankfully, what we had brought (plus direct latching on demand) was just enough for Dilly.
Also, when passing through customs, always hand-carry your breast pump and your milk. Tell customs officials that this is human milk and CANNOT go through the x-ray machine (the x-ray will breakdown the delicate composition of breastmilk). Request a visual check instead- if you are adamant enough, officials will relent.
5. If your baby can eat solids, also pack enough food.
Food-wise , airlines will only provide jars of baby food for the flight. One look at the ingredient labels (first ingredient: sugar) and we threw the Heinz bottles away. In fact, I drank up the baby apple juice. If pre-processed baby food’s not your thing, do prepare enough of your own.
We actually thought that Dilly would be able to eat the noodles and porridge in Shanghai and Taipei, but he didn’t like the taste compared to the freshly-made ones at home- the plain congee was too bland while the savoury ones with century egg etc were out of the question. Thankfully, he was still getting most of his nutritional intake from breastmilk then.
We’re not sure what we would do now, when at least half his dietary intake comes from homemade porridge and breakfast foods like ABC muffins and blueberry pancakes. I’m also not a fan of those sachets of baby foods, even if they are organic and sugar-free, as I prefer giving whole, fresh table foods.
Bring a full body bib along to minimise mess!
6. Carriers and slings make better travelling companions, as compared to strollers.
Andrew: Unless you’re driving, we’d strongly recommend carriers and strollers. We did see some couples pushing their strollers through the crowded Bali markets though, and I admire them for their courage, but the carrier is such a life-saver. It’s light-weight, versatile and if you buy the Ergo one, it’s actually not too hot. We put him in the carrier when we were at the Tagalallang rice paddies and Dylan managed to fall asleep! Of course, it’s also for the sense of security, knowing that your baby is right next to you (in fact, right on you.)
If anything, it could make for a nice stylish photo, like the one below:
Of course, when we were desperate and tired of carrying him, dumping him on the airport trolley had its benefits…
While waiting for our flight at Shanghai Pudong Int’l Airport
But nothing beats our very own Changi Airport for world-class amenities, including child-friendly facilities!
7. Prepare adequately for bath-time.
Andrew: We learnt this the hard way when we went to Bali – we forgot to bring his moisturizer (which was very important cos his eczema was bad then) and he was so terrified by the big bath-tub and shower (we tried both). Bathing, which he usually enjoys, became such a scary time for him. Even when I tried lowering him in the bath-tub with me, he would scream.
The next trip to Shanghai – we wisened up and bought this cheap, make-shift – but very cheery inflatable bathtub for him and all turned out well:
The only thing with using the bath-tub is – you need to have enough qi to blow it!
We three clever ladies didn’t have enough breath to inflate the bathtub in Taipei so we bathed baby in the sink. Next day, we got the lovely hotel staff to blow it up with a balloon pump.
Look at how relaxed this baby is!
8. Be prepared to improvise on sleeping arrangements
Jasmine: This may seem obvious, but prior to booking, check if the hotels offer cribs. Our Bali and Shanghai hotels did but we elected to have Dilly share a queen-sized bed with my mum.
In Taipei, we booked a family room with two king-size beds (which didn’t actually cost much more than a standard room with just one bed) so Dilly slept with me, which made it much easier to breastfeed at night.
Dylan staring out from behind chairs, which Ee Ee used as a barricade to prevent him from falling
Bring some comfort items from home so that the space will seem more familiar to baby, helping him to get adjusted to the new room faster. For Dylan, we brought his penguin (as if we had a choice haha), a blanket, to be used as a bedspread and his swaddle cloth, so the scent would remind him of home.
9. Plan a relaxed, well-spaced out itinerary.
Andrew: During our honeymoon, we could cover 4 attractions which were quite far apart in a single day, travelling from 11 a.m to almost 11 p.m. Obviously, you can’t do this with baby.
Usually travelling with a baby involves just 1 or 2 major locations a day, with plenty of time in between for feeding, diaper changing, getting baby to nap properly and just resting – for mummy and daddy too, because traveling with a baby is tiring.
Be flexible and prepared to go back earlier if needed. We ordered room service or had meals delivered in on quite a few occasions, just because it’d be too much trouble dining with baby outdoors, especially before baby could really sit up without support in Bali, or if we were not sure if restaurants had high chairs.
Dilly saw all the supper snacks we bought back from Ningxia Night Market and started smiling and crawling towards Ee Ee, who took this photo… but all he got was milk!
Just enjoy the quality family time and not be overly concerned about ticking off the check-list or ensuring that you’ve covered everywhere comprehensively.
Jasmine: When planning itineraries, I also research notable restaurants that are near the destinations using Google Maps and online distance calculators, and cross-check customer reviews on Tripadvisor to ensure that they were baby-friendly. Once in the country, we would also call a day in advance to make reservations and request a high chair if needed.
Us at the original Din Tai Feng restaurant in Taipei, with Dilly sitting on the xiaolongbao mascot!
Us at the Hello Kitty restaurant in Taipei! Thanks to Charlene for all the Taipei pix in this entry!
Overall, I’d still say we managed to cover most places we wanted to go to… and of course, get a good amount of shopping in!
10. Just do it!
Andrew: Many parents hesitate when it comes to travelling, especially with a baby – worrying about health concerns, stress, baby crying on the airplane. Well, we experienced all that too – Dylan wailed like mad on the flight back and almost nobody wanted to sit near us. It was like the parting of the red sea, where the seats next to us slowly emptied out. (Jasmine: Oh yeah… we now say that if you’re a REAL parent if you’ve flown with a wailing baby!) It was tiring, in Shanghai especially, because Dylan couldn’t quite adjust to sleeping there and kept waking up through the night. However, we don’t regret traveling with baby one bit!
Yes, he won’t remember anything – but we will and we have many lovely photos to remember it by too and stories to share. All the trips with baby also involved other family members, so that was quality family bonding time too.
With my dad at Humble Ambassadors’ Garden