Travelling with a Toddler

ImageWhen Dominic was 15 months old, an opportunity came for us to go for an almost-free trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

We had many weeks of agonising over whether or not to go and whether or not to bring Dominic.

Dominic was not weaned yet, and I was not prepared to wean him just because of this trip. If Dominic couldn’t go, I probably couldn’t go as well. Richard will have to go alone as that was actually a business trip for him.

I went around asking people about their experiences with travelling with young kids. Most of the people who have tried this encouraged us to bring Dominic along. It would be an experience, according to them, which we would not regret. After hearing from many experienced parents, we decided that we would go and bring Dominic along too. Thereafter, I started researching on the ‘how-tos’ of travelling with young kids.

Well, we have gone and come back. It was definitely quite an experience, probably one part of parenting that not all parents will go through (unless they choose to). And now, I shall share all that we have learnt. The following are based on my experience with a 15 month old, so you will have to adapt according to the age of your child.

“It’s a waste of money and time as your baby won’t even remember the trip.”

This is the most common objection you will get from people who have not ventured abroad with their young ones, especially the older folks. And this is one mindset you must change, whether or not you are planning to travel with kids.

I do not believe that any experience for a baby is a ‘waste’ just because they cannot remember it. A baby will most likely not remember looking at a musical mobile, but almost every parent I know will put up one for their babies to look at as a stimulation for their development. Likewise, a trip. Richard and I strongly believe that we should expose Dominic to as many different ‘stimulus’ as possible, without being restricted by age, or what we think he will/will not understand. I consider myself quite a ‘passive learner’ – I remember things I experience, see, feel, touch, etc, better than information I try to swallow from books. And all these information that I gather passively always turned up useful later on, and I may not even remember them until the time comes.

Besides, although your baby may not remember the experience later on, but he will enjoy while in it, and that to me, is worth the effort. And there will be photos and souvenirs to remind him later on.

Most importantly, even if your baby is too young to even enjoy the experience, to be with you at a different part of the world is much better than to be apart from you. And trust me, you will miss your baby if you were to go alone, and hence, it will affect your enjoyment of the trip.

Check out the place

Find out whether there are baby-friendly facilities around. If you can choose the place to go, do choose to go to baby friendly places instead of a trekking trip to Nepal, for instance. Thank God, Disney World was very baby friendly.

You will have to plan for every contingency, e.g. making sure that you won’t end up stranded at a place overnight with no where to go. I personally prefer to go into as small a detail as possible when it comes to planning. You can say I am more ‘kiasu’. The internet is a very good place to research on your destination. You can also ask people who have been there before.

Travelling by Air

I found that air travel was quite tough for me. Then again, travelling by other means may be equally tough, if not more. You have to be prepared to have very little sleep, to have your active little one step all over you, climb on you, cling on to you, sleep on you, especially if your little one only wants you and no one else. It’s all because of the confined space. Most likely you won’t get to play any games, watch any movies without interruption, or read a book, unless your little one is old enough to entertain himself. Your little one may not be able to sleep well, may fuss because of the lack of space and lack of sleep. He may even be crying quite often, causing you a certain amount of embarrassment because the other passengers would be staring at you with the ‘So, what are you gonna do about it?’ look.

Of course, things may not be this bad. It’s just that you should be prepared mentally for the worst so that you will have the mental and emotional strength and endurance to handle the situation.

Some people recommend that you give your child some sedative (e.g. cough syrup) to drug your baby quiet throughout the flight. Frankly, I am not too keen on this option. Firstly, the drug may not even work at all. It is not fail-proof. Secondly, some of these anti-histamines may cause the reverse effect and your child will be even more hyperactive than without the drug. Not to mention that with any drug, there will be some side effects. As with any drug, do check with the doctor first. Do consider carefully before taking up this option.

The bonus of breastfeeding is that is such a wonderful parenting aid. Whenever Dominic fussed on the plane, I just latched him on and he would be soothed and calm down, hence not causing too much disturbances. We were very glad I was breastfeeding Dominic.

I have listed some Air Travel Tips, so please check that out as well.

Meals

One of the headaches we had over travelling with Dominic was how to settle his meals. We expected that most of the American food would not be suitable for him and true enough, it was kind of hard to expect Dominic to eat things like burgers and fried chicken and salads. Dominic couldn’t possibly eat bread, scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes everyday. Furthermore, the food tend to be quite salty, according to Richard, who has gone to the US quite often before.

The final solution we came up with was to buy a lot of Japanese commercial baby food (Pigeon brand). These are closer to the normal Chinese porridge that Dominic has been eating, but they are quite watery and the amount per packet is not very much. We also bought a particular brand of instant rice ( like instant noodle), of which the seasonings are packed separately. I am not sure if this brand of instant rice is available everywhere. But I have seen other brands of instant rice, usually Japanese, in Japanese supermarkets. It was easy to prepare both the Japanese baby food and the instant rice. All we needed was to bring along a travel size kettle to have a ready supply of hot water. To prepare the Japanese baby food, we just soaked the packet in boiling water using the bathroom sink. As for the instant rice, according to the instructions, just pour hot water into the packet (we did not add the seasonings in, of course), seal and wait for about 8-10 minutes. The packet itself came with a ziploc seal.

Once we had the rice and the Japanese baby food, we just mixed the two together and voila! we got something that was similar to porridge. To find all these Japanese food, try Japanese supermarkets.

Activities & Rest

The trip we went was basically a free and easy trip. We factored in a lot of rest time, going back to the hotel to nap. It was important that Dominic had enough sleep especially due to the jetlag. Otherwise he would be very cranky and nobody would enjoy anything. No matter how you want to ‘make full use of the time’, remember that the interest of your little one comes first, so do not try to over-stretch him too much. It would just make everyone very frustrated.

By the same token, quite a number of people have told me that travelling with a young kid means that you cannot go for certain tours, or to certain places, and really have to take things easy. Those package tours that require you to wake up very early, rush from places to places and retire late may not be the best for you or your child. It’s not just the child would be badly affected, you will be tired out. I can’t tell you at what age would a child be suitable for such kinds of tours as things are different with different children. You know yourself and your child best. My only advice is not to be too ambitious, especially if it is your first trip with a child. Try taking short trips first, if possible, and gradually ‘stretch’ yourself.

Things to bring

This is quite common sense. Make sure you have enough supply of diapers or milk powder (if you are not breastfeeding), plenty of clothes for changing, medical supplies, snacks, toys, bath toiletries, spare pacifiers, baby food, etc. Do remember to bring along things like security blanket, stuff toy or even favourite potty, basically things that your baby simply cannot live without. Don’t try to cultivate new habits or break old habits while on a holiday. For milk powder and diapers, calculate the amount used each day and multiply by the number of days you will be away, plus a few days more for buffer.

Unless you are very certain that you are able to purchase necessities at your destination, you should not assume that every place has a supermarket or supply shop. Furthermore, even though these necessities may be available there, the prices may be very high.

Some countries are very strict with food products. E.g. Australia. Best to check what is allowed or not allowed.

f you are flying, you should bring on board a small luggage with your baby’s diapers and milk powder, milk bottles, wipes, change of clothes, medical supplies, toys, security blankets, snack box, water, a few pacifiers, sweater, etc. You should expect this bag to last you at least 2 days in case your checked in luggage is delayed or lost.

If your child has a medical condition, like Dominic had at that time, it may be advisable to ask the doctor or hospital for a written medical report to bring along. Do note that it may take a few weeks to get the report, so do not leave this to the last minute. In case anything were to happen (touch wood!), the doctors there will be able to understand the medical report better than your explanations, which will result in better and faster response. Remember to make a few copies of the report and keep them separately, one in the bring-on-board luggage, of course.

I would advise that you start making a list of things to bring a few weeks in advance, adding things along the way as you remember, to avoid last minute rush and forgetting important things.

After the Trip

Plan for plenty of rest time for yourself after the trip! After a few days of excitement, it would be good to have a few days of ‘normal life’. Try not to plan any other extraordinary activities the few days after the trip, and try not to rush back to the office the next day. You and your child need to get back to the quietness ‘normal life’. Not to mention you may have to deal with your child’s jet lag!

How I dealt with Dominic’s Jet Lag

Sadly, there is are little information on this on the internet.

For almost one whole week after we returned to Singapore, Dominic, who had been sleeping through from 9 plus in the evening to 7 plus in the morning, started to wake up in the middle of the night, living in US time.

There seemed to be nothing much we could do, short of drugging him. The general advice we got from people and from information gathered from the internet was that we should try to maintain the normal daily routine as much as possible.

This I tried to follow, having no other options. More specifically, I made sure that Dominic took his naps at his usual nap times, and napped for no more than what he was supposed to/used to. In other words, I would wake him up from a nap if he was sleeping for too long. During his waking hours, I made sure that he had enough activities to occupy him, ate his meals at the right time, eat nutritious food, drank enough fluids – basically maintaining healthy living.

A young child may not get over jet lag so easily, so please be patient. It took almost a whole week for things to more or less get back to normal, and even that was considered quite an achievement. Some kids will take a longer time, some kids simply have no problem with jet lag. The bottom line is that while you are dealing with this problem, you have to be as patient as you can. For the night wakings, I would recommend that both you and your spouse share the burden to dealing with a wakeful child, instead of relying on just one person to do it. It’s really a physically draining work and to have two persons handling it is much easier than just one. This way, you also give each other moral/psychological/emotional support in the midst of sleep deprivation and frustration.

Will we do it again?

Honestly, no, not for such a long distance trip. Short trips to nearby places, maybe, but certain not half-way across the globe, unless we have no choice, or the opportunity is too good to be missed (like the Disney trip).

Even now, as I write this, I can still fell the tiredness of travelling with Dominic to so far a place, on so long a flight (> 24 hrs, including transit time). However, I know that there will be people who wants to travel or need to travel with their children. Hence, I hope my experience will be of help to you.

Not all children are as taxing as Dominic was. I still enjoyed the trip and in a way, feel blessed that I had the opportunity to experience it. Hence, I will still encourage you to go and give it a try and experience this part of parenting.