Since we have recently returned from a trip to Ecuador, I thought it would be fun to do a series on travelling with a baby. The Grasshopper has been travelling with us since she was six months old, and she’s an old pro at this point. I’m going to break this up into a 3 part series. Part 1 deals with how attachment parenting practices make travel easy. Part 2 (this one) deals with how we deal with the daily challenges of life away from home with a little one. Part 3 will be more of a me centered post on how emetophobia impacts my ability to travel.
Days start early when we’re travelling. We try to get up and get breakfast and get out as quickly as possible. Mornings really are the prime time with a little one for sight-seeing. So out we go.
Getting Around. Except in the case of Japan, where we walked and used trains and buses, we always take our own carseat. We learned our lesson on that in Nicaragua. We had arranged to rent a carseat along with the car, but the carseat they presented us with was positively ancient. It had a bar across it instead of a lap-belt, and the padding had long ago gone flat. It was horrible. Since then, we always bring our own carseat if cars will be involved.
Seeing the Sights. Sightseeing with children can be really fun. Explaining things to children can help you see things in such a different light. Visiting the temples in Kyoto was so magical. We couldn’t just walk through and look passively. We stopped and explained more, explored more, and this brought a whole new dimension to the experience for us. It’s one thing to look at a statue of Buddha and something else entirely to explain it to a 2-year-old.
Sights were richer, more interesting, and definitely more interactive with a child along. A child doesn’t want to stand and look. A child wants to do, and the Grasshopper, in her desire to participate in the goings on, brings us along with her.
Mealtimes. When we travel, we really try to keep mealtimes at their normal time or as close as possible. We tend to follow the same pattern everywhere we go: breakfast, light snack, lunch, snack, dinner. Foods won’t be exactly like they are at home, but for us it works out. It’s pretty easy, wherever we are, to find something that resembles the food we eat at home. Chicken, meat, a soup, noodles, etc are all pretty universal foods. The meals aren’t as balanced as they are at home, but for a few days we’re willing to be flexible. Luckily she isn’t afraid of stronger flavors, but even if she was, simple foods can usually be found anywhere.
Trying new ways of eating can be fun, too. Sitting on the floor to eat at a low table is a blast for a child.
You know what else is fun? Learning to eat in weird ways with funny stick things.
She now insists on eating with “choppy-chops” whenever they are available, and she’s become quite adroit at managing them. Most of the food winds up in her mouth. Go her!
A Word on Snacks. Bring your own from home. There is nothing like raisins and a few whole wheat goldfish to help settle a cranky toddler in an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes local snacks really won’t do. They’re just not quite the same. In Japan, we experimented with my cousin who lives there to see what all she would eat, but she just didn’t like the same “kid food” that Japanese kids eat.
Potty Time. This can be a real challenge. If your child is still in diapers, bring enough to cover the entire trip. Although you will likely be able to find diapers locally, don’t count on local sources unless you’re travelling in the US. We got lucky in Nicaragua and found the right brand/size of diapers, but that was made easier because we were there visiting family. If your kiddo has a sensitive bottom, just bring your own.
When the Japan trip rolled around, the Grasshopper was already potty trained, so the challenge became finding a toilet that she could use when she had to go. Japan is an incredibly child-friendly country, and it is also full of clean public toilets. Almost everywhere we went we were able to find a toilet for her to use. Just ask. In our experience people are pretty willing to let a child use the toilet.
Naptime. After lunch, we usually try to do something a little quieter so she can relax and fall asleep. Take it from us, temple districts are not quiet. Gardens are a much better naptime sightseeing choice. We pop her into the carrier (now the stroller since she’s so big) and just stroll quietly. She’s usually tired enough from the activity of the morning that she drops off.
After nap, it’s business as usual. Time to find the next sight to see.
Bedtime. We try to maintain the same bedtime routine that we have at home. We’re a little more flexible on the timing depending on how tired she is from the day, but the routine stays the same. It’s safe. It’s familiar. Even if the sleeping arrangements are a little exotic. I bring some of our favorite books from home to read to her at bedtime, then we nurse, and struggle up together to go to sleep.
Yes, I know, this means we don’t get to go out and experience local nightlife. Meh. We’ve never really been much into that anyway. We’d rather visit cathedrals, temples, gardens, and other historical sights than go to bars. We can go to a bar in the US. So, when we’re travelling with the Grasshopper, we just adjust our sleep to her sleep. That way we’re all refreshed together.
Jet Lag. This can be a challenge for all of us. Mostly, we head south to Latin America where my husband family is from. This means the jet lag isn’t as big of a deal. In Ecuador, for example, they’re on Eastern Time. This just means we stay up a little later and sleep in a little longer. The only time it really was a problem was in Japan. When we visited Japan, we essentially had to reverse our sleep cycles, which honestly is easier than getting over the jet lag you get going to Europe. Don’t ask me why. It just is.
I will be honest and say that when we went to Japan, all three of us used Benadryl to help up reverse our sleep cycles. Drugging a child to sleep is never something I recommend, and we did so under her pediatricians advice and care. We explored with him several possibilities, and based on her own medical history and risks associated with other potential choices, this is what we opted for. If you ever do decide to go this route when travelling, please do consult your child’s physician. Benadryl, in some children, can have the opposite effect and cause them to become completely wired. I wouldn’t think that’s something you’d want to find out about in a foreign hotel at 3 AM local time.
Really, we’ve found that getting through the day can be pretty easy. A little planning ahead to coordinate active sights for morning and quiet sights for afternoon helps immensely, as does tweaking our adult sight-seeing habits slightly to fit in with the basic routine that she is accustomed to. I hope this information helps you to feel more confident that you can travel with a very young child. It’s wonderful.