How To Survive Traveling Abroad With A Baby
A lot of things change when you have a baby (duh!), but travel does NOT have to be one of them. Sure, people will say that you are crazy for traveling to a foreign country with a baby. However, the experience can be easier than you’d expect, even better in some ways than traveling sans baby, and definitely better than sitting at home all day with a baby!
Bear in mind that we are seasoned travelers. I’ve currently got around 30 countries and 4 continents on my list, and Li has 55 countries on 6 continents under her belt (not like we’re counting 😉 ). After all this travel, taking my baby with me didn’t seem intimidating at all.
If you’ve never done any foreign travel, immediately after birth might not be the best time to start – especially to some “weird” or “exotic” destination with unpaved roads and undrinkable water. Consider taking your baby on some smaller, closer trips first. Once you get those down, then consider a trip to a foreign country.
Flights seem pretty daunting when you’re trying to figure out this whole motherhood gig for the first time. But in retrospect, you will find that traveling with a young infant early on is actually easier. When they can’t move and just eat and sleep, flying with them is actually fairly straightforward. Yes – long flights are just terrible in general, but they aren’t necessarily that much worse with a baby.
Some aspects about flying with a baby are actually better, such as getting priority treatment. You get to board first and are often given your meals first too. In many countries, parents with babies get to skip ahead of flight check-in lines and passport lines too.
*It’s also the norm in many countries to let parents with babies go first anywhere. In Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, and Greece, I was offered to skip ahead of lines in places like the supermarket and post office!
Here are some tips to make flying with a baby pain-free:
Don’t bring a lot of stuff. Bring the RIGHT stuff.
- Food: You might not be able to eat the inflight meal if it comes at an inopportune moment. Bring some food and snacks for everyone.
- Empty bottle of water: A trick I use to save money while traveling is to bring an empty bottle of water to the airport. Once I get through security, I fill the bottle up in the bathroom. It saves me from paying astronomical prices for bottled water in the airport shops.
- Change of clothes for everyone. Obviously you want a change of clothes for your baby. But what if your baby has an explosive diaper or throws up? Do you really want to spend the entire flight covered in bodily fluids??? Hence why you need a change for everyone!
- Backup entertainment. When you’re traveling there will be new sights and sounds to keep babies entertained, but for the flight, you can bring a few things to occupy your kid, like a new toy, crinkly paper, or stickers for an older toddler.
Breastfeed or use a pacifier during takeoff and landing.
The part of flying that is really tough for babies is takeoff and landing. The air pressure change will hurt their little ears and they are almost guaranteed to cry. Compounding the problem is that you can’t get out of your seat to calm your child.
Sucking will help pop the baby’s ears faster, plus calm them down. So be sure to stick a boob or pacifier in your baby’s mouth then!
If you are breastfeeding, you need to drink a lot more water than usual. Flying dehydrayes you, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Have the cabin crew give you an entire bottle of water instead of those tiny cups.
Ask for help.
In the States, people are incredibly paranoid about kidnapping. Most would probably freak out if a stranger offered to hold their baby. But, in some places, it’s not a big deal.
When traveling around Eastern Europe, strangers asked to hold my baby (or carry a bag for me, lift the stroller into the bus, etc.).
I got used to this. So, while flying alone with my baby, I had no problem asking the person sitting next to me to hold her. It was that or endure a 10 hour flight without a bathroom break!
Account for jet lag:
Jet lag always sucks, but it is even worse when you’ve got a baby to care for. Don’t plan on doing anything on the day you arrive (except maybe shopping for diapers and wipes). If possible, plan for some help after the return flight. That way you can sleep off the jet lag while grandma or a babysitter cares for the baby.
Choose a Baby-Friendly Country
By “baby friendly,” I don’t mean a country which has paved roads or even drinkable tap water. Actually, I’ve found that undeveloped countries can be a lot more baby-friendly than rich countries.
Rather, consider the attitude of the people towards babies in the country.
For example, Austria does not like kids. You will get nasty looks if your baby starts crying in a museum (sorry Austria, but it’s true!).
By contrast, Egyptians love kids and will approach you asking to take pictures of you with your baby. But Egypt is not a place that I’d feel comfortable breastfeeding in public!
In many countries such as breastfeeding in public is taboo. Heck, up until recently, breastfeeding in public was illegal in Idaho! such as, breastfeeding in public is even illegal. In countries like South Africa, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, breastfeeding in public is taboo.
Countries like France, Brazil, Mexico, Albania, Nepal, and China? Breastfeeding in public is incredibly common. Heck, I’ve even seen moms breastfeeding while walking in Peru! Be sure you check out the laws and standards for breastfeeding in public of the country you want to visit before going.
Safety Standards Are NOT the Same in Foreign Countries
In the United States, I wouldn’t consider driving anywhere without putting my baby in a car seat. But in other countries, we might not even be traveling by car.
For example, in the jungle city of Tarapoto in Peru you won’t even find cars. Instead, people use motorbikes. The taxis are carts pulled by these motorbikes. After seeing a bunch of locals with their entire families loaded up on a single motorbike, those motor-taxis start seeming pretty safe!
And those are just the driving safety standards. Let’s not forget about hygiene, the rusty nails sticking out of playgrounds, and other issues you’ll surely encounter. If you aren’t willing to accept these subpar safety standards, maybe you should reconsider where you are going.
Bring a Stroller and a Baby Carrier
Ever try to push a stroller on an unpaved road or sidewalk pocketed with holes? How about up and down the steps of a Medieval fortress? Trust me – you’ll definitely want to bring a baby carrier (I use a ring sling) when traveling with a baby to foreign countries.
But you’ll also want a stroller. Even if you are exclusively babywearing at home, your back can still get really tired after a full day of sightseeing. Thus, the stroller is an energy saver.
Use the stroller on short trips around the city and places where you won’t want to hold baby the entire time – such as when going out to dinner. Use the baby carrier for adventures on unknown terrain.
Figure Out Sleep Options
Hotels in Western countries will often provide you with a baby bassinet. This is not the case in developing countries (and cheap hotels).
No, you don’t have to bring a portable bassinet with you while traveling. But do consider how you will sleep. Here are some options:
- Co-Sleep: This is probably the best option. You can even push the bed up against the wall and fill in the gap with some towels so you don’t have to worry about baby falling out of bed.
- Pay for an Extra Bed: If your budget can afford it, you can have your baby sleep in her own bed. Or, one parent sleeps with baby and the other parent gets the extra bed.
- Improvise a Bed: A hotel drawer lined with towels makes a great bed for an infant. Be sure to take the drawer completely OUT before you put your baby in it! 🙂
Locals Will Want to Touch Your Baby
As I mentioned, Americans are pretty paranoid about kidnapping. Most would probably freak out if a stranger came up to their baby on the street and started touching and kissing her.
Locals in some countries will touch your kid. And, no, they are not trying to kidnap her! Nor are they trying to inflict her with germs.
I don’t like strangers touching my kid, but I’ve embraced it. It’s actually a great way to meet locals you normally wouldn’t meet.
*This is actually more of a problem with my older daughter. On our Egypt trip, locals were constantly asking to take a picture with her. And random women would come up and kiss her head. She posed politely for the photos, but got sick of it pretty quickly!
You’ll need to bring some extra clothes for the baby, and a blanket is useful too (especially for putting down over dirty train seats). But don’t pack too much. You’ll just complicate your life.
Especially don’t bother bringing toys while traveling with a baby. You’ll find plenty to entertain baby – like peekaboo with your scarf, exotic fruits used as a ball, or a crinkly bag of chips instead of a rattle.
What you might need to bring though is diapers and baby food. You’d be surprised how hard these are to find in some places! In some places, all the baby food has sugar in it for some stupid reason!!!
Baby food pouches are great for travel. As your baby eats them, you get extra room in your suitcase for souvenirs.
Travel Insurance and a First Aid Kit
This is not the time to skimp on travel insurance. Make sure you know what is covered, and also check the location of clinics before you head out on your trip.
You’ll also want to pack a complete first aid kit. It doesn’t have to be huge. This travel first aid kit has served me in many developing countries. You can see the list here.
You WILL Survive (and probably enjoy it)
I’m not saying that all aspects of traveling abroad with a baby are enjoyable. I’d love to be able to go to bars, or even just enjoy a beer. Not to mention do things like sleep in late, eat uninterrupted, and go on hikes without destroying my back…
But I absolutely love the adventure of traveling with a baby. It is more than worth it and some of my best memories with my baby.
Have you traveled abroad with a baby? Share your tips below!
“All Aboard” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by joshzam
“Oia Santorini-traveling with baby” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by currystrumpet
“Flower Hmong mother and baby” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Linda DV
“Daisy, Daisy …” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by eyesore9
“”If breastfeeding offends you…”” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by CeeKay’s Pix
“Sleeping with Papa on the airplane” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Scott & Elaine van der Chijs
“Can you take me with you, Uncle JT?” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Mikenan1
“i’m pretty sure she likes being in my su” (CC BY 2.0) by SharonaGott
“IMG_3461” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by gholzer