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Traveling with Babies

by Susan Jaworowski

In my travels with my two children (at present, ages six and 10), I've found that age is a major factor in determining how you will "travelite."

Travel with young ones breaks down into two major stages: traveling with an infant, and traveling with an older child who is: potty trained (major difference there!); able to amuse him/herself for various periods of time, and; not yet able to carry his or her own luggage. I'm sure there's yet another stage when they become old enough to carry their own luggage, but not quite old enough to pack it.

My experience is based on traveling from Hawaii to various far-flung points of the globe, including a trip every year from Hawaii to New York, and three trips from Hawaii to France, with, respectively, an 18-month-old with a three-year-old, and a two-year-old with a six-year-old. We always traveled light (except the times we were toting Christmas presents!) . For instance, France with an 18-month-old for three weeks with just two backpack suitcases for my huband and me and one diaper bag.

Diapers

No matter how ecologically conscious you might be at home, travel is the time to use disposable diapers. No hotel/motel/hostel/B&B worth its salt will countenance you rinsing out diaper after diaper in their sinks . . . and the other residents will certainly notice the smell and complain.

You need to do research about your destination and ascertain whether disposable diapers will be available there. If not, the smartest thing to do would be to firm up your itinerary and mail yourself packages of diapers to your stops en route. This doesn't have to spoil the charm of spontaneous travel; I believe you can mail things "poste restante" (e.g., to the post office in the area you'll be visiting, not a specific hotel), so you can jump off the train in Arles and grab your diapers. And if Arles doesn't grab you, then jump back on the train for Avignon, diapers in hand.

I only advise this if there are absolutely no disposable diapers where you're going. In my experience, while diapers in France were not as up-to-date as American diapers and held less fluids and leaked more easily, for ease of travel I would still use local diapers rather than try to mail them to myself. Unless your trip is trés brief, don't even think about trying to carry all the diapers you will need! That's not the travelite concept.


Note to Americans: Diapers in many other countries are labeled in kilos. Make sure you know what your baby weighs in both pounds and kilos! It's very stressful to try to buy diapers in a foreign country, in a foreign language, and have no idea whether or not the 9-16 kg diapers will fit your 27-pound baby.


Clothing

Unless mismatched clothing doesn't bother you, make sure:

  • You take separates for baby, not one-piece dresses or jumpsuits
  • That every piece of clothing coordinates with each other

The normal spills, drool, spit up, etc. that a baby is prone to will quickly soil the cutest travel outfits, and it's less time-consuming to whisk off the offending garment and put on new shirt/shorts/pants than it is to redress the whole baby. You can take fewer clothes that way, and stretch the time between washings.

Wipes

Baby diaper wipes are wonderful and have a myriad uses, and they're definitely not for babies only! But taking along a whole wet, heavy container can be overkill. Parcel out some in ziplock baggies, keeping the bulk in your suitcase and a smaller amount in the diaper bag and/or day pack (a great way to wash hands after a picnic!). Even if you don't close the bag and the wipes dry out, you can add water to rehydrate them. Buy the local brand if you run out, or use damp paper towels you have stored in ziplock baggies.

Blankies

Blankies don't weigh much, but for some kids that few ounces of cotton can make or break a whole trip. If at all possible, don't bring your child's blankie if s/he only has one. Lose it, and not only is your trip spoiled, but the child will be miserable for a while at home too. Try to get your child to accept another blankie (maybe toss the blankie into the wash at naptime and offer the child an easily duplicated substitute, like a cloth diaper, which are cheap, replaceable, and absorbent. If your child accepts the substitute or has two or more blankies, I would suggest trying to make "mini-blankies" out of them that would be more portable and harder to lose.

My daughter had several blankies of the type she loved, so I cut one in half, and then I cut one of the halves in half again, and then I cut one of the resulting quarters in half. I ended up with 5 blankie clones that way:

  • One 1/2
  • One 1/4
  • One 1/8
  • Two 1/16s.

She didn't mind the change in size because the feel/color was still the same. I tucked them everywhere to minimize the dangers of losing them all: One in the diaper bag, one in my suitcase, one in my husbands, one in my purse, and one in our daypack. We did lose two of them, but the three remaining were enough to keep our daughter happy.

Stuffed animals

Same as for blankies -- if the child has only one, try to leave it home and take an easily duplicated substitute with you, like a beanie baby. Similar thing with pacifiers -- bring duplicates of the same kind that your child uses, and stash 'em everywhere.

Feeding

If you're breastfeeding, you're golden: not only are you truly "traveling light" but it will be easy for you to feed baby on demand, without worrying about the local supply of formula. If you're bottlefeeding, try your baby on some different formulas to see if s/he will take them (some babies are picky about which formula they take; others don't care). Make sure you pack dried formula that you can rehydrate, not premixed formula, which is heavy and will take up a lot of space.

If your baby is flexible, phone ahead and see if formula is available in the places you'll be going. If it isn't, or if baby will only drink one type -- pack it. Your trip will be ruined if your baby is howling with misery all night long because she's hungry.

Another advantage that breastfeeding has over formula is that there is no need to expose baby to the local water. Just as Mom or Dad may get a stomach upset from the local water, so can baby. So if you need to rehydrate the formula, use bottled water, bought locally.

Antibiotics

One of my children came down with an ear infection shortly before a flight to France. The doctor cleared her for travel, but prescribed antibiotics. Unfortunately, it needed to be refrigerated, and we were staying at modest pensions without refrigerations. He offered me something I didn't know existed: A sample of the same antibiotic in dry form (in little, one- or two-dose bottles) that only needed to be reconstituted. Not only did these not need to be refrigerated, but they weighed less than premixed antibiotics. This may be something you can get from your doctor if you ever find yourself in the same unfortunate circumstances.

To stroll or not to stroll?

I didn't use a stroller with my children when they were infants, preferring to carry them in a front pack, backpack, or sling. A stroller can be great -- a place for baby to doze while you tour the Louvre, a place to change diapers, a way to carry baby around without breaking your back. But strollers also have distinct drawbacks. They don't do cobblestone streets or pension stairs very well, some airlines make you stow them underneath rather than on board (making you wait for them to come out with the luggage rather than being able to stroll out the door), and they can be cumbersome and awkward in some travel situations, such as hiking, or even going across grassy fields. On balance, I prefer to carry my baby and leave the stroller at home, at least for infants.

[Note from the Baglady: Susan's tips are great, and I would only add one. If your youngster is flying by air, make sure your child is busy sucking on a bottle during take-off and landing. Young ones don't know how to equilize their ears, so the changing cabin pressure causes a terrible headache. If you've ever heard babies screaming on airplanes during take-off or landing, this is usually why. The same thing goes for older children. Try a lollipop for a toddlers, or a big wad of bubble gum for the older ones. Your child will thank you, and so will your fellow passengers.]

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About the author: A research attorney in Honolulu, Hawaii, Susan Jaworowski is best known on the Internet for Susan's Hawaiian Music Page.
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