How to Travel Abroad with a Baby [and actually enjoy it!]

My husband and I have a serious case of the travel bug.

Everyone always told us, “Get your traveling done now, because it’s over once you have a baby!”  Well, if there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when people tell me how my life has to be.  So… we traveled anyways.

Before our little one was 9 months old, he had already been on 12 flights.  We recently returned from a 10-day vacay to Japan (because… cherry blossoms!) with a 9-month old in tow, and we lived to tell the tale.  We were also lucky enough to have Brett’s sister and brother-in-law come with us, and as avid nephew lovers, they were so helpful — for example, picking up G and taking him to grab breakfast while we finished packing before heading to our next destination. So, we can’t take 100% of the credit for the success of the trip! 😉

While we don’t have everything absolutely nailed [there’s always room for improvement!], we have definitely learned a few things along the way that can be applied to both domestic and international travel with a little one.

[NOTE: If you’re looking for someone to tell you that this is going to be easy, look somewhere else!  I’m here to give you tips and tricks, but mostly to tell you that this is worth it.]

1. Less is more.

If you were to have seen what we packed for our 3-day trip to Pismo Beach when G was 3 weeks old, you would have thought that we were moving cross-country.

Flash forward 8 months to our trip to Tokyo, and although we still felt like a couple of pack mules, we fit everything we needed on our backs [+ a hand-held travel crib and a small umbrella stroller].  Instead of our usual over-packing, we pack small travel packets of detergent so that we can wash necessities in a sink, or we check ahead to see if the hotel or AirBNB has laundry facilities.

If you have the resources, try to keep as many hands free as possible.  We wore backpacks so that we had room to push a stroller (and, let’s be honest, so I could hold my coffee) at the same time.  Bring your favorite baby carrier — we love our ergoBaby 360 Cool Mesh [because I’m a sweaty person].

Also, take my word for it: buy packing cubes. It will help so much with organization, so you’re not scrambling to find pajamas in a dark hotel room!

2. Check your expectations at the door.

I used to love plane flights — watching a movie while sipping a glass of wine, slipping my eye mask over my eyes and drifting in and out of sleep, reading a book if I wanted to… yeah, BYEEE to that.

We did end up watching one movie over the course of a 12-hour flight — it just happened to be in 20-minute increments in between walking our kid up and down the aisle.

We had the absolute best time in Japan, but it was different than our typical cover-eight-countries-and-three-continents-in-a-two-week-time-period kind of trips.  It was so much richer to experience it at a slower pace, because we were pretty much forced to change our rate of travel.

As long as you go into the trip understanding that some things may not happen as expected, you open yourself up to new experiences that you may not have otherwise had… and that’s a good thing.

3. LAUGH IT OFF.

Okay, easier said than done.

Honesty time: the first thing I usually want to do when things are going south, is to blame my husband, which never really makes either of us feel better, nor does it solve the situation.

So, as hard as it is sometimes when your baby pees on your shirt in the middle of a 12-hour flight when all you want to do is drink a glass of wine and watch one g-dang movie… try and get out even one. little. chuckle.  It will a) keep you from crying, and b) throwing your significant other out of the plane window.

 4. Flex.

I’m going to be really upfront here and tell you that, again, this is easier said than done for most people.  I am very, very lucky to have a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, so I fully understand that most babies don’t flex all that easily.  However…

Time changes get really weird, for all parties involved.  Depending on how drastic the change is, you may want to consider not putting your baby on the traditional 7-to-7 schedule — at least, not for this trip.  For one, by the time you get them adjusted, it will probably be time to go home.  With our 16-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tokyo, it worked better for everyone to let G nap + sleep when he needed to, and to just let it happen.

This sometimes meant giving him a bath at 2am after we came back from karaoke (which was like 9am LA time) in order to put him down to bed.  Yes, we woke up at 4:00am to a wiiiide awake baby, but let’s be honest — that was going to happen anyways, because like I said, 16. HOUR. TIME. DIFFERENCE.  I wasn’t exactly sleeping through the night for the first few nights, either.  #therescoffeeforthat

Yes, that’s our kid napping on a tatami chair.

Whether it was in the Ergo, in a stroller, or in his travel crib, we tried our best to keep all other parts of his nap and sleep routine the same, so that we could make sure he got enough sleep in a 24-hour period.

5. Do your research!

Thankfully, we read a lot of blogs beforehand to see what baby items were readily available in Japan.  For example, we knew ahead of time that it was virtually impossible to track down diapers in downtown Tokyo (our hotel concierge didn’t even know, and we went to about seven different stores before we found some), so we packed plenty to hold us over until we found some.

Also, in case you were wondering, “omutsu” means “diapers” in Japanese ;).

This also helped us when we were trying to figure out what we were going to feed our kid, who was at this time transitioning to solid foods.  It may be a good idea to bring your own formula (or if you’re breastfeeding, you’ve got it with you at all times!) to avoid a hangry baby + potential stomach issues.

PSA: Always consult your pediatrician before traveling with your baby, and get specific advice on what you can and cannot feed your baby abroad!

For example, our pediatrician advised us to have G try shrimp before going to Japan, on the off-chance that he had a shellfish allergy.  There are lots of food-borne illnesses in other parts of the world, so err on the side of caution to avoid going to a sketchy hospital!

6.  Take risks [responsibly].

On our last night in Japan, we decided we wanted to go out for a really nice omakase sushi dinner — no matter, we thought, G has slept through pretty much every dinner.  This should be piece of cake, right?

WRONG.

We waited for this 6-seat restaurant recommended by Anthony Bourdain, and miraculously were the last guests seated before turning everyone else away.  There we sat, just us four, a baby, a sushi master, and his wife.  Welp… G was too excited to sleep, and somehow charmed his way into the arms of this 70-something woman, as her husband of fifty years prepared sashimi for us.  After asking to be his “Japanese Grandparents” through a series of attempts at Google-translated broken English, I couldn’t believe the experience that we would have given up had we not been willing to push a bit past our comfort zone when traveling with a baby.

When I say “take risks,” I mean, push the envelope a little bit.  Open yourself to new experiences — but, be willing to step out if your baby starts to have a meltdown.  Allow yourself to have a chill day if your kid is under the weather.  Read your baby’s cues, and be an attentive parent.  Don’t ruin it for everyone else — but again I say, take a few risks.  You never know what you might encounter.

And finally, to quote [and alter] my favorite travel sayings and life mottos by the Mark Twain…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (… and bring your kid, if you want.)

xx, Nicole {LL805}

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