Travelling with a baby or toddler in Southeast Asia can be very different to what you might be used to. That said, with a bit of thought and some sensible packing, the hassles can be reduced and both you and the bub will get more out of the trip.
Travelling with children brings a new set of challenges -- and benefits -- to your travels. Over the last two and a half years we've experienced this firsthand as we started travelling with one, then two toddlers. It is different to travelling solo, that is for sure. We find a lot more thought goes into issues like transportation and accommodation and even things like packing take on new meaning. Keeping that in mind, here are ten packing tips if you're travelling with a baby or toddler. Got your own tips? Please chime in with them at the end of the story, or on the Travelfish forum.
Landfill space is rapidly dwindling in many parts of Southeast Asia and laundry is cheap -- so it is certainly possible to travel with reusable nappies. Do keep using them if they're your thing, so long as you have plenty to last between loads and your itinerary includes making stops long enough in plenty of places to do laundry (or rather, get it done by someone else). We used the Mothercare smart nappy system and were happy with it. If you prefer disposables, the advantage of taking as many of your own as possible from home is you'll have plenty of space for your shopping on your return. It's easy to buy locally produced disposable nappies in major Southeast Asian cities and often cheaper than in the West. Opinion differs as to which kind are better. We have found that local nappies are just as good, but they take up a little more room in your bag. Mamy Poko is a good brand.
Formula is widely available (pushed, even, in Southeast Asian hospitals), but you are unlikely to find precisely the same brand you are used to. Bring at least some of your own if you want to try transitioning from one brand to another during a long trip, or enough for all of your trip if you don't want to risk it.
If your bub is weaning, you may want to take your own cereal, particularly if you or your bub are fussy. You can get various kinds of cereal at supermarkets in most cities, but it can be difficult to work out precisely what you're getting so to play it safe, do take your own. Fancy organic brands are a lot harder if not impossible to find outside of major centres like Bangkok and Singapore.
Use a two-in-one so you can scrub bub and hair all in one. You can get a Johnson's version across Asia. Indeed, you may as well use it as your soap as well and just jump in the shower with bub.
Take Milton tablets for sterilising dummies, bottles, spoons and whatever else gets grubby. Pack an adjustable plug and make sure you have one item whose volume you know to measure out water into bathroom sinks, if you think they are clean enough to use. Use something like a plate to ensure items are totally covered by the liquid – chances are you could borrow one from your hotel's restaurant. Take a plastic container big enough to douse the stuff you're travelling with if you have the space, else a sturdy plastic (non-leaking) bag will suffice.
If your bub is only just onto solids, this may seem extravagant but can come in really handy when you just can't face explaining what you need done to a dumbfounded waitress one more time. We use the Kenwood Wizzard HB665 and have been very happy with it. Make sure you pick up a power plug adaptor once you're in Asia.
You'll no doubt pack extra outfits for bub in case they have any accidents... but don't forget about yourself. You may run through your shirts more quickly if you have a spate of accidents, so first thing once you're off the plane, pick up a few extra ones and always have at least one within easy reach. Don't forget T-shirts will be far cheaper in Asia than your home country.
If you plan to travel by car, remember that most cars do not have seatbelts in the back seat in Southeast Asia -- without a seatbelt a bulky car seat is useless. Often you can arrange for one, but this may take time that you don't have (or weren't expecting to need). So either plan to travel mostly in other ways or be prepared to wear your child in a sling in the back seat behind the driver. Hey, at least you're not on a motorbike with them. We've used a Baby Bjorn for all of our travels with a baby and have found it fabulous -- it's really not as uncomfortable as it looks.
Spending on footpaths has not been a high priority for most governments in Southeast Asia. In fact, it's possible they don't even know what footpaths are. Outside of Singapore (which is a pramster's delight), you would mainly only use a pram in malls in Bangkok; forget Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Vientiane. For getting tiny bubs to sleep, a sling may be easier if you don't mind carrying the weight. There's also a range of child carries designed with travellers in mind -- the Kelty child carrier is a good example.
It sounds like a cliche, but we've found locals across Southeast Asia to be especially helpful and understanding when it comes to travelling with babies. Be it getting the waiter to go the extra mile mushing up some mushables or people just stepping forward to help out -- we've always found Asia to be a far more welcoming environment to kids than our home country. If you're starting to fray, take refuge in a shady cafe and relax -- after all it is your holiday too! Just don't be surprised when the staff lend a helping hand -- often even taking the little terror off your hands for a while.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 5th July, 2009.
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