Baby Backpacker: Tips and Tales for Tot Travel

A concrete panorama is sprawled across the entrance. Rust coloured blocks are piled high upon each other, reflecting red by the light of gentle white rays. Ruby and snow petals litter the patches of emerald green, sequestered between the brick road.

While large, burly trees stand guard all around; the broad, sturdy sign is unmistakable: Marriott Wardman-Park on stylish display. Gold? Rose gold? Whatever shade the sun selects. The architecture carries an early 20th century feel, loudly heralding the American Dream if not in its grandness, in the history splayed upon its walls.

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The view from my colleague’s room at Marriott Wardman-Park

The frigid air that escapes the foyer is a luxurious welcome but it is the plush embrace of white linens that really seals the deal. I wish I could continue along in an epic on ease, but this trip with all of its novelty and discovery was a fair share of fire before arrival in Washington D.C.

The voyage was mainly for business. My reason and function here were predominantly academic. But what I really want to share about is my first international trip with our son who was but four months an Earthling at the time.I travelled once with him before albeit for a regional trip. That half an hour flight went splendidly over the deep blue, and I counted myself a professional when the return flight yielded similar results. My husband is a wander veteran; the perfect hands to have when hunkering down for a long haul for hours. Two flights to the destination and we were ready. We had all the tools. Everything would be a breeze. But.. I was wrong. For all you parents hoping to fly with a tiny tyke under one, here are a few notes I wished my future self had mailed me a few months before.

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A photo I snapped at Reagan Int’l

1. An uncomfortable baby has no regard for appropriateness. 

You know, there are always those two parents, haggard and weary, who are surrounded by their cluster of screaming children. You wonder, ‘Can’t they do something?’ ‘Can’t they control them?’ Next time, give it a second thought before you start scorning the parents who are probably doing their best. Think about it before you start assuming about where they went wrong in raising their young.

My son is usually perfectly composed. Particularly when he is clinging to mommy’s clothing like reigns. He quite enjoys looking down from his preferably mobile chariot. The problem is there is no place for trolleying about on a plane about to take off. However, LO couldn’t care less. Even if we bungee jumped in mid-flight, nothing stopped him. He wailed til kingdom come.

I was confused because he was fine up to pre-taxi. He had been fed, he was not wet, he may have been sleepy as we were up since 2 am. But there was no telling because babies cannot verbally communicate their problems. Of course there were the inquiring stares, which did not move me in the least. Babies cry. My husband probably won’t say he felt the same.

Though the pressure is on, try to stay calm. Added to this are the standard advice bits from every direction, leaping out of the mouths of strangers who have certainly parented 8 children. They insist that if you hold him (or “her” when they assume he is a girl) like so miracles will happen. And when they don’t, they insist again if you let your baby encounter their magic touch it will work.

Long story short, the air hostess helped us during taxi and we realised our baba was too hot in addition to too sleepy. Don’t beat yourself up if you are not a psychic about your child’s needs. Be as vigilant as you can and sometimes the strangers really do offer invaluable assistance. Though some are too imposing, some genuinely wish to help.

Flight hacks include, putting baby to sleep before boarding. Some people give a small dose of child friendly medication for relief. If you can, put that baby on a breast, bottle or pacifier. The sucking keeps their ears clear so that the altitude would not affect them.

2. Roll with the punches.

And I do mean roll. On one of our flights back, which by the way went swimmingly considering the first, I had to change baby’s diaper. I chose to traverse to the bathroom where the appropriate table would facilitate the process.

I stalk past the sleep sodden faces and climb into the cubicle with my little one, focused on the job at hand. His back is against my chest and he is seated on my forearm in a perfect position for looking out and both of our Asian like eyes lock onto the mirror at once. I am about to lay him down for the change when an unexpected quake rocks us both from side to side.

“We’re ok.” I comfort my child. Or perhaps myself. Either way, I am more prepared for the waves of turbulence that hit us consecutively. “It will be over soon.”

No sooner do I say this than the pilot’s voice booms over the speaker: “This could go on for another hour or so.”

My eyes widen in “I’m-not-standing-here-for-an-hour” and I rush for the door, baby tucked securely in arms. After a garbled series of panicked passengers, doors hitting trays and my momentum almost knocking over the air hostess; we are soon seated in the back with the hostesses. My little Ninja Turtle seems amused by the entire rigmarole. I am thankful for that as I scurry back to my seat the minute there is a break in the shaking. We end up changing him in our seats. And that’s ok, while you have to be aware in case your baby throws surprises at you, your surroundings throw surprises at you too.

3. Travelling interrupts a baby’s schedule including their sleep habits.

The same way that our body clocks have to readjust after an 8 hour flight, babies may change their sleep habits in their new environment.

Being the aspiring travel connoisseurs we were, we assiduously packed our baby a travel bag which was simultaneously a bed! We had already done the standard checks to ensure that the baby fit, but imagine our horror when we lay him down to sleep in the dark silence of the room on the first night. I emerged from the yellowed aura of the bathroom and was greeted by frustrated, piercing wails. His father then hoisted him to calm him again. This process of rock-a-bye, fall-asleep, put-down, wailing; went on a few times until we gave up and put him in the center of one of the double beds.

Thankfully he was not yet a roller and measures were taken to secure him in bed. He slept like a dream. Guess whose parents didn’t? We were locked in involuntary embrace on a bed as capable of bearing us both as that driftwood could carry Titanic’s Jack and Rose. We survived nonetheless and throughout the week discovered more comfortable ways to sleep as our baby settled into a new pattern.

Speaking of new patterns, look out for changes in baby bodily function. When you move to a new place, what baby ingests may change for example. Keep a careful eye on possible effects. More humid climate may cause babies to demand more milk/water for example. My baby was exclusively breastfed at the time which meant his food could be supplied on demand. However, since my eating changed, the effects were evident in his digestive process.

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My husband took this in the lobby – ready for ALA 2018

4. Prepare to do some heavy lifting.

Literally. Although baby may not have his own suitcase worth of clothes yet, he does come with a lot of stuff. Your baby is first priority in terms of lifting. Even if he sits in a carrier or car seat, you can’t wheel him up the stair case when boarding.

Aside from the baby and seat, there is the stroller, the baby bag and whatever accoutrements of your own there be. While these baby accompaniments are meant for simplicity they do bring their own back aches so be prepared to unpack, fold and assemble often. It would help to also remember that as the sole animate subject, the baby will almost always be the least co-operative carry-along. If you have help it would be a plus, if not, practise using the carrier around the house before the trip or find a reliable, comfortable way to transport baby beforehand which allows you the liberty to manoeuvre your load around. No matter how many wheels your bags have, they can’t wheel themselves.

If all else fails, set aside cash to get a trolley for your luggage or try to find a reliable person to help. Side note: don’t give someone you don’t know the baby to help by carrying him. That’s your most valuable cargo.

Heavy lifting also applies metaphorically, travel buddies have to lean on each other. When I had presentations and sessions, my husband took care of our son. If he was buying food I kept our belongings together. Teamwork is vital to getting by successfully.

5. Expect baby to try new things. I don’t know if it is an unspoken rule, but each time I have travelled my baby came home doing something new. It could be that I go overseas at pivotal moments, but I am never away long enough for him to age significantly. Or so I think. Babies do have a tendency to make climacteric, unexpected changes literally overnight.

Perhaps the new perimeters provide him with opportunities to explore, take risks and test his limits. This time around, he suddenly began sitting up on his own, much to our glee. In the middle of your moments of adjustment, try not to miss baby making a milestone!

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Quick shot of Washington Monument on the way in

6. Make the most of memorable moments.

This is the most important note, and I am glad that I got this one right. After successfully presenting and gleaning from the scholastic space, my family and I did a little bit of site seeing.

We were in the heart of America’s history within the walls of its capital and I’m glad that we did not take it for granted. I am a firm believer that experiences matter more than material things. And as iconic as they have become, the memorials, monuments, museum and the White House still stand out in my memory. So did the severity of the sun.

Although baby may not remember the sweltering on the top of a double decker bus or the jade green grass under a tree in the park, pictures tell a thousand words. Years from now you would laugh about these adventures with your child after whipping out an album, or in our age a cloud. Send loads of photos home so family and friends can join you on your adventure!

By the way sleepiness and exhaustion can be a looming shadow over your trip. It can make sojourners cranky and snappy. Make a conscious effort to be patient with everyone. You will find it hysterical then when you remember using the last wipe and the infant decides to poop all over you right after. So don’t let the unexpecteds ruin the journey now, in retrospect they can be the best part.

P.S. I didn’t mention this but when babies are under two years old, most airlines let them travel for free plus taxes yay.

P.S.S. Make sure the baby’s medical record is up to date before you go anywhere and take necessary precautions based on the health climate of your destination.

P.S.S.S. Investigate travel protocol on what you can carry with you such as formula and diaper rash creams. Try to ensure that you find a convenience store near your destination in case you run out of basics. By the way an affordable travel bath is a convenient thing to have.

P.S.S.S.S. Carseats are standard in the U.S., Canada and England. Don’t be caught without one!

Planning to do a commission topic next week. See you then 🙂

-CiCi

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Allan Howard says:

    What a trip! Great writing love.

    Liked by 1 person

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