DwellStudio Squares Dove Grey Fitted Sheet, $38; Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote, $79; Munchkin Disposable Changing Pads , $6.99; My Little Seat Travel High Chair, $21; Munchkin White Hot Inflatable Duck Tub, $12; Goodnight Moon Board Book, $11; Flip UltraHD Video Camera , $120; Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover, Royale, $35; Bright Starts Lots of Links, $4.99
While I'm sifting through my photos and stories on our recent trip to Sri Lanka, I thought I'd share some of the behind-the-scenes gear that we lug with us on our jaunts to make sure the Gravy Baby is taken care of. I haven't quite pared our travel "essentials" down to a manageable weight for the hubby, so we end up schlepping a LOT of stuff we probably don't need. The hubby, needless to say, sweats a lot as a result of my failure to edit. For our next trip, I'm going to try to keep it down to the bare minimum, but these are the things we absolutely can't live without:
Sleep. The first, and perhaps most important item, is our PeaPod (the lime green tent pictured above), a pop-up tent that weighs less than 5 pounds and folds out the way your collapsible penguin-shaped laundry hamper did in college (don't lie: you totally had one). We, like most wholesome American families, dutifully registered for a Pack and Play, only to discover that they weigh about 20 pounds, which is fine for road trips in a big SUV, but not so much for us, since most of our travel is by plane and we have to keep within our baggage allowance. I love this tent because it creates a contained space for the Gravy Baby to sleep and has mosquito netting mesh sides so that he doesn't get bitten (see my earlier fears re: mosquitoes here). Even though most hotels are gracious enough to provide us with a "baby cot," we've quickly learned that cribs here vary a lot in terms of cleanliness, quality, and, um, safety. One crib placed in our room looked like some sort of medieval baby-torturing device, if those existed back then. We use a spare regular-sized crib sheet to wrap around the mattress, then pin it with safety pins at the back (since the PeaPod is oval shaped). We wouldn't use a sheet at all except that I have this recurring nightmare that the Gravy Baby stains his mattress in a spectacular way during the night and we end up having to cram a damp, smelly mattress into our suitcase. Shudder. With a sheet, at least I can roll it up and contain the mess into a Ziploc bag (which we also travel with plenty of, in different sizes).
Along with PeaPod, the Gravy Baby's other essential nighttime gear are things that we use for his bedtime routine. We started his routine when he was just two weeks old, and now he goes to sleep at night without any fuss, even when we're on the road. We read Goodnight Moon to him every night (and have an extra copy that we travel with). We also travel with a travel nightlight that uses only batteries so we're not dependent on plug adapters.
Eat. For feeding, it goes without saying that a nursing cover (the purple apron in the above photo) is also pretty essential, since I'm a modest gal and the Gravy Baby needs to eat when he needs to eat and not a minute later. One thing we're grateful for is not having to lug around bottles and formula everywhere we go, and as for sterilizing bottle parts in some of the places we've been so far -- forget about it. We also just started using a travel high chair once the Gravy Baby started getting better at sitting. As we've quickly learned, high chairs (or "baby chairs," as they're called in Southeast Asia) are a luxury item that usually aren't available at restaurants -- at least not at the ones we've been to. The travel chair pictured above is just a series of straps and buckles that attach to an adult-sized chair, which also makes it handy for keeping the Gravy Baby in one place while we eat, load up the car, etc. etc. It folds down into a small pocket that we can sling into our backpack (see below). We use the links pictured above to strap toys to him, since the Gravy Baby, like all good little monkeys, likes to fling his toys across the room (it only took once for a toy to land in a pile of questionable standing dirty water with no faucets or clean water in sight for these links to be worth their weight in gold).
Cleaning. Babies make messes, and the Gravy Baby is no exception. We like disposable changing pads because, as the hubby puts it, the Gravy Baby gets changed in a lot of really questionable places -- window ledges, dimly-lit backroom countertops at restaurants, or two rickety folding chairs placed side-by-side (we dream of the day when we can arrive at an international airport with baby changing facilities). The disposables are great because we don't have to think about what that weird gloop is on the windowsill/countertop/chair.
For more serious messes and daily washing-up, we use an inflatable duck bathtub to rinse off the Gravy Baby, but I guess if I had to eliminate one thing from the list, it would be this item. The pro is that we have somewhere safe to bathe him no matter where we go, but the beak on this little duck also quacks when squeezed, and we haven't figured out a way to disable it. While we were checking our bags in on our last trip, you could hear the "QUACK QUACK QUACK" as the baggage handlers were loading it onto the belt to be screened for security. Try explaining that noise to a non-native English speaker. "No, not dock: DUCK. Quacking is in the toy. Bathtub. For washing. You know, washing? Washing baby? " Sigh. Also, we discovered that the Gravy Baby is still small enough to fit into the sink for a good scrub down, so the duck tub isn't a must.
Carrying it all. Southeast Asia isn't a stroller-friendly place, so we use a Beco Butterfly 2 soft-structured carrier to get around. I did lots of obsessive research over the baby carrier, and we even own a couple that we've used and liked, although none of them hold a candle to the Beco's durability and utility. It's the only way we can hike through Kuala Lumpur's low-cost carrier terminal, which doesn't have frills such as people movers, covered walkways, or even, in some parts, sidewalks. While one of us is carrying the Gravy Baby, the other has the hubby's old backpack containing the Gravy Baby's in-transit gear, such as extra outfits, a bottle (for water), and diapers. One day I'd love to have this Patagonia one instead, because it can be used as a shoulder tote or a backpack, which would be really useful since we hold the Gravy Baby in a variety of ways and often need to access his stuff from different angles. It also has mesh pockets on the side for holding water bottles, which is key.
Savoring the moment. We realized pretty quickly in Hanoi that our style of travel has changed a lot, and that seeing the world through the eyes of our child, even at his young age, brings with it a whole heap of joy. We've added a portable HD video camera to capture those moments, which we're relishing in right now because we know our time here in Asia is drawing to an end. The video camera has caught what my camera can't -- the Gravy Baby flapping his arms in excitement. And hey, the fact that we have the means and the time to travel with him at all -- well, that makes me flap my arms, too.