A sleepy but happy Gravy Baby on a 5:00 am flight over Yogyakarta, Indonesia
One of the questions I get asked as a result of keeping this blog is what tips we've picked up along the way after having taken the Gravy Baby to 14 cities in 7 countries, across 12 time zones. Most recently, our friends Ryan and Michelle are taking their adorable litlte Senator-in-the-making (seriously, the kid has more perfect hair in his first 7 months than I'll have in a lifetime) to Mexico for Christmas and asked me what tricks I had for having a great vacation that fun and relaxing for everyone.
Now, I'm no expert, but I suppose that from cleaning an explosive diaper blowout off of a naked baby in the freezing, unheated terminal at the Hanoi International Airport to the American airline flight attendant who denied us hot water to mix formula, I've learned a few lessons along the way. To Ryan, Michelle, the little Senator and to all the other parents out there weathering on planes, trains and automobiles this holiday season, here's what I've got:
1. Stick to the routine. All new parents know that the key to having a healthy, happy baby and maintaining some level of sanity is to have a routine in place. Whether you're a stickler for the clock or you go with a more loose "feed-activity-sleep" pattern, try to stick to your home routine as much as possible. This means that if your little guy needs to feed every 3 hours, make sure you try to get to a place as conducive as possible to do that, even if it means delaying your travel plans for a little while. For us, this meant arriving to the Taipei International Airport a full 4 hours before our flight and lying down to simulate "bedtime" with the Gravy Baby in a Hello Kitty-themed nursing room (no, I'm not kidding; the hubby had to shoo away giggly preteens who kept popping their heads in to get a photo of the decor) .
Learning a new trick: putting down the tray table
2. Prepare your pack. Like a good Boy Scout, executing the routine means bringing accoutrements that you normally might not otherwise think to bring. Yes, you need the basics, like diapers, wipes and clothes, but beyond that, we always try to use our valuable luggage real estate to bring along some reminders of home. We read Goodnight Moon to the Gravy Baby every night, and it comes in a smaller board book version that's easy for travel. We also found white noise particularly useful for drowning out all sorts of noises -- howling monkeys, roaring hordes of motorbikes, or early-rising roosters. Instead of traveling with yet another item, though, we downloaded this white noise album to our IPod, then found some portable speakers that fold up to nothing. Whatever it is that's an integral part of your little one's day-to-day, try to think creatively on how to take it with you. Also, check out my earlier post on some helpful travel gear for babies.
3. Prepare your plan of attack. Do as much leg work as possible before leaving to account for things you might not have otherwise considered when you were childless and able to pop open that bottle of Veuve on your way from the airport in the hotel limo (I don't know, maybe you were a baller before you had a baby.) For us, this meant asking the very basic question, before we even booked a flight, of whether it was a good idea to take a baby where we were heading. Sri Lanka is perhaps the best example in our book. We knew of few people who had ever been there, and most everything we'd heard (fabulous beaches! amazing high tea! beautiful aesthetics!) quite frankly, came from the mouths of people without kids. Luckily, my former photography teacher now lives in Sri Lanka with her two young daughters and husband, and through her I was introduced to a wealth of contacts on how to travel through Sri Lanka with the Gravy Baby. Had I not reached out to her, I don't know that we would've ever gotten to a level of comfort where we felt we could visit the country. And I'm so glad we did, in the end.
Even Pooh Bears need to be updated on the aircraft's safety procedures
3. Go with the flow. Wait up, Biscuitwheels, you must be saying. You just spent two points of your very short list hammering home the importance of maintaining a routine, and now you're telling me to go with the flow? In a sense, yes, it's important to do both. Traveling with a baby means letting go of the idea that you'll get to visit all the "must-see" (or in our case, "must-eat") sites. We generally "planned" our days out like this: we'd pick the one thing we really wanted to see (i.e., eat), and we'd do that first. Yes, sometimes that meant eating lunch at 10:30 am, but that's what worked for the Gravy Baby and would allows us to avoid hairy unforeseen circumstances, like a lunch rush that might leave us waiting for an extra hour. Having a goal of one thing made us feel like we were still getting to see (ahem, eat) the sights, but without being overly ambitious. Anything else we managed to do during that day felt like a bonus. In some cases we'd have to adapt the Gravy Baby to whatever hiccups we encountered along the way. The night we ate at this crowded, dimly-lit bun cha house, for example, the wait was so long that we missed getting back to the hotel in time for the Gravy Baby's evening feeding. Having prepared (See #2, above) a nursing cover in our day pack, I ended up requesting, through pantomime, an extra stool so that I could prop myself and the Gravy Baby up to nurse him while slurping up the last of my noodles. Everybody wins!
4. Trust in yourself, and in others. Nothing frazzles a baby faster than frazzled parents. People told me this all the time before the Gravy Baby was born, and even though they might not be able to read exact emotions, they can sense when their environment is off-kilter. In Sri Lanka, our driver pulled our van off on the side of the road, and seconds later a woman wielding a machete flung the van door wide open. I'd say that my New Parent Danger Gauge rose to about THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT before we realized that she was just selling freshly-harvested cashews. I credit the hubby and his ability to react quickly -- but calmly -- to steer the machete away from the Gravy Baby's car seat. His reaction meant that the Gravy Baby broke into a wide grin, and we got some tasty cashews out of the deal.
The Gravy Baby sleeping in the bulkhead bassinet during an international flight
5. Give your kid some credit. I cannot tell you the number of hours I have wiled away obsessing and fretting about our upcomign travel plans with the Gravy Baby, no matter how many times or how many places we've been with him. Every time, I end up being surprised and delighted in how amazingly well he adapts to whatever we're doing. Take, for example, this photo, above, which I took while he was asleep on the 14-plus hour flight we took from Taipei to Seattle. He slept for 11 of the 14 hours of this flight in the bassinet attached to the bulkhead of the airplane. Trust me, no one was more amazed at this than the hubby and me. We'd been talking and planning this trip -- our move back to the U.S. -- since the moment the Gravy Baby was born, and I had about 15 pounds of toys littered throughout our carry-on bags in the event I had to entertain him for every single minute of those 14 hours. And in the end, I think we just needed to believe that our little adventurer would handle the trip just fine. Even if he hadn't, having that positive outlook certainly would've helped us weather it that much better.
Certainly by no means is this a comprehensive list, and I'm eager to hear about what lessons you've learned your travels with a young one. Would you do anything differently, and how so?