But then you had a baby.
Mr Sunshine and I (wrongly) assumed that as expats and seasoned travelers, heading to foreign lands with a baby would be a doddle. Besides the extra little package (and all of her associated paraphernalia) that we now had to lug around with us, not much would change right? Wrong! But somehow we have managed nonetheless. Now, with four long haul and two short haul flights under her belt, our four and a half month old has wracked up more air miles than many achieve in a lifetime. She's stayed in more than one luxury five star hotel, been to an overseas wedding and battled with cold, rainy beach walks and humid lagoon strolls alike. So, what coping strategies did we put in place to make it work for us? Here's what we've learned (sometimes the hard way) about traveling with a baby.
Mr S always despairs at the number of bags and cases I rock up to the front door with before a trip. I'm one of those "if I am away and realise I NEED that dress and don't have it to hand, it might ruin my holiday" kind of people (spoiler: it never does), so I end up packing for every eventuality. Add a baby into the mix and suddenly the number of plausible situations that you might find yourself in which require extra clothes/blankets/medicines/toiletries quadruples, and with it so does your baggage.
But be prepared
Speaking of OCD, if you're packing lightly it's important to consider which items you need to have close at hand at any point in time. While I was back in the UK last month, I purchased an extra large changing bag, which I used to rotate items into and out of according to the needs of the day. On traveling days with long train journeys, spare clothes and blankets were displaced in favour of extra toys and fun things to distract Sophia with, for example. One friend mentioned that they buy a few small surprises which they keep in their changing bag, such as a new toy, app download or favourite snack, which they bring out at regular intervals throughout a long journey to keep their little one entertained.
Your changing bag should never EVER be short of spare nappies or wipes however, or a portable changing mat. Sophia had one of the worst poo explosions we have ever had to deal with in a first class train carriage between London and Stroud the other week, and although we ended up having to change her nappy and clothes on one of the tables in the carriage (I'm not proud) and throw the sodden changing mat in the bin afterwards, I was so relieved that everything that we needed was easily accessible.
Choose some key baby products which make your life easy
Apart from my new, snazzy changing bag (blog post to follow on this in due course), there are three items that I could not be without on our travels.
Firstly, our Bugaboo Cameleon with Cybex car seat attachment, which meant that we could hop into and out of taxis, keeping Sophia safe in her seat while folding the chassis of the pram away neatly in the boot. The car seat also doubles up as a really handy rocker for your baby when you aren't on the move and you need to be hands free.
Secondly, I could not have dealt with all of the hassles of airport check-ins and passport control without my Boba wrap. Although we've taken our Bugaboo right up to the gate on every occasion that we've flown, there were certain times that popping Sophia into this stretchy wrap was the only option - when she was being clingy but I needed my hands free to locate our passports, for walking up and down plane aisles trying to hush her to sleep, and for the long walk to the luggage carousel before we were reunited with the pram once more. We also loved our Ergobaby Cool Air for longer walks around busy cities, across beaches and through fields.
The final product which kept us sane on numerous occasions was our Sleepyhead. It's a portable baby pod which is small enough to fit inside a large suitcase, or light enough to be carried separately as the 10kg extra piece of checked luggage you receive with most airlines for traveling with a baby. Where hotels or family members weren't able to provide cots, or Sophia simply didn't want to sleep in one which she wasn't used to, we put her down in her Sleepyhead for the night, either on the floor or between us in bed. As she is used to sleeping in it during nap times at home, it also provided an extra bit of home comfort which allowed her to settle much more quickly, giving us a handful of long, peaceful nights. Bliss!
Before we boarded our first plane with Sophia, I was super nervous. It was a very long, overnight flight and I was terrified that we were going to be one of "those" couples who couldn't shut their screaming child up and kept everyone awake for seven hours straight. I was pleasantly surprised when our usually nocturnal baby slept for the entire duration of the flight, and some more at the other end!
We immediately relaxed into the flight by trusting our instincts. Almost everyone that we consulted before we flew told us that if we were able to persuade her to suck on something (most likely my boob) as the plane took off and landed, then that would not only help to balance the pressure in her ears and prevent any pain, but also soothe her to sleep at the right times. I tried it and it worked. But they also said that we could not go without a baby bassinet which hooks onto the wall in front of the extra legroom seats, but our daughter downright refused to sleep in hers. I kept her on my knee for seven hours instead, where she fell asleep immediately in my arms.
Basically, traveling is just like anything else with a baby: you need to take some advice, and disregard others. Trust that you as parents know what's best for your baby. But don't, whatever you do, panic!
Besides, if all of the recommendations above fail (and let's face it, babies are never predictable, so they might), there is always something to fall back on according to a friend of mine. "Calpol and wine" was her immediate retort when I asked for her tips following a 24 hour flight to New Zealand and back with her baby. Now that is the type of advice I can (literally) get onboard with.
I am posting this as part of the monthly travel link-up with Angie, Jessi, Emma and guest Nano. This month's all about lessons learned while traveling. Pop your post up on any of the blogs above before the 7th!