Friday, April 27, 2012

Traveling Internationally After Baby

Little R and me at a historic site in HK
Hotels never used to be important to me. Partly this was just because I was poor, and if I wanted to travel, I needed to do it on the cheap. Economizing on hotels was the best option (since if you economize on attractions, why are you there anyway? and eating meals of bread and cheese gets really old really fast). It also had to do with WHY I traveled, which was to see sights and experience another culture, neither of which is possible in your hotel room. A successful trip was one in which I spent as little time in the room as humanly possible, in favor of scrambling up ruins, tromping through museums, jostling through local markets, and eating lots of delicious food.

Then I had a baby. When she was really little, she was basically just a heavy and inconveniently shaped piece of luggage. She would just sleep in her carrier, and we could still spend the day out and about. As she's gotten older, though, this changed. First she could only nap in a crib, meaning we had to return to the hotel 1-2 times a day; then she learned how to walk and insisted on getting exercise every day; then she developed preferences for activities, and now will protest vigorously (as in, screaming) if she's bored or cranky. The best way to make her cranky is to skip her naps or usual bedtime hours. Thus, either B or I must now spend at least 14 or 15 hours out of the 24 in our hotel room, while little R gets her beauty sleep.
Listening to gamelan music in Bali
This isn't all bad: it enforces rest on both of us as well (much to B's joy, actually, since he is not really a huge fan of 10+ hour days consumed by visiting as many cultural/historic attractions as humanly possible). In hot climates, taking a midday break is a really good idea for anyone. (I am very, very, very happy little R is down to only one nap a day now, though; two naps a day cramped my style too much.)
Swimming at Tanjong Rhu, Langkawi
It does mean that the hotel needs to be fairly nice, since we have to spend so much time there. We always put little R's crib in the bathroom when we travel (unless we're staying in a villa or something similar) to provide her with a quiet space and us with privacy, but even so, having a suite (ie, a room with a separate seating area) is now a top priority for me if possible. I have become a luxury hotel person (a type of traveler I used to look down on, whap whap).
A hike along the beach in Pulau Ubin
The good news is that traveling with a baby/toddler is totally doable and fun. We can still go whenever we please (remote tropical islands, hectic cities, rural countryside, etc.), and I have still been able to do almost everything I wanted to (snorkeling, boat rides, jungle trekking, fine dining, museum visiting, etc.).
Checking out 18th century cannon
Little R is awed by the Chinese temple
The only differences have been the hotel situation, a slower travel pace, and less going out at night (since we have to locate a babysitter). We do have a bit more luggage: going somewhere with little R means one extra suitcase/bag (her clothes are tiny but numerous, and diapers are incredibly space-consuming), plus her travel crib. Since I am a pretty good packer though, this usually just means we have three bags (one for adults, one for R, one for crib), which is still fine (and manageable by one adult, in a pinch).

These minor negatives are more than compensated for by the positives. Traveling with a baby is a wonderful way to meet locals. I am pretty shy/introverted, but little R is a great icebreaker. Since traveling with her, I meet at least four times as many people, all in really warm, genuine interactions. We also get better treatment (less scamming, less rudeness, fewer waits in line, friendlier service) thanks to our baby ambassador.

The best part about it, though, is watching little R. There is something so special about watching your child have a wonderful time playing on the beach, or being awestruck by a Balinese dance performance, or gaping in wonder at a Chinese temple. I absolutely love seeing her reactions to everything, and being able to see the world through her eyes. Traveling with little R has been truly magical, and has given me some of my most precious memories.
Admiring some tropical flowers in Malaysia


  1. I am SO GLAD you wrote this. I can't even tell you how happy I am to read this post. Everyone always tells me that we won't be able to do any of the things we love doing once we have kids, and it makes me that much more determined to make it work.

    Good for you guys for making it work for your family. Little R is going to LOVE looking back on all of the places and experiences she had when she was little.

    1. A lot of people don't enjoy traveling that much, and use kids as an excuse (since there's kind of a societal expectation that you do enjoy it). Actually I would say this is true for most things people claim children ruin (sex lives, physical fitness, etc.). Having children is a lot like having a heavy backpack to haul around: it doesn't rule out anything, it just means everything requires somewhat more effort.

      It does depend on your child though. R is pretty easy-going; if she was "high needs" things might be different.

    2. Also, I want to note that in Singapore people regularly take their children to nice (=very expensive) restaurants, the kind that might be Michelin-starred if they had that designation here. And the children behave, because they know what's expected. Don't rule out restaurant dining either!

    3. Good to know! I think we've been over-compensating lately with going out to nice places and traveling everywhere we can (even though we probably would anyway) because we're now really seriously talking about children and wondering how it will affect our future travels. We've felt that our Michelin experiences are only until we have kids and then "no more" so we've gone to an insane amount of them! It's good to hear from at least one person that it is possible.

      And I think you're definitely right about people using their children as excuses for that kind of thing. I'm sure it will be more difficult and more frustrating than it currently is, but if we want to do it, we should try our hardest to make it work.

      The one thing that bothers me most is when people will tell us "say goodbye to X Y or Z when you have kids!!" and usually that person has never even tried doing X, Y or Z with their kids in the first place.