As newcomers to the Southeast Asia region, my husband and I necessarily were eager to pull out our suitcases and hit the ground running, ready to embark on jungle treks and gaze at shiny temples for hours. We had another traveler’s needs to take into consideration too, though: those of our two-year-old daughter. A recent flurry of travel taught us some important lessons on how to cope with little ones when on the road (or airplane, trail, plane, taxi…)
Ode to the Baby Backpack
In our small family, the baby ‘hiking’ backpack has been nothing short of a lifesaver. As an infant, our daughter never took to strollers, so as soon as she reached the weight limit, we stuck her in a rucksack and never looked back. I put ‘hiking’ in quotations earlier, because these carriers are really so much more versatile than for simply scaling mountains. I used it as my go-to baby conveyance in supermarkets, around town, at parties—the sky’s the limit. For travel, especially in parts of the world where even pavements or even pavements at all are not a priority, baby backpacks (which often hold children beyond the age of three, if your back can take it) are superb. Children tend to enjoy them, because they get a higher vantage point and can see over the top of your head (as opposed to wearing a soft carrier piggy back-style, which I am sure also works fine.) Our daughter rode placidly throughout Venice and Tuscany as an 11-month-old exclusively in her backpack, wide-eyed and delighted, reveling in the coos she received from passing Italian mammas. If you go deluxe and get a baby backpack with a fold-out stand, it can also act as a stabilizer should you find yourself on a rickety boat, bus, or tuk tuk. I recommend also finding a backpack with enough storage compartments to tuck snacks, small toys, diapering accessories and one with an adequate sun shade.
Pack Lots of Snacks and Don Not Be Disappointed If Your Child Snubs the Pad Thai
We seemed to do our big burst of Asian travel at a particularly picky time on our daughter’s burgeoning culinary journey. She had not even taken to eating rice regularly yet. So we humbled ourselves and accepted the fact that if all she would eat were kiddie snacks for the next x amount of days, she would not keel over and die. By all means, continue to offer local foods as you see fit, but do not be too heartbroken if your tot refuses to try the artisanal smoked duck from the farmers’ market or the exquisitely balanced curry at a gem of a restaurant one night. A saving grace on our travels was the convenience of grabbing a smoothie or lassi for her in most of our destinations. That gave us some peace of mind that she was at least staying hydrated and taking in fresh fruit. Do keep in mind whether your child is getting enough to drink while traveling, as it is easy to gloss over that detail while constantly on the go. If you have a no-juice policy at home, I recommend considering easing it while in holiday-mode, especially when in hot climates.
Expect to Spend a Little More Time Inside Your Hotel Room
Just because you are happy to be on your feet exploring for fourteen hours a day, your child’s need to decompress and keep up a little of her normal routine, e.g. playing with toys on the floor, is still important. Giving a little time over to kid activities, whether it is just letting them romp in the hotel or even taking a few hours out of sightseeing to go to a local play place, easy to find nowadays via a quick web search, will earn you parenting points and make kids more amenable to the next batch of temple or museum stops.
Everything is a Potential Toy
A veteran expatriate mom once told me that on long flights, she whips out the airline magazine and has her children flip through the pages, hunting for certain letters. For pre-readers, this could simply be thumbing through the glossy pictures and talking about them. An unusually-shaped spoon or even an air sickness bag can prove a surprisingly long distraction for little travelers.
Embrace the Local Attitude Towards Children
We have found that in Southeast Asia, what some countries (Cambodia, Vietnam, e.g.) may lack in equipment such as cribs and high chairs, they more than make up for in warmth and attention they lavish on your dear one. Try not to get too outwardly frustrated when a seemingly upscale lunch place cannot offer a booster chair and you have to eat awkwardly with a squirming kid on your lap for the umpteenth time during the trip. Instead, take the news graciously and the restaurant may just produce a well-timed local kid-friendly delicacy or makeshift toy, or even offer to take the child aside and entertain her themselves, that will make the meal a breeze.
Last But Not Least…
Bring wet wipes. Lots. And have fun!