Travelling with Infants – Why it’s an excellent idea!

Travelling with an infant
Look who’s the most excited about the trip!

As I was planning our family trip to Vietnam next month, the memories of our first trip abroad with our daughter, 6 months earlier, came back to mind.

Making up our minds

But first, let’s rewind to 2015. Moumita, my wife, had never been outside Asia. My own travel outside Asia was limited to a 3 day trip to Prague – a quasi- official trip. So it was with tremendous anticipation that we were planning our first Eurotrip. The idea was to go backpacking through Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris & Berlin. Stay in the hippest hostels, hit the trendiest bars and lose ourselves in the streets. And that was when we learnt that our life was about to change forever. We forgot all about the Eurotrip and started looking forward to the arrival of our child instead!

And in September 2016, we were blessed with Nyra. Travel, especially foreign travel, slipped completely out of our thoughts as we grappled with the challenges and basked in the unbridled joys of parenthood.

Until one day a couple of months later, a friend, an expert deal hunter, informed me of a flight deal that could get us to Paris from Mumbai and back for 18k ($275). That’s less than half of what you would normally expect to pay. My initial reaction was to envy the lucky dog who was not only going to Paris but going there for throwaway prices. Even the idea of travelling with Nyra in tow didn’t cross my mind.

But then I thought about it. And then I thought some more. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we were letting go of this unexpected kindness of the travel gods. To my surprise, for every argument against travelling with an infant, I could come up with an equally compelling counter agreement. Just one sobering thought. The plans of taking the party scene in Western Europe by storm might have to make way for slow travel around France. We just couldn’t do justice to Amsterdam while travelling with an infant! We had to decide immediately as the deal was valid for just one day. And that night, we booked!

And then began a phase of painstaking planning. But I am one of those for whom planning and anticipating a trip is even more pleasurable than the trip itself.

Travelling with an infant
Nyra supervised the packing

We understood that the itinerary would be dictated by a lot more our travel preferences. To start with, high altitudes were completely ruled out. In fact, any place that could potentially be too cold was best avoided. Beaches won’t be fun as one of us would have to keep a watch on Nyra when the other went dipping. Most live performances wouldn’t allow infants. We would look like nut cases if we went to discos with the baby. Maybe the trip wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But we could still see the Notre Dame and take the Seine cruise. We could still gape at the Loire Valley chateaus and get our fix of lakeside bliss in the French Alps. We could still spend a night at the other-worldly Mont Saint Michel. We could still stuff ourselves with fine French cuisine and polish off some French wine. There was still more than enough to see and do and we were still spoilt for choice. And France with its efficient public transport system & wheelchair friendly sidewalks would be easy to navigate. Soon the days of anticipation were over it was time to board our Air France flight for what would surely be the trip of a lifetime.

Travelling with an infant
All set to take off – so far so good!

A roller coaster ride

We spent the first leg of the trip in the Normandy region. It wasn’t a smooth beginning. Nyra had hardly slept on the overnight flight and wasn’t her usual cheery self right from the time we landed. She was barely eating anything, crying more than usual and clinging to her mother throughout. We had failed to appreciate how big a change it would be for her. Seeing her in this state made us acutely aware of our somewhat selfish decision to travel and we were already having guilt pangs.

Our third day in Normandy was a day trip to the D-Day landing beaches. Till now, Nyra showed no signs of enjoying her Eurotrip and our spirits were very low. So much so that we had half considered heading back to India cutting short the trip. On our way to Omaha beach, our guide from Bayeux Shuttle informed us that it was very rare to have Indian visitors on the trip. Most visitors came from Britain, US or Canada – countries whose troupes were involved in the landings at the beaches. It was also extremely rare to have families travelling with infants. It was the first time ever that an Indian family with an infant was travelling to these sites with them! I won’t claim that this didn’t make us proud.

When we got off the minivan to explore the German bunkers at Pont du Hoc, the sun was shining brightly. Nyra had woken up happy after a nap on the way. We were beginning to feel that we had turned a corner. Midway through our exploration, it started raining. The light drizzle quickly grew into a heavy downpour. We were on a tight schedule and waiting out the rains in the shade was not an option. I ran while trying to push Nyra’s stroller through dirt tracks that had now become muddy. She was drenched and wailing furiously. She was seriously scared and kept crying inconsolably. We had hit rock bottom.

It took us a long time to calm her and seat her down in the car seat for the return journey. We were giving apologetic looks to our co-passengers but they were more than understanding. In fact, we got a lot of encouragement for our bravery (we thought it was foolhardiness). Some of them recounted tales of how they brought up their own kids back in the day. Travelling from an early age, they said, wires kids to grow up into adaptable human beings.

Slowly, things started getting better as the trip went along. Nyra began settling into a somewhat regular sleep & meal pattern. She even began to actively enjoy the new sights and sounds. It would take her a little time to adjust and we would slow down further. We decided that we had to take things in our stride and make the best of the trip. We began figuring out hacks to make life simpler. Pushing her around in the stroller to make her fall asleep was a prerequisite for an enjoyable dinner – far more than the chef’s wares. Failing that, we went to restaurants with high chairs for babies and sat her down with a piece of bread or some fries. That kept her occupied while we had a peaceful dinner.

Travelling with an infant
We made many friends – all courtesy Nyra

The French are often portrayed as somewhat cold and unfriendly and even uptight. In our experience, nothing could be further from the truth. We were bowled over by the warmth of the French people. Nyra was often the conversation starter. Co-passengers on trains, neighbours in restaurants and even random passers-by on streets would often remark on how cute she is and how it was very brave of us to come half-way across the world with her to a new country. We would shrug off the compliments overtly but do a mental high five every time.

Our Airbnb hosts went out of the way to help make the stay comfortable for Nyra. Aurelian, who hosted us in Vernon, actually borrowed a baby cot from a neighbour and dragged it up 3 flights of stairs for us. In Amboise Lucas and Micheline had kept milk, bananas and baby food handy, in case we needed it after checking in late in the evening.

Travelling with an infant
Lucas & Micheline – fabulous hosts and amazing human beings

Every time we took the Paris Metro, we had someone volunteering to help us carry Nyra’s stroller up or down the flight of stairs. Even at the busiest of times. It has been my experience that it is the people in a place who define your views about a place. The most breathtaking places are not enjoyable if the people are not friendly.

Reflections

Visiting France was also a lesson in knowing how the French are bringing up their kids while ensuring that they continue to lead their individual lives. We saw mothers jogging with baby strollers and cycling uphill with a baby in tow.

The three-week trip was a godsend for our father-daughter bonding. It is one thing to spend time with her after office and on weekends. It’s quite another to be constantly with her for three full weeks. We knew Nyra would make no memories of this epic trip. But we sure did. We made it a point to capture tons of photographs of the places we visited for Nyra to see later. And she will have bragging rights for life for having seen the Eiffel tower before she turned one.

Now, six months later, the first thing she does after waking up is to point her fingers towards the door, urging us to take her out for a stroll. We don’t know if that trip when she was 8 months had any role in making her an outdoorsy kid. We never will. But we like to believe so!

Round up with Pro tips – 9 tips to make things easier for you

Travelling with an infant
The bassinet seat is a godsend

 

# 1 Book the Bassinet Seats: Most aircraft/airlines will have limited bassinet seats. Do an online check-in as soon as the window opens and book one. That ensures that both you and your baby sleep well on a long flight and arrive fresh as daisies for your holiday.

# 2 Stay at an Airbnb:  We prefer staying in Airbnbs over hotels, hands down. You have access to microwaves to warm the baby food and washing machines to do your laundry (hence escape packing too many baby clothes). But the biggest reason of all is that if you rent an entire place, you can put the baby to sleep and get some time to yourselves in another room.

# 3 Take it slow: One thing that’s definitely out of the equation is hurricane trips. Every attraction will take more time to see with the baby than it would otherwise. Budget for it. There could be things that you cannot do with the baby. Your partner might have to babysit while you climb to the top of a tower and then you will return the favour. In effect, you will take twice as long to get done there.

# 4 Set your expectations right: Babies don’t care much about your itinerary. They may develop a foul mood out of nowhere and throw you off your plans. Be prepared to miss seeing a few things you had planned. Remind yourself that the alternative to travelling like this is not travelling at all. And that’s not really an option, is it?

# 5 Pack smart: Split the baby essentials between your check-in and carry-on luggage. This ensures that you have emergency supplies in the unlikely event of baggage loss. Keep the number of pieces of luggage to a minimum.

# 6 Renting Car Seats: Read local regulations on the use of car seats. It is not enough to simply have one. Western countries have specifications that the car seats need to conform to. In France, car seats are not required for travel by Taxi or bus but are required for rented cars and minivans. Renting the car seat locally may turn out to be more convenient. Check options online prior to travel.

# 7 Carry spare clothes for day outings: Handling kids is messy. If you are out for a day that you want to end with a dinner at a chic restaurant or a visit to some high-end shopping galleries, make sure you carry a change of clothes for yourself. You don’t want to be walking in with a stained dress.

# 8 Making Dinner Plans: Chose a place where you will feel comfortable. We steadfastly avoided fine dining. Infants will be noisy. You don’t want to spend dinnertime on a guilt trip for being an inconvenience to others. Try putting your baby to sleep before you head for dinner or at the very least book a place with a high chair. Infants are curious. And they love eating what they see adults eating. If you can seat them down with some bite-sized portions of your food, you might have a real shot at a peaceful meal.

Travelling with an infant
High chairs at meal times = Happy baby, happy mommy

# 9 Just take the damn trip: Infants fly free! Travelling with kids isn’t going to be any easier until they grow much older. Nor will the kids be making any memories until they turn at least 5. So travel more while the concessional rates still apply. Once you have made the trip, you will always look back on it fondly. You will likely forget the niggling issues soon but will always remember the lovely memories you made.

Travelling with an infant
Making memories

Please add to the tips from your own experiences in the comment section below and feel free to ask questions if you planning to travel soon.

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