Published on December 3rd, 2012 | by Charu Suri4
Tips for Traveling with Infants
This is a guest post by my sister, Sharmi Surianarain, mother to four month old boy, Biko. She lives in South Africa.
My earliest international trip was when I was six months old, and I flew from my home town, Chennai, in India, to Lagos, Nigeria, thousands of miles away. Ever since that first plane ride, I’ve been an avid traveler, clocking 37 countries in far fewer years. Drawing inspiration from both my mother, who trekked across the globe with an infant in one arm and a toddler in tow, and my father, whose wanderlust ensured I got bitten early by the travel bug—I swore that someday I would do the same when I became a parent. Sure enough, my two-month old son and I are fresh from our first trip together, from South Africa to Kenya and back. And what an adventure it has been!
Biko enjoying his jungle gym: Consider shipping or renting hard to carry toys in advance of your next trip
My son, Biko Akilan Wanjohi Mwangi was born in South Africa. Despite his youth, he is already quite the citizen of the world, with a mom from India, a dad from Kenya, and a full name representing all three geographic origins—South Africa, India, and Kenya. It’s no small wonder that he’s already a globe-trotter! No sooner had we obtained his passport, than we decided to make a trip to Kenya to visit grandparents, aunts, and a great grandmother. And although I was anxious at first, to my surprise, traveling with an infant was not as difficult as I thought.
Biko with his great grandmother on a farm near Nairobi, Kenya
The most essential aspect of traveling successfully with an infant is planning, planning, planning!
Even before I finalized our flight plans, I had made (and continuously added to) a packing list well in advance, notified my pediatrician of our travel plans, researched vaccination requirements for my destination (always important, especially for international travel), and made photocopies of every important document we needed for our trip together—birth certificate, passports, visas, and marriage certificate. I had further scheduled a trip to the pharmacy to pick up critical medication before our departure, including nasal drops to assist with those nasty air pressure changes during made worse during take-off and landing, and anti-bacterial nose cream to prevent infection on crowded, claustrophobic areas like the airplane. Before we travelled, I also called the airlines to double-check our flight reservations and to confirm that we had the use of a baby bassinet in-flight. Although our flight to Kenya was only 4½ hours, the bassinet came in handy and gave him some good rest en route.
For our stay in Kenya, I identified those key items that were indispensable to me on an every-day basis—a car seat, changing table, baby bath, and camp cot. Rather than carry these heavy items with me (and risk losing them in checked luggage on notoriously unreliable flight sectors), I decided to use a rental company, Fun Kidz, to rent the items while in Nairobi. Fun Kidz provide a comprehensive list of items that are available for both rental and purchase, and they were efficient, hygienic, and reliable. They deliver and pick up to any location across the city of Nairobi, and I was thrilled with their service.
The two most indispensable items on my trip, however, were a baby wrap for Biko and his pacifier.
Throughout the flight, Biko was snug and warm in his wrap, sleeping blissfully even through the worst turbulence. Having my hands free was an added bonus, especially as we trekked across the airport and lined up to have our passports stamped at Immigration. The wrap even allowed me to even catch the in-flight movie and enjoy my meal! Biko’s consistent pulling on the pacifier meant that he would ward off the discomfort of pressure changes and soothe himself during particularly cranky moments.
My moment of reckoning while in the air, however, arrived when I needed to change Biko’s messy diaper while on the plane. My husband and I were unfortunately not given seats together on the way back to South Africa, so this was a true test of my dexterity. I manoeuvred myself out of my chair, Biko still snugly wrapped, and headed into the lavatory with the designated changing tray. Despite rocking in some mild turbulence, Biko cooed and gurgled as I cleaned up his mess and changed his outfit some 30,000 feet in the air!
Travel with an infant under six months is relatively straightforward, though, especially if you’re exclusively breastfeeding like I am. Although I ended up feeding in some rather unexpected locations (in the back of a parked car, in an office conference room, in the airport lounge—thank goodness for a great cover-up apron!), it beats having to carry infant formula and worse still, prepared food. That said, I still inquired to find out what baby formula was available in Nairobi stores, made sure I knew what the water quality was like in case I needed to mix formula, and obtained a pediatrician’s number in advance, just in the event of an emergency. It’s also useful to make contact, if possible, with young parents in your travel destination ahead of time—just for that odd question that might arise for which Google has no answer.
The author with Biko
What helped us transition smoothly from one location to another was keeping a ritual or two intact. Even in Nairobi, I sat him in his (rented) baby bouncer every morning, singing his favourite songs, and I also played with his finger puppets in the garden almost every afternoon. I wasn’t willing to give up my seven p.m. baths and post-bath massage for the world, singing the very same song every night as I massaged him for at least fifteen minutes, reassuring my baby of the comfort of his routine. I’m convinced this has helped Biko sleep more easily at night, even upon his return to Johannesburg—and we’ve been able to pick up where we left off as if nothing had changed.
The trip was a wonderful experience, and Biko was lucky enough to spend some quality time with the Kenyan side of his family. In the tradition of his father’s clan, the Gikuyu, Biko is also named “Wanjohi,” after his paternal grandfather—a name that is repeated every alternate generation. Thus, not only was little Wanjohi able to meet his namesake, but we were also able to learn some traditional Gikuyu songs, visit his Maitu Mukuru, or great grandmother, at her farm, and get introduced to the rest of his family in style. He certainly enjoyed being the centre of attention for a good ten days, and we are certain to travel again very soon. Stay tuned for the next adventure!