Travelling with an infant for the first time | Winter at 8 months old
Many people told us to go for holidays as a couple, notably babymoon, as much as possible before the little one arrived. Glad we took the advice and went for a last minute babymoon trip to Taiwan. Travelling with a baby is a different ball game. Among many things, the number of things to pack increases exponentially and travel schedule has to be paced slower.
It was truly an experience travelling with an infant for the first time to Northern Kyushu of Japan. We were apprehensive like most first time parents. However, the wanderlust in me was stronger than the fear of stepping out of comfort zone. Moreover, I needed a break. I was drowning in the drudgery as a stay at home mum and I needed a change of environment, even if it’s for a while.
You can take a look at our itinerary for reference. :)
I know of first time parents who are not comfortable with bringing vulnerable babies to unfamiliar territories. Nor are they confident in travelling with unpredictable babies in their first year, or first few years. Moreover, one might not find the effort to travel with an infant – the intensive planning, logistic nightmare, and tiredness – worth it.
The young one is unlikely going to remember a thing anyway. But I choose to believe that travelling will still have some positive subconscious effect on her development, like expanding her mind as we bring her to see the world. Or probably I am finding reasons to justify our holiday trip. ;)
Could we have left her with our parents and go on our own? Yes, but my hubby strongly believes that the family should travel together – the baby should be with us. In any case, at that point in time, she was not sleeping through the night and was refusing the bottle. So it might be hard on those taking care of her while we are away. Moreover as first time parents, I think we would have serious separation anxiety. :)
Choice of Destination
We booked a trip that went against all the best practices for an infant’s first trip. Experienced mummies would suggest a staycation first. Get a foretaste of travelling with a baby and find out what you miss out from your packing list.
Otherwise, start off with a short 3 or 4 days trip to a neighbouring country. A short flight of 3 to 4 hours helps gauge your baby’s plane temperament while having the journey end soon enough if it’s bad! And of course, going to a country with weather similar to Singapore means you can just bring along your baby’s usual wear.
We took all these advice… and ignored them. >.< In the end, we flew 6 hours to Fukuoka during winter. Not only that, we did a road trip around the north side of Northern Kyushu. All in all, we travelled for 9 days in the chilly weather with Evangeline who had just turned 8 months old.
We wanted to fly on the more established airlines, preferably Singapore Airline (“SIA”) for our maiden trip with a baby. So when we saw SIA’s promotion for Fukuoka, we jumped at the chance. The destination fits our bill, it’s a good place for road trip. I felt road trip is easier with a baby – no need to lug luggage up and down public transport and hubby wanted Japan. So Fukuoka is a good choice, being cheaper and nearer to Singapore than other parts of Japan for a road trip.
Flying with an Infant
Booking of Air Ticket
Children below two years old fly for free. But for our flight with SIA, we paid an infant fee of S$61. After you have booked your ticket, request for a bassinet because it’s subject to availability.
For sanity’s sake, try to avoid budget airlines, even for short trips. With a baby, you will appreciate good service, ample luggage allowance, and low incidence of flight delay and cancellation. You can get reasonable prices for major airlines if you book early during promotions.
At the Airport
Check-in early in case of any delay during the process. Reach your boarding gate early because you’re not going to run as fast with a baby. Last minute stress double up with a baby.
Check-in your stroller but risk getting it damaged. Don’t check it in, and you will have to carry an extra piece of luggage through the immigrations and to the boarding gate. For our flight to Japan, we hand carried our stroller and passed it to the airline staff at the gate before boarding. On our return flight however, we checked-in the stroller. We didn’t want to ruin our holiday mood with a potentially damaged stroller. And when we returned, we had quite a bit of hand luggage from the shopping, so we tried to check-in as much as possible.
With a baby, you can carry liquid on-board, such as hot water for milk formula, breast-milk, other baby food, baby lotion, etc.
On the Airplane
I heard of babies screaming during take-off and landing due to ear pressure. Then babies screaming and disturbing other passengers just because they are babies. I don’t like attracting attention and being on the other side before (a non-parent frustrated at cranky babies), this is one of my biggest concerns.
How will Evangeline be during the flight?
Take-off and Landing
A popular advice for take-off and landing is to feed the baby with milk or water to relieve ear pressure. It’s like us swallowing saliva to clear the blocked ears. Hence I latched Evangeline during take-off and landing and it worked!
As mentioned earlier, reserve a bassinet once you’ve done your flight booking, it’s first come first served. Some babies refuse bassinet, yours might too. Regardless, just have one on standby. With a bassinet, we didn’t need to babywear or carry her in the arms all the time.
Evangeline didn’t stay in the bassinet the whole time, but at least we got some rest when she’s in it! The bassinet was too small for her to move around and she wanted to get out of it during her active hours. Moreover, we had to carry her out of the bassinet during turbulence, regardless sleeping or not. So we had to pray for as little turbulence as possible to avoid disturbing her sleep by moving her in and out. Baby has to be out of the bassinet during take off and landing as well.
With the bassinet, you get the front row seat with more legroom. But with the bassinet in, the space seems like a squeeze. Our food trays were put on flimsy tables which were very near to the bassinet. So during our meals, the awake baby could stretch out her hands to easily grab the items on the tray. Be careful!
You can request for infant meals. We weren’t quite ready to feed her food with salt then, so we just gave her breastmilk throughout her flight. On hindsight, I should have prepared food for her, and brought some baby snacks to quieten her down too.
Red-eye vs Day flight
Depending on the baby, some parents swear by red eye flights, some by day flights. For us, baby Evangeline slept most of the time during the red-eye flight. We placed her in the bassinet and that helped us to get some sleep without hurting our arms.
However, our active baby was restless easily during the day flight. She cried in boredom. Babywear to bounce her at one spot didn’t do the trick. Walking up and down the aisle would only cause a disturbance to other passengers. She stopped momentarily when another passenger was playing peekaboo with her.
SIA gave Evangeline soft toys for both legs of the trip. However, they are not enough to occupy her in her seat. So be sure to have a few of her favourite toys and teethers at hand to rotate and entertain with “new” ones. Thankfully it was not a full flight and hubby could carry Evangeline to sit, play and roll around in the middle 3-seater row. However, we couldn’t do that for long, as we needed to give up that row for a passenger having fainting spells.
It was not easy to entertain an infant for 6 hours. We could have it easier by giving her screen time, but we didn’t want her to get “addicted” so early on, or ever. Highly self-conscious me rather receive judging glares from others. They would forget us soon enough, while we will live with the long term effect from the excessive use of device. Most are considerate enough to know the parents are trying their best, and babies are sometimes beyond control.
But if your baby doesn’t sleep well in a plane, avoid red eye flights, passengers will appreciate you for that! Curses and swears will run higher when everybody is trying to get a wink during red eye flight, as compared to a day flight.
Post-Flight: Highway Bus
After a red eye flight to Fukuoka, we daringly took a 2-hour highway bus to Nagasaki. I kept latching and letting her nap whenever possible during the 2 hours. It was not her nap time, but she’s tired from the short and disturbed sleep on the plane. What an exciting way to kickstart our travel with a baby, right?! :)
What to Expect at Destination?
Once you are off the plane, things can become less stressful. After all, you are the one who plan your own itinerary. :)
Travel before 6 months old, and you need only to bring items for milk feeding: formula milk, bottle, breast pump, etc. If you simply latch on demand, even better, just bring yourself! After 6 months old, you have to start bringing solid food essentials, food containers, scissors, etc. More on what to pack for an infant in my next post.
Evangeline was 8 months old when we went Japan. I didn’t plan well – so even though we brought electric lunch box for her, we didn’t manage to cook as much as we wanted. We also didn’t bring sufficient food pouches. In the end, we resorted to feeding her certain foods we were eating. Good thing we were in Japan. We felt safe feeding her Japanese food like sweet potato, rice and red bean.
So, plan what to feed her during the trip. If I had done so, my grocery shopping would be easier – knowing what ingredients to buy and where to get them. Also, schedule in cooking and feeding times so that you don’t pack as much activities in a day. Because of my poor planning, Evangeline didn’t get to eat much and slimmed down during the trip! Thank goodness, she was still relying more on milk feeding for nutrients at 8 months old.
You might want to consider accommodation with kitchenette to make cooking easier.
Road Trip: Car
Even though travelling by car is easier than public transport, we should have stayed at one or two cities instead of travelling multiple cities. Packing and unpacking with all the baby stuff is a chore.
Moreover, baby doesn’t stay settled in baby seat during long car trips. So if the moving scenery was not entertaining Evangeline, I had to play with her, feed her snacks, or latch and carry her to sleep. That kept me busy, but at least with a car, her crankiness only disturbed us and not other people.
Read about our road trip experience in this post, “Self Drive in Japan: Kyushu Road Trip (Winter)”.
Public Transport: Bus
We went around Fukuoka in public buses, and yet, we rather walk long distances than squeeze up the crowded buses sometimes. We stayed near downtown area and hence the buses are usually crowded. Moreover, the buses have limited aisle space for the stroller. So a stroller will block the main passageway and make it hard for passengers to move.
We soon realise that Japanese families seldom have a stroller with them. They would have their toddlers walk or would babywear their infants. I think it’s because the Japanese doesn’t like to inconvenience others.
Tip: Bring along travel friendly foldable stroller that’s narrow in width, e.g. GB Pockit. This will help you to easily maneuver up and down buses with narrow doors. And if the bus is really crowded, you can fold the stroller into a small hand carry and bring up the bus.
Diaper and nursing rooms
I latch on demand. But because I layered my winter wear, it’s hard for me to nurse Evangeline wherever. Since I don’t live in a cold country, it doesn’t make sense to buy tonnes of nursing wear to layer for this one time. On road trips, I could get back to the car to nurse or change diapers. However, when we were within the city without a car, I had to search for nursing rooms. The same goes for mothers who need a place to pump.
Thus, it is advisable to search for nursing rooms ahead of time and plan it into your itinerary. I didn’t and it led to frantic search at times. Good thing was, most major shopping malls in Japan have well-furbished diaper and nursing rooms. I just needed to locate these malls.
For diaper change, it’s not as urgent to find a room. At most, get a quiet corner to change the diaper, made easier with diaper pants. Then again with layers of winter clothing, it’s hard to hold her up for diaper pants.
I should have plan on when and where to change her routine diaper change. There will be unexpected poo-mania, but at least I know where I can change her diapers every 3 hours. You don’t want to be caught having nowhere to change, only to realise you just missed the changing room in your last stop. Sometimes, you might be caught in places with no easy access for nursing session and diaper change.
Tip: If you are going Japan, this app ‘Search nursing room in Japan‘, though not comprehensive, is still handy in helping you find a diaper and nursing room.
What would I have done differently?
Like I said above, plan what to feed, where to nurse and where to change diaper. Remember to slot in her meal, nursing and diaper changing times into the itinerary.
Planning means fewer surprises, managed expectations and less work and thus tiredness during the trip. Having said that, even the best prepared parents should be flexible enough to change plans. Babies are unpredictable and so being spontaneous would also help you to loosen up and enjoy more.
Don’t travel during winter on first trip.
She was freezing cold at certain places, especially at high altitudes when the wind was strong, e.g. Glover Garden and Mount Inasa. How did we know she’s cold? She’s usually fidgety, but she froze into position like this:
Winter means layering for the little one too. Not being skilled on winter wear, I have to second guess what to wear for Evangeline. And if the warm clothing is insufficient, she wouldn’t be able to tell me that she is cold. Though we could feel her hands and feet being icy under her gloves and booties. Or when she was too cold, and laid still in her stroller. Also we realised, baby slept more when out in the winter cold.
With so many layers and a puffy jacket on her, it’s cumbersome to baby-wear her. It’s also super troublesome to change her diapers!
Tip: We saw Japanese parents using a special type of winter blankets that fit over baby carriers. In this way, their little ones wouldn’t be wrapped up with so much clothing. Or a thick fleece blanket to cover the baby in the stroller.
Would I travel with her if I get to choose again?
Yes! Though tiring, we love to see her observing the new world with curiosity. We could also see her enjoying the Japanese language which is spoken with an unique melody. She laughed and clapped when the locals spoke to her in an incessant string of Japanese.
It was also good to travel and spend time as a family. Bringing a baby also helps us to find favour in people – like getting friendlier service, discounts, free sweet potato (for her), and interactions with the reserved locals.
The travel was not as hard as expected, but as tiring as expected. Caveat: We are Evangeline’s main caregivers with minimal help, so the leap is not as big.
Regardless, we will now have a travel story to boast about. :)
Now, time to pack the luggage for the baby!