I had no food cravings during my pregnancy. My only cravings were travel-related – I saw this as a good omen for all the exciting travel that awaited my tiny travel companion and me.
Before we had our daughter, my husband and I had trekked in Central China and spent time in the Amazon and the Arctic. I had travelled solo to several countries when I was single.
With such travel credentials, I could not help gazing down at my belly and smiling at my unborn baby as I dreamed of our journeys ahead. Looking now at my toddler, Aavya, it seems that truth is indeed stranger than hormonal delusions.
At four months, my daughter had a 50-minute meltdown on a one-hour flight to Penang. Traumatised at the prospect of a repeat of midair mayhem, for our next holiday, we decided to go via ferry to Bintan for a weekend – only to find out that our then seven-month-old hated the beach.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | Photo: 123RF
A trip to Ho Chi Minh City was next – there were no beaches to battle and, at 10 months, my daughter had won over cabin crew and co-passengers with her perfect behaviour.
Just when we were beginning to celebrate our travel dexterity with our baby, the first diarrhoea attack struck. A large part of our visit was, therefore, more about probiotics and less about pho, the beloved Vietnamese noodle soup.
I wondered if it was just bad beginner’s luck or if I was doing something wrong that made travels with my little one, now 19 months, notable for all the wrong reasons. I decided to seek inspiration from mums who opted for adventurous travel with their babies.
Vidhu Aul, a Singapore permanent resident from India, is a travel enthusiast, a freelance writer and mother of a toddler.
Trekking up a mountain with an 18-month-old
Considering that a large part of early parenting revolves around feeding struggles, food inevitably becomes an important part of travelling with little ones.
Ms Chan’s travel memories of her backpacking days in South America are now merged with musings of feeding her toddler in an ensuite bathtub in Japan. She and her husband had opted for the bath area to feed their son, so that when he did not like something and spat it out, the hotel carpet would not get soiled.
Apart from a unique dining style, her son, Otto, was also introduced to snow in Japan at nine months. Less than a year later, in November 2014, the family decided to scale greater travel heights. They trekked with 18-month-old Otto to Tiger’s Nest or Paro Takstang in Bhutan on a 10-day trip.
Paro Takstang, Bhutan | Photo: 123RF
She says: “To get to the Tiger’s Nest before noon, our driver, Tinga, needed to pick us up before sunrise. At this hour, Bhutan in November is sub-zero, but by 11am, it gets up to 20 to 25 deg C.
“My husband back-carried our son all through the trek and, of course, when you are carrying a toddler, the whole trek becomes slower because you need diaper changes, snack breaks, taking our son down from the baby carrier and then convincing him to get back in it.”
Apart from the scenic splendour and colourful prayer flags, the humility of the Bhutanese and generosity of the children as they offered Otto snacks were experiences to cherish.
“We encountered a big traffic jam en route to Punakha, so our guide stopped at a local village to let Otto stretch his legs and relax a bit. The local children playing nearby soon gathered around, fascinated, since they hadn’t seen toddler travellers too often on this route.
“Otto offered them some grapes and one of the kids came back and gave him some fruit, including a big orange, and local bread.”
By the last day, during a visit to a private temple, Otto was sick of his rice crackers and sandwiches, so he was crying and refusing to eat. “The family who were keepers of the temple offered him one of his favourite foods – chicken rice porridge, interestingly with some added cheese.”
Thimphu, Bhutan | Photo: 123RF
While Ms Chan and her son were fine, it was her husband who had a bit of altitude sickness, not uncommon for a trek to Tiger’s Nest, where the highest elevation is more than 3,000m. Apart from Paro, the base for their trek, the family cherished their time in Thimphu, the only capital in the world with no traffic lights, and Punakha, known for its Temple of Fertility.
Ms Chan hopes to return to Bhutan soon, this time with her 11-month-old baby girl Robyn, and Otto, now 41/2, to break more Bhutanese bread with the semi-nomadic yak herders of Merak and Sakteng. Ms Chan’s travel tip: “Preparation is the key to success. Check basic necessities, simplify the travel route and explore activities that you will enjoy as a family. Plan ahead and you’ll have a higher chance of a smooth and once-in-a-lifetime experience. We are now a family of four and I am looking forward to taking Otto and his little sister, Robyn, to Myanmar next year.”
Ms Elizabeth Chan, 38, management consultant
Surviving sweltering heat and a break-in
Journeying from Althofen in Austria to Chioggia and Arezzo in Italy sounds like an inspiring European travel plan. Add to that a campervan and 12-month-old twins Alexis and Sienna.
Ms Huang and her husband had enough instances to restore their faith in Murphy’s Law during their Austria-to-Italy jaunt in June last year.
“There was a break-in on Day 1 when we drove into Italy and stopped at a supermarket to load up on supplies,” she recounts.
“Next, the campervan’s air-conditioner was faulty and did not work for the entire trip.
Chioggia, Veneto | Photo: 123RF
“This meant sweltering summer heat and limited air circulation towards the back of the van, where the babies were seated.”
With sweaty and uncomfortable babies and long drives with broken windows, they were relieved to arrive at their first campsite in Chioggia, a lovely seaside town in Veneto.
Unfortunately, over the next two days, one twin fell ill, followed by the other. “We got worried and ended up going to the hospital in the nearest town – Siena, in Tuscany – to get them assessed by the doctors.”
On the flipside, however, they experienced the joy of slow travel and not just ticking-the-box touring.
Today, both parents smile when they recall the moment they watched their babies, 26 months old now, having the most amazing time in a makeshift pail that doubled as a bathtub, and frolicking amid nature.
An open grocery shop in Italy | Photo: 123RF
Travelling in summer also meant that once the twins had been tucked into bed in the campervan, the couple could relax, savouring the sights and sounds of their ephemeral home while it was still day.
Also, what they might have lost in not doing touristy things, they gained in local experiences such as shopping for fresh fruit, bread and cheese at neighbourhood markets. Ms Huang’s travel tip:”Camping might not be everyone’s cup of tea – the idea sounds very idyllic, but the reality can be a little less so.
“Once you decide to embark on a ‘less regular’ trip, be realistic about what you can achieve with babies or toddlers, and slow things down a little.
“Remember that when things go wrong, Plan B might not be so bad after all. Let go of any expectations of a perfectly planned trip and leave some room for the unexpected.”
Ms Nicole Huang Huiling, 34, digital media specialist
Island hopping on a motorbike
On her blog Days Of A Singaporean Mummy, Ms Ong documents her travels with her son, whom she calls “J”. She flew to Kaohsiung in Taiwan when her son was just 12 weeks old in March last year.
She and her husband rode with their infant in a sling on a motorcycle to nearby islands.
“A day trip to Xiao Liu Qiu island in the winter, together with my extended family in Taiwan, was fun. There was no other transport option other than the motorbike or the bicycle and we didn’t really think twice about putting Joash on the bike,” she says.
Stopping at many points of interest meant that the longest stretch on the bike was about 30 minutes.
As Joash was only three months old, he needed to have only milk and that was easy as Ms Ong was breastfeeding. He could drink well in a carrier, but diaper-changing was a challenge as there were no changing rooms. “We changed him on a bench every three hours.”
New-mum anxiety notwithstanding, she thinks the first few months are probably an easier time to travel with a baby. On a trip to New Zealand, when Joash was almost a year old, the key difference was that he was aware of everything around him. Adventure capital Queenstown, scenic Wanaka and the very Scottish Dunedin appealed to the adults and the soon-to-be toddler.
Queenstown, New Zealand | Photo: 123RF
The time he spent with all the animals at farm stays in Timaru and Te Anau has clearly added to his vocabulary. At 14 months, the little explorer could say the names of animals from his flash cards.
She believes that her son, now 20 months old, adapts and absorbs local culture easily and attributes this to Joash being a frequent flier before starting playschool.
She gives full credit to her husband. “We were relaxed. It is very important to be on same page as a couple.” Ms Ong’s travel tip: “Sometimes, parents focus too much on the destination instead of the process. While we head to the airport, we speak to Joash about the place we are going to, the people, sights. On the plane, we allow him to explore the seats, seat belts and signage.”
Ms Yvonne Ong Yiwen, 31, teacher
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 03, 2017, with the headline ‘Have baby, will travel’.