"They have babies there, too": tips for traveling internationally with an infant

February 24 | Guest post by Ryan Hartford Stanley
Ryan's daughter across the river from Sinan Pasha Mosque in Prizren, Kosova.

My husband and I just got back from a month long trip to visit his extended family in the Balkans… with our infant daughter. We questioned our desire to take such a long trip to such a culturally distant place with a five month old. Eventually, we put our fears aside and repeated what became our mantra: they have babies there, too!

We couldn't be more thrilled with the experience. There is no word in the dictionary to describe how rad-tastical-times-infinity-one-million our trip was. That part of the world is magical, the people are uniquely hospitable and our daughter was so infant-y delicious I could cry just thinking about it.

Want to take your own international trip with your kid(s) in tow? Here are some things to think about before planning your first transatlantic/cross-cultural/far far away adventure with baby.

Invest in a soft structured carrier and get ready to use it… a lot!

Regardless of your baby's size, you will not want to hold her the entire trip. Also, lugging a stroller or even pushing one down potholed gravel streets is not always feasible. After hearing great things about the ERGO baby carrier, we bought one. We carried our kid everywhere in that thing — on buses, through archeological sites, to street-side cafés where we sipped raki and Turkish coffee — and she loved every minute of it.

If you're not experts already, practice co-parenting.

If you, your partner, or another caregiver have a majority share of the baby responsibilities at home, you'll want to practice sharing those responsibilities in preparation for your trip. This is a vacation, after all, and if Dad gets stuck changing all the diapers, just like he does at home, he's gonna be pissed. Make sure you each get alone time, and one-on-one time with your baby.

If you get the opportunity, leave the kid with someone you trust and take a few minutes for just the two of you. Be sure to take turns wearing your baby! Strategize about who will wear her and for how long before venturing out for the day. Most importantly, check in regularly with your partner to be certain you're both on the same page and not feeling burdened. After a month of equally sharing the responsibility for our daughter's care, my husband and I got into a very smooth co-parenting rhythm that continues today.

Be prepared for cultural differences in parenting styles.

While most Offbeat parents are used to some level of criticism of their parenting style, that criticism can be even more pronounced when visiting a foreign country. It's important that you and your partner remain united and firm in your beliefs. My daughter is exclusively breastfed and while we were assured that public breastfeeding was perfectly okay in the countries we were visiting, we weren't aware that exclusive breastfeeding past 4 months of age is unusual. So it's no wonder why everywhere we went people were trying to feed our baby. Our refusal was often met with stern questioning but we held strong… until we didn't.

What will you do when a stranger asks to hold your baby while you eat? What you think you might do and what actually happens may be vastly different.

Pick your battles and give in for the joy of the experience.

If you want to have a good time while enjoying another culture, you will need to pick your battles and let the rest of it go. Learn as much as you can about the place you're visiting to avoid making judgment calls at the last minute; decisions made in haste can often be regrettable. Do you absolutely want your child in a car seat while driving? Will you tolerate an establishment or household that allows smoking inside? What will you do when a stranger asks to hold your baby while you eat? What you think you might do and what actually happens may be vastly different. And that's okay. For us, we caved on the food. To the absolute delight of her Great Aunt and cousins, we gave our baby daughter a pinky's worth of whipped cream on her 6 month birthday. And no one died.

So, what are you waiting for, Offbeat Travelers? Don't let parenthood keep you from planning fantastical journeys to undiscovered destinations. Prepare as much as you can, as much as you want, but remember that wherever you go, they have babies there, too!

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  1. Thanks so much for this post. We are going to visit my sister and her family in China in October and I was a bit worried. Isaac will be 18 months and i was worried about whether it was wise to travel with a baby- but you've really put me at ease about the trip. To be honest though I've been so fixated on getting through the flight I hadn't even thought of the things to take into consideration for when we get there.

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  2. I think another tip would be "plan out how you're going to handle the long plane ride." The rest of the plane will thank you.

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  3. While I'm not a mama yet (a few more years of PhD coursework before that can happen), this post pretty much sums up what I hope my parenting philosophy will be.

    As an anthropologist soon to be married to an ecologist, one of things I'm most excited about doing as parents is bringing our kids into the field. Although the idea of bringing young kids into rural east Africa scares some of our friends and family, my motto is always "women are raising babies there too, so I'm sure we'll get along just fine."

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    • I spent 6 weeks in rural East Africa (Rwanda and central Uganda) a few years ago with an arts advocacy/social justice program, and one of the couples in our group brought their 5 year old and 2 1/2 year daughters. They had the easiest time out of all of us! There's something incredibly equalizing about the shared experience of parenting that made it much easier for this couple to connect to people in the villages and cities we visited. They were accepted much more readily and bypassed the shyness and language barriers the rest of us often had to plough through. And their kids made instant friends everywhere we went, despite rarely having a shared language. I've joked many times that if I return to East Africa, I'm borrowing a baby to bring with me! Your friends and family have nothing to worry about 🙂

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      • I think there's something incredibly beautiful about parenting/families being an equalizer! <3

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    • I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but I watched a documentary about a British family who travelled to live with a tribe in Papua New Guinea. The guide who set up the stay and brought them there said that he had never seen the PNG people react to strangers as well as they accepted the British family, because they were a family. Any previous visitors had been single anthropologists.
      tl;dr version: babies and children are a great ice-breaker:)

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  4. Great post. I took my 3 1/2 month old abroad last year, he lived in his sling and we had a great time. I would actually advise traveling with an infant, it gets so much harder and more expensive as they get older.

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  5. This is very timely advice since we are planning a trip the UK later this year with our (soon to be) 10 month old. I have been getting lots of practice with our ERGO baby carrier lately so she gets used to getting around that way. Now to get her dad used to using it too.

  6. Thank you so much for this post. It gets so frustrating hearing people constantly say that once you have a kid, your life is over and you cant have adventures anymore. This is why I love offbeat mama and this particular post so much, it's so encouraging! We are planning to take 2 international trips after our baby is born in August, and now when somebody looks at me like I am crazy when I tell them this, I will say "they have babies there too!"

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    • I agree heartily with Jessi B, life gets slightly more complicated but how wonderful to have your babe experiencing a rich diverse world from the get go! and I love the phrase "they have babies there too" it sums up my feeling perfectly.

  7. I love this! I'm not a mama yet but I was getting really discourage with everyone telling us to get our traveling out of the way now, because we won't have another chance until our kids are grown. I really look forward to being able to expose my kids to different cultures. This post gave me hope

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  8. Question : what about diapers? Traveling with an infant means dealing with diapers. Not every place will have the same ones you'd buy here, and traveling with cloth might be tricky, even if you're using flats and are willing to hand wash them. That's the best plan I can think of, though, if you're headed to a place where disposables might not be available or widely used. Any thoughts from others?

    • In the case of going to visit family I would ask them whats available. Internet research never hurts either. I wouldnt know about the cloth diapers, but I'm sure its workable

    • thanks for the question, Emily! we faced this dilemma in more ways than one. at home we cloth diaper but based on previous experience in the region, we knew that even if we made the choice to lug clean and dirty diapers overseas and then across two countries, laundering would be a problem. our next decision was whether to bring a months worth of diapers with us or buy diapers once in our destination. since we were staying with family we were able to ask ahead of time what the diaper situation was – could we purchase them easily, were they prohibitively expensive, would there be a recognizable brand, etc. once we had that information we chose to bring enough for the plane (everything I read suggested 1 diaper per hour, just in case, but that recommendation seems totally ridiculous in hindsight because we had so many diapers!) and a few extra so we didn’t have to immediately go on a diaper run upon landing. and everything worked out. we were able to purchase diapers at pharmacies, which are plentiful, and while more pricey than in the states, they weren’t insanely so.

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    • Disposable and formula are available in all pharmacies in Mexico. Kleen Bebe is the best and is the generic name people use for diapers (like kleenex). If you are backpacking like we did, cloth might get a bit difficult but you can hand wash and rinse and line dry them once before sending them out for a wash at the lavanderia.

    • Here is where the "they have babies there too" philosophy is particularly apt: every country has ways of handling baby bottoms (diapers or slit crotch pants or…well, that's part of the adventure, right?). Take a supply of disposables to get you over the transition, and then, well, when in Rome! It's an opportunity for cultural immersion.

      Okay, platitudes aside, in practice I brought cloth diapers with me to Mexico, but, for the first time ever, I am using disposables on both my newborn and toddler (at night). I don't have hot water at my house, or the hours I'd need to hand wash them sufficiently in cold, and I can't convince the lavanderias not to use noxiously perfumy soaps, bleach, and fabric softeners.

      Speaking for Europe, South Asia, and Latin America: you would have to be pretty far off the beaten track not to find disposable diapers for sale. If you're going to be stationary, you may also be able to find someone to wash cloth for you–just beware that handwashers are zealous and may wear out your diapers quickly.

  9. Great post! I'm so happy your experience traveling abroad was a positive one. My husband and I have flown with our son about once a month since he was 10 weeks old and it has been an adventure learning new tips to share with others. Using my Beco carrier has been a godsend with travel, and I still use it even though he's 16 months old! International travel is the one thing we haven't done yet, but hope to soon!

    BTW, you can keep track of your baby's flights and the number of miles they have traveled on http://www.flightmemory.com It was fun to be able to record in my son's baby book how many miles he had flown in his first year.

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  10. I live in Europe and I am very proud that my daughter went to France at 2 months old, Italy at 3 months old, the USA at 14 months, back to Italy and then the UK, and now at nearly 2 years old we are on holiday in southern Spain. Yes I have learned quite a lot travelling with a toddler!! Maybe I should write a post as well!! 🙂

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  11. Hear hear! We took our older daughter to Poland when she was 11 months old and it was so great. I second the recommendation for the ErgoBaby. We also took our stroller, because we have a great full-size stroller that travels well, and we didn't want to be tied to our hotel room for her naptimes. She took a lot of naps in the stroller (she was and is a sweatbucket, so we definitely needed a break from wearing her in the Ergo all the time!)

  12. I would liked to have seen tips on planning for a long plane flight with a baby. We've flown numerous times with our son, now 17 months, but no flight was longer than 4 hours and all but one was direct. Every experience has been different though as he got older. He slept in my arms the entire time during his first flight at three months, but by the time of our last flight, he hated being confined in my lap and wanted to run up and the down the aisle!

    Although it's possible to travel with young ones, and no your life of travel isn't over just because you have kids, I do like to tell people that how you travel will change. We don't do weekend trips or just take carry-on anymore. Depending upon the length of the trip and how many time zones we cross, our son needs at least a day to adjust, so no heading straight from the airport out to sightsee and the first full day needs to be as low-key as possible. We do much less in a day, (which has its upside of forcing us to slow down) plan our sightseeing/activities/visits with friends or family around ours son's needs and schedule, and call it an early night so he can get a good night's sleep and be ready for another full day. We love to travel and are in the middle of planning our next trip for spring break, but now that we have a toddler, we've had to adjust our expectations and our priorties.

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    • thanks for your comment, kiki! i specifically didn't discuss airplane travel because a) it was super easy for us with a not-yet-crawling nursling and b) it's been discussed on offbeatmama before.

      we are planning another trip overseas before our daughter turns two and we are forced to buy her a ticket. i KNOW my advice about letting some things go will come in handy while traveling with a toddler!

      • Buying them their own seat is actually great for long trips, especially if they are used to sitting in a carseat anyhow. My daughter naps beautifully if she is in her carseat, but will not sleep unless exhausted on our laps. Daytime flights that followed her usual pattern (two 1-hour naps) were much easier than night flights for us.

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        • We flew to Germany and back with a 9 month old. It was amazing. He did SOOO well and he loved trains, buses, streetcars, etc. We wore him in a Manduca (similar to an Ergo but German made) and the Bjorn front carrier. We did buy him a plane seat and took the car seat, and I am very glad we did. On the way back, he did not sleep AT ALL (but nor did he cry). It was wonderful to be able to put him in the seat and buckle him in loosely and let him play with his toys and give us a break. We are taking him again this year and he'll be about 21 months. This'll be easier in many ways (last time I was still breastfeeding and was also working on the trip so I had to lug along the pump), and harder in others (he's an active toddler!) — but we caved and got a portable DVD player for his last 11 hour roadtrip and we'll bring it on the plane.

          All said, it is great to travel abroad with kids, I think. It opens whole new worlds of contacts. I encourage everybody to go for it!

      • I didn't think about searching for previous articles on flying with kids…I'll check into that. I would love to expand our travel past the "where can we fly to in less than four hours" limit we've subconsiously set for ourselves. I can see it being manageable if we bought him his own seat, but as someone else said, it's expensive! A mom I talked to on a previous flight who had two older children said that flying with them does get harder before it gets easier, but it does get easier.

  13. thank you all so much for the thoughtful comments! it was important for me to share our story here so parents (and pre-parents) who are thinking about traveling abroad with baby know that it is done.

    i'd also like to add some interesting back story–
    my parents road tripped with me (and my little brother) from maine to florida every year from the time i was six weeks old and my husband's parents took him to visit the same family we stayed with when he was six months and his brother was a year and a half. maybe this history is why we even had the idea to take the trip in the first place?

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  14. We are in the pre-baby discussion phase and just talked about traveling with our children last night. My mother took me on a plane at 3 months old to meet my family in Germany. I plan on taking my future little one probably around the same time to see the family. I do wonder how the plane ride will go but as others have said flying with one baby is way easier than flying with a toddler.

  15. Excellent timing! I've just booked a holiday in Japan with my partner and 5 month old in May. We were planning the trip when I got pregnant and we didn't think we could do it, but we decided why not?! We have an ergo and might buy a cheap stroller there, if we think it will be useful. We'll take as little paraphenalia with us as possible… after all, the Japanese have some of the cutest baby stuff on earth so we can always buy anything we decide we need after arrival. Booking Japanese style accommodation (futon on the floor) also takes away any worry of where he will sleep.

    • Where in Japan will you be? I live in Yokohama, and it's super baby friendly here. I see mothers out with strollers all the time, and there are lots of elevators. I hope you have a fantastic holiday!

      • Thanks Kate! We're spending half our time in and around Kyoto, then the second week in Takayama and Kanazawa. Can't wait! Travelling from Australia so at least the flight is only 10ish hours 🙂 …and our boy has red hair, so he should be a hit.

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  16. Great post. We moved to China when our baby was 8 months, and it was awesome. The worst part was living in a city where we had to carry the baby everywhere, but it was summer and all the Chinese people thought we were baking our child, and they would literally come up to us and UNTIE our wraps and pull the baby out, saying he was too hot. We gave up eventually and just carried him around, but maaaaan. Babies are heavy after a while! Other than that, it was fabulous. I didn't mind all the people coming up and grabbing him (when he wasn't in a carrier). They were so happy and friendly (and i had been warned about it ahead of time) and like i said.. he was so heavy! It was fine with me! An improvement on America, in my opinion, where we got dirty looks most places we took the baby. He seemed to make everyone's day wherever we went, and the happiness was contagious.

    • I love this! We get the opposite treatment here: Mexicans all think I overexpose my children to the elements. Once a woman really got on my case–"for shame! he's freezing!"–for taking off my son's shoes on a cool night when he was riding in his stroller (he was chewing on them and they were filthy from playing in the park). And I've been all but chased home to get a blanket for my newborn (it's in the 80s during the day here). No one thinks that my Moby wrap is sufficient coverage. Now I carry a wool hat and a flannel blanket for the baby so I can appease anxieties or keep up appearances.

  17. We just did 3 weeks travel with a 7 month old in Mexico. Traveled through four states by bus. Mexico is an excellent starter trip for new parents.

    Having a child opened up a brand new dimension for us. People would engage the baby and before you knew it we were having conversations with all kinds of folks including locals and other travelers.

    Children are beloved and revered in Mexico. Many people will touch and squeeze you child without asking (It takes a village!)so you have to be open to this. Small children, moms, grandmas, little boys (!), teenage boys (!) will ask to hold your child so you have to decide for yourself what you feel comfortable with. If you're not in the mood one good trick I found was to say I was trying to get him to sleep. No offense taken.

    There were high chairs in every restaurant we went to. Some were of dubious quality so you still have to keep an eye out. We would ask for small portions of food for the baby off menu (yogurt, refried beans, bananas) and they would happily oblige us. Not once in the entire time we were there were we ever charged extra for it.

    We fed the little chunker on fresh avocados and mangos (in season) from the mercados. Grown in people's back yard they were beyond organic.

    The bus rides were a white noise jiggling machine and he would often fall asleep or amuse himself with the passing scenery.

    As for the dreaded airplane ride, if you breastfeed, you just have to breastfeed them on take off and landing to avoid having their ears pop. I imagine it works well with a bottle as well. And our airplane was equipped with a pretty good sized fold down diaper changing table in the ladies, bathroom.
    All in all an amazing experience!

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    • P.S. We used the Ergo and an umbrella stroller we bought in Cancun before we got the heck out of Cancun!

  18. This was a very timely post. I am taking my 11 month to Paris next month. The last time we travelled with him was when he was 4 months old, and it was so easy. He slept the whole flight. This time might be a little different! Thankfully it's only a couple hours to Paris.

  19. We're taking our daughter to New Zealand to meet my family when she is 21 months old. I had to do it before we had to buy her a ticket, cause damn, it's a lot of money! I can't wait, although I'm apprehensive about the 3 planes and 23 hours in transit…

    I wanted to mention that practicing Elimination Communication with your infant/toddler can make traveling lighter and easier. We use pocket diapers, and only have 6 of them. Even when she was very young (less than 6 months) she would hold it until she had somewhere comfortable to pee, or until she couldn't hold it anymore.

    http://offbeatmama.com/2010/06/elimination-communication

  20. Thanks for the inspiration! We're doing our first easy-peasy trip to Mexico this spring and are also looking into an overseas trip in the next year. I, too, would welcome any advice on doing long flights with babies. Has anyone tried avoiding the rambling-in-the-aisles toddler syndrome by flying red eye? Terrible idea? Or kind of okay?

  21. Hey, I am an American woman living and working in Thailand with my husband. I have a ten month old and a three year old. All of your advice is fabulous, and maybe this is extraneous, but any family traveling to a non-European area (Islands, Africa, and Asia), be prepared for the stares. I can speak Thai and i can hear people talk about me, assuming I can't speak Thai, and the stares can be unnerving at times.
    As far as the long plane rides… I wish I could offer more advice as I have done it so many times… keep repeating to yourself "this is only for X hours, I'll be done tomorrow." We don't have a tv here in Thailand, so my son was absolutely mesmerized by the in-flight entertainment, and though I would normally never let him watch it, I make exceptions to my rules when I am in such close quarters for 20 hours. You can do it.

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  22. Oh, one more thing: Most places in Asia and Africa have few-to-no infant safety policies or rules. I lugged a carseat overseas and everyone here thinks I am CRAZY since they staunchly believe the safest place for a baby is in their mom's arms in the front seat. Kids are in backpacks on motorbikes, hauled around in the back of trucks, and left unsupervised (like, nobody is home) while they sleep. It feels shocking upon arrival, but now I find myself paranoid that I am breaking some law, somewhat stifled, upon visiting my parents in America.

  23. As a Mum who has given birth in China dn the Middle East and travelled widely with my 2 girls this is totally my philosphy – and definitely the first year of the first child is the easiest! But kids are adaptable and if they see you enjoying something then they do too.
    Breastfeeding, baby wearing, baby led weaning and co sleeping also make for very easy travels as you don't need to carry too much stuff with you.
    Lovely to see that so many other people don't think I'm as crazy as so many of my friends and family think I am for venturing to off the beaten track places with my babies!!! 🙂

    • Hi. Great post!
      We are planning to drive from london to South Africa with our 2 year old. My husband is 40 and a doctor and we are planning to drive down the west coast of Africa. Some of the countries we are traveling through advised no traveling. One of the countries is Mauritania.
      The reason why I am writing is I do feel ok to do the trip with my husband and 2 year old but today my mother has expressed utter disbelief and horror that we are actually going to do this trip especially with terrorism and kidnapping risk let alone malaria and gastro problems.
      Has any one ever done this?
      Am I completely mad to do this with my 2 year old.
      Thanks! Nicky

  24. Hi. Great post!
    We are planning to drive from london to South Africa with our 2 year old. My husband is a doctor and we are planning to drive down the west coast of Africa. Some of the countries we are traveling through advised no traveling. One of the countries is Mauritania. The reason why
    I am writing is I do feel ok to do the trip with my husband and 2 year old but today my mother has express utter disbelief and horror that we are actually going to do this trip especially with terrorism and kidnapping risk let alone malaria and gastro. Has any one ever done this? Thanks! Nicky

  25. I just have to say, I could not be happier I stumbled across this post. IT IS A SMALL WORLD. Here's why: My boyfriend and I are taking our daughter overseas for 1 month in April (she will be 9 months at the time of our trip) to see the city where he is from. When I saw the title of your picture in Prizren, Kosova, my chin almost hit the floor. My boyfriend is from Mitrovica in the north of Kosova!!!We will be staying there first, before driving down to Skopje and then flying to Italy for a few weeks. This article could not be more perfect for me and has really reassured me and helped me to set aside my doubts and fears over our trip. THANK YOU!

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