When we took our then-8-month-old daughter on her first trip last December, no one could have possibly warned us about what an experience it was going to be. Our in-laws had planned a trip to China, and we were totally on board. Millennial parents that we are, we subscribed to the whole “Why should having a baby stop us from seeing the world” point of view. Our heads were filled with images of awesome family photos at the Great Wall and cute baby OOTDs. That is until we realized we actually had to climb the Great Wall -- in the dead of winter when we’ve never even brought our summer-born baby to Tagaytay.
As a sometimes-OC mom who actually relishes the challenge of a well-packed bag, traveling with a baby to a country we’ve never been to before, in a season we’ve never experienced, with people we’ve never met (we were going to be part of tour group), I was filled with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I dealt with it by doing copious amounts of research, which, as it turned out, didn't help me a lot. Here was what I wished all those forums and online articles told me.
You have no idea what you signed up for, but you’ll roll with it. There are just too many factors beyond your control. But don’t let that daunt you because, honestly, you’re already there. Besides, moms have that unique gift of just soldiering on. You may have booked a flight to coincide with nap or bedtime, but flight delays happen. You may have brought a fancy foldable stroller, but the baby could be adjusting to the new environment and just wants to be held. A nice hotel can be near enough to public transport, but there’s no ref to store breast milk or no kettle to sterilize bottles. You can check in early and request nicely, but the rude lady at the counter can still cram you into a middle row on a packed flight (still bitter about that one).
The point is you could prepare (and please, do prepare as well as you can) but until you’re there, you never really know if all that planning will pay off. A little mindset adjustment is just as important as a well-stocked carry-on bag. There’s no room for control-freak mamas on this trip -- that baggage is well above the hand-carry limit.
Don’t forget that baby will have feelings about the trip. And she will let you know. If there was anything we took away from that trip, it's how forgiving our daughter can be of her bumbling parents. We prepared the best we could -- nice thick winter jacket, enough pre-packed baby food and disposable diapers to kit out an entire Gymboree class. But, looking back, we honestly thought that since our little girl was just a cute blob at the time, we never really thought how she would react to the change in routine, the new sights and sounds, the tiring travel.
When we arrived, it was below zero. We hurriedly helped our daughter into her jacket, but she didn’t want to wear it. And she didn't want to wear it for the whole trip, same with the furry boots and the pom-pom hat. Dreams of cute little winter baby OOTDs were dashed, and it became a real struggle for her to survive the cold and not just look adorable in it. Her rosy cheeks were no longer cute and became a cause for alarm. Old Chinese ladies would approach us and poke our baby’s just-socked feet disapprovingly, local moms with snugly-jacketed babies would stare agog at our hastily-constructed baby carrier-coat-scarf contraption. We literally had to stuff our baby’s feet into my coat pockets while she was strapped in the carrier, just to keep her from hypothermia.
Her long-dormant eczema also flared up due to the cold, and she got severely constipated from the change in routine and from the weather, too. I know we sound like horrible parents here, but chalk it up to the intense learning curve of parenthood. We slathered her in moisturizer and plied her with water, and how she managed to still smile and play with us on the tour bus is a miracle.
She cried through a tea-tasting ceremony but contentedly rode the tour bus. She slept through every single stop of the tour -- yes, including the Great Wall -- but happily played with a stuffed goat on display inside a restaurant. The only thing she gladly wore was a drab gray thermal hoodie-and-pants set that was three sizes too big, purchased in a panic from some tourist trap. She looked like a prison inmate, but she was comfortable. And so we learned that one of the things we couldn’t control while traveling (see number 1) was our daughter herself.
Your expectations might not be met, but your trip will be fun and memorable. And you wouldn’t want it any other way. We eventually did get that family photo atop the Great Wall, but not at the spot we wanted -- the steps were too tricky to navigate with a sleeping baby in a carrier. But, nonetheless, we were extremely grateful to have been able to go in the first place. We may not have been able to roam the streets at night (something my husband and I enjoy doing while traveling, pre-baby), but the long family naps we all took cuddled into one bed were just as nice (and incredibly warranted, considering the pagod levels).
Traveling with a baby is tricky, but were already eagerly looking forward to our next trip. The photos may be less than Pinterest-perfect, the itinerary constantly adjusted, but you’ll come home with more than just a memorable experience: You’ll have a renewed sense of teamwork with your husband, a little more insight into your baby’s personality, and the affirmation that no matter where you are in the world, being a mom is a constant challenge, but a fun one nonetheless.
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Mich Roque is a 28-year-old writer and editor who is slowly navigating the intricacies of WAHM life. She loves books and films, even though she hasn't read or seen one since giving birth to her mini-me in 2016. She believes coffee and doughnuts fuel both her writing and parenting.