Hello from my London office, where the air outside is crisp and bright and I’m really enjoying that it’s time to dig out all my autumnal knits and scarves.
However, this time last week I was in Sri Lanka, and quite a bit of me is in mourning for the heat, the curries, the tuk-tuks and the warm smiles of the Sri Lankan people. It was a magical trip.
This was my first time taking my son to Asia, so my packing list was wildly different than usual. Infact, my own items took up a tiny packing cube (I really have gotten good at this over 20 years of travelling!) while my son’s stuff was overflowing into a 2nd suitcase and the carry on bags too.
In no particular order, let me share with you what I found was essential, what was a waste of precious space and what I would take next time having learned my lesson! My son is 15 months old, but I’d say this list will be a helpful starting point from newborn up to pre-school age.
I’d love to hear your comments – anything you’d add? Any questions? Use the comments below or as always, drop me a note via email.
Toys for the plane
Our flight there was a 10 hour overnight and return was an afternoon-evening 11 hours. Flying direct was the best decision I have ever made (and the best extra £100 I have ever spent).
We bought him a load of new small things like toy cars and play doh and I attached everything to those handy toy strings so I could fix them to the chair in front and not lose everything on the floor. We love books, so I opted for half a dozen of those small Mr Men/Thomas the Tank Engine books. I think the biggest win was the reusable sticker book full of animal stickers, he adored this. He’s also been weirdly obsessed with buckles and clips so I found a toy covered in buckles that he happily played with for ages.
One of the best tips I’ve ever been given was to wrap some of the toys up as it extends the surprise that they have to open the present.
Food for the plane
Remember most airlines don’t give food for the lap-babies, plus it’s so salt laden you probably don’t want to give it to them anyway. We picked up some food at the airport and lots of snacks.
Food for the holiday
Unless you have a really very fussy child or difficult allergies, you will absolutely be able to find food in-country. My son had scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast most days (or of course the incredible egg hoppers, which were a massive hit with us all), bananas were easy to come by (and are a great choice as you don’t have to worry about water as you can peel them yourself) plus mild dhall and rice. Often we could find sandwiches and other international choices too just to make sure there was a variety.
However, I was so glad I brought mini packs of raisins (he loves these), a few oat-based cereal bars, and I brought along 1 savoury and 1 fruit pouch for each day we were away (Babease or Ella’s etc.) These gave me comfort that we could stop the car when convenient and when we found good options rather than being driven by his stomach. And I did want to avoid fruit and salad that may have been washed just incase, so it was reassuring to know he was getting a hit of fruit & veg atleast once a day. These pouches are familiar to him from home as well, so he did often go for these more happily, so these were well worth space in my bag. Mini breadsticks travel well so these were good too.
My son is old enough for dairy which was easy enough to find and which I found hotels were happy to help me with – but it was handy to have some formula with us. Sometimes we were in quite remote places, and it’s so easy to forget to shop when you are busy enjoying yourself. I opted for the 200ml cartons of ready made milk and bought enough for one a day plus extra for the plane and this was about right.
Milton sterilising fluid
We don’t sterilise at home anymore, but in Sri Lanka you shouldn’t drink the tap water so I used Milton fluid to easily sterilise his bottles once a day and then rinsed out between feeds with a little bottled/filtered water. We had no issues at all so I would recommend doing this, it was very easy.
I used less than half the bottle so wish I had decanted to save space.
Reusable water bottle/sippy cups
There’s no need to add to the world’s plastic crisis with endless bottles of mineral water, as so often the hotels we stayed in had great drinking water freely available from filtration systems so we could fill up bottles for all of us for the day. My son loved drinking from a normal bottle like we were, but you could take along a sippy cup is that’s more familiar for them.
Mosquito net for cot
We didn’t travel with a cot and pre-arranged a cot at each place we stayed. All hotels had a mosquito net round the bed – but interestingly only around half of them had a mosquito net for the cot. We didn’t actually suffer too badly with bites and Sri Lanka is both Zika and Malaria free so it wasn’t a major concern but depending where you are going this might be a good investment. And in line with this…
We tried out the mosquito repellent wrist/ankle bands which were definitely effective, but I think you also need 50% deet to really keep them away, particularly around sunset. I was cautious to apply this to my son’s delicate skin and tried out some deet-free options on us all which were not great. I wish I had taken some deet-containing spray so I could spray some on his clothes. Instead, I made sure to cover his arms and legs in the evening, plus he wore the ankle bands and the combination really did work – while the adults received lots of bites he got NONE! #mumwin
Nappies, Creams & Wipes
Availability for these varies across Asia to be honest – I prefer to bring what I’m used to and enjoy having a bit of extra space at the end for any purchases. Sudocrem is a classic for us and I didn’t see this easily available in Sri Lanka, but I did see nappies in every town so you could go with just some and get some locally.
We also brought along swim nappies of course which are the best thing ever.
Nurofen and Calpol
We used both of these while we were away thanks to a tooth trying to come in (of course) and a random 3 days of a very slightly elevated fever. I always opt for Calpol sachets because they take up less space and the Calpol bottle is glass (who needs that in their bag?) but Nurofen sensibly make plastic bottles. I understand both are available in country – but I was glad I didn’t need to go hunting for them. And they are unlikely to be easy to find during rural stays.
I always take my thermometer even when we go away for just a night, I find children so often get slight fevers and it’s reassuring to know for sure how high it is.
It’s really hard to get sunscreen in some parts of Asia – brands you recognise will be extra expensive having been imported, and local brands sometimes have whitening agents in. Bring this from home and restock at airports and major cities.
The sun is really powerful in Asia and even overcast days can lead to you getting burned, especially if you are in the pool or the sea. Do be cautious!
In line with this, do remember a hat for the little ones too! I like the ones that tie under his chin so he can’t throw them out the buggy.
Just incase any of you do get a little too much sun, a little aloe vera is my go-to aftersun and is safe for babies (check the label!)
We opted not to bring ours as we had the buggy plus our son walks now – but I wish we had it for the plane. He wanted to sleep on me, and both arms were needed to keep him safe. It would have been much more comfy if he was pinned safely to my chest, I might have managed a little sleep myself. And it would have been nice to have a hand free to hold a wine and control the movie channels…
Mentioned above, but even though it never dropped below 26 degrees the whole time we were in Sri Lanka, we used long sleeves and trousers a lot to keep him warm in the AC, and to keep mosquitos away – and also to protect from sun. Light layers are your friend.
Although we were in a hot country, we used the ceiling fans and tactical AC blasts in the early evening to try to keep the room cool so we could all sleep comfortably. So I just put him in his normal PJs and a light sleeping bag (0.5 or 1 tog) as this is what he is used to at home. It worked well.
This was invaluable to us. We were on a research trip and stayed in a new place almost every night. In our private villa we were able to be downstairs while he slept safely upstairs just like at home, with the monitor on. In several hotels our room was just off the main pool/dining area, and we could sit just outside the room, with our son protected from the noise by the closed door but we had the reassurance we would hear him on the monitor if he woke. I would always take this, even if you find it unnecessary when in your home.
This really depends where you are going, but always check. Remember for the baby monitor (above) you may need 2 on the go at one time so you might want to travel with more of these than you would have pre-baby.
We travel with an umbrella-style folding stroller that we don’t care about getting bashed up in the hold, and it’s great. It lies flat so he can nap and has a mega sunshade which I would highly recommend.
However I do also always bring our snoozeshade as it acts as both blackout for the buggy and a UV protector, so a win-win plus it folds up to be tiny and stores in the pocket on the back of the buggy.
I always take a small tube of travel clothes wash so I can handwash items if needed. In hot countries I know they will dry quickly and it prevents me overpacking.
…have changed my life, no exaggeration. As we were moving on often this made packing the suitcase so much easier and I could always easily find my clothes vs baby clothes, plus keep dirty clothes separate from clean.
And the award for biggest waste of space goes to….
The portable high chair
We have a great material one that folds up small and adapts to any chair and I am a huge fan of it – but we didn’t use it once. Either places had them, or it was easier to feed him in our laps or in his buggy.
A final thought…
The most frequent fear I hear about travel with children is about the plane journey and the associated jet lag and loss of sleep. I can imagine this is only intensified with two or more children who may respond differently.
I always come back to the fact that the plane and the travel bit is just one day, and I don’t like my trips to be dictated by this small part of it. Once there, I think the experience is so worth it. It was for us – we met elephants, hiked in the hill country with our son on our shoulders, hung out on the beach, did lots of swimming and explored historic towns. Our son sampled local foods and met lots of new people. He was in his element.
I am a big fan of planning – so have a think about what you can do to make it better for you. This might be paying a little more for a direct flight like we did. It might be paying for extra leg room, or choosing to get a seat for your infant rather than taking them as a lap baby so you all have more space. Although we were all a little tired, we stayed close to the airport on arrival and we got an early night and all felt pretty normal by the next day. Coming home was also actually ok, just a few slightly early mornings but these happen to us sometimes anyway so we took it in our stride!
This is just my experience but I hope it’s helpful. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat further.