Through our experiences with multiple (travel and developmental) transitions during Sophia’s beginning toddler stage, we’ve expanded our expat parenting repertoire (as well as begun to treasure the leisure of simply staying home and following routine).
While recently on vacation during Lunar New Year in Malaysia, we celebrated Sophia’s nine months! Almost directly after this hot and humid multi-city/two-week adventure, we did a road trip from Seoul to snowy and chilly Pyeongchang, Korea – home of the 2018 Winter Olympics – for a ski lodge weekend getaway with another family.
We’ll recap this month’s milestones below and describe how we managed all the changes through our travels.
Chewing and chasing
In Sophia’s ninth month, she went through a major teething stage and sprouted her first bottom tooth! She has also grown more voracious in her appetite and more gourmet in her palate with spice level as we had given her tastes of all the curries we ate in Malaysia.
With movement, she is starting to cruise (walking while holding on to something for support) as well as stand unassisted. We test her cruising ability by putting an item of interest (like a bottle of milk or a remote control) on the living room TV stand or coffee table and lure her to the other side.
She will cruise over in some moments, but other times shows impatience and just drops to a quick crawl. Now that she is even more mobile than before, we’ve had to dedicate more time for her to practice this new skill.
Side note on Sleep
Sleep has undergone a major makeover. With so many friends and colleagues suggesting the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, we discovered research on what makes for quality sleep as a baby and how those habits transfer with age. During her eight-month sleep regression, Sophia went from three naps per day to two. To compensate for the “missing nap,” we made her bedtime extra early (one key takeaway from the book) by moving it from 7:30/8:30 p.m. to 5:30/6:30 p.m.
Once she turned nine months old (end of Malaysia trip and during Pyeongchang trip), we had more defined nap times and bed times. She is getting used to her new ~9-10 a.m. morning nap and ~1-2:30 p.m. afternoon nap schedule with a 6:30 p.m. bedtime and 6:30 a.m. wake-up time.
And now after being home for more than a solid week, we’ve renovated our routines to help her become a more independent sleeper (employing a modified version of CIO or “controlled crying”). She used to nurse to sleep in the past but is just starting to go down (most of the time) drowsy but awake, so she is figuring out self-soothing. (She has been better at it with bedtimes but nap times can still be a struggle.)
During this month of constant travel, sleeping in a new place every three nights and napping on the go, along with having different baby sitters while mom and dad were on various date nights, made it difficult to be consistent. Hence, the joy of simply staying home in the second half of the month. Consistency in routines = consistency in sleep.
Top 10 Travel Tips
By starting travel with Sophia at around two months old, we’ve compiled some tried and true methods for packing, napping and feeding on the go, and playtime in transit. (Please note: We are by no means experts, so we value any other advice you have to share with us!)
In her nine months of life, she has been to five countries: Korea, U.S., Canada, Indonesia and Malaysia (seven if you count in utero with Vietnam and Japan). We’ve done two significant road trips with Sophia, five-hour drive between Toronto and Detroit area before crawling stage, and three-hour drive between Pyeongchang and Seoul during crawling stage. These tips encompass both her stationary infant and mobile beginning toddler stages.
Be prepared for wardrobe changes: Not in the glamorous sense like the Oscars – Bring extra changes of clothing for both you and baby when considering spit-up, diaper blow-outs (not fun when eating unusual solids), etc. Wear clothes that would be easy to change into and out of, as well as can mask stains and can allow for easy breastfeeding. For example, I’ve worn a black nursing dress with a lightweight jersey material.
Travel lightly: It seems contradictory to the last statement, but try as hard as you can so you have fewer bags.We’ve actually forgotten pieces of luggage more than once at the airport when in an exhausted stupor after long flights. (When this happened in Seoul, the airport contacted us and delivered it to us promptly. We have not always been so fortunate.) Buy extra diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, etc. at your destination. Ask your home rental owner or hotel/resort management if he or she can provide a bassinet for the baby or access to laundry services.
Side note regarding the bassinet: A valuable piece of advice I got from fellow expat parents who travel often – Place the baby bassinet or Pack and Play in the bathroom of a hotel room to provide baby with his or her own “bedroom.” We all sleep terribly when we’re traveling and staying in the same room, as Sophia is used to her own space at home. Co-sleeping families will have an easier time with travel regarding this change in routine.
Decrease discomfort: Air pressure changes create pain resulting in extra fussiness so either nurse, feed with a bottle or offer a pacifier. Short flights (which we did at two months old when going from Seoul to Jeju, as well as have done between different cities within Malaysia) can actually be more tricky than long flights, as Sophia wasn’t hungry on the descent after nursing during the ascent that just happened. The pacifier was a life-saver! It helps if the paci has a clip in case it falls out. Not to mention, the paci while she was sleeping during redeye flights helped. (Although try to avoid flights that interrupt bedtime routine/night sleep schedule as this is the most difficult time to get baby back to sleep when it’s so loud and bright all around.)
Soak up the sun safely: If walking or hiking under the sun is on the agenda, make sure to bring a baby hat, a lightweight muslin blanket and/or a stroller shade to protect from UV rays. Baby sunscreen helps but I also liked having these other items to ensure maximum protection for Sophia when she was little as most stronger skincare protection products are not for babies younger than six months old.
Multi-task when possible: When creating an itinerary, consider stops for feedings, diaper changes and play time as breaks for the whole group. For instance, we all rested and gathered together for a snack, drink or meal whenever I would need to nurse. I’ve mastered eating with one hand and the nursing cover acts as a handy adult bib. 😉
We also always bring an easy-to-fold picnic blanket to spread out for her to work out her energy with crawling. (She has used this at beaches, parks, vacated gates at airports, empty restaurants, concrete expanses at various landmarks, etc.)
Furthermore, we would try to align walking/sightseeing activity with her nap times so that she would stay asleep in transit if we couldn’t make it back to the hotel for her to sleep comfortably in her bassinet. The blackout stroller shade and white noise maker on our Kindle were two life savers that ensured a restful nap while on-the-go.
Keep it simple: Speaking of itinerary, less really is more. My husband and I usually pool research from top-rated items on reviewer-generated websites like Tripadvisor and Yelp into a shared Google map or Excel sheet in order to check items off our “must-see list.”
I always find it useful to read the family friendly activity lists that Tripadvisor provides, but also to type in the search word “stroller” in a particular landmark’s reviews to see how other parents found it navigable.
Consider what activities are stroller-friendly, baby carrier-friendly and what warrants a baby sitter. Prioritize what means most and then diversify based on baby’s schedule.
House hunting: Rent a house or apartment if traveling with other family and friends. Choose a location that is most close to where you will spend the majority of your time: When we were in Jeju at two months old, we had our in-laws with us so we thought a house would be better than getting a couple hotel rooms as we wanted common space like the living room and a kitchen for cooking meals, pumping and storing milk, etc. We chose a place close to the beach as we anticipated going there often, but also rented a car for longer day trips.
While in the Toronto area for a wedding at about four months old, we shared a house with multiple family members of varying aged children. We all discussed our typical family routines so we were all aware of when certain common spaces needed to be vacated or quiet during points of the day relating to nap times and bedtimes.
When we were in Pyeongchang at nine months old with one other family with two children under 2 years old, we looked for very family friendly ski resort options. We lucked out with a resort that had little houses tucked into the mountains, tailored toward families of young children (ie. private play room with tons of toys, high chair and baby bed in the house; playground and kid’s cafe on premises).
On the road: If flying and planning to drive at your destination, it helps to bring a stroller with a detachable car seat. We were able to check both the car seat and the stroller at the gate, but it helps to have a set that interlocks because it makes for less to lug around. We did not have to pay extra for a car seat in our rental vehicle. Not to mention, we could use the car seat on the plane, which was key for small planes that couldn’t provide bulkhead seating and bassinets.
Perks on the plane: When flying, research on the carrier’s website to see what services they offer mothers with babies and take full advantage: When we checked in/got our boarding passes, we made sure to go through the list we found online. For example, Asiana Airlines and Korean Air gave us priority boarding (which I found especially helpful when Sophia was little because we had so much stuff), an additional 10-kilo piece of luggage for checking in (which ended up being our Pack and Play), ability to check in stroller and car seat for free at the gate, and priority luggage (first pieces out on the belt).
Always check at the gate (NOT at the check-in counter) to see if the flight is full. More often than not, we have been able to take an extra seat in our row or ask for seats to be rearranged. With the extra seat, we use Sophia’s car seat for sleeping and eating (much more secure and comfortable than a bassinet at her older age now). With the extra leg room in a row all to ourselves, we’ve been able to set up our own play space for Sophia to crawl, stand and cruise.
Making memories: We highly recommend you and travel companions to use Google Photo. This goes beyond special trips as Michal and I do this on a regular basis (starting back in B-school when we went on Spring Break with friends). When with a larger group, we all take so many pictures and videos on our phones so backing them up on Google ensures we don’t lose any and allows for easy sharing. Not to mention, the Google Photo Assistant will automatically create video montages based on location and edits images with filters.
As we anticipate travel with Sophia when she gets to walking stage, we would appreciate any other advice you have for how to manage travel!