13-month update: Group getaways with babies

My favorite part of our Busan vacation was hanging out at Haeundae Beach on our sunniest day. Unfortunately, the water was bit too cold for the babies, but parents took turns taking a dip.

Michal and I have always had the motto of “the more, the merrier” when traveling, especially when lounging on the beach during summer vacation.

While growing up in Michigan, we used to bunk up with multiple family members and friends during lakefront cottage weekends. Through our 20s, we look back fondly at adventures that mimicked episodes of “The Real World.” (e.g. During a B-School Spring Break , we stayed in a house in Puerto Rico with a group of 10 people. After graduating from B-School during Beach Week, we stayed in a house of 20 people in North Carolina.)

So it was natural for us to apply this motto as new parents, even with babies.

To date, we’ve been on four trips with other families who have babies under 2 years old. Lodging has varied from entire houses and apartments on the beach via Airbnb to all-inclusive resorts in the mountains. Sophia started group getaways at around 4 months old and we did our most recent one in Busan, Korea when she turned 13 months old, while her travel companions have ranged from her age to a few months younger and a year or two older.

We’re goofing around with group selfie opportunities in the Gamcheon Cultural Village of Busan.

Ultimately what we’ve learned from our experiences is that it helps for both parents and children to be in similar stages when on vacation.

What this means: The kiddos benefit most when they can interact and play with each other during the daytime, while also be able to sleep soundly through the night so they don’t disturb each other. By the same token, parents should ideally maintain flexible yet fairly consistent schedules and have methods and/or philosophies that align. The complementary attitudes honestly make more convenient plans and more fun outings.

The cultural village had a lot of eclectic art built into the alleyways and colorful buildings. We couldn’t resist a baby photo shoot here. (Side note on milestone moments at 13 months: Sophia has recently learned how to share toys! She also loves to babble and have baby talk conversation.)

Michal and I have shared our biggest take-aways below based on past experiences. Most anecdotes are based on our recent vacation when we shared an entire apartment via Airbnb on Gwangalli Beach in Busan, Korea for a long holiday weekend with a couple and their nine-month-old. (Sophia had just turned 13 months.)

Tips for traveling with other families:

We took the KTX speed train from Seoul to Busan so it took just a little more than two hours of travel. It was so convenient and easy to buy the tickets online. There were tons of elevators and ramps at the station. Bonus points: Diaper changing table and nursing room on the train!

*Share a typical schedule for your baby with the other family ahead of time that includes naps, meals and bed time routines. This knowledge will help when trying to align parts of the schedule with what you want to do in the area, as well as give an idea of common “quiet vs. awake/noisy hours” of the day. (Thank goodness Sophia seemed to be getting over her one-year-old sleep regression just as we started the trip!)

*Discuss what to do during the times of the day when babies can nap on the go in the carrier or stroller. E.g. A walk along the shore in the carrier can still put Sophia to sleep if timed right and continuously moving, but this method didn’t work as well for the other baby, so the parents brought a stroller for the nearby beach boardwalk.

Above pictures: On the boardwalk of Gwangalli Beach, Sophia slept in her stroller while we took in the views and dined at the Owl and Pussycat Taproom. (Side note: Busan has some of the best craft beer in the country.) Below pictures: Sophia was under a light muslin blanket during her nap in the carrier while we explored Haeundae Beach and Haedong Yonggung Temple
Spa Land in Busan

*Prioritize what activities families can do altogether vs. separately, as well as any opportunities for baby sitting (either by hiring a baby sitter or by switching off which couple stays home and when). E.g. When in Collingwood, Ontario with my sister-in-law, her husband and their children (ages 10 and 2), we hired a baby sitter to watch all of our children at night while the adults went to a wedding. However, when we were in Busan, Michal and I visited Spa Land in the Shinsegae Department Store, which did not allow children (very rare in Korea), but our friends weren’t interested in going so they graciously offered to baby sit during Sophia’s morning nap time/lunch time.

*Immediately locate the nearest grocery store, pharmacy, convenience store, etc. for any items that will come in handy later. While in Busan, our Airbnb host graciously provided a kitchen full of breakfast food like eggs, cheese, bread, butter/jam, milk, coffee/tea and cereal, but we wanted extras like fruit, yogurt  and snacks for babies. One person in our group also suffered a burn from a BBQ grill at dinner and needed ointment and other treatment from the pharmacy.

*As we’ve mentioned in prior blog posts, we can’t rave enough about the advantages of using Google Photo on your phones. With four people constantly snapping pics of the beautiful scenery, not to mention trying to capture all the cute baby moments, it’s so much easier and convenient to pool all photos into one cloud storage space instantaneously.

When sharing lodging-

*The best time to do a group getaway is when all babies/toddlers are sleep-trained or are able to self-soothe. It’s possible before that, but it’s not the most ideal or comfortable circumstance.

Our worst case scenario: (Disclaimer – This trip was fun except for the challenges we incurred at bedtime/overnight.) When we shared an apartment-style suite (one bathroom, two bedrooms, open layout with kitchenette, breakfast bar and living room) at a ski resort in Pyeongchang, Sophia was going through a lot of changes in her sleep routine both voluntarily and involuntarily, while also fighting a bad cold, that made it hard for anyone to get any sleep. She had just turned nine months old and had just gone through a sleep transition from three naps per day to two naps per day and was still being breastfed/bottle fed to sleep. Needless to say, she had difficulty with not only falling asleep but staying asleep so her loud crying/waking every two hours woke up everyone – me, Michal and the other family of four.

The vibrant night view from a raw fish restaurant on Gwangalli Beach near our Airbnb

Our best case scenario: In contrast, on our recent trip to Busan where we shared an Airbnb, both babies (our 13-month-old and the other couple’s 9-month-old) already underwent sleep training and could soothe themselves to sleep, as well as wake up peacefully and play while patiently waiting for mom and dad to wake up in the morning. Granted, the Airbnb apartment was much larger than the ski resort suite with three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with separated toilet and shower), kitchen, dining room, living room and sun room, so Sophia was even able to have her own room, like at home.

*If possible, bring a wifi video monitor that can be viewed on your phone. We have enjoyed using our new Yi Home system. While in Busan, the babies slept soundly and safely in our secure second-story Airbnb above our host’s home, so we were able to go outside for a bit nearby to the beach and for dinner. We had peace of mind because we watched our babies on the monitor while also being a very close walking distance away from them.

Dinners (1)
We were stuffed with some of the best seafood I’ve eaten in my life! Our dinners were one of the highlight of the trip. Upper left: Eel in Korean BBQ-style. Upper right: Raw fish platter in sashimi-style. Lower left: Shell fish about to go on the grill. Lower right: Moving octopus.

Any more advice for when traveling with multiple families of babies and toddlers? Please share, as we continue to venture out this summer!