If I want to talk about backpacking with a baby, it’s probably worth starting with my definition of backpacking. As I am sure you will know, there are extreme examples, from the hikers and trampers in the wilderness, to the party goers in Thailand’s notorious Koh Phangan. For us, backpacking is about a prolonged period away on a budget. The time allows us to get off the beaten track and experience a culture. Having the backpack gives us freedom to move around to a variety of places using different modes of transport and it is independent so we get what we want out of the trip. I feel backpacking with a baby will evolve over the next few years and develop into its own definition.
The decision to go backpacking with our baby initially came easily with my usual impulsive personality habit. Many concerns such as travel health, feeding what I discovered to be a fussy baby on the go and trying to maintain a routine got me questioning the reality of my initial decision as time progressed. Maybe I was being ridiculous?
I would lie if I told you I didn’t put a lot of thought and effort into every element of our trip. My concerns were mainly around putting Esmé at any risk or harm. As you may already know we initially went to New Zealand with Esmé via Singapore when she was ten weeks old. We then backpacked on the way home through Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and more recently we went to Thailand and Cambodia. Through the experience of planning and living these trips, I have come up with this information to help anyone that would like to go backpacking with a baby.
Planning to go backpacking with a baby
- Stare at a map for a while and decide where you want to go. If you are going to visit multiple countries try to hop to neighbouring areas to reduce travel time. This will also help with drastic changes to time zone.
- Extensively research travel health and risk for each destination. Fit for Travel is a UK based website that I have seen doctors in the UK and NZ use to advise patients about travel health. It is a great resource for anyone to use where you can look at the malaria maps and avoid high risk areas. Look into other precautions that can be taken.
- The trip needs to fit around childhood routine vaccinations. Speak to your GP.
- Use Skyscanner to review the internet for the cheapest flights.
- Check flight times and schedules to ensure they are not going to mess up baby’s routine.
- Research the accommodation – we found all of ours on booking.com. I always used the search criteria within our budget per night and overall rating. I looked through reviews for comments about cleanliness and breakfast. You can specifically look at family reviews which is really helpful. We have built up ‘genius’ status on the site so we now get discounts and other perks.
- It makes life a little easier if you don’t have to worry about breakfast and it is generally an easy meal to give to baby; fruits, yoghurts, cereals. Try to ensure it is included in the price of your room.
Setting a budget and financing
We did some quite challenging things to be able to go backpacking as a family. We rented our house and sold our car when Esmé was ten weeks old. If you think about it, the cost of living is a lot cheaper in Asia than London. By going away, I managed to have my full year of maternity leave. If we stayed in London I would have had to return to work sooner to be able to keep up with mortgage repayments. We had an income from my maternity pay for some of the time and we did a lot of saving whilst I was pregnant to be able to afford the trip. I had two jobs and I worked late into the pregnancy. Whilst we were in New Zealand, I corrected essays on the go for a university and Shaun had some short term work.
When it came to budgeting to go backpacking with a baby, we allowed for a maximum of £25 GBP per night including breakfast in countries where the cost of living was less. In more expensive countries we upped our budget to no more than £50 per night. As you can imagine we never stayed long in the pricey places. We used budget airlines for short haul flights which really gave us freedom to explore lots of places. We have an air miles credit card which helped us to fund all of our long haul flights. Don’t forget things like travel vaccines for a backpacking family can be expensive; ensure to include these costs in your overall budget.
From our experience, we found we spent less whilst away with Esmé in comparison to travelling as a couple. This is probably because you generally have to take things slower and subsequently don’t get as much done, not to mention the lack of exploring nightlife.
If you want to know more see financing a baby gap year.
Preparing to go backpacking with a baby
- Meet with your GP or travel health adviser a good few weeks in advance to discuss vaccinations and precautions required for your destinations.
- Make up a decent first aid bag and purchase over the counter medicines such as painkillers, anti-histamines, insect repellent, hydration solutions and diarrhoea and vomiting preventatives for both baby and adults.
- It might be worth starting baby on probiotics to protect the gut from any nasty bacteria.
- Look into visa requirements for each country. Even when you can buy them on arrival I suggest trying to get them before hand. I have waited in long and arduous queues with a baby and it’s not fun. I’ve learnt my lesson!
- If you are intending to rent a car, some places require you to have an international driving permit, make sure to research before hand.
- If you don’t want to lug a car seat with you, there are lots of companies online you can rent baby travel accessories and they will deliver them to your hotel.
- Get baby used to the travel cot if you are bringing your own. We brought a pop-up bubble cot . In the weeks leading up to the trip, I put Esmé in it for all of her day time naps. It is a completely different type of cot so I needed her to be used to the mosquito net etc.
- When backpacking with a baby you are probably going to be ‘on the go’ a lot so it’s worth getting baby used to sleeping in the baby carrier for naps. It has definitely become Esmé’s favourite place to sleep.
- Choose a really good backpack is important. Its worth reading reviews, like this Osprey backpack review.
What to bring when backpacking with a baby
We used one backpack for our journey between the three of us. We can all make excuses ‘I need this, I need that’ but in reality we hardly wear half of what’s in the suitcase. Would you agree? The same goes for backpacking with a baby and as parents we are more than likely to over do it! Don’t forget, you are going to have to carry it all and your baby. I made a packing list with the essentials for backpacking with a baby, feel free to click on it to make it bigger and even print it off to use later.
We have had two trips with Esmé, one where we brought a buggy, car seat and portable cot and the other where we didn’t bring any of the named. We got by and were fine, life was a little easier with not having extra luggage. Its just what makes you feel most comfortable.
Packing the backpack
As you are aware we used one backpack for three of us. Why? You might ask. Well its not fun having to carry so much in terrain that’s not really set up for lugging the kitchen sink with a baby hanging off you! How did we do it?
- We each had a cloth draw string bag within the backpack. That was each of our allowance and we worked on the basis of 5-6 outfits. It was really hard to make a decision on clothes but we never felt like we didn’t have enough when we were traveling.
- All of our products were condensed into reusable food pouches and labelled. We shared products like baby shampoo for example and I used Shaun’s deodorant.
This is actually what saved the most amount of room. I sabotaged my make-up bag and popped eye shadows out of boxes and made little pouches with bubble wrap. I also did not bring my hairdryer or straighteners. It was definitely an ‘au natural’ situation for a few weeks, it wasn’t that bad.
Finding baby-friendly activities
During our extensive backpacking trip, I felt guilty I could not offer Esme the oppurtunity to socialise with other children. Depending on where you are going, there are ways around it. For example, if you are going to New Zealand or Australia, there are rhyme time classes in libraries all over the city that anyone can join in. In Hong Kong, we took Esme to an indoor soft play facility. I also found baby sensory classes in Malaysia. We didn’t actually attend but it might be useful if you are planning to stay a long time in one place. Esmé loves swimming so we always tried to stay near the beach or in a guesthouse that has a swimming pool. She gets so much enjoyment out of it.
During the trip
If you have taken the time out to go backpacking with a baby you are in for some amazing memories and quality time. I can’t explain to you how incredible it was to have Shaun around for most of my maternity year. Esmé and Shaun are so close because they had so much time together in that first year, just the same as mum and baby. Imagine not having cleaning, washing and general household chores to do; instead you have unlimited quality time with your family together. Make sure to cherish every moment and take lots of photos to show your child when they are older.
Travelling with a baby is very different, everything needs to be taken much more slowly. Make sure to factor in lots of baby’s favourite activities around all the tourist plans. Esmé very much led our day depending on her mood; if she seemed to be enjoying tourist activities we made the most it.
We always tried to continue maintaining a routine where possible with meal times, nap times and bed time. She learned how to sleep ‘on the go’ so we sometimes would have a walk around in the evenings. We just accepted evenings were non-existent and made the most of our days. Sometimes we took turns with activities such as surfing and snorkelling. I think this was important for us to fulfil our adventurous desires. It will be great when we can all do it together, not that I am wishing away these early years that fly by too quickly already!
Overall our experience of backpacking with a baby was truly amazing. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I highly recommend it to other travel loving parents. It did help that we were both avid backpackers previously.