Backpacking with a baby

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.

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Backpacking with a baby

BACKPACKING WITH A BABY

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 travelling with a baby.

Backpacking with a Baby

Planning to go backpacking with a baby

Where to go travelling 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.

Backpacking with a baby

BABY TRAVEL HEALTH

While travelling with a baby, it’s more important than ever to understand the health situation in the countries you’ll be visiting. 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.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel Insurance is a very personal thing and needs will differ from one family to the next. In fact, my husband has a different policy from the rest of us due to his diabetes. I absolutely do not expect you to choose the same one as us. However, for me, the single most important thing about travel insurance is the medical cover.

I have worked as a travel nurse in the past. Collecting people when they become unwell or injured on their travel insurance. They are the lucky ones to have a nurse, doctor or both come pick them up and take them home. Our World Nomads policy has us well and truly covered from that perspective. The amount of cover for medical expenses is very good. I know I could be taken home safely if something went wrong.

BOOKING FLIGHTS FOR TRAVEL WITH A BABY

See our article on flying with a baby (our if you child is a little older here is our flying with a toddler post) for more tips on booking flights as well as ways to have a stress free flight.

Check flight times and schedules to ensure they are not going to mess up baby’s routine. We generally try to avoid flying during (what would normally be) sleeping times as this tends to cause unrest for baby. On short haul flights this is easier to do than long haul ones.

Backpacking with a baby - Travel Mad Mum

Boarding Jet Star in Australia on route to Bali

WHERE TO STAY WHEN BACKPACKING WITH A BABY

Research the accommodation – we found all of ours on booking.com. I always use 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, and we found reviews from other families travelling with a baby. 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 hotel room.

Backpacking with a baby - Travel Mad Mum

Our lovely accommodation in Ubud, Bali

Setting a budget and financing for travel with a baby

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

Preparing to go backpacking with baby can seem like a big task! Here are some of the important steps to remember:

  • 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 diarrhea and vomiting preventatives for both baby and adults. If you want to check out what we put in our first aid bag check out our family travel health post.
  • 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. We use either the Mountain Buggy Juno Carrier or the I Angel Baby Carrier and Hipseat depending on the size of the kids.
  • Choose a really good backpack is important. Its worth reading reviews, like this Osprey backpack review.

What to bring when backpacking with 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.

What to Pack when Travelling with a Baby

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?

Backpacking with a baby - Baby Packing List

  • 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 baby 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.

    Backpacking with a baby

    Before and after

Finding baby friendly activities abroad

During our extensive backpacking trip, I felt guilty I could not offer Esme the opportunity 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 – DON’T FORGET:

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.

Backpacking with a baby - Shaun snorkeling in Nusa Lembongan

Shaun snorkeling in Nusa Lembongan

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!

In summary…

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.

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Have you been backpacking with a baby? Share your tips in the comment box below. I love hearing from you!

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By |2019-03-04T19:30:30+00:00March 20th, 2016|Travel Tips|33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Robart November 19, 2016 at 5:19 am - Reply

    We have to take a baby carrier when we go to hiking or travelling. Without a best baby carrier we can’t get pleasure in hiking. Actually I got lot of information from your blog Which you have written your blog. I am sharing this information with friend .

  2. Karen November 20, 2016 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    Great thanks

  3. Aldea December 14, 2016 at 5:11 am - Reply

    Wow – this is an awesome collection of tips for travelling with a baby! That koodi popup cot looks amazing. I love the local library tip. One of my first road trips alone with my daughter was from Vancouver BC to Seattle – we got stuck in traffic heading out of the city and at the border. She had been crying a lot and and as soon as I crossed the border I saw an exit with a sign for the public library – might have been the best pit stop of my life! The whole trip took us about 7 hours versus the usual 3.5-4, which I have now realized is to be expected with kids.

    • Karen December 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm - Reply

      That’s so cool that you found the library .. happy travels 🙂

  4. sanne January 8, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Hi karen. We are experienced travellers and expecting a baby in may. I’ve read your blog again and again… and we are determined that we want to travel during our maternity/paternity leave. When i say this most people think we are very selfish, but I really buy into your experience can be character building for the baby as well Even though it wont remember a Thing. But who travels for memories…? We don’t. We travel because what it does to us as people 🙂 i have just one question. I have one year off but for differentieret reasons we can only travel 3-4 months. What time during that year would be the most optimal time to go? When the baby is more immobile (but maybe also more fragile?) Or later in the year? Hope you can help me // Sanne

    • Karen January 14, 2017 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Sanne, where are you thinking of going? When they are more little it is a lot easier because you may only be breastfeeding and you don’t have to worry about food / weaning etc. However I think Esme got something out of it at around the ten month old mark. When we initially travelled with her, I personally don’t remember much of it myself as I was in the usual new mum mind space. I think when you have found your feet and baby can take in more of the sites and get some stimulation from the experience it is better. They are oblivious for quite a while. Just be prepped with foods for weaning etc if you do it after the 6 month mark. I hope this helps and happy to answer any more questions

    • Steffi January 15, 2017 at 10:49 pm - Reply

      We’re currently planning a trip to East Asia with our then 7 month old – for us it was essential that she would get all necessary vaccinations, and e.g. the one against measles is usually only given at 18 months, and in exceptions earlier, but not before they turn 6 months (at least here in Sweden), and ideally you want to wait if there are reactions to it before you leave on a long trip.

      Thanks for all the useful info in the article. I’m still debating what bring – stroller, crib for the baby? The carrier is a given.

      • pablo romero March 17, 2019 at 6:32 am - Reply

        Hi Steffi, we are planning on traveling to Thailand next winter when our baby will be 10 moths (she is 1 month now). We are originally from Spain but living in Stockholm and we are new to the health care system for babies here in Sweden. So I wold be very happy to hear any tips from you and your experience, specially about the vaccines. Tack!

  5. Natalia vella January 19, 2017 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    I’m planning on travelling around Europe with my one year old, what backpack do you recommend

    • Karen January 21, 2017 at 11:08 pm - Reply

      We like the Kathmandu 80L

  6. AnotherMum March 11, 2017 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    What do you recommend in terms of bottles, formula, safe water for said formula, etc. for someone who can’t breastfeed? I can’t imagine how it would work with needing up to 12 bottles per day to be made up safely, washed and sterilised. Any knowledge or experience anyone has would be good as I am struggling to think how it would be possible until they are over a year old and can have cow’s milk.

    • Karen March 12, 2017 at 3:54 pm - Reply

      My friend used microwavable sterilising bags. If you are travelling to western countries, I can not see why the water would not be safe. It all depends on where you are going.

  7. Kasper March 27, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

    Hi guys. How did you find travelling with a child in Nusa Lembongan. I’m going with my 8 month old in a few weeks.

    Thanks
    Kasper

    • Karen March 28, 2017 at 8:28 am - Reply

      Hey the roads are not very good but not one is moving around very fast, its laid back pace of life. Stay near mushroom Bay, its the nicest area. We loved being there with our daughter who was around that age too when we went.

  8. Juultje April 19, 2017 at 9:13 am - Reply

    To bad maternity leave in Holland is only 3 months. With 4 weeks before youre due date

  9. Jain@travblog.com April 24, 2017 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    We will be soon doing this 🙂 thank you for such an informative article. And Congrats for winning the best UK travel blog award! Happy travelling 🙂

  10. Hayley October 19, 2017 at 11:58 am - Reply

    I love your blog, such an inspiration! We did Costa Rica with our baby this summer and had an amazing time… I would highly recommend while you are in that part of the world!! http://lifeasabutterfly.com/costa-rica-baby/

  11. Robyn December 5, 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Hi, we were thinking about going to Australia/New Zealand with a 3 month old; how does it work with taxi’s, do you need to bring a car seat (e.g. from airport to hotel)?

    • Harmony Varley July 28, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      You can book a taxi with a car seat. You just need to call rather than grab one off the street and the wait time is about 10 minutes. It’s illegal in Australia not to have a seat for a child (under 5 yrs I think) so all the taco companies have them.

  12. Wendy February 2, 2018 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Just came upon your blog, its wonderful! We are going to be traveling with a 8mo baby. I was just wondering what you did for feeding time. Did you carry some type of dining booster chair with you? Do you think it was useful? Thanks!

    • Karen February 5, 2018 at 3:12 am - Reply

      We have had different ones for both our kids. if your baby is not massive, I recommend the Phil and Teds clip on chair. my son is too big for it, he is a unit but it was perfect for our girl.

  13. Nicola Elliott-Boldison March 2, 2018 at 11:16 am - Reply

    My biggest worry about having a baby is the loss of my freedom. You have given me a ray of hope!

  14. Carli June 14, 2018 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Hello! My husband and I have been full time travelling and volunteering overseas for the last 3 years and living in India. We want to do some travelling with baby (who comes in August) and return to India eventually. My biggest concern is diapers. We would love to do cloth, but it may not be practical with travelling. What do you guys do for diapers? How many do you bring? & do you keep buying as you go?

  15. Harrie October 18, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Wow you’re so brave!
    I’ve just finished sleeptraining my baby (with Susan Urban’s How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone book), thinking about having a little vacation soon. I’ve read it’s much easier for the baby to sleep elswere than her own crib if sleeptrained. But I don’t think that we are ready to make a bagpacking trip… Although you inspired me a lot and I’m gonna think about it next time!

    • Elton November 30, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      No way! We’re just used exactly the same method with our girl at 6 months. And now I’m trying to talk my wife into a backpack trip – we used to do that all the time. Just a little one, for a weekend of so. I know there will be much more to backpack but I really want to try. And with this training our little angel falls asleep within minutes. We did the training 2 months ago, no signs of regression or anything. We even took her out to a party lately and she fell asleep and friends house so it has to work, right?

  16. pablo romero March 17, 2019 at 6:42 am - Reply

    Hi Karen, thanks for the post, it’s been very useful.
    In our trip to Thailand we are planning to expend most of the time into the wild and animal sanctuaries. Any tips regarding being with other animal species and into the nature? She will be 10 months when it happens.

    • Travel Mad Mum March 19, 2019 at 11:35 am - Reply

      We mostly stayed in the cities in Bangkok so I don’t have any tips – sorry!

    • Travel Mad Mum March 19, 2019 at 11:35 am - Reply

      We mostly stayed in the cities in Thailand so I don’t have any tips – sorry!

  17. Claire Lynch March 17, 2019 at 10:09 am - Reply

    We would love to go travelling with our baby but have been put off by the need for immunisations. On Fit to Travel most places state the need for MMR before travelling there – how did you get around this? Our baby has had his 2, 3 and 4 month immunisations but won’t be due his MMR until he is 1 and we’d love to travel before then.

    • Travel Mad Mum March 19, 2019 at 11:30 am - Reply

      I can’t give out medical advise unfortunately – you’ll have to check with your doc.

  18. Shiza April 11, 2019 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Travellin is a source of pleasure and enjoyment. But I think to travel with babies is a bit difficult. Through the information that you discuss in the article, I get a proper guide that how to manage when we travel with the babies. Thanks for sharing this information.

  19. Packing Company April 14, 2019 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Camping with your baby can be a lot of fun, and can be a special time between you and your baby. Babies adjust easily and seem to enjoy the new sights and sounds of camping. There are many items made for a baby and for use with a baby on a camping trip. Thanks for the amazing information.

  20. k April 22, 2019 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Travel is a wonderful hobby for many people all over the world. Through this, we can bring a positive change in life and thinking and health. The travel with the baby is a great source of enjoyment. Actually, I got a lot of information from your blog Which you have written your blog. I am sharing this information with a friend.

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