Haven’t you sometimes heard comments like this when going away: why drag baby along on a such a long journey, he’ll be exhausted and won’t remember a thing anyway. Of course he won’t remember a thing and he doesn’t care whether it’s an inflatable mini pool in the garden or Caribbean sea he is splashing in, but I thing we need to consider the needs of all family members and if only we are being careful and prepare well, I don’t see why not to travel with little one and fulfill the dreams of parents and older siblings. Even if he gets a bit tired the world won’t end, and if the trip makes mum happy, surely he will benefit from that as well, right? But before you go, it’s important to keep in mind a couple of things, and realise that unfortunately it’s not going to be easy. I hope that the list below will help you decide whether traveling far away with baby is something you want to do or not, and if so, to better prepare for it.
8 hours in a very confined space with a baby can scare off even a daredevil. Occasional or in worse cases constant scream, throwing off food trays and spilling drinks, pulling passengers in front of you by the hair, peeking and throwing things at passengers at the back, your limbs numb form holding sleeping baby and back hurting from bending down in search of dummy dropped for a 100th time – if you haven’t got goose bumps when you read this that means you can go ahead and buy the tickets 🙂 Just to touch a bit on practical info; there is an 10$ fee on arrival and 20$ on departure, so it’s best to have some dollars (accepted currency is American dollar or Dominican peso) with you. We always use cards everywhere and practically never exchange any money in advance. To our unpleasant surprise it turned out there is no cash machine at Punta Cana airport and the only option to get some cash was to go with border agency officer to the back room for a half an hour and buy some dollars from them at crazy rate. After this hugely overpaid transaction we will always have some cash with us – lesson learned. We wasted a lot of time, and que was mega long but we’ve asked to be allowed on the fast track, because we were with a baby, and from that moment things went quite smoothly.
Everyday rhythm disruption and jet lag
The routine is a holy grail of parenting and stepping away from it equals unleashing plagues and disasters which devastating results will be very hard to contain. Understandably parents don’t want to condemn themselves to such grim fate, so they guard the routine as their greatest treasure and make sure nothing spoils meticulously planned baby day. Well I must confess I dared to cross the line and desecrated the routine, and paid for it dearly with a couple of nightmarish days, both after the beginning as well as the end of holiday. So we found ourselves in the time zone, where life goes 5 hours backwards, but little Joseph, completely oblivious to this fact, was starting his days at 2 am, and after we came back he had been refusing to go to sleep earlier than midnight for the first couple of days. Speaking of jet lag in general I can say from my experience, there is no point to forcefully fight it, just give the body these necessary couple of days to adjust, yes, we will be dead tired, but our bodies will eventually shift to new time, in grown ups as well as in babies case. But be aware that if you decide to meddle with well established baby rhythm, he will be tired and probably crying, whinging and screaming at times and you will need to listen to all this and deal with it 🙂
Different microflora and health risks
It seems a bit easier if baby is still only on the breast or formula, or eats ready made purees from jars, the contact with bacteria from food and water is limited (use only bottled water to prepare meals for your baby). But the little one of course puts everything he sees and can reach straight into his mouth, so you can’t really prevent this contact at all. And so it happened that Joseph contracted coxsackievirus probably from the swimming pool (I’ve never even heard this strange name before, but as we found out it’s very common childhood virus in i.e. USA, Canada, and also in Dominican Republic). Generally it’s not dangerous, usually in first 2 days baby has fever and then spots appear, similar as in chicken pox. Fortunately in our case it was quick and mild, but as soon as Joseph was fine, Lily got ear infection, so our main attraction in the first week were visits to the hospital, finalised with a 1000£ bill, just for 2 standard visits to get prescriptions for antibiotics, ear drops and fever reducing suppositories. Just to put it into perspective, it’s an equivalent of 10 months worth of average Dominican wage. Prices for tourists in private hospitals are absolutely insane, so good travel insurance is and absolute must. We had to pay with our own money, after we get back and provide all the necessary papers and make a claim, we’ll get the money back. That’s the way it works so it’s important to put some money aside for these kind of emergency situations (remember to keep all the receipts, even from taxi drivers, to get back all the money you spent).
Limited sightseeing and number of excursions
Most of the tour operators won’t have anything against traveling with babies, they are even allowed on Saona island tour, which involves speedboats, catamarans and spending the whole day in full sun. Considering the above, and also reviews saying that this trip although wonderful for grown ups is a real torture for babies we decided to split. One of us stayed at the hotel with Joseph and the other went with Lily. And this kind of excursion model we have implemented for the whole holiday, and anyway we did that before and it works really well for us. Those on the trip can relax and make the most of it, the baby is having a good time as well and can have a nap in a pleasantly cool room whenever he wants. Besides if I took him for that trip I’m afraid I might have needed the therapy after, so really splitting and taking turns in exploring is a win win 🙂
What to take
Apart from obvious things like summer clothes, sun hats and swimming costumes (preferably with long sleeves and UV filters) also might come handy:
- Mosquito repellent (must contain deet, otherwise is not effective), in the evening there were quite many of them
- Bites and itching relief product, i.e. hydrocortisone or antihistamine cream
- Calpol or ibuprofen based syrup
- Mosquito net for the buggy – useful for evening strolls
- Sunshade for the buggy, whether it’s umbrella, parasol, or other sunshade you like (and let me know which one it is because I haven’t found anything that works so far!)
- Silicone or other easy to wash bib
- Baby food, if it’s something you normally feed your baby; bear in mind that regular city shops and supermarkets are far away from the resorts and hotels in Punta Cana, and anyway the choice of baby food might be limited (we only found one kind of chicken meal, and that’s what Joseph had been eating for 2 weeks), and there was only pinapple puree available in the hotel shop, and it had sugar in its content, so the bottom line is: just take what your baby likes from home, sachets are better option then jars because they are much lighter. Pretty much everything else from nappies, wet wipes, sun creams, medicines, even antibiotics you can buy in the hotel shop.
I didn’t use my baby carrier once, it was so hot that baby stuck to my body and being warmed up by the carrier’s fabrics would most likely boil in no time. Also almost all Joseph’s clothes came back untouched, as he was wearing just nappy for most of the holiday 🙂 I should have taken just a few of his t shirts, would definitely saved some space in our luggage, which we never, just never have enough, no matter how many suitcases we take 🙂
So how exactly is it possible not to loose your mind given all the above? Well first of all you need to think thoroughly about all those aspects, because they are real, and there is a fair chance they will happen. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the hardship and if this scenario is too scary, it’s best to go somewhere closer, after all you can fly far away a bit later, the world will wait 🙂 By all means I didn’t want to discourage anyone from traveling wit baby, as I do it myself, just wanted to give you the honest picture and describe what it’s really like. No, it wasn’t easy, but despite all the minuses it didn’t put me off from traveling with my baby, and I think it’s really worth it. You just need to be well organised and prepared, and if you just follow your intuition and use common sense I’m sure everything will be just fine 🙂