By Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel

My daughter was 11-months-old when we took our first family vacation to Cuba. At first I was overwhelmed with the thought of bottles, formula, jars and bibs taking up all of our luggage allowance and all of my time while supposedly on holiday. However, like all good vacationers at an All-Inclusive resort, she came home a few pounds heavier!  All my worrying was for naught but my organization wasn’t.  If you prepare well, you will be fine – and it will be no more difficult than feeding at home, except hopefully you’ll be sipping a well-earned cocktail!

If your baby is still exclusively breastfeeding…

If your baby is still exclusively breastfeeding, you might want to re-think the cocktail (or at least the number you consume!) but essentially, so long as you’re there, the baby can eat!

Having said that, there are still a number of things you need to make sure of:

  • Make sure you are properly hydrated, especially if your holiday destination is hot!  If you need extra fluids, chances are your baby will too – offer extra feeds if necessary.  If the water supply is even remotely suspect – stick to bottled water and refuse ice cubes.  A worrywart like me might use bottled water to rinse herself after bathing – but that’s just me…
  • Make sure you don’t overdo it.  Hike up that pyramid or down that steep trail on a future getaway.  Take this holiday at a slower pace with lovely walks and easygoing sightseeing – along with lots of naps and rests.  Your energy level (and your milk supply) will thank you.
  • Make sure you eat properly.  If your destination requires that you be cautious with food – heed that caution.  The old saying from the Peace Corps is  “if you can’t peel it or heat it, don’t eat it.”  There’s no need to be uptight, but stick to foods that you know your system likes.  You can try that road-side taco stand on your next trip to Mexico!

I chose to wait until my daughter was finished nursing before traveling with her, simply because there was no swimsuit known to man that could possibly contain me.  Having said that, if you’re up for it when your baby is still really small and portable, it’s probably the least complicated time to get away.

If your baby takes bottles (or is exclusively bottle-fed)…

Here is where things start to get a little more complicated – but no more so than bottle- feeding at home.  Gear starts to become necessary at this stage – as does choosing accommodation that will make your life easier…

  • Find out if where you’re staying has a kitchen or a kitchenette – if it does, book it!  You definitely need a mini-fridge at this stage and a microwave would be super-handy as well.  If you do have access to a microwave, bring along one of those microwavable- sterilizers – a quick once-through once a day will keep all your bottles, nipples, pacifiers and other sterilizable things sterile.  Now they also sell bags to sterilize in the microwave as well.  If the place has a kettle, or a stove and a pan, you could just use that for boiling water but it isn’t as easy. If it’s just a plain old hotel room with a fridge – never fear!  So long as you have a sink and bring along a kettle (check for voltage issues) you can sterilize your stuff.
  • If your baby takes the bottles with the plastic drop-in – you’ll have even less sterilizing to worry about.  Now might be the time to introduce those bottles!  Also, now might be the time to introduce formula or breast-milk from the bottle at room temperature.  If your baby is already used to it, you don’t have the worry or bother of heating bottles.  This made giving our baby’s bottle very easy, as we just opened a fresh bottle of water to mix her formula.  Make sure the bottled water has less than 20mg of Sodium per litre.
  • If you are 100% sure that you can get the same brand of formula that your baby takes at your destination, than maybe you can get away with bringing enough for a few days.  If you’re not, than bring enough for the duration of your trip + a little extra, just in case.  Separate it among all of your luggage, so if one bag does end up lost, it’s not the one with ALL the baby’s formula.  That tip applies to all the baby supplies, actually.
  • Remember to pack a little bottle of dish soap, even if your accommodation says they supply it.  We let our bottles and nipples air dry on a clean towel.
  • If you’re bringing a breast pump, make sure there will be no voltage issues at your destination and all the sterilizing information above applies to the pump components as well.  When I was pumping, some told me that I didn’t need to sterilize my breast pump parts, but I did anyway.

If your baby is on solids…

Starting solids is a big deal!  That said, the amount they actually eat at first isn’t very much so you could likely get away with bringing a few jars and a box of cereal.  Don’t forget a few bowls and spoons, as well as a wipeable bib or ten.  While you’re away from home, though, I wouldn’t introduce a new food.

If your baby is solidly on solids, than your luggage will get a whole lot heavier.  Cereal is a great staple and is nutritionally sound, so bring a couple of boxes in different varieties. It’s easy to mix with bottled water.  If you’re certain that you can buy quality jars of baby food at your destination, just bring along a few favourites that you know your baby will eat.  Some restaurants and resorts will be happy to puree some vegetables or fruit for you, but make sure they don’t add salt or any other flavorings.  If baby is already into finger foods, here is where a buffet becomes your friend, as there is always plenty of bread, well-cooked pasta, and other soft things they can feed themselves.  Again, I wouldn’t introduce anything new.

My daughter was eating lots of table food when we went to Cuba, and feeding her from the buffet couldn’t have been easier.  I’m not really a foodie, so I didn’t mind the food for myself, either.  She absolutely loved the ham & cheese toasties from the snack bar at the hotel, as well as the peas cooked in way more butter than Mommy ever would!  I packed a meal per day of something I knew she’d eat, 2 boxes of cereal, a box of crackers, and some pureed fruit in the little plastic cups with foil lids.  I was worried the cups would explode in our luggage so I put them in a large Tupperware.  They didn’t explode and the Tupperware came in handy to hold all the feeding stuff that needed washing at the end of the day.  I also packed some small Ziplocs and containers to hold snacks and leftovers from the buffet.  They came in handy for us as well as her!  We also brought along some inexpensive sippy cups for her water, and I washed those at night as well.  Families with toddlers we met there said their little ones were just fine drinking the local milk.

A couple more things… if you’re not sure that the restaurants you’ll be eating at will have highchairs, your stroller will do in a pinch (ie – it’s handy to bring a stroller!).  You can buy portable high chairs, but that’s one more thing you’ll have to bring.  There are little cloth wraps that you can use to help support bub on a regular chair, but you can’t be sure the restaurants will have chairs stable enough.  Bring a stroller, even if it’s just a cheapie umbrella one.  If you’re worried about overweight charges for your luggage, there are companies out there that will ship all your pre-selected supplies to your hotel.  Just compare the possible overage fees to the cost of using such a company.

But what about allergies?

We are very fortunate not to have food allergies in either of our families, but I was still very cautious when it came to introducing (possibly) troublesome foods to my daughter.  Imagine my inner-panic when I noticed that the (what I thought was) pasta and tomato sauce my daughter had greedily consumed by handfuls actually had mussels in it.  We were lucky because she was fine.  That said, I would never have knowingly taken that risk and have been EXTRA careful as a result.  I also caution that away from home is not the time to introduce new foods – you just never know and why take a chance?  Be sure to pack some baby antihistamine, just to be safe.

If you know your baby has allergies, fear not – you can still go away!  You just have to be as vigilant on the road as you are at home.  Bring essentials with you, unless you know for certain that you can buy your special formula, soy milk, goat milk or other necessities at your destination.  For travel, you can buy the various milks in sealed containers that don’t require refrigeration until opened – heavy, but worth it.  If English isn’t widely spoken where you’re going, and you don’t speak the language, learn a couple of key phrases explaining the allergy and emphasizing the importance of your situation.  You can also write or buy cards with this information as well.

Get Packing!

Your entourage has grown, your pile of bags is bigger, but you can still enjoy a vacation with your baby or toddler!  There’s a little more work involved, but what’s a few bottles to wash when you’re on holiday?!  The thought of feeding my baby truly did stress me out before we went.  Because it was so much easier than I thought it would be, I want to encourage every family to enjoy a getaway together, because you all deserve it!

Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel – tips on trips for moms by moms (& dads too!)  Featuring destinations from around the world, Have Baby Will Travelis the Internet’s only database of hotel reviews and trip reports for parents by parents.