Baby got backpack

Writer and daughter in Ho Chi Minh city.
Writer and daughter in Ho Chi Minh city. 

Dummy: check. Vegemite: check. Belinda Jackson learns the art of travelling plus one.

Last month, I travelled to Vietnam for work with a 17-month-old in tow. Newsflash: we survived.

In the years before my family went from two members to three, I'd swirled the waters of the Ganges in India, galloped with gauchos through Chilean Patagonia, camped in the western deserts of Egypt, and trekked the Kashmiri Himalayas.

In contrast, my first work trip with baby Yasmine was to the kids' paradise of Fiji, when she was five months old. "Come and do a story about our nannies," the Outrigger hotel offered. Of course, say "nanny" to a woman who hasn't slept more than four hours at a stretch for the past five months and she'll jog to Fiji.

Apart from the bonus of babies being so portable - and, for the first nine or so months, staying put when you put them down - babies travel free on domestic and some short-haul international routes. You then pay up to 25 per cent of the adult fare, before jumping to a hefty 75 per cent once they're aged two. And if that ain't an incentive to go directly from the delivery ward to departure gate, I don't know what is.

Chi-chi hotel rooms have given way to apart-hotels, such as Oaks and Mantra, which can be as compact as the tiniest hotel room, but with a kitchenette and sometimes a washing machine squeezed in. This saves 100 calls to housekeeping for more milk, to warm up food, and could they please send a cleaner to gouge yoghurt from the crevices of the linen-covered sofa.

Our worst places for dropped dummies include Hanoi's wet fish market and on the toilet floor of a plane

I have joined the ranks of Australians who travel with a tube of Vegemite for a convenient, vitamin-packed sandwich. And I have learnt the importance of spare dummies: our worst places for dropped dummies include Hanoi's wet fish market and on the toilet floor of a plane hovering over Indonesia.

Previously, I'd seen baby bassinets only from the other side of the bulkhead but I'm now a firm fan. Their capacity ranges from 10kg up to 18kg babies (though not all planes have them, as I recently learnt while booking a flight with Virgin Australia back to Bali). And night flights are ideal - unless someone else's child chooses to spend the evening shrieking (never have I seen so many bottles of baby Nurofen and Panadol emerge so swiftly from handbags throughout the cabin).

I have to add the coda that I've been incredibly lucky to have a healthy baby who learnt from a very young age to sleep in the car, on a sofa, in helicopters and in the noisiest restaurants beside the wok station.

And I'm travelling with only one. I doubt it would be so simple with two, or three.


However, hope springs eternal: last week, I spotted a woman at Tullamarine airport calmly navigating the crowds with four children under eight. Nobody was crying and everyone was carrying their own luggage, save the toddler in the stroller. Woman, I salute you.

I'm now at the stage where Yasmine is walking, yet without the facility to reason or bargain with. Will it get easier? I don't know. But life is a journey, and each journey is unique. And that's what keeps me (or rather, us) travelling.

Family-friendly travel tips

For most Australians, the pinnacle of baby-friendly destinations is Fiji, which trades on its affinity with children. Bali is getting in on the act, with its beautiful villas and armies of nannies, but deliciously wallet-friendly Vietnam is a close contender.

 Asia is far more patient with children than Western countries, though without the safety barriers we enjoy, which means no pool fences. Rooftop bars are also dicey propositions.

Pavements are generally non-existent in Asia, so baby carriers make more sense than prams. And Asian nannies tend to learn their skills through experience with their own children or siblings, rather than a TAFE course; make of that what you will.

 The Baby Jogger City Mini pram pulls shut with one hand and weighs just 8kg. Infants can be tucked in and carried on with the excellent Phil & Ted's Explorer cocoon, and I truck Yasmine around in an Ergobaby carrier.

Essential packing items: a dummy cord that connects pacifier to progeny, and a large scarf for modest breastfeeding that doubles as a handy wrap during cold flights, emergency towel, sunshade ...

Feeding the baby (bottle, breast, snacks) on takeoff and landing helps their ears "pop". Sucking on a dummy also helps.

Baby food tubes (Rafferty's Garden, Heinz and so on) are unsmashable and give kids a taste of home, such as spag bol. Squirt over rice or pasta for a bigger meal.


Thinking about going away with your family? Join the discussion in the Essential Baby travel forum for tips, advice and inspiration.