Category Archives: General

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

The scream (General)

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The title of this blog does not have any relation to the painting by Edvard Munch, but to the noise we have to endure everyday from ‘the boy’.

After almost six months on the road ‘the boy’ is taking a stand. He no longer welcomes the attention he receives from complete strangers, and after months of accepting the constant cheek pinching, touching, kissing and hugging, he’s finally had enough and boy do we know about it.

How do we know he’s not happy? Easy. His reaction to any unwanted attention is simple. Scream as loudly as possible in the direction of the perpetrator and if that fails, kick! He may look cute, but once the scream is released, the cheek pinching soon stops.

Alf-o-rama is no longer welcome, unless of course it’s on his terms.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

I may look sweet, but I've got a scary scream!

 

 

 

Road safety Sue (General)

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A former boyfriend from my early twenties gave me the nickname ‘road safety Sue’ due to the fact that it didn’t matter how drunk I was, or my fellow party-goers, I was always insistent that every passenger wore their seatbelt on the taxi journey home.

On occasion my husband still uses the nickname, usually if I’m midway giving him annoying (according to him) tips on choosing the safest seat on an aeroplane, or the fact that in a head on collision you’re better off sitting in a backward facing seat on a train rather than a forward facing one.  In fact, before we’d made the decision to come travelling to SE Asia, I’d been busy researching the safest car seat to buy for ‘the boy’ and after some thorough investigation had decided that it was safest to keep him in a rear facing seat until the age of four.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A local bus in Borneo, Malaysia. One of the first of many buses on our trip.

And then we decided that we would backpack around SE Asia.  SE Asia, where seeing five family members balanced upon one motorbike is ‘normal’, where crash helmets are a rarity and seatbelts, well what are they?

As you can imagine this was a huge problem for me. When you’re travelling and make a decision to get on a battered old bus or into a taxi then you’re making your own choices. When you have a baby with you, you’re making a decision on their behalf and you feel very responsible for every journey and every mode of transport that you choose.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A sedate horse and cart ride in Yogyakarta, Java

Initially, getting into a taxi and holding ‘the boy’ on my lap felt very alien, but over the last five months it’s become less strange, but of course, ‘Road Safety Sue’ still has some travel rules including:

  • No standing up on our lap in cars or taxis
  • In local minibuses we wear the wriggle band to keep ‘the boy’ secure and allow us to be hands free
  • We never sit on the front or back rows of seats on buses / coaches preferring to sit in the middle.
  • We try and sit on the opposite side to the driver on buses / coaches
  • No motorbikes! (We’ve been offered many rides, but refuse every time)
  • For longer distance taxi journeys we try to choose a driver aged 35-55.

The last rule may sound like a strange one, but we’ve found that younger drivers tend to drive faster, more erratically and are a bit more daring with their overtaking. And after our experience of a few older drivers in Borneo, who either couldn’t remember which side of the road they should have been on after overtaking (slightly worrying), or had no idea how to use the controls properly, we plump for the ‘mid range’ every time.  Drivers between the ages of 35 and 55 often have a family of their own and therefore, (well most of the time) tend to be more careful when driving.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' asleep on my lap in a local minibus in Vietnam

Although certain vehicles and journeys still make me nervous, I realise that if you don’t embrace Asia and its travel differences, then we could never have experienced what we have.

To date we’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles on the following modes of transport:

11 planes, 59 taxis, 9 cars, 22 buses, 16 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 journeys on the MRT, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 2 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 12 journeys on the sky train, 5 journeys on the underground, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 USA jeep, 2 tug boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 sontows and 1 elephant…

… And we’ve survived to tell the tale.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' relaxes on the deck of a small boat on the Mekong river

Top tip of the day:
Don’t be afraid to tell your driver to take it slowly if they’re driving faster than you’re comfortable with. Although this isn’t feasible on all modes of transport, such as a bus, we always requested that the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, who often drive at high speed, take it steady as we had a baby on board.
On occasion we’ve had to instruct the taxi driver to stop so that we can try and communicate that he needs to slow down. As Road Safety Sue would say, ‘better safe than sorry’.

JACKPOT! (General)

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On August 11th 2011 we left the fresh air and beautiful countryside of Wales to set off on an adventure in SE Asia. Our belongings, all packed carefully into a storage container and labelled either ‘shipping’ or ‘storage’, await our return.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - leaving Wales

Leaving Wales on August 11th 2011 with 'the boy' - our eleven month old baby

After living in Wales for eighteen months post a period of living and working in Mumbai, India, we realised that the job opportunities that we are both experienced in and would satisfy us long term did not exist. We were faced with a choice; move back to London where the bulk of UK media jobs are based or take a risk and head off to Asia for a life changing adventure. I’m happy to say that we chose the latter and the risk has paid off.

After two months of travelling it was time to get our heads in gear for the little challenge ahead, to find a job! We both had an interesting meeting with a London contact who is now the CEO of a media company in Singapore. It threw up a few interesting avenues to investigate for both my hubby and I, but we decided to hold off contacting the recommended agencies until my hubby had met with a company he had arranged to see in Kuala Lumpur, five days later.

His meeting went well, so well in fact that they invited him back two days later to discuss the opportunity in more detail.  The morning of his second meeting we were so excited. I walked around the city centre with ‘the boy’ for a couple of hours trying to imagine what it would be like to live in Kuala Lumpur. Could this become a reality? Would the risk of leaving everything behind with no income between us pay off?

Four hours later he returned with a huge grin on his face. He’d done it. He’d been offered a job and not just any job, a Director level job with huge scope. We were so excited but decided to put the celebrations on hold until the contract had been signed and sealed by both parties. Two months of final negotiations were fringed with nervous anticipation as to whether the opportunity would become a reality. It has.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - leaving Wales

Kuala lumpur by night

The new job commences on March 1st giving us enough time to continue our travels around Cambodia and Vietnam, visit our family and friends in the UK, before shipping our possessions and our life to Asia (again).

Are we nervous? Yes of course. Will we miss our family and friends? Yes hugely so, but with technological developments and travel being so much easier these days the world feels like a smaller place than it did even ten years ago.

We join our growing number of friends who have made the leap to move abroad. In the last few years we’ve had friends from London who now live in San Francisco, Boston, Texas, Vancouver, Argentina, Auckland, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane. Friends we made in Mumbai, India who now live in Singapore, Bangkok, Washington and Melbourne, and friends we both made independently whilst travelling in Australia who now live in Papa New Guinea, Kathmandu and the Sunshine coast, Australia.  It’s a global network of friends that continues to grow and now we’re a part of.

In short, the risk’s paid off and we’ve been lucky and hit the jackpot.

 

 

Backpacking with a baby – tips on what to pack (General)

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When we originally left the UK over four months ago, our backpacks carefully packed, we were unsure whether we had the essential baby items we would need for our long-term adventure ahead (original list of baby items packed).

In the last few months we’ve covered thousands of miles by air, boat, train and road. We’ve travelled across Tioman islands, Singapore, Borneo, Java, Bali, mainland Malaysia, Thailand and are currently en route to Cambodia, which will be followed by a month in Vietnam.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to take

4 months into our adventure and we’ve travelled thousands of miles

We’ve climbed volcanoes, hiked up hills, trekked through jungles, canoed down rivers, ridden on the back of elephants, spotted orangutans swinging from the forest trees, fed monkeys, cycled around beautiful temples, slept in wooden huts and swam in tropical seas, all with our baby by our side.

Backpacking on a budget with a baby has its challenges, but I’m confident that we now have the experience to know what key items to pack when travelling with a baby.

These are my recommendations based on personal experience of travelling around SE Asia:

Ergobaby sling.
Before leaving the UK I researched many types of baby sling to find something that would be suit our adventure ahead. I finally chose the ergobaby sling and I have not been disappointed.

The ergobaby sling can be used to carry your baby on your front or back and the ergonomic design of the sling means that it’s beneficial to both you and your baby.  My husband and I both find it extremely comfortable to wear and our baby seems to enjoy being in it as he often falls asleep so we regularly use the sleeping hood that supports his head and neck.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to take

Our ergobaby sling is an essential item in our backpack

The ergobaby sling has given us the freedom to have unique adventures as a family. Amongst others we’ve climbed the Ijen Crater and Mount Bromo in Indonesia, hiked up the hillside in Tha Thon, Northern Thailand to visit the beautiful Buddhist temples, trekked in Borneo and we’re about to head to Cambodia where we’re going to be staying in a treehouse on an otherwise uninhabited island where the sling will give us the opportunity to explore the terrain. The ergobaby has already been a big part of our adventure and will remain a big part over the next few months.

Key benefits – comfortable for both baby and carrier (mum and dad), adjustable sleeping hood, lightweight, machine washable.

Phil and Teds Wriggle Wrapper:
A couple of friends bought us a wriggle wrapper a few weeks before we left the UK and I cannot praise it highly enough – we use it at least twice a day.

The Wriggle Wrapper has 3 functions:

  1. Secures a child safely to a chair so can be used in place of a high chair (ideal in Asia where high chairs are not always available)
  2. Secures a child to your lap so you can have your hands free.
  3. Can also be used as a secure sleep support on a single bed when your baby is small.
Backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to take

Our well travelled Wriggle Wrapper

It’s lightweight, folds up into a small pouch and we carry it with us everyday in the daypack.

We’ve found the Wriggle wrapper most useful on the many interesting modes of transport we’ve been using across SE Asia. We can securely attach him to our lap when we’re on small boats, speedboats, tuk tuks and even elephants. He’s become used to the secure feeling it gives him and once he’s clipped in he relaxes and often falls asleep.

  • Key benefits – lightweight, compact, washable fabric, adaptable

Maclaren buggy – Quest
The very few articles I could find on backpacking with a baby recommended not to take a buggy travelling, but I cannot disagree more. I would highly recommend taking a buggy, particularly as there is no additional baggage cost on flights.

When you’re on a long-term trip and carrying 2 x large backpacks and 2 x daypacks (one on-your front, one on your back), it would be extremely difficult to also carry your child.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to take

From beach to city to hillside in the Maclaren Quest

The buggy allows you to carry your luggage and move around easily – imperative when you’re moving from location to location on a regular basis and need to carry your belongings between transport hubs.

During days out, predominantly in urban areas, the buggy which has a reclining back, proves comfortable enough for our baby to have a morning or afternoon snooze and coupled with the Koo-di sun hood (see below), we know that he is safe from harmful rays.

It’s also good to know that we have something safe to strap him into in places where it’s not suitable for him to be running around freely.

  • Key benefits – lightweight, easy to carry when folded, reclines for comfortable snoozing, secure.

Kidco Peapod travel cot:

***PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS TRAVEL COT HAS BEEN RECALLED DUE TO SAFETY ISSUES (SEE LINK BELOW). DO NOT BUY OR USE***

http://www.hlntv.com/article/2012/11/19/peapod-travel-tent-baby-recall

The Kidco Peapod travel cot was a late addition to our backpack (click here to read my earlier blog post entitled ‘the Kidco Peapod joins our adventure’) but in the short time that we’ve had it it’s already proven its worth.

The Kidco Peapod was one of the few travel cots that I could find that is both compact AND lightweight so it’s ideal for backpacking. It fits comfortably into my rucksack, takes seconds to erect (and only a few minutes to pack away) and weighs just over 2kg.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

The Kidco Peapod gives us total freedom when we’re backpacking

The built-in mosquito net keeps our baby safe from the hungry beasts and the breathable fabric means he doesn’t overheat in the night. It also offers UV protection so can be used outdoors too – ideal for day-trips to the beach.

The model we have purchased lasts until he’s circa 3 years old so hopefully we’ll get plenty more use out of it over the next couple of years.

  • Key benefits – compact, lightweight, simple to erect, insect proof, breathable fabric

Koo-di UV buggy hood
One of our main concerns about travelling around SE Asia with our baby was how to keep him safe from the suns harmful rays. The Koo-di UV buggy hood is something we use everyday and comes highly recommended as it protects your child by blocking out 93% of all harmful UVA & UVB rays.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Safe in in the sun for your little one with the Koo-di sun protection shade

It’s very easy to fit, is a universal size so fits most buggies / pushchairs and once folded takes up very little room in our daypack. When out and about it helps our baby to snooze as it keeps the bright sunshine out of his eyes and we’ve also used it in the evening as a blackout blind to help him sleep.

  • Key benefits – blocks 93% of harmful rays, machine washable, easy to fit, universal size.

Other essential items:

In addition to the 5 items above we’ve the following to be very useful:

Mosquito net:
Designed to fit over most cots and buggies this has been incredibly useful for two reasons. 1) It keeps you baby safe from mosquitoes 2) it creates a barrier between your baby and others giving them a break from the regular touching and pinching. This is particularly useful when your baby’s trying to nap.

Airtight plastic pot (1.4 litres capacity):
I highly recommend taking a good quality airtight container to keep your baby’s milk powder in. The majority of milk powder sold in Asia comes in a 600g bag within a box or a pouch. Ants love the milk powder, but the airtight container has so far succeeded in keeping even the smallest of ants out.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Airtight plastic container for holding milk powder – 1.4 litre capacity is ideal

Dish washing sponge:
Many guesthouses and hostels allow you to use their kitchen facilities but I’ve found that many had filthy cleaning cloths that I wasn’t happy using to clean our baby’s bottles. I bought a sponge that I keep in a small resealable bag.

Bag clips:
I’ve got 2 of these clips with me and they have proven to be very handy for when we’ve bought food products that need be kept airtight. It keeps the food fresh on the inside and keeps the insects outside.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Bag clips are useful for keeping food fresh on the go

Small airtight container:
We bought one of these to take away, but I would recommend taking two the same size so that they fit one inside the other. If we’re staying somewhere where we have access to a fridge then we use our pot to store leftover food for our baby.  It allows us to buy one portion of food that will last for 2 plus meals.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Food on the go. One dish = two meals

Stacking cups:
We only brought a handful of toys with us, but this has proven to be the most versatile and one that even 4 months on he loves to play with.
As well as building towers we use them in the shower, the sea, to build sandcastles and we are now using them to teach him colours. For the hours of pleasure he gets from them they take up very little room in the rucksack.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Hours of entertainment are had with our well used stacking cups

Calpol sachets:
Although similar products are available across in Asia in bottles, I have been unable to find sachets. Sachets are perfect for taking out with you in your daypack as they’re light and small. I would recommend using the bottled local products during the evenings and only using the sachets when you’re out and about.

Baby change mat (all in one)
Apart from in new shopping malls in the large cities, baby change facilities leave a lot to be desired. Our baby change mat carries nappy bags, nappies and wipes and rolls up small enough to fit in the daypack. When on the move it’s very handy for changing your baby anywhere.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Changing mat, wipes, nappies and nappy bags all within one easy to carry pouch

Space saver packing device:
This ingenious waterproof packing device compresses its contents so that it takes up very little room in your backpack. We use ours for our baby’s clothes. Once compressed his entire wardrobe fits into a space circa 28cm x 20cm, which fits comfortably into the bottom section of my rucksack.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia what to pack

Compresses your baby’s clothes for easy packing

Walking straps / reins:
Now that our baby is toddling around our walking straps are proving to be very useful. However, we’ve used them regularly since we arrived in Asia to secure our baby into cafe high chairs. The majority of high chairs that we have used in Asia either don’t come with straps, or the straps are missing. The harness allows you to secure your baby safely into the high chair so that they can’t stand up or attempt to escape when your back is turned!

Unwanted baby items

These are some of the items that I thought I would need but have discarded along the way.

Baby bowl:
I brought a baby bowl with me, but discarded it after one month as I never used it. If needed, the small plastic airtight pot can double up as a baby bowl.

Ring sling:
I had planned to use the ergobaby sling for the hikes and more intense walking trips and packed a simple ring sling to use for smaller periods of time in towns and cities. Both my husband and I found the ergobaby far more comfortable to use and therefore we left the ring sling with our friends in Singapore.

Re-usable nappies:
I was worried that in some places I would be unable to find disposable nappies so I packed two re-usable nappies to use in emergencies. Although we haven’t always followed the main tourist routes we have always managed to find nappies so the re-usable ones were unnecessary.

Baby clothing:
If your baby’s crawling then they will get very dirty very quickly so I recommend packing the quantities I did at the start of our trip (click here to see the original packing list). However, once they’re walking you can reduce the number of items considerably, particularly as laundry is so inexpensive in SE Asia and the turnaround times are fast (within 24 hours is standard, but an express wash & dry can take as little as 3 hours).

Sterilising tablets – don’t overpack:
Hygiene was a concern before we left, particularly how we would keep our baby’s bottles clean and sterilised. I packed over 150 x Milton sterilising tablets, but I now realise this was too many as we haven’t even used one.  Boiling water has been available in most places we have stayed and when it’s not local cafes have kindly provided boiling water for his bottles. I have disposed of all but 10 x sterilising tablets.

Further information
If you’re planning a trip or have any questions please feel free to drop me a line on the ‘comments’ section and I will reply as soon as I’m in an area with wifi.

Family photo update (General)

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Although more than a week has passed (time is flying by), I thought I would check in with an update on our little challenge of trying to capture all three of us in one photograph (‘Just the three of us’)

I’m pleased to say that progress has been made and we have increased our family photos from 4 locations in the first 3 ½ months to 2 locations and 3 photographs in the week that followed.  An improvement indeed!

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Outside Ban Thai Guesthouse, Sukhothai

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Leaving Ban Thai guesthouse on a dubious looking tuk tuk

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A family shot at The Palace in Bangkok

Just the three of us… (General)

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One of the main benefits of our adventure is having quality time together as a family.

When ‘the boy’ first arrived, my husband (who had recently started a new job), was only able to take a weeks paternity leave, thus prior to leaving the UK quality time together was limited to weekends and the odd holiday.

Over the past few months care of ‘the boy’ has been equally shared.  Pushing the buggy, carrying him in the sling, changing nappies, attending to him in the night when he’s distressed & teething, preparing food, feeding and organising his bottles.  My role as mum has been halved and my other half has got to experience first hand how intense it can sometimes be spending 24/7 with a baby.

Over the past months my hubby has been lucky enough to experience his first steps (which I missed), his first few words and many new actions.

Although we’re together 24/7 and spending the majority of our time in one room can be tough at times, the shared responsibility means that unlike at home, either of us can take a break at a moments notice to write a blog post, take a walk or have a massage. We’re also getting used to making the most of his naptimes. Only yesterday we managed to have an hour-long foot massage together whilst ‘the boy’ slept contentedly in his buggy. Grabbing little snippets of time together as a couple, although far and few between, are really important and cherished.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Proof that we are altogether: Borneo, Thailand and Indonesia

However, although we’re together all the time you would not believe it if you saw our many thousands of photos. The downside of having a hubby who’s a keen photographer is that he’s always behind the camera, rarely in front of it. Unlike other couples or families who hand their camera over to a fellow tourist to take a quick snapshot of the family group, we don’t.  Although not a super flash camera, his SLR doesn’t lend itself to getting passed to a stranger to take a quick shot that will be good enough to make it into the final cut. In fact we have thousands of beautiful photographs to document our trip, but I can count on one hand how many locations we’ve been to and have a family photo to prove it. Not many at all.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sarah Stone Photography - our favourite family shot

The last time we had some family photos taken that passed my husband’s perfectionist eye was when ‘the boy’ was in his first week of life.  A very talented lady named Sarah Stone came round to the house and took the most beautiful family photographs and some unique baby shots that we will treasure forever. If you’re not familiar with her work then take a look (Sarah Stone Photography).

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sarah Stone Photography - our treasured shots

So the challenge is on. Can we document that we were all in the same place at the same time everyday for the next week? (We’ll take it one step at a time!)

I’ll feedback next week….

Top tip of the day:
Does your baby have a nap schedule that you can utilise to your advantage? As much as we can we’re trying to make the most of our baby’s afternoon sleeps, whether it be a drink in a café, a massage or to catch up on some shut eye ourselves.