Our original intention when we first started the Baby's Got Backpack blog was to recount our travel challenges and advice as new parents. While its taken longer than expected, we finally have our own little one on the way! In what we hope will now be the blog's ongoing theme, we offer the following spectacular guest post by Josée Hunter, who was kind enough to provide her best travel advice learned on her recent trip to Jamaica with her 14 month old daughter Zoe and family! Enjoy!
Our first day at the resort. Enjoying the view of Sunset Cove at the Grand Palladium Jamaica in Lucea.
We travelled to Lucea, Jamaica from January 7th to the 14th. Travelling with us were my in-laws, including my husband's sister. I must admit that we were not able to relax and unwind as much as we would have had my husband, Cory, and I been travelling by ourselves, but we knew what we had signed ourselves up for. This was meant to be a family trip - as well as our 14 month old daughter, Zoe's first trip down south - so our goal was to have as much fun in the sun as possible. I think it's important to have that mind set when you are travelling with a one year old. Don't expect to be worshipping the sun for hours on end and reading a novel from cover to cover because your toddler will likely have a different agenda. That being said, we had a great time and Zoe seemed to really enjoy herself. It also helped that we had brought our own personal babysitters along for the trip, so Cory and I were able to sneak away for a few hours at a time and even enjoy a romantic evening by ourselves.
Here are some tips that I can share based on our experience.
As you may recall from the news reports, January 7th was not the greatest day for travel to and from Canada as the weather caused a lot of flight delays and cancellations. Thankfully our flight from Montreal was not cancelled, however we did experience a 6 and a half hour delay. This meant spending the majority of the day in an airport terminal with a baby that had been up since 5:00 am. What saved us was having packed enough meals for Zoe to get her through the day, including lots of snacks, as well as a good travel stroller for her to nap in while we waited to board our flight (more on this later).
Our little traveller lounging in her stroller at the Montreal airport as we wait to board our flight.
Our 4.5 hour WestJet flight finally departed around 6:00 pm, an hour before Zoe's usual bedtime (you can imagine where I'm going with this). As Zoe is under two, we were not required to purchase a separate seat for her. We opted to have her sit on our lap for the duration of the flight. The 6 of us were seated in row 8, which is approximately half way down the aisle. The first few hours of the flight went smoothly: we fed Zoe her dinner, read her some books, coloured with crayons, walked up and down the aisle and visited grandma and grampa across the aisle. Once the tiredness set in, she got fussy and no longer wanted to be sitting still on our lap. She just wanted to crawl around and be free - and who could blame her! Needless to say there were many tears and we got some looks from fellow passengers, although most of them were sympathetic. Eventually we gave in and let her crawl around at our feet on a blanket that we layed out on the floor. She was happy doing that for the most part, but eventually grew tired of that too. She did fall asleep in Cory's arms after protesting some more, just in time for our descent into Jamaica (sigh).
Lesson learned. For the return flight we splurged and paid the extra $45 per seat to sit in the first row of the airplane. The extra leg room alone made it worth the cost, however we were not aware that the price would also include complimentary meals, snacks and alcohol (bonus!). Zoe was happy to play on a blanket on the floor with her toys scattered around her for the entire duration of the flight with the exception of takeoff and landing, of course, when she was required to be on our lap. This made the return flight much more enjoyable for the whole family and the other passengers on the flight.
Flying with WestJet, we were allowed to check in our car seat and stroller free of charge in addition to our alloted one piece of luggage each. We were also able to bring a diaper bag on board the flight in addition to our carry on luggage.
The car seat debate
One of the biggest debates we were struggling with before our trip was whether or not to bring a car seat for the transfer between the airport and the resort in Jamaica. I've heard from people who said it wasn't worth bringing one, but in the end we decided we had nothing to lose by bringing it as we could check it in at no extra cost. Cory had called the transfer company in advance to confirm that their vehicles would accommodate car seats. In the end we were grateful for having it as the resort was a 45 minute drive from the airport and our flight only landed at 10:30 pm, which meant that Zoe was able to sleep comfortably in her car seat until we arrived at the resort. My advice would be to check the transportation safety regulations for the country you are visiting, and to try to follow Canada's transportation safety regulations as closely as possible regardless of where you are travelling. For the record, children are required to use baby seats in Jamaica too.
Although most baby-friendly resorts will provide a crib upon request, depending on their availability, we opted to bring our own Pack-and-Play so that Zoe would have a familiar bed to sleep in, in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. We managed to squeeze the Pack-and-Play into one of our large suitcases with all of the other baby gear. The other suitcase contained all of our clothing.
We've heard some stories of hotel cribs squeeking from even the slightest movement from the baby, keeping everyone from getting a restful sleep. By having our own crib, we didn't worry about the hotel not having any cribs available for us upon arrival or about the cleanliness or condition of the crib (because you never know where it's been, how many babies have slept in it or how thoroughly it gets cleaned after use).
If you do not want to be stuck in your room during your baby's daytime naps, I recommend investing in a good travel stroller with a large rotating canopy and a reclining seat. We had inherited a second hand umbrella stroller - the basic $13 one that I can probably break in half if I really wanted to - but we decided at the last minute to splurge on a more comfortable one for Zoe. Best decision ever!
We decided on the Chicco Liteway stroller from Babies R Us after reading some good reviews about it. At $160, it is compact, lightweight but sturdy, and has a fully reclining seat, large rotating canopy and lots of storage. This stroller was a lifesaver during our 6 and a half hour delay at the Montreal airport. We also spent a lot of time walking from one end of the resort to the other while Zoe slept comfortably, shielded from the sun.
If travelling by yourselves with a baby and your baby is used to sleeping in his or her own bedroom at home, I recommend booking a one bedroom suite so that you can have a separate room to hang out in once you put the baby to sleep at night. Because we were travelling with our in-laws, we arranged to have adjoining rooms and brought our baby monitor along so that we could put Zoe to bed in our room and then watch tv, read, have drinks or play cards in the other room until we were ready to turn in.
Zoe sporting her new Jamaican rasta shirt.
Because Zoe is 14 months old, she is now used to eating pretty much everything that we eat at home. This made mealtimes relatively simple as we could simply order something from the adult menu at the restaurant and share with her. We did, however, bring a few of her favorite non-perishable snacks, such as organic fruit bars, Cheerios and a few pouches of organic baby purees, such as the ones made by Baby Gourmet, Ella's Kitchen or President's Choice Organics.
Although we've always made our own baby food since Zoe was old enough to eat solids, the organic baby puree pouches were a practical way to ensure that Zoe was getting enough fruits and veggies in her diet while we were away. The restaurants at the resort also served whole milk, which we filled her sippy cups with. In addition to bringing a few sippy cups, we packed 6 or 7 baby spoons and a sillicon bib that can be easily wiped clean. We also brought a small container of dish soap to clean all of our mealtime supplies in our hotel room every few days.
For entertainment, we brought a few of Zoe's favorite toys and books from home, as well as a few extra toys that doubled as water toys for the beach, pool or bathtub. We also brought crayons for colouring and a few sheets of paper, all of which do not take up much space in a suitcase or carry on bag. We also downloaded a few baby-friendly apps for our Android tablet. Before anyone poses judgement, we do not usually let Zoe play with our smartphones or tablet at home. However this provided some much needed entertainment during the flight when all else failed. Zoe particularly enjoyed the Talking Tom Cat app by Outfit7 and the Baby Phone & Music Games by Penguin Apps.
Zoe taking a break from swimming to share a snack with mom on the beach.
The resort staff was great for entertaining Zoe. She was very popular wherever we went. There were also tons of activities and things to look at to keep her busy during the day.
Sadly, a few days into our trip Zoe came down with a stomach bug that caused her to have diarrhea (I know, TMI. I won't get into the details). This could have been caused by many things - teething, the heat, stress or unfamiliar food. Thankfully she did not show any other symptoms that would indicate that she had a virus or bacterial infection. We had packed a first aid kit that included a thermometer, baby ibuprophen, baby acetaminophen and diaper rash cream, among other things. We also made sure to pack more diapers than we needed for the week but ended up using almost all of them. We never anticipated that Zoe would get sick on our trip, but we were prepared for the unexpected and it paid off in the end.
All in all we are very happy that we took Zoe along with us for the trip. Some people asked us why we didn't just leave Zoe behind with the grandparents and go by ourselves, but we are a family unit and we want Zoe to grow up experiencing different sights and cultures. Granted that a road trip with a toddler is probably much easier than air travel, but if anything this trip proved that it is totally doable and it is not that scary. I'm proud of Zoe for being such a trooper as we threw her whole routine upside down for a week, and I'm also proud of Cory and I as parents for keeping it together during those tough moments and focusing on making this a positive experience for the whole family. Now we have some great memories of Zoe's first trip and we are looking forward to more travel adventures with her in the future.
Bye bye Jamaica. Family photo taken in the lobby of the resort while we wait to board the shuttle back to the airport on our last day.