Going backpacking is a great way to see the world. Everything you need is, literally, strapped to your back, making it easy to move from one place to another. It makes you stop and think “What do I really need? What am I actually going to use?” as you pack, because you have a finite space to fit everything into. It’s not for everyone, but Pat and I have always enjoyed backpacking, having done it around most of Asia and all around Canada and Ireland.
We thought that might change after we had a baby. A lot in our lives changed and we thought the way we travel would change, too. But after spending the last nine days backpacking through Portugal with our seven month old daughter, I can honestly say that backpacking made it much easier on us and was even less expensive than an all-inclusive resort trip would have been. Here’s what we did:
- We packed two 20 kg backpacks. One backpack had my clothes, the baby’s clothes, medicines, toiletries, swimming diapers, my cosmetics and books we never got to read (the joys of parenthood). The other had Patrick’s clothes, the baby’s bedding, a sling for places we couldn’t take a buggy and extra raingear and footwear for all of us. We also packed a smaller backpack with all of the things I would normally have in Maeve’s diaper bag: diapers, wipes, snacks, a sippy cup, nappy sacks, extra clothes, her jacket and sun hat, teething toys and plastic spoons. We used this backpack as our day bag. The only thing of any value we brought along was our Nikon.
- We booked our flights using flight points from one of our credit cards. If you’re getting a credit card and like to travel, make sure you get one that gives you flight points! They are a lifesaver. We paid an extra €40 for Maeve to come along (this was with Aer Lingus).
- We got Maeve’s passport well in advance, but really, once you have the photos and paperwork ready to go you’ll have the passport within 10 working days.
- We bought a cheap, second hand stroller from a charity shop for €10. It was a piece of junk, but had comfortable lining, a hood to protect Maeve from the sun, working straps and it folded up neatly so it was easy to take on the plane.
- Once we arrived in Portugal we would leave our larger bags, strap the baby in her stroller, sling on the smaller backpack and go exploring.
- For things like walking tours, we would use the baby sling instead of the buggy. We used a blanket cover and a hat to protect Maeve from the sun and always picked the shady side of the street for walking. We never had to use sunscreen and she never got sunburn.
- We researched the things we really wanted to see and do beforehand so we had a rough nine-day guideline. We kept things very loosely organized so we could always go back to the hotel for a nap or change plans at the last minute (if you make hotel reservations, try to get a free cancellation policy!).
- As for accommodation, we only booked the first half of our trip as we didn’t know how the baby would travel or how exhausted we would be towards the end. That way we could stay put for a few extra days or, if we were all up for it, visit somewhere new by train.
- We avoided touristy restaurants, which tend to be overpriced, and stuck to cafe breakfasts of coffee and pastry and authentic suppers, which were very reasonably priced (and also baby friendly – most restaurants had high chairs available and the wait staff kept the baby well entertained!). We ate a lot of lovely meals but didn’t indulge in any Michelin Star dining experiences.
- We used the train, tram, bus and subway systems instead of taxis or car rentals. It was cost effective, the baby enjoyed seeing all kinds of random strangers and we got to know our way around more quickly than we would have if someone was chauffeuring us around.
These are just a few things that made our lives a lot easier while we were travelling with Maeve. If she were a different baby then perhaps we would have had a harder time – if she didn’t like strangers and became anxious when placed in a new environment, then maybe we would have had a completely different experience. We lucked out in the baby department I guess; she’s a born backpacker just like mom and dad.
Another great resource for travelling with babies can be found at bibliocook.com – an especially recent article written by Caroline outlines tips for long haul travel with kids. Great reading if you’re planning a trip with your babies!