Sunday, 28 November 2010

8 top tips for travelling with a baby to Malawi

I recently took my 7 month old daughter to Malawi for a couple of weeks, and since our return, I've had a few people ask me how we coped with such a young baby on the plane, in the heat, and with all sorts of creepy crawlies etc out to do her harm.

So here is my list of 8 top tips for travelling with a young child to Africa!

1. Be prepared
I've borrowed the scout motto for this one. The most important weapon in our arsenal was to make sure we had enough of everything we thought we might need available in hand luggage. Note you can take baby food, bottles of water etc through security as long as you taste it in front of the officials. We loaded up with a few all-in-one romper suits, a handful of disposable nappies (evil I know, but try carrying around 6 used reusables for 27 hours!) and some simple (non-noisy) toys to entertain her. Add to that a few bibs, some baby paracetamol and some rice cakes, and we were pretty much sorted for the long flight.

2. Ask and ye shall receive
It continued to amaze me over the course of our trip how willing people were to help us stay comfortable with the baby. So this tip is to remind you to ask for things to make your journey easier. Our first request was that we have a sky cot (bassinet) for the baby. As there are only a select few of these available on each plane put a request in early with the airline and then reiterate at the check-in desk. Note that getting a bassinet also puts you in the front 'leg room' seats - so a double win!

3. Plan for the time zone change
It sounds obvious, but if you're going to get jetlag, it'll be because you haven't planned for the time zone change. We had to force ourselves to go to sleep during the middle leg of our journey (the 5 hours wait in a freezing cold Addis Ababa airport!), and we did away with the usual baby sleeping arrangements, allowing Tio to go to sleep on one of us. It was great of course, as she was like a little hot water bottle!

4. Take plenty of changes of clothes
Babies get dirty. Very dirty. So make sure you take plenty of changes of clothes for your little one - I think we went through five sleep suits over the 27 hour travelling period through a mixture of vomit, food, and other nefarious substances. And don't forget a plastic bag to put it all in!

5. Travel cot and baby carrierJust to make your life easier. We used a Baby Bjorn front carrier which left whoever was carrying the baby with both hands free for passports, carrying hand luggage and duty-free shopping. The travel cot also worked really well, as it had an enclosed fly/mosquito net, so we were certain she wasn't going to get bitten while sleeping in Malawi!

6. Sun cream, hat, onesy, insect repellent
Absolute no-brainer, but had to mention it. When we took Tio swimming we coated her in sun cream, then put her onesy on, then put a hat on her. She was very tolerant considering the hassle, but she loved her dips in Lake Malawi while we were down at Sambani Lodge. Also, baby insect repellent is really important, we used it mainly while we were in Mzuzu, staying at Monkey Puzzle Lodge (on the Nkhata Bay road), and she didn't seem to mind it too much (I think she was too interested in eating the lovely bananas!)

7. There is a time and a place for jars of baby food
On the plane, an absolute godsend! The airhostess very kindly warmed up the meal, and security let us through as we tasted it in front of them. She actually quite enjoyed the jar (we normally mash up what we're having for dinner), and it lasted a couple of meals. We also knew what she was getting, as airline food tends to be quite sugary/salty.

8. Finally, don't let your baby lick your flip-flop....
We had been so careful to keep Tione out of trouble for the entire trip, until it came to the day before we left. Blame it on the heat, or blame it on how comfortable we felt with her ability to adapt Malawi, we were letting her play on a mat on the floor and in a more adventurous move than she had tried previously, she managed to reach across the mat, and grab my wife's flip-flop, then it went the way of all things do when babies get their hands on them - straight into the mouth. There was a moment of realisation between us, and then a slow motion 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO' as we dived to snatch it out of her hands. Alas, the damage had already been done, and for the next couple of weeks she had a stinking cold. Still, it could have been worse, can you imagine what a flip-flop can pick up in Africa...!

Are you travelling with a baby, have you got some tips of your own. I'd love to hear your thoughts!!