Baby got backpack

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

Dummy cord, 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. We're always talking about making work family-friendly - so, for the travel writer, it's a case of "have baby, will travel".

For a travel writer, it’s a case of ‘have baby, will travel’.

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.

Hitching a ride ... Vietnam-style.
Hitching a ride ... Vietnam-style. Photo: Getty

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. Say "nanny" to a woman who for five months hasn't slept more than four hours at a stretch, and she'll jog to Fiji.

"Babies are just hand luggage," an old travel hand told me. "Travel as much as you can with them while they're young."

Apart from 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, or pay up to 25 per cent of the adult fare, before jumping to a hefty 75 per cent once they're aged two.

If that ain't an incentive to go directly from the delivery ward to departure gate, I don't know what is.

Yes, travelling with a baby has been a shock to the system: my gorgeous Mandarina Duck luggage has been replaced by a far sturdier wheeled duffle bag to fit the nappies, snacks, wraps and plethora of accoutrements required by a sub-10 kilogram human. The days of travelling with only carry-on luggage are but a dream. And each flight is spent praying she will sleep during meal service, to avoid the unbearable foot-in-tea scenario.

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 often a washing machine squeezed in. It 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. And I now understand villas and holidays in close-by Queensland.

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 dummy cords: our worst places for dropped dummies are in 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 - in business class - but am now a firm fan. Their capacity ranges from 10-kilogram up to 18-kilogram 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.

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 (see story page 27), but deliciously wallet-friendly Vietnam is a close contender.

On the eight-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City, staff on Vietnam Airlines take endless photos of Yasmine, stuff her with cake and play with her curls incessantly. It is no different throughout the country. The minute we walk into hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops, a smiling person drops to their knees and says hi to the baby, leaving me free to shop, check in, or check out the menu.

More lessons: Asia is far more patient with children than Western countries, though without the safety barriers we enjoy, which means no pool fences, and rooftop bars are dicey propositions. Pavements are generally non-existent, 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.

We've also discovered that exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean anti-children, to wit the super-luxe Orpheus Island, in far north Queensland, which figured if the baby could cope with the helicopter journey to the island, she was most welcome.

We haven't hit Europe yet, but the plan is to break the journey with a stopover on Singapore's Sentosa Island beaches. 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.

Top five pearls of wisdom

1 The Baby Jogger City Mini pram pulls shut with one hand and weighs just eight kilograms. 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.

2 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 ...

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

4 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.

5 Pack a toy bag with snacks, short colouring-in pencils, books and toys. Some airlines rent out iPads loaded with kids' games and movies for about $10.

 

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