How to prepare for travel with a toddler can be overwhelming, but I hope my experience can help others. We traveled from London to Vietnam with our 20-month old this last month. I’ve referred to our daughter as X in this article as that’s the first letter of her name (also!). Vietnam can seem like a daunting country to travel to with a toddler, but I’m here to tell you that not only is it doable, but it’s totally worth it!
I have some advice that I think will make your trip better if you are considering the journey. This is Part 1, where I’m focusing on what we packed and the trip over. Many of these tips can apply to other destinations besides Vietnam.
What You Should Know
Immunisations and mosquitos
Whenever you prepare for travel with a toddler, health should be top of mind. We got the usual immunisations. If you stick to the coastal areas and cities (as we did), malaria is allegedly not an issue. There is a lot of information out there about DEET being bad for you/young kids, but I figure Dengue Fever is worse. I sprayed X at dawn and dusk on any exposed areas if we were outside (she had long sleeves and trousers on). Before we left the UK, I treated X’s various transport modes (stroller, sling, back carrier) with permethrin, as well as her travel cot (I even sprayed our luggage to create as much of a hostile environment to mozzies as possible). X was never bitten, big win!
The Vietnamese LOVE children
They are very tactile and very friendly. Luckily X loved the attention, but be prepared for strangers touching, prodding and taking endless photos of your toddler, it’s a bit disconcerting at times.
Intense sunshine and 30+ degree heat
The heat may be a bit of a shocker for people like us coming from the UK. We dressed X in loose-fitting ‘aladdin’ pants for much of the time, and long-sleeved light cotton tops – she was fine (with her factor 50 sunscreen on). We generally stayed in the shade as much as possible.
I’m fortunate enough to still be breastfeeding my toddler. At no point did I feel conspicuous doing it (although I was discreet). But when you prepare for travel with a toddler, especially one that is breastfeeding, consider looking into the local norms. Club Bébé Voyage is a great place to get that information.
Depending on the time of year and where you are, the sea can be rough in Vietnam, so it’s worth checking on this if you plan to paddle with the little one. For us, Hoi An was quite rough, but the sea was flat as a pancake in Phu Quoc – and the water was 30 degrees celcius! GLORIOUS.
Our Packing List:
A big challenge when you prepare for travel with a toddler is sorting out your packing situation. We didn’t pack light, but we were able to carry everything between us.
Our luxuries were all child-related (my partner and I barely took anything).
Some key items
An umbrella stroller
Mothercare Nanu (UK make), 7.1kg, £35.00, lies flat. It was great for poolside naps, in airports and occasionally during dinners (while X slept). Generally, Vietnam streets are not hugely buggy friendly (bumpy), some people tell you not to bother taking one, but we were pleased we did.
A toddler back carrier
We used the Phil and Teds Escape but there are many baby carriers out there.
A friend gave us this (so we didn’t research it) as we’d been told a stroller wouldn’t be used, and I wanted X to be able to see well and enjoy her surroundings. It was great for city days out and she even slept in it once!
A Tula front carrying soft sling
We took this as X loves the sling, and will sleep in it (and breastfeed), so it’s handy for going out when she’s tired, but we’re unable to take a stroller.
Portable Travel Highchair
We took a Phil and Teds ‘wriggle wrapper’.
This is quite an ingenious invention for mealtimes, super lightweight and compact, so no bother to pack. We do have a Phil and Teds lobster travel chair, but decided that was one item too many to take with us. (Note: high-chairs are scarce in Vietnam.)
Little Life Arc 2. I love this cot – it completely zips up with full insect protection, and has top and side openings. Super lightweight and compact. Highly effective in preventing night-time mosquito attacks. If you can’t get the Life Arc, check out the Beberoad.
Not everyone likes reins/ toddler leashes, but I think they have their uses, especially on boats!
We took lots of Ellas pouches for on the move, along with X’s favourite snacks e.g. dried fruits/nuts.
We used this a lot sitting on balconies while X was inside, asleep, with the door shut.
While all medication is available in pharmacies, I’d still urge you to bring your tried and tested emergency fever/pain medicine for baby. We brought liquid paracetamol, liquid ibuprofen, and a thermometer. I didn’t end up having to use these, but I strongly recommend always taking these medical necessities for peace of mind.
You don’t need to take nappies and wipes, but I prefer to, as I hate doing that sort of mundane shopping when on holiday. Supply of antiseptic wipes and hand sanitiser – invaluable!
Lightening the load
If we went to Vietnam with a toddler again, we’d still take all three modes of transport, but, if I HAD to choose only one, I’d take the sling, this, for us, was the most versatile. Of course, having a lightweight baby helps enormously!
Note: Car seats are not compulsory in Vietnam. We debated bringing ours, and ultimately decided not to take it. We had read that many seat belts don’t work anyway. In the end, we often strapped X to me with the wriggle wrapper or had her strapped to me in the sling when in taxis (and I had seatbelt on when available)
Not fool proof as X’s head was definitely not properly supported in these instances. We avoided taking taxis!
The Bassinet Situation!
We flew with Vietnam Airlines, both internationally and domestically, with our lap toddler. The bassinet areas on their (very) new 747 dream liners are roomy enough in economy, and very spacious in Premium Economy (our return flight).
We were lucky to have the window seat bassinet position on the way to Vietnam, with nobody sitting with us, so we had 3 seats and a bassinet. It’s always worth asking how busy the flight is and whether they can engineer this for you.
I did have quite a headache confirming the bassinet seats for both legs before we left, so do persist. Seemingly the weight and height limit for their bassinets is only a guide as we saw a toddler on our flight who slept with his legs hung out over the edge of the bassinet. He was a big boy – he nearly fell out at one point because of this.
Though we had a bit of turbulence on both flights, no flight attendant forced me to take our sleeping toddler out of the bassinet to strap her in (there was a strap to put around the bassinet if needed).
The Crew and Service
X didn’t receive much attention from the crew generally and no food was provided, aside from a pot of ‘mush’ that was offered. So do take toddler food with you, as we did. They have baby changing on board in one of the toilets which I thought was great, safe and clean. All in all, a lovely airline to fly with.
My Travel Tips to Prepare for Travel with a Toddler
Do not mess with nap time
Babies need their naps more than ever in strange places. Make time for them and plan for them. Do your busy activities in morning, with your more lazy poolside activities after lunch and naps.
Rather than facing the nightmare that is food service with a toddler on an international flight, ask the flight attendant for one of your adult meals at the start of service, and then request the other is brought at the end. This way one of you can eat while the other looks after bubba, and then you can swap.
Jet lag advice
I have none! It’s really tough. Get out into the sun and start your body clock adjusting. This isn’t easy for your little one, so plan to bring them onto Vietnam time by a couple of hours each night. Our toddler took 5-7 days to sort herself out. It was TIRING. But Bébé Voyage has some great tips for how to handle baby jetlag.
I hope my tips for how to prepare for travel with a toddler were helpful. Stay tuned for Part 2 on our actual journey and tips discovering Vietnam with our toddler!