Lots of people told us not to fly overseas with a baby. Reasons included it not being fair on him, not being fair on other passengers on the flight, the fact that he won’t remember the trip at all, the added stress for us, and being more limited in what we can and can’t do with Felix in tow.
Now that we’re back I can say it’s definitely different travelling with a baby, but it was far from the painful ball of regret that others warned us about. With some pre-planning and realistic expectations of how much we could do, it wasn’t too different to daily life at home with a baby, which has its moments but on the whole is pretty fun!
Packing all the things
Jeff and I have been flying with carry on luggage only for years – it makes moving from place to place much easier, and means we’re unlikely to lose our suitcases in transit. Fitting a baby’s stuff in the same amount of space was a whole new challenge.
But we did it! Sort of – our carry on sized suitcases weighed 10kg each, which would not have worked on some airlines, but ANA weighed them as we checked in and said it was fine. Half my suitcase was full of Felix’s clothes and feeding stuff, and half of Jeff’s was full of nappies and wipes. It did mean that we had buy more nappies in Japan, and had to do laundry a couple of times in the 12 days we were away, but given the mess that babies make I think that was a given anyway.
We were definitely thankful to have relatively light loads when catching public transport around Japan, especially as we were carrying a baby on top of everything else!
Flying with a baby
The flights were what I was most nervous about, but my fears of Felix screaming the whole 10 hours from Perth to Tokyo turned out to be unfounded.
Our flight there was overnight, and we were lucky enough to get a bulkhead row bassinet, so once the lights went down he was happy to sleep for most of the flight. It did mean a bit of juggling during the meal service, with me trying to feed and placate and overtired baby whilst Jeff held my food tray, but once he was down it was nice to be able to relax and get some sleep myself.
On the way back we had to change our flights at the last minute due to an impending typhoon, and had an adventure just scraping into Narita Airport in time for boarding. We didn’t manage to get a bassinet, but had to buy premium economy tickets as economy was sold out, which meant our seats were 17% larger (but a lot more than 17% more expensive!). Jeff was offered a free upgrade to business class which he had to turn down because I was not doing this flight alone.
Felix isn’t a great napper in ideal conditions, and sleeping on my lap with so much going on around him was certainly not ideal. But between rice cracker bribes, exciting “toys” such as empty water bottles and napkins, very very frequent breastfeeds and some walking around in the carrier, we managed to get by with relatively little crying (from all of us). I even managed to watch a few movies! It’s certainly doable, but I can see flights getting a lot more difficult as Felix gets bigger, heavier, and more active.
Getting around Japan
Japan is a pretty easy country to get around, with an impressive public transport system including super fast bullet trains. Whilst in previous trips I’ve done to Japan I’ve used this to hop between cities every couple of days, we knew that moving all our stuff and Felix around was still going to be a hassle. Instead, we planned to have a whole week in Osaka from which we could do day trips, a couple of days in Kawaguchiko near Mt Fuji, and a couple of days in Tokyo at the start and the end of our trip. A 14 day Japan wide rail pass worked well for us, as it covered almost all of our big journeys and meant we didn’t have to book individual trains – just flash the pass and hop on the unreserved cars. It also meant that we could change our plans for day trips on the fly depending on Felix’s mood!
Logistically, our carry-on luggage worked – but it was still tough, especially on the journey from Osaka to Kawaguchiko, which took about 5 hours and required 6 transfers door to door (could probably have chosen that transition better). Felix decided early on that he was not interested in sleeping in our borrowed travel pram, and definitely not interested in sitting in it quietly when overtired, so it quickly became a dead weight that we had to carry from place to place instead of the sanity saving tool I was hoping for.
Thankfully he was able to nap in our baby carrier and seemed quite happy in there even on long days. It was an expensive purchase but was worth its weight in gold for this trip. We were both able to easily carry him so could switch when one of us got tired, and I was able to discreetly feed him in it on trains and in the jellyfish exhibit in Osaka Aquarium. If we do another trip whilst Felix is a carryable size, I don’t think I’d bother with the pram at all.
I booked a hotel for our first two nights in Tokyo, thinking that the convenient location and a bit of luxury would be nice after a long flight. The hotel room was actually quite large by Japanese standards, but once we put the provided cot in there it was very squishy. Our first couple of nights involved eating convenience store ramen and watching Netflix in darkness with the volume turned way down, terrified to speak or go take a shower. We had to sit in the bathroom to feed Felix his baby food to avoid getting it on the soft furnishings. It wasn’t worth it!
AirBnB apartments have been our accommodation of choice for a while now, and with a baby it definitely makes life much easier. These days my criteria include a kitchen, a bedroom seperate from the living area, a cot and a high chair. It was so much easier to relax and have a conversation with that bit of separation, and we were able to cook ourselves and Felix breakfast and let him take his morning nap before heading out for the day.
The only other exception I made was for our stay in Kawaguchiko, just across the lake from Mt Fuji. Staying in a traditional ryokan and being served a kaiseki meal was one of the highlights of my last trip, and this time I wanted to stay somewhere we’d get a great view of Mt Fuji. Although the tatami room wasn’t much bigger than the hotel we’d stayed in before, sharing futons on the floor instead of having a cot for Felix meant it felt more spacious. The highlight was the view of course – knowing that the best time to see Mt Fuji was usually at sunrise, and also knowing the chances of us making it outside for sunrise with Felix were very slim, I chose a place with a view from the window. We actually had a perfect clear day anyway, but I loved getting to see Fujisan at sunrise and sunset from our room.
Eating all the things
When Jeff and I travel, one of the main things we love is experiencing different food! Unfortunately as there weren’t high chairs and Felix isn’t the kind of baby to sit happily in a pram whilst we eat, this turned out to be a bit of a juggle. Thankfully he was easily amused with a travel bib and random wet wipe packets, as long as he’d had a nap. It did mean that we usually ended up eating lunch earlier or later than we would otherwise, to give him time to sleep in the carrier. Dinners ended up being takeaway or convenience store food eaten back at our accommodation (thankfully Japan has pretty amazing convenience store food, and they also sell beer).
Felix had only just begun eating solids when we left, which was both good and bad. Good, in that we could give him breakfast before leaving for the day and not have to worry about what to feed him on the go. Bad, in that he wasn’t yet good enough with food for us to hand things to him without making a mess, and he required a lot of stops to breastfeed. I was really conscious of making sure he had enough feeds as it’s easy to forget when travelling, and most of the days were quite warm. Japan is very supportive of breastfeeding in general and there are “baby rooms” in major train stations, department stores, and some tourist attractions. This is great if you happen to be in or near one of these at the right time, but with the frequency and length of time that Felix feeds I was constantly anxious about finding a semi-private spot to sit and feed him. Sometimes this ended up being in a restaurant or on a train, and although I felt self conscious nobody gave me any trouble. By the end of the trip I’d gotten somewhat used to it, and we’d gotten pretty good at discreet feeds in the carrier.
Next up I’ll write about what we actually did in Japan, but I feel like we learned so much travelling with a 6 month old baby that I had to share, or at least record it in case we have another kid! It’s stressful at times, especially naps and feeding, but I feel like I can be more confident heading out and about at home now that I’ve done this.