What to pack when backpacking with a baby or toddler
When we originally left the UK, our backpacks carefully packed, we were unsure whether we had the essential baby items we would need for our long-term adventure ahead (original list of baby items packed).
In a few months of travelling we covered thousands of miles by air, boat, train and road. We travelled across Tioman islands, Singapore, Borneo, Java, Bali, mainland Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia (this was followed by a month in Vietnam).
We climbed volcanoes, hiked up hills, trekked through jungles, canoed down rivers, ridden on the back of elephants, spotted orangutans swinging from the forest trees, fed monkeys, cycled around beautiful temples, slept in wooden huts and swam in tropical seas, all with our baby by our side.
Backpacking on a budget with a baby has its challenges, but I’m confident that we now have the experience to know what key items to pack when travelling with a baby.
These are my recommendations based on personal experience of travelling around SE Asia:
***NEW PRODUCT – LAUNCHED NOVEMBER 2016***
Every so often I discover a new product that I wish had been available when we were backpacking when our son was younger. This is certainly one of them.
Belt Up Baby is a child restraint device for use in public transport, such as taxis or buses, when an approved car seat is legally not required.
The 5 point harness is simple to use and allows you to safely attach your young child (9 months to 3 years, dependent on the child’s height) safely and securely to the seat belt, whilst they are sitting on your lap.
The harness is light and portable, so is perfect for travelling abroad, but would also be ideal for using in taxis in transit to the airport.
I know a lot of people in this community have had concerns relating to child safety when using public transport on holiday, so I think you’ll find this product ticks the box for being both practical and giving you peace of mind.
Before leaving the UK I researched many types of baby sling to find something that would be suit our adventure ahead. I finally chose the ergobaby sling and I have not been disappointed.
The ergobaby sling can be used to carry your baby on your front or back and the ergonomic design of the sling means that it’s beneficial to both you and your baby. My husband and I both find it extremely comfortable to wear and our baby seems to enjoy being in it as he often falls asleep so we regularly use the sleeping hood that supports his head and neck.
The ergobaby sling has given us the freedom to have unique adventures as a family. Amongst others we’ve climbed the Ijen Crater and Mount Bromo in Indonesia, hiked up the hillside in Tha Thon, Northern Thailand to visit the beautiful Buddhist temples, trekked in Borneo and we’re about to head to Cambodia where we’re going to be staying in a treehouse on an otherwise uninhabited island where the sling will give us the opportunity to explore the terrain. The ergobaby has already been a big part of our adventure.
Key benefits – comfortable for both baby and carrier (mum and dad), adjustable sleeping hood, lightweight, machine washable.
Phil and Teds Wriggle Wrapper:
A couple of friends bought us a wriggle wrapper a few weeks before we left the UK and I cannot praise it highly enough – we used it at least twice a day.
The Wriggle Wrapper has 3 functions:
- Secures a child safely to a chair so can be used in place of a high chair (ideal in Asia where high chairs are not always available)
- Secures a child to your lap so you can have your hands free.
- Can also be used as a secure sleep support on a single bed when your baby is small.
It’s lightweight, folds up into a small pouch and we carry it with us everyday in the daypack.
We found the Wriggle wrapper most useful on the many interesting modes of transport we travelled on across SE Asia. We could securely attach him to our lap when on small boats, speedboats, tuk tuks and even elephants. He became used to the secure feeling it gave him and once he’s clipped in he relaxes and would often fall asleep.
- Key benefits – lightweight, compact, washable fabric, adaptable
Maclaren buggy – Quest
The very few articles I could find on backpacking with a baby recommended not to take a buggy travelling, but I cannot disagree more. I would highly recommend taking a buggy, particularly as there is no additional baggage cost on flights.
When you’re on a long-term trip and carrying 2 x large backpacks and 2 x daypacks (one on-your front, one on your back), it would be extremely difficult to also carry your child.
The buggy allows you to carry your luggage and move around easily – imperative when you’re moving from location to location on a regular basis and need to carry your belongings between transport hubs.
During days out, predominantly in urban areas, the buggy which has a reclining back, proves comfortable enough for our baby to have a morning or afternoon snooze and coupled with the Koo-di sun hood (see below), we know that he is safe from harmful rays.
It was also good to know that we had something safe to strap him into, in places where wasn’t suitable for him to be running around freely.
- Key benefits – lightweight, easy to carry when folded, reclines for comfortable snoozing, secure.
***PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS MODEL OF THE TRAVEL COT HAS BEEN RECALLED DUE TO SAFETY ISSUES (SEE LINK BELOW). DO NOT BUY OR USE***
The Kidco Peapod was one of the few travel cots that I could find that is both compact AND lightweight so it’s ideal for backpacking. It fits comfortably into my rucksack, takes seconds to erect (and only a few minutes to pack away) and weighs just over 2kg.
The built-in mosquito net keeps our baby safe from the hungry beasts and the breathable fabric means he doesn’t overheat in the night. It also offers UV protection so can be used outdoors too – ideal for day-trips to the beach.
The model we purchased lasts until circa 3 years old, so it does have longevity.
- Key benefits – compact, lightweight, simple to erect, insect proof, breathable fabric
Koo-di UV buggy hood
One of our main concerns about travelling around SE Asia with our baby was how to keep him safe from the suns harmful rays. The Koo-di UV buggy hood is something we use everyday and comes highly recommended as it protects your child by blocking out 93% of all harmful UVA & UVB rays.
It’s very easy to fit, is a universal size so fits most buggies / pushchairs and once folded takes up very little room in our daypack. When out and about it helped our baby to snooze as it keeps the bright sunshine out of his eyes and we’ve also used it in the evening as a blackout blind to help him sleep.
- Key benefits – blocks 93% of harmful rays, machine washable, easy to fit, universal size.
Other essential items:
In addition to the 5 items above we’ve the following to be very useful:
Designed to fit over most cots and buggies this has been incredibly useful for two reasons. 1) It keeps you baby safe from mosquitoes 2) it creates a barrier between your baby and others giving them a break from the regular touching and pinching. This is particularly useful when your baby’s trying to nap.
Airtight plastic pot (1.4 litres capacity):
I highly recommend taking a good quality airtight container to keep your baby’s milk powder in. The majority of milk powder sold in Asia comes in a 600g bag within a box or a pouch. Ants love the milk powder, but the airtight container has so far succeeded in keeping even the smallest of ants out.
Dish washing sponge:
Many guesthouses and hostels allow you to use their kitchen facilities but I’ve found that many had filthy cleaning cloths that I wasn’t happy using to clean our baby’s bottles. I bought a sponge that I keep in a small resealable bag.
I’ve got 2 of these clips with me and they have proven to be very handy for when we’ve bought food products that need be kept airtight. It keeps the food fresh on the inside and keeps the insects outside.
Small airtight container:
We bought one of these to take away, but I would recommend taking two the same size so that they fit one inside the other. If we’re staying somewhere where we have access to a fridge then we use our pot to store leftover food for our baby. It allows us to buy one portion of food that will last for 2 plus meals.
We only brought a handful of toys with us, but this has proven to be the most versatile and one that even 4 months on he loves to play with.
As well as building towers we use them in the shower, the sea, to build sandcastles and we are now using them to teach him colours. For the hours of pleasure he gets from them they take up very little room in the rucksack.
Although similar products are available across in Asia in bottles, I have been unable to find sachets. Sachets are perfect for taking out with you in your daypack as they’re light and small. I would recommend using the bottled local products during the evenings and only using the sachets when you’re out and about.
Baby change mat (all in one)
Apart from in new shopping malls in the large cities, baby change facilities leave a lot to be desired. Our baby change mat carries nappy bags, nappies and wipes and rolls up small enough to fit in the daypack. When on the move it’s very handy for changing your baby anywhere.
Space saver packing device:
This ingenious waterproof packing device compresses its contents so that it takes up very little room in your backpack. We use ours for our baby’s clothes. Once compressed his entire wardrobe fits into a space circa 28cm x 20cm, which fits comfortably into the bottom section of my rucksack.
Walking straps / reins:
Now that our baby is toddling around our walking straps are proving to be very useful. However, we’ve used them regularly since we arrived in Asia to secure our baby into cafe high chairs. The majority of high chairs that we have used in Asia either don’t come with straps, or the straps are missing. The harness allows you to secure your baby safely into the high chair so that they can’t stand up or attempt to escape when your back is turned!
Unwanted baby items
These are some of the items that I thought I would need but have discarded along the way.
I brought a baby bowl with me, but discarded it after one month as I never used it. If needed, the small plastic airtight pot can double up as a baby bowl.
I had planned to use the ergobaby sling for the hikes and more intense walking trips and packed a simple ring sling to use for smaller periods of time in towns and cities. Both my husband and I found the ergobaby far more comfortable to use and therefore we left the ring sling with our friends in Singapore.
I was worried that in some places I would be unable to find disposable nappies so I packed two re-usable nappies to use in emergencies. Although we haven’t always followed the main tourist routes we have always managed to find nappies so the re-usable ones were unnecessary.
If your baby’s crawling then they will get very dirty very quickly so I recommend packing the quantities I did at the start of our trip (click here to see the original packing list). However, once they’re walking you can reduce the number of items considerably, particularly as laundry is so inexpensive in SE Asia and the turnaround times are fast (within 24 hours is standard, but an express wash & dry can take as little as 3 hours).
Sterilising tablets – don’t overpack:
Hygiene was a concern before we left, particularly how we would keep our baby’s bottles clean and sterilised. I packed over 150 x Milton sterilising tablets, but I now realise this was too many as we haven’t even used one. Boiling water has been available in most places we have stayed and when it’s not local cafes have kindly provided boiling water for his bottles. I have disposed of all but 10 x sterilising tablets.
Do you have any items that you always take travelling? Drop me an email or comment below.