8 Tips for Traveling with a Toddler to a Developing Country

Before starting our crazy adventure as full-time travelers, I did not fully grasp the implications of traveling in remote areas and developing countries with a small child. It is possible with sufficient preparation. Here’s how to keep yourself and loved ones safe and happy while traveling in a developing country:

1.  Be prepared for medical emergencies and natural disasters: We bring along a small pharmacy in our bag- pain meds for adults and kids, cold/cough medicine for adults and kids, insect repellent and bite first aid, bandaids, antibacterial ointment, antidiarrheals, electrolyte packets for adults and kids, thermometer, antibiotics for adults and kids (travel clinics or PCP will give you prescriptions just in case of a particularly nasty case of diarrhea.) I also pack and use essential oils extensively for all sorts of ailments as a more natural remedy. Although we hardly ever use anything of the medical stuff we bring, it gives me peace of mind that it is there in case we need it. Get certified in CPR and first aid- this is a good idea for parents everywhere, but is especially important in areas without great medical care.

Buy it here

In earthquake and other natural disaster-prone areas, pack a LifeStraw for each member of your family. This straw makes puddle water safe to drink as long as there are no viruses or dissolved things in it. Just to be safe, I also pack water treatment drops that kill the other stuff. So, in an emergency, I could fill up water bottles with puddle water, treat the water with the drops, then filter out the particles with the LifeStraw. Hopefully by then my husband’s company would figure out a way to evacuate us. It’s always good to be prepared!

2. Learn about precautions with food and water before you go, and stick to them: Check out my post on helpful travel websites to find food and water precautions, as well as other safety tips for the country you are visiting. Make sure that all the water you drink is bottled, including water used for teeth brushing. Try your best to teach children to avoid drinking bath water, or if that is not working, have them take showers instead. If fruits and veggies need to either be boiled or peeled, make sure to boil or peel them! We were more lax with these rules at high end hotels, but when we are in the middle of nowhere and are the only tourists, we follow these rules strictly. We also make it a point to not eat from street vendors or carts. I might be missing out on the local cuisine, but hopefully I’m also missing out on the traveler’s diarrhea. Just the other day I saw a food cart owner washing dishes in dirty water by the side of the road with his hands. We didn’t eat there.

3. Bring the car seat, but prepare to be flexible with its use: Hotel cars and higher end taxi vans almost always have seat belts, so installing a car seat is the responsible thing to do. Helpful drivers will try to stow it in the trunk, and look at it like it comes from another planet, but just do the quick install with the seat belt and go! Your arms will thank you later when you don’t have to wrestle a toddler during a long car ride in traffic. For normal taxis and tour vans, seat belts were not available. That is when you say a little prayer, hold your baby tight, and prepare to provide extra restraint in an emergency if needed.

Airplane restraint system found here

 For airplanes, car seats have to have an airplane symbol on them saying that they are safe to take on airplanes. For toddlers, I think having a car seat or other restraint system on long airplane rides saves sanity. If you don’t want to bring a big car seat on the airplane and hit everyone already seated in the head in the process (I’ve done it at least 5 times), you can get a restraint system of clips and buckles that attaches to the plane seat belt and seat itself. It is good for turbulence and keeping the little one in their own seat! (Of course, we go on plenty of airplane walks as well to stretch legs and get wiggles out!) With the strap restraint option, checking a car seat under the plane is usually free.

Korean BBQ- My boy liked the meat and
steamed rice!

4. Be creative and willing to branch out in food offerings: In India and Indonesia, I was worried about the safety of fresh milk at the store. I decided to go the route of shelf-stable milk boxes instead, and my son loves them! We eat noodle cups for lunch with boiled bottled water from our room, as well as some peeled fruits and veggies. Thankfully, my son is not very picky but I feel that there are enough food options anywhere to get by. We eat a lot of dried fruit and Soy Joy bars around here! When we are leaving the US to travel somewhere we have not visited before, I bring along freeze dried fruit pouches, veggie and fruit baby food pouches, and applesauce pouches- enough to last me about a week. This gives me time to figure out where to find suitable fruit and vegetables without having to worry about the kid being malnourished in the meantime.

Many areas of the world have spicy food that my toddler does not appreciate. When we order food for him, we ask for it to not be spicy. Believe it or not, most people assume that all tourists want their food not spicy because we can’t take the heat. My husband and I are OK with spicy, but our little guy claws at his tongue if something has a hint of spice so that is one thing to watch out for!

He knows and recognizes who Buddha is…

5. Disposable diapers and wipes can be found most anywhere- so don’t stress about it! Before this whole traveling thing, I think I was most stressed out about finding food and diapers. Well, foods can be different in different places, but there will always be diapers! If you are going somewhere super remote, stock up in the city that you fly into. Even in little fishing village Cilacap, there were convenience stores everywhere that sold them along with the bigger supermarket style grocery stores. I had to ditch my beloved Luvs and find other brands that don’t leak, but a good rule of thumb is to go with a mid-priced diaper. The cheapest might work, but might not, and there are always Pampers and sometimes Huggies that tend to cost a fortune. I have found MamyPoko diapers to be a good bet in Asia- my guy has worn them in India, Korea, and Indonesia.

6. Get out and explore- but exercise caution: I love to explore new places by walking with my boy in the stroller. Due to unpredictable terrain, I recommend a all-terrain or jogging stroller. I love my jogging stroller with pneumatic tires and three wheels- we can go up and down curbs, over gravel, sand, trash, rough cobblestones, and many other surfaces with ease. Try for a short walk at first, to get a feel for which streets are busy, and which are safe, how the people react, etc. Study a map beforehand and do an out and back route to avoid getting lost! Be especially careful around stray animals. I have taught my son that not all animals are nice like his grandparent’s pets, so we can look at them, but not touch them. If they look especially sickly or are acting strangely, get away to avoid a bite. Especially with toddlers and their less predictable movements, even the most calm dogs and cats can lash out and feel threatened.

7. Find Places to Play: Sometimes it is hard to find clean, safe places for a little one to play. I know that I had to lower my standards as far as safety and cleanliness. I make up for it by being extra vigilant and trying to find the cleanest spots of beach or field to play in. Soccer fields are always a good bet, as well as beaches as long as you can find a spot without too much trash. Toddlers need to run and move and dig in the dirt, so I try to provide those experiences for my little guy. He is much happier when I take the extra effort to do this instead of just sitting in the air-conditioned hotel room all day! He might come back so dirty I throw him immediately into the shower to clean him off, but he is a happy camper and takes better naps too.

Our boy still talks about the “snorking” we did in Bali!

8. Take Tons of Pictures and Enjoy your Trip to the Fullest: We are never sure if our little guy will remember anything of our adventures. We are encouraged when he looks through pictures and talks about all the fun things we have done. Pictures will be treasured forever. So will crazy and fun experiences, so don’t be afraid to get out and explore and do things that you think might not work with a toddler. Chances are, things will work out! I had written off going on a bike tour on Bali because of our son, but when I looked into it more, there were bikes with baby seats! My suggestion would be to research all the things you think you want to do on your trip, toddler or not, and then revisit that list and see which things you can cut from the list as being too hard for a toddler to handle (for us it was extremely long car trips to see one thing) and which things can be managed with a toddler (snorkeling off a beach, for example), with supervision for the child.

Traveling with a toddler is doable if you are armed with good information and try to keep some semblance of a schedule in each place you go. Sure, we missed out on a few things we might have liked to see, but overall, it is an enriching and bonding experience to share these incredible places and experiences with your children.

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