Hello! It’s been a riiiiidiculous amount of time since our last new post proper, which I can only attribute to being a) grounded, and b) severely sleep deprived. We’ve been spending most of our time un-selfishly, which is a big change of pace for us.
Yes, Baby Selfish is cute, but man is she a handful.
So I was very excited to leave the country once more (it had been 7 months at that point), and pleased to take Baby Selfish on her first international trip: Japan.
Ah, Japan. Home to efficient service, clean water, and bottomless ramen bowls.
Having spent over 2 months in Japan, Mrs. Selfish and I were pretty confident this would be a safe and enjoyable travel for a 3-month old – and it was!
That being said, we definitely learned a few lessons on the way, which will hopefully lead to others’ future baby traveling success.
1. Minimize Travel Legs.
SFO – HND, ITM – HND – SFO for all you flyer nerds.
Mo’ legs = mo’ problems. Or something like that. Basically we took a direct flight to Japan, and one connection on the way back and IT WAS STILL STRESSFUL. Why?
- We have an infant. I haven’t had more than 4 hours of continuous sleep since January, and Mrs. Selfish hasn’t since early 2014.
- We did not want to be “those people” on the airplane. Fortunately, Baby Selfish slept like a champ on the plane, prompting the old people across from us to suddenly become friendly upon completing our international flight.
- Hot Asian lounges are not a great place for Baby Selfish to sleep. Even when they’re “blasting the A/C” in Northern Asia, all it really means is someone has an air conditioning unit running somewhere in the room/mall/airport.
2. Bring the usual stuff.
Yes there are a lot of pictures of me and Baby Selfish. We left my big ol’ camera behind on this trip so Mrs. Selfish was principal photographer.
We brought Baby Selfish’s favorite toys, gadgets, and sleeping aides on the flight. Having her “travel boppy” along gave us a comfortable place to put her during our domestic segment, while putting her in her sleep sack subtly cued her that it was time to sleep.
3. Plan on creating your own sleep conditions.
Baby Selfish insists on hogging 50% of the seat width, so “laying flat” didn’t really solve the comfortableness of the situation.
Even though both international flights were after midnight, Japan Airlines didn’t turn the lights off until 2 hours after take off. They also decided to keep the cabin at a toasty 78 degrees – because who doesn’t like sweating while trying to sleep with glaring overhead lights?
Fortunately, we were able to remedy both conditions on our return flight. Mrs. Selfish got the bright idea to create a small tent for Baby Selfish (while co-sleeping) and politely requested the flight attendants turn down the temperature. Surprisingly, this actually worked.
4. If your baby hates the crib, DO NOT get a bassinet.
Maybe your baby would be this calm in a bassinet. Certainly not Baby Selfish.
We tried to make Baby Selfish a crib baby from the get-go, but it just didn’t take those first few months. As a result, I stupidly arranged for a bassinet. BAD IDEA.
Not only did this space go wasted, but Japan Airlines ended up moving our seats to the center of the plane, which ended up being a slimmer seat. Since Baby Selfish is in the 82nd percentile for height and loves to stretch out, this made for a very uncomfortable flight for Mrs. Selfish.
Fortunately, our flight home didn’t have any bassinet availability, so the return flight was much better.
5. However, always get a crib for your hotel room.
The Conrad Tokyo made a custom Totorro card. So awesome.
While Baby Selfish refused to sleep in a crib those first few months, she certainly didn’t mind playing in them. Our rooms at the Conrad Tokyo and Park Hyatt Tokyo BOTH had cribs, which actually allowed us to sleep train Baby Selfish WHILE WE WERE TRAVELING.
Since we returned, we have since moved to a crib sleeping arrangement. Baby Selfish actually naps 5 hours a day in a crib, and I owe this largely to our ability to keep up her sleep training while traveling through Japan.
6. Order diapers ahead of time.
Diaper models in Japan, like at home, are overwhelmingly male.
Before our trip, I signed up for an Amazon.jp account online and ordered diapers to be sent to both our hotels. This was a huge win since:
- a) We didn’t have to pack diapers and saved a ton of space.
- b) Japanese sizes are a better fit for Baby Selfish’s svelte sizing.
- c) The yen was pretty weak, so it was cheaper than buying diapers at home.
7. Washing machines are terrible – but also convenient!
My strategy is to hit the largest, most well-marked buttons no matter the language. This works roughly 99% of the time.
Yes, using a washing machine outside of North America sucks because drying takes forever. That being said, washing our laundry in Kyoto allowed us to pack half as many clothes, which saved a ton of space.
8. Bring a carrier for convenience, especially in crowded countries.
Busting through the Inari Shrine. Ma & Pa Selfish stayed behind.
Baby Selfish has never really been a stroller baby, which actually really helped in Japan since they’re not a stroller-friendly country. Many metro stations didn’t have an elevator option, and we were usually in pretty crowded places, so strapping her on was often the best option.
It was 82 degrees outside, but 86 degrees in the carrier. Whoops.
The carrier was also a convenient place for Baby Selfish to nap, which meant we were able to get in a few nice meals. Like sushi. I never thought that was going to happen.
Ravenously consumed while Baby Selfish slept on.
9. Easy eats are a plus.
A stick of cooked rice wrapped in cooked bacon, scallions, and mayo. Nom, nom.
Mrs. Selfish and I love cheap eats, so we probably would have been chomping down on street food regardless. However, traveling with Baby Selfish really forced us to eat fast since her awake and happy window is very limited.
For ramen, we had to trade off. Even Baby Selfish has her limits.
As a result, we only ended up eating 3 “nice” meals. Two while she was asleep, and a third where she had a minor meltdown and we had to leave early.
10. Look up nursing customs ahead of time.
The bottle is what you’re looking for. Pretty much every Japanese department store has a nursing room.
Japan is a surprisingly baby-friendly country, with a decent support system. While we didn’t see many women feeding their babies in public, we did come across a number of nursing rooms in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Nursing rooms are specifically meant for nursing and changing babies and many are dad friendly. They also had a fair amount of amenities like hot water and trash cans – things you often do not see outside.
Photo courtesy of Tokyo Urban Baby, a really helpful site.
We added a bunch of nursing room locations to our Kyoto and Tokyo maps in the Selfish Guide for anyone who is thinking of traveling with an infant.
11. Travel Slower.
Not pictured: hundreds of school kids and Chinese tourists.
Before Baby Selfish, we would hit as many as 3 locations a day and 2-3 meals out, only coming back to the hotel to sleep. Unfortunately, Baby Selfish does not have the stamina and gets pretty tired after 90 minutes of active time.
As a result, we tried to plan activities close to one another, leaving the hotel after Baby Selfish’s first nap, and coming back after lunch so she could take a second nap.
Had we been trying to visit a new country this pace would have been maddening, but since this was our 4th visit to Tokyo and 3rd visit to Kyoto it was totally fine.
12. Stay cool, man.
Baby Selfish’s default expression for the first 3 months of her life was disapproval.
Baby Selfish was born and raised in San Francisco, which was never hotter than 72 degrees during her first few months of life. During our trip to Japan, the temperature reached the upper 80’s on multiple days, even breaking the 90’s on the day we left.
Suffice it to say, Baby Selfish was NOT happy and wouldn’t sleep in the carrier. Thus, my advice to you is to take your baby’s temperature (and her traveling conditions) into account.
Our fix? Lots of A/C powered naps during the hot hours and only going out in the morning and late afternoon.
13. Bring back up.
Ma and Pa Selfish to the rescue!
Ma and Pa Selfish came along for the ride, and were super helpful. Having an extra, extra pair of hands to help hold Baby Selfish or carry her stuff was a godsend.
They also watched Baby Selfish for an hour each day so Mrs. Selfish and I could slip out for lunch at some of our favorite Kyoto restaurants.
14. Do not be afraid to milk it.
Years later, she will have THE BEST AA stories.
Yes, you are traveling with a baby at a young age. Internationally. It is quite rare.
If movies are to be believed, most people don’t do anything with their children until they enter primary school, so you should be prepared to capitalize on your novelty!
Use your baby as an excuse for everything – other countries are surprisingly friendly to families and will often go out of their way to help you out.
15. Travel west to minimize jet lag issues.
Traveling West is the best option. Though we recognize it isn’t always one.
Unfortunately, while our flights were excellent, and the trip to Japan was great, the recovery time was HORRIBLE.
8 hours is a lot of jetlag for an adult, but to an infant who is possibly in the terrifying “4-month regression” phase it is even worse. Basically as soon as we got home, Baby Selfish refused to sleep and we didn’t get back to normal for almost 2 weeks.
The only solution I can think of? Keep flying West until you make it back home (something I am trying to convince Mrs. Selfish to do).
Alternately, keep your travels to only a few time zones in either direction. That’s our strategy for now, at least, as we are grounded in North America for the rest of the year.
Does anyone have any other tips for traveling with an infant? If so, leave ‘em in the comments!