Take the baby? Yes. Babies are the greatest ice-breakers in the world. Little old ladies who once eyed you suspiciously will come up to talk, pinch the baby’s cheeks, and coo over the little darling. Total strangers will stop you to admire the baby. Traveling with a baby in Latin America is like traveling with a celebrity. It’s fun, gratifying, ….and requires some adjustments.
The biggest adjustment is relaxing. Babies are a full part of society in Latin America, and people are not reluctant to approach them. I have had the waitress at a restaurant ask if she can take our baby across the street to show her mother, or the waiter whisk the baby to the kitchen to show off to the cook. Relax. They are not dangerous criminals seeking to steal your child – they just think babies are cute, and like to share them. If your baby happens to be blonde and blue-eyed (my oldest child had blonde ringlets as an infant), the attention will be twice as intense. Take it as the compliment that it is. Your baby is adorable — of course people want to admire. You don’t have to let people “borrow” the baby, or anything else you don’t feel comfortable with, but don’t be offended or frightened by the attention.
You will also receive lots of unsolicited advice, just like you do at home. I have had little old ladies in Belize assure me that my 4-month-old was freezing and that I needed to put a sweater on her (it was 80 degrees out!). To this day, when I am at a beach in Latin America with my blonde children, every mother who walks by will worriedly ask me if they have sun screen on. Once again, relax and take these comments in the spirit in which they are intended – true, honest concern for the child. They know you are a visitor, and worry that you may not be aware of how strong the sun is, how cold it actually is (yeah, right!), etc. They say something because they really do care. So, smile, reassure them, and thank them for their advice.
Once you have taken a deep breath and relaxed, it’s time to pack. Don’t go overboard – remember, they have babies in Latin America. Lots of them. So anything that you truly need for a baby, you will be able to obtain down there.
For example, disposable diapers are widely available in Latin America. Even if you usually use cloth diapers, consider using disposable diapers for the trip. Washing diapers is a hassle in the best of circumstances, so make it easy on yourself. Baby wipes are also widely available unless you are in really rural areas.
Don’t worry about bringing every possible medicine along for every possible thing that could happen. Children get tummy aches and teething problems down there too – they have medicines available for all of these. Don’t be afraid to venture into a farmacia (pharmacy) and explain what the problem is – you will get lots of sympathy, advice, and whatever medication you need.
The one exception is sunscreen. Good quality sunscreen can be hard to find and very expensive. I strongly suggest you bring sunscreen from home.
I would, however, suggest leaving the Pack-n-Play at home. Hauling a portable crib around is really kind of a hassle. Even if your baby doesn’t usually sleep with you, you might try it on a trip to Latin America. If you truly need one, bring it, but you might instead find out if your hotels can provide one.
It’s a good idea to trim down on extra stuff in general. Latin America is the land of stairs, uneven sidewalks, and broken elevators. So try to resist the urge to bring everything and the kitchen sink. Just bring what you actually need. For example, you don’t need four changes of clothes for every day of the trip – it’s pretty easy to get laundry done in Latin America. Even the cheapest hotel will know someone who does laundry.
Strollers are often not that helpful in Latin America. In many places the sidewalks are either nonexistent or very uneven, making strollers impractical If you do take a stroller, take a lightweight umbrella-type stroller that can easily be picked up and carried, if necessary. Baby carriers such as a Baby Bjorn, Snuggli, or a backpack are more useful.
If your baby is still exclusively breast-fed, congratulations – your trip logistics will be pretty easy. Your baby’s food will always be safe, available, and just the right temperature.
If your baby uses formula, infant formula is widely available. With all the safety issues with formula that have come up recently, though, you might want to take formula along. In big cities you can usually purchase formula made by reputable companies, but you might want to have a supply along with you. Be sure to always use purified water to wash the bottles and mix the formula.
If your baby has started to eat solids, you will find plenty of options. Most restaurants will be happy to bring you plain rice or sliced banana, if it’s for the baby. Bananas and avocados are widely available in markets or stores. Larger grocery stores will also have jars of baby food.
Once you are packed, it’s time for the trip itself. Where you go and how much you do will depend a great deal on your baby. Some babies easily nod off on the bus, making long bus trips a snap. Others sob from the noise, crowds, and smell. You know your baby better than anyone. Don’t be afraid to be a bit adventurous, but at the same time, be realistic. You may have a more relaxing trip if you just go to one or two places, and stay there for several days or even weeks. Many babies like routines, and you can get into a little vacation routine if you stay in one place for a while.
Beach vacations are often a big hit. Just be careful with sun exposure. Mountain trips are a bit more problematic. Some children do great, others have problems with the altitude. Unfortunately it’s hard to know in advance if you child will have trouble with altitude sickness. One of my children has no problems adjusting, and the other one gets horribly sick at high elevations. Which brings me to my final point….
Don’t be afraid to change the plan. If everyone’s miserable, scuttle the current plan and do something different. Maybe your baby is having a horrible time with the heat. Changing hotels to a place with air conditioning is not a sign of moral weakness, and it just may save your sanity. Be flexible, and you will all have a wonderful trip – parents and baby too!