If you love to travel, having a baby or toddler needn’t stop you. Sure, you’ll have to make some adjustments, but with a little preparation you can make the trip enjoyable for everyone.
These are my tips for travelling with a toddler around Bali and Lombok specifically, but many of them will apply to the rest of Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and toddler travel in general.
If you just want a quick checklist without all the stories in between, you can scroll straight down to the bottom.
Get ready for a slower pace
Everything takes that bit longer when you have a toddler, and travelling is no exception.
When I was travelling solo across Europe and Southeast Asia, I usually booked just a couple of nights at a time. I would see as many sights as I could in my full day there. If I felt I needed longer to see a place I could extend my stay, otherwise I would just move on.
It isn’t easy to cram so much into a day when you have a little person with you, so 2-night stays may not be enough to get the feel of a place.
You arrive, unpack a bit, sort out a snack or lunch, and then it’s nap time. By late afternoon there isn’t much time to do anything except work out where to go for dinner.
Mealtimes can’t be rushed or skipped as easily as when it’s just you to think about.
Still, a slower pace isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can take more time to appreciate the little things and observe new experiences through your child’s eyes.
Gone are the days when you can jump off a bus at a new destination and trawl the streets for hours looking for a cheap place to stay. Unless you have a seriously laid-back toddler (and other half), that is.
Your priorities shift from ‘cheap with a good vibe’ to ‘clean, safe, comfortable and well located’. In Indonesia and many other Asian countries it’s easy enough to find accommodation that meets all these criteria and is still cheap. But better to spend an hour researching places online from the comfort of your room than an hour laden with your bags (and child) walking around in the clammy heat or a tropical downpour.
My favourite site for booking accommodation in Indonesia is booking.com (and I’m not just saying that because I get a small commission from any bookings you make using that link). For most destinations there is a wide range of choices, from homestays with fan rooms to five-star resorts. It’s easy to filter results by a number of criteria, and each hotel’s policy for accommodating children is clearly displayed.
If you’re planning your next trip to Indonesia with a toddler, have a quick look to see what options are available in your price range.
When it comes to food…
One of the great things about travelling in Indonesia is you can always find a local warung selling some kind of food. Eating out is affordable; if you go to a local food market you can get a meal plus drink for under 20,000.
However, a lot of the local food is spicy and/or greasy, so may not be suitable for your little one.
You can always get your hands on plain rice and liven it up with chicken, fish, and some kind of sauce, but this is neither very nutritious nor exciting. Fortunately, there is an abundance of fresh fruits available to cancel out any guilt you may have about the main meal.
In the well-travelled areas, and especially in tourist destinations like Bali, you’ll also have a great choice of western food options – but these are not so budget-friendly.
You’ll have to get used to eating with one hand since your other one will often be busy holding your child on your lap (highchairs are a rarity, especially if eating on a budget).
Most places will package up your food to take away if you ask. This is great if you can’t face another night of trying to keep your toddler under control while other diners give you dirty looks – just take it all back to your room to eat. And no need to worry about the mess because someone will clean it up for you in the morning. Isn’t that one of the best things about being on holiday?
Stocking up on must-haves
During our recent trip to Lombok, I made the mistake of assuming that I’d be able to get hold of plain UHT milk pretty much anywhere. After all, there are minimarts selling it on every corner where we live in Bali. I was proven wrong on our third day when we had to drive 10km to the nearest Alfamart to find some.
We were staying in quite a remote area at that point though, and that was the only time we had trouble finding the milk we needed. Still, I kept a few cartons to hand at all times after that, just in case.
– around with us.
In some places we stayed, toast wasn’t even on the menu so we bought a loaf of sandwich bread and improvised with that. In one place the “toast” was actually made in a sandwich toaster so came out squashed and hard in places. We avoided that on subsequent mornings.
If your toddler is fussy with breakfasts and will only eat a certain type of cereal, for example, it’s safer to bring your own than assume your hotel will provide it.
Aside from that, I had a big bag of raisins and a small pot to dispense them into. Any other snacks like biscuits and fruit were easy enough to pick up along the way. I took a sharp knife and a couple of plastic spoons and plates with us so we always had something to eat with.
Changing beds every few nights can be disruptive but I took Abigail’s pillow with us so she always had something familiar to sleep on.
She also had a few small cuddly toys to accompany her, including her favourite dog. You can read more about the toys I packed for our Lombok trip here.
For parents who need to work online while travelling, internet access is a big consideration. Finding a decent connection is by no means an impossible task, but it can test your patience.
Just because your accommodation advertises free wi-fi, that doesn’t mean it will work seamlessly at all times of day (or at all). It may only be available in certain areas such as the hotel lobby – not exactly convenient when you have a toddler accompanying you.
A quick look at some online reviews should reveal the true picture; wi-fi is one thing people are quick to complain about if it doesn’t meet expectations.
As a backup, we take our portable wi-fi modem which uses a sim card. This is what we use at home and although it’s not super fast, it usually does the job. It came in handy when we were up in the mountains for a couple of days in a guest house with no wi-fi.
have a mobile data package on your phone and use it as a hotspot for your laptop. Either way, it’s worth it if it means you don’t have to worry about wi-fi everywhere you go.
And, let’s be honest, you don’t just need internet for work. Travelling with a toddler is tiring, and sometimes you need Mr YouTube to come to the rescue so you can have a lie-in or an uninterrupted hour in the sun!
If your toddler is still in nappies you’ll need to buy these as you go along. Fortunately, they are easy to pick up at almost any corner shop. If you’re picky about the brand, it’s better to stock up in advance.
Buying smaller packets works out more expensive than buying in bulk, but it’s a question of money vs. convenience. We have been in the situation where our three pieces of luggage were two backpacks and a bumper pack of nappies, and it’s not a good look!
One of the best things about travelling in Bali and many other parts of Southeast Asia is the cheap and fast laundry facilities. Most places can turn a load around in just a few hours, although this will be more expensive than a one- or two-day service. If you’re being charged any more than 10,000 per kilo for a regular service, look for another place.
Since it’s so easy to get your clothes washed, it’s only really necessary to pack enough for 4-5 days if you’re trying to travel light.
My final packing tip is to take lots of smaller bags with you. Whether you have a suitcase or a backpack, if you’re constantly packing and unpacking, it can get quite messy. Having separate bags to keep collections of little things together can make life a lot easier.
I have one bag for underwear, one for Abigail’s clothes, and one for all her toys, for starters. Plus one for dirty laundry, although I don’t think there is anything particularly revolutionary about that. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bags they are, although non-plastic ones are less noisy when you’re trying to find something while your child is asleep.
The point is, it’s easier to locate a particular small outfit or pair of socks when your rummaging is confined to a smaller space.
Summary of my tips for travelling with a toddler
The laid-back pace of life and low prices in Indonesia make it a great place to take a leisurely trip with a toddler.
Here’s a quick recap of my toddler travel tips, particularly for Bali, Lombok or the rest of Indonesia:
- If they drink milk regularly, keep a few cartons in stock at all times
- Bring supplies of snacks that are easy to dish out at any time, like raisins
- Take their favourite breakfast cereal or spread to avoid tantrums
- Pack a knife sharp enough to cut fruit, plus a couple of plates and spoons
- Make sure they have their normal pillow to sleep on
- Include a variety of compact toys in your packing
- Stock up on nappies when you can, especially if you prefer a certain brand
- Bring smaller bags to keep everything organised within your backpack or suitcase
While you’re there
- Don’t try to fit too much in each day
- Book accommodation in advance using a site like booking.com
- Check each hotel’s policy for accommodating children
- If wi-fi is important to you, read reviews carefully before booking or invest in a portable modem
- Rely on local laundries to wash your clothes every couple of days
- Don’t expect local cafes and restaurants to provide highchairs
- If eating at restaurants is too much like hard work, you can usually get the food to take away
Do you have any other tips for travelling with a toddler? Let me know by sharing them below.