Getting around Mexico with a toddler.
01.11.2014 - 04.10.2015
I've gotten slightly disheartened lately by all of my single friends posts about not having babies. Everyone makes their own decision, or life decides it for them, and I know I shouldn’t take it personally. But one of the pros, people say, of not having kids, is being able to travel. And sure, it's cheaper and easier to jump on a bus, plane, train and sleep in a hostel, tent or floor without a baby on your hip. But at least in Latin America, traveling with a baby is your "IN" to connecting with people.
I was one of those twenty-somethings before. I wanted to fill up my passport before I had kids (if ever). I shook my head at the hip European couples who brought their kids along on the salt flats tour in Uyuni, thinking that they must have spent most of their time tending to their children instead of marveling at the moonlike, otherworldliness of the barren Bolivian landscape. I felt bad for the mothers being followed by their gaggle of geese around the marketplace, town square, city bus, who obviously weren't getting the most of the rich cultural experience I was soaking up. As much as it pains me to admit it, I was a childless travel snob.
So now I'm on the other side, as a mother of a 15-month old, trying to be a little more sensitive, compassionate, understanding, and HELPFUL to those who have also reproduced, and to provide a little perspective for those who haven't but might possibly or accidentally do so in the future. Here we go, traveling with a baby in Mexico: tips, pros and cons!*
Wear your child. We weren't ready when my baby was born. Not because we didn't have enough time; reality just never set in. So we had no car seat, no stroller, no carrier. I ended up getting a baby wrap/sling, which we got used to using when the baby was 6 months. Now at 15 months, I can take the baby everywhere- the market, on the bus, around town - without having to worry about navigating the crowds with a stroller. Not to mention the fact that strollers are not practical in Mexico (at least here in Cuernavaca). The sidewalks are a disaster, there are people everywhere, stairs, dog poop…the list goes on.
There are no seatbelts. Unless you have your own car, forget investing in a car seat. Taxis, buses, subway- the only way to strap your kid in is if you wear them, carry them, or lug them around in a car seat (we tried that once. Not only is there no where to buckle them in, but there is usually no space in restaurants to then set them). You will see parents carrying babies in the front seat, letting them hang out the window (my baby's favorite) or older kids sticking their head out the quemacocos (sun roof).
Let them try the tidbits. Mexican food is awesome for many reasons; in particular, when you have a kid, you can usually pick out things that are healthy and clean. For example, at a comida corrida, you can offer babies rice with veggies, chicken broth/soup, whatever meat you get, and your arroz con leche. If you go to a buffet, there are always soups, salads, and dishes with rice or pasta. Don't stress so much about preparing your own food to bring along with you. Just make sure you go to a clean place, and then let them explore the food on their own.
People will touch your child. Today while enjoying some fresh-squeezed OJ and sun in the plaza downtown an old man came up and winked at us, then grabbed my baby's cheek. No boundaries. Bring hand sanitizer and baby wipes for when you're in public.
The up side of people noticing your child, though, is interaction. Even though I'm very smiley, I'm generally shy and don't interact much with other people. But now with a baby, everyone from the baker to the woman at the laundromat to the weirdo at the back of the bus says hi, waves, and comments on something. Babies melt boundaries, bridge borders, forge connections. If you are traveling in Mexico, allow your baby to help bridge that gap for you- asking about the other person's family, children, or childhood is usually something people easily share.
Nurse in public. I saved this one for last because I know this is a very, very personal decision, but if you are a nursing mother you can travel SO EASILY. You don't have to steam, boil, wash, measure, etc. And it allows your little one to enjoy more of the travel experience- a little milk will stave off any crankiness and let you wrap up things at the museum or your hike. It can also give you an excuse to step back and relax during a trip, especially if you are traveling with more people or trying to pack in activities.
Traveling with a baby is always going to be more stressful than it was when you were alone or with a friend, but the answer is not to sit at home and stack colored blocks all day. Babies take in so much of their surroundings, and exposing them to adventure at an early age will prepare them for all the trips you'll want to take them on as they get older. Plus distraction is seriously the best way to avoid temper tantrums (at least so far!) And like anything, it will get easier for the both of you as you learn what works for you and what doesn't. Feel free to share your traveling with a baby tips!
- I understand that these same experiences can happen in the US, or anywhere in the world. This is only a piece about my personal situation.