After our very first family vacation, I was moved to create this website with a mission to inspire, motivate, and help families travel with babies, toddlers, and young children. And a trip to Mexico or the Caribbean with a baby or young child is a wonderful way to escape the cold and fulfill that New Year’s resolution to spend more time with family.
A recent study by Leger and Valneva determined that nine out of 10 Canadian families plan to travel together this year and, for 40% of these families, it will be their first family vacation. And 18% of the families looking outside of Canada or the US for their first trip are choosing the Caribbean and Latin America, including Mexico, as their family vacation destinations.
I often suggest a family vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean with a baby as a great first trip, due to the (relative) ease of travel to get there, affordability (thanks to the number of packaged vacations and accommodation options), and—for the most part—these destinations are safe, clean, and welcoming to children.
Recent headlines about Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases are alarming, but mostly not dangerous unless you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future.
But all travel with babies and toddlers requires a good deal of planning, and these destinations can present unique challenges that can be stressful if you’re not prepared. So I’ve put together these tips for travel to Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby or toddler in tow.
Mexico and the Caribbean with a Baby: Eating
Feeding a baby at home can be stressful and frustrating, so the notion of feeding a baby on vacation with different food and water can be EXTRA stressful and frustrating. Depending on the stage your baby is at with regard to solids, it may seem just as much work as at home or possibly more, but in some cases, possibly less!
A baby who is still exclusively breastfeeding is the easiest to bring anywhere, since really you just need to make sure that mama is well-fed and properly hydrated. But these days, formula and baby bottles travel just fine. If you’re not sure if you can find your preferred brand at your destination, bring all your formula mix in your carry-on. After baby is past three months, you can use most kinds of bottled water to mix formula (less than less than 200 mg/litre of sodium, no more than 250mg/litre of sulphate),and if there’s no microwave or kitchenette, you can sterilize baby bottles in a hotel room. Today’s baby food in the foil pouches is SO much more portable than the (heavy, fragile) glass jars I had to pack, and packing a box of instant cereal always ensures a healthy meal.
Once they’ve graduated to finger foods and more complex meals, here’s where eating in Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby can get a little tricky. Scrupulous and vigilant hand washing is essential, but here is a strain of E. coli bacteria called Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) that is the most common cause of diarrhea in travelers and is typically found in food that is not adequately cooked as well as contaminated water and ice. Most large resorts have their own in-house water purification systems, but a quick consult with your doctor or pharmacist prior to your trip is advised to discuss travel vaccination options, since certain vaccines are indicated for children as young as two. If you are at all worried while you are there, stick to the old Peace Corps. adage, “If you can’t peel it or heat it, don’t eat it.”
My kids loved grazing from the buffets, and choosing their meals as they got older, but I did take note of the possible additions of salt and/or sugar that I would never include at home. But things like plain rice and pasta, bread and butter, and grilled meat and fish—all staples for my kids once they started solids—are abundant and very convenient from resort buffets and restaurants.
With all that said, Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby can be wonderful places to enjoy fresh, locally-grown, tropical fruits and veggies. We would mash banana and avocado in Mexico, my son adored fried plantain in Jamaica, and I’m certain my daughter’s passion for mango is a result of our Caribbean vacations.
Mexico and the Caribbean with a Baby: Sleeping
Depending on where you’re traveling from, one of the best things about traveling to Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby is the lack of (or minimal) time change. It should be easy enough to stick to your usual nap and sleep routines, although your baby might have different ideas. Mine would frequently be reluctant to nap in the room, and often would nap in the stroller or on the beach in the shade.
But even if baby jet lag isn’t an issue, knowing you have a safe place for baby to sleep might be. Not all hotels and resorts are equipped with appropriate or safe cribs or cots, so your own baby travel bed might be worth the investment if you think you’ll be traveling a lot. Co-sleeping and travel may also be challenging; you’ll need to ensure the hotel bed and bedding can be made safe for baby.
A trick I found that helped normalize our travel sleeping arrangements was to bring our crib bedding from home. Often I’d just take the sheet right from their bed and stuff it in our suitcase before we left. I think the familiar feel and scent of their own bedding was comforting in a strange bed and helped them fall asleep.
Mexico and the Caribbean with a Baby: Playing
The beaches are like the world’s biggest sandbox, so playing in Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby is usually lots of fun. But one of the reasons we love these destinations is also the biggest danger to our children: THE SUN.
Beach and sun safety and protecting baby’s skin from the sun is essential. We often slathered our guys in sunscreen and let them crawl around in just a hat , but we always found shade in the form of an umbrella or palapa. Babies under six months can’t wear sunscreen, so not only do you need shade, you also need UV swimwear and look into portable baby UV tents and umbrellas as well. Hats are a must; get ones with ties instead of Velcro if your baby hates them like mine would from time to time.
Water safety is also your highest priority. Not all resorts have (or have enough) toddler-sized life jackets, and most don’t have infant ones at all. These are good investments if you love the water, so finding the space in your luggage and bringing your own is wise. But no flotation device will protect your child more than your own vigilance. Always be within arm’s reach when you’re in or near the water.
Fun floaties and small sand toys don’t take up much room in your luggage, and are good to bring along if you’re not sure if your resort will have a collection to play with on-site. I’ve been surprised at how many don’t, and let’s just say that a bucket and pail at a hotel gift shop has given me more sticker shock than any car or electronic toy.
Mexico and the Caribbean with a Baby: Getting Around
Chances are you’ll be flying with baby to get where you’re headed, but once you’re there you still need to figure out how you’ll get around. Most package vacations include hotel transfers, and they’re usually via a coach bus where a car seat is not necessary. However, if you think you’ll be wanting to get out and explore, even a little, it’s worth the hassle to bring your car seat along. We made the (relatively small) investment in a travel car seat, which we also used in Grandma’s car at home. Travel with a car seat is a pain in the butt, but even if it sat in our hotel room unused, we have never regretted bringing ours along. And frankly you’re taking a chance if you rent a car seat from a car rental agency, since you have no idea of that car seat’s history, or even if it will be legal or clean.
In some places, public transportation is modern and clean and air-conditioned. In some places it is NOT. Taxis are hit and miss in a lot of smaller destinations, so if you come across a good one, take your driver’s contact information. If you want to do some sightseeing or a day trip somewhere, you’re better off hiring a taxi or private car where you can go at your own pace and install your car seat. It probably won’t cost much more, either.
Getting around Mexico and the Caribbean with a baby on foot can also be challenging since sidewalks and roads are not always what we would consider stroller-friendly. Umbrella strollers are great for zipping around airports and most hotels, but if you’re hoping to hit the beach and stroll around some local towns, it’s worth the effort to bring along a decent stroller that can handle rough roads. Our jogging stroller was awkward and heavy and bulky, but we loved having it with us since it handled cobblestones and jagged pavement with ease and–since my kids were comfortable in it–we could walk around and meander for much longer than if they were in a smaller stroller. A soft carrier or sling is great to have to get through the airport and to keep baby close for naps, but you both will overheat if you use it for any length of time during the mid-day heat, even if you’re out of the sun.
If you’ve got a question about planning a vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean with a baby, toddler, or young child in tow, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Leave a comment here, or reach out via Facebook or Twitter.
This post was written with support from Valneva Canada. As always, all opinions remain my own.