Denise and I decided early on to travel with Hope as soon as we can and as much as we can. We believe that the benefits of traveling with your baby, even one as young as six-or-so months, outweigh the inconveniences. For those on the fence: if you’ve gotten to know your baby’s temperament well enough and are confident that you can successfully manage your emotions (yours and your baby’s) in a busy and potentially stressful environment, then we say go for it. In terms of cost, if you can afford to travel then you can afford to travel with your baby. We’ve done it several times, always with no yaya, and you can too.
Our Melbourne trip marked Hope's second time in the city. Because of this, we knew what to expect and how best to deal with the challenges of having a baby along for the ride. In fact, before I even talk about the trip I want to share an important lesson we believe new parents ought to keep in mind when traveling.
WHEN BABY IS HAPPY, EVERYONE IS HAPPY
Hope is generally an even-tempered baby, but she has mood swings too. When she gets upset, she takes it out on mommy, who takes it out on daddy, who takes it out on the guy serving burritos at the tex-mex.
Your baby won’t be any different. The good news is that your most demanding travel companion is also very predictable and thus, can be managed. Here’s how. Even before you go on your trip, manage your expectations, keep your itinerary flexible, and maintain a positive attitude. Once you’re there, plan your days around your baby’s regular nap and feed times. In our case, we waited for Hope to go on her usual late morning nap before leaving our flat. Then we had a quiet first hour of walking around as she slept in the carrier. We also made sure to bring healthy organic baby snacks for her to munch on during the day, and thankfully there were loads of those in the local supermarkets. Lastly, take breaks every once in a while to let your baby feed properly and let everyone’s nerves get some rest.
Speaking of feeding: at 9 months, Hope's second time in Melbourne was different because she was already eating solids. We were initially concerned about finding food for her, but it turned out okay. We just frequented places that served some kind of rice dish that we could mulch into a soupy porridge. Sometimes we ordered extra and kept the leftovers in the refrigerator so we'd have food for Hope the next day.
With those general tips in mind, here are some highlights of our trip. I hope you'll find the information useful as you plan your next (or maybe your first ever) family vacation.
From a Filipino vacationer's standpoint, Melbourne is familiar enough to easily figure out, but different enough to be interesting. It's considered one of the most livable cities in the world with good reason: people are friendly, it's easy to get around, parks are everywhere, and food choices are plenty. The city itself is abuzz with energy thanks to its roots as a 19th century boom-town and to its burgeoning immigrant population. It's also arguably the 3rd wave coffee capital of planet earth. You don't love air as much as Melbourne loves coffee.
As parents, one of the things we love about Melbourne is that there are parent rooms everywhere. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a private breastfeeding room that your whole family can occupy. Aside from the usual changing table and sink, most are equipped with a microwave for heating bottled milk, and some are even stocked with wet wipes and other personal care products. All of the parent rooms we used during our trip were well-maintained.
If you do find yourselves in one of these rooms, don’t take too long, especially in places with lots of kids, like the zoo. One time we ended up waiting for half an hour for the previous occupants to finish (there was no convenient alternative at the time), and we, together with the other folks in line behind us, gave them some serious side-eye as they came out. Don't be that family.
THE PLANE RIDE
It takes 8 hours to get to Melbourne directly from Manila. 9 if you include the delays before you board the plane and 10 if you include the time you'll undoubtedly waste before taking off.
For those bringing infants and kids, we suggest you book an evening flight direct to Tullamarine (MEL) airport . Lights out for everybody on the way, then wake up down under. Our own flight was painless. Hope stayed on Denise's lap the whole time and only woke up a couple of times to feed.
GETTING AROUND MELBOURNE
We booked Starbus for our airport transfer. For a fraction of the cost of a cab they brought us directly to our airbnb at 135 Abeckett St. We loved our place! The building was in the middle of the CBD, just a short walk away from Queen Victoria Market and other local hotspots.
Above photos taken from our host's Airbnb page. Thanks Kate for the wonderful stay!
Because we went in April the temperature was a comfortable 16-21 degrees during the day. None of the notorious Melbourne flies made an appearance, and we were blessed with consistently sunny to overcast weather with little to no rain. Sweater weather.
A note to parents: it’s generally recommended to bundle up your little ones under 1 extra layer compared to the adults. If you’ll be under the sun though, or if your baby’s snuggled close to your body, she might feel warm so look out for a sweaty head and always keep her hydrated.
Wear good shoes, because you'll do a lot of walking. We brought a stroller but quickly realized it was a mistake. Hope wanted to be carried all the time (maybe because she was teething), so we ended up using the stroller to stash our bags and loot, and using our i-Angel hipseat to carry her. Getting around was made easier by the well-planned tram system. There's a free tram zone at the center that spans several blocks, and you can cover a lot of interesting locations just by hopping on and off the tram. For stops outside the free tram zone you'll need a Myki card. Get one from a 7-Eleven or at some stations and don't forget to top up. Make sure to tap your Myki card onto the fare collection meter if you're headed outside the free tram zone or be ready for a stern reprimand and a hefty fine.
For longer distances, you can take other forms of public transport or fire up your phone (we just bought a local sim card) and call an Uber. If you have a baby, you can’t take an Uber unless you have an infant seat with you. We found this out the hard way when we got turned down a couple of times. Taxis let you carry the baby even without a carseat. Don’t know why there's a difference in policy between the two, but there it is.
QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET
It was less than a 10-minute walk from our flat, so we went to QV almost every day. Queen Victoria Market is hipster foodie heaven on earth. There’s a fresh produce area outside, but for folks who just want to eat and and chill there’s also an indoor marketplace filled with local merchants selling falafel, sausages, turkey drumsticks, poke bowls, dimsum, and other “best-ofs” from a variety of culinary traditions. Local products like herbs, oils, beers, wines, and cheeses are also quite popular. And the coffee, oh the coffee. Some storefronts boasted of freshly roasted beans from all over the continent, each with their own story and unique flavor profile.
We let Hope take bites from our food every once in a while. With all the new sights, sounds, and tastes, she was surprisingly cooperative and we got to stay for an hour or longer each time.
We spent a whole afternoon at the Zoo and even at the cost of $36 per person the experience was well worth it. Hope’s favorites were the elephants, giraffes, and orangutans. Too bad the grown-ups got tired before we got to the big cats. The zoo is designed to be walkable, but they didn’t put all the big attractions close to each other. There’s always next time.
Our trip to Brighton Beach started with a half-hour train ride from Flinders station, past some suburbs and industrial areas. Then we walked from Brighton Beach station for about 15 minutes to the beach itself. Though we have more beautiful beaches in Philippines, the bathing boxes along the coastline make for a picturesque backdrop. We didn't stay long though. The sun was scorching hot and we aren’t really beach people so it was more of an “Instagram spot”, than anything.
Speaking of Instagram, you can just drop by any one of Melbourne's graffiti-adorned laneways for some pictures of gorgeous and thought-provoking street art. Hosier lane is one of the most well-known spots. We went a little before lunchtime and it was full of tourists jostling around for the best angles.
If you're planning to travel with your baby, Melbourne is a good place to start. It's a busy city but is easy to navigate and very pedestrian-friendly. We walked around with our daughter in a baby carrier and we didn't feel out of place because every few steps we saw another family doing the same thing.
As a final point, you should know that Hope doesn't like feeding from a bottle so Denise breastfeeds exclusively even while we're traveling. In Melbourne, my daughter was a trooper but my wife was 10 times more so: she busted out the boob and fed Hope in the middle of malls, out on the street, on the train, and everywhere else you can think of. At some point we had to change Hope's poopie daiper on a sidewalk bench, and once on the train too. Nobody batted an eyelash, so we just did what we had to do when we had to do it, in the most civilized way we could, and went on with our vacation. In the end, that's all you can really do: own your role and commit to making as many happy memories as you can.
I hope reading this encouraged you to start traveling with your kids. If you would like more insight as to why we think it's a good idea, I talk more about it here. If you have questions about our Melbourne trip, leave a message in the comment section below.
BEFORE YOU GO
- If you book Starbus for your airport transfer make sure to call them in advance to confirm your return trip and pick up time.
- Unless eating at fancy restaurants is your thing, save money by getting most of your food from the supermarket.
- Their sushi rolls are ridiculously large by Philippine standards, and the fish is fresh too. You can get a sushi roll almost anywhere.
- Seriously, don’t try to cheat the tram by not tapping your Myki outside the free tram zone. We saw some kids get busted by transit cops and it was scary.
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