With flights and accommodation booked, our first holiday to Zanzibar pending and shrill excitement levels; we soon realised we’d overlooked one thing - Our baby boy Caleb.
We were about to travel internationally with our seven-month-old son for the first time and we had paid no mind to the most important things: Is it a Malaria area? Do we require a yellow fever vaccine? Can you give babies either of the necessary medication? Even more unsettling were the mixed replies from travellers who had previously visited. Some said yes to Yellow Fever, no to malaria. Others were dead set on the opposite.
When we queried the effects of the malaria prophylaxis in an infant, his paediatrician replied rather alarmingly with “Risk the side-effects of the medication or death”. Travel clinics and friends who’d frequented malaria areas as kids of missionaries and later as parents with young babies insisted that he was too young and sting prevention was the best method of keeping him safe.
Having suffered through bad headaches, nausea and hallucinating dreams on past malaria prophylaxis, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the effects it could have on his little body; so with conflicting arguments continuing in my mind, we chose the latter option of sting prevention. Needless to say I don’t think I’ve ever purchased as many mosquito repellents in my life. Ranging from peaceful sleep and natural options to baby-safe plugins, camp cot mosquito nets and sprays for clothing.
I envisioned a mosquito covered body suit that I could zip him into once the sun set, but no store provided this or any of the lightweight neutral-coloured clothing that adults were privy to.
Armed with his shiny new passport and our seemingly well-packed luggage we prepared to set off to Joburg with slightly less excitement and a hint of trepidation. Before getting started we were met with a domestic airline that insisted an infant’s luggage weight limit could not be combined with the adults.
So there we were having to pay for extra weight before our holiday had even began.
But we had something to look forward to on the flight - grandparents. After flying alone with Caleb only a month ago, Vaughan and I got clever and encouraged my parents and brother to come along for a holiday a.k.a as travelling babysitters. That way we may actually be able to eat meals at the same time and enjoy long forgotten couple time. Turns out we were right, eight hands made light work and entertaining Caleb for 4 or 5 hours of flight time did not prove nearly as harrowing.
CHECK OUT: Lauren's tips on flying with a baby
In the heat of a Wednesday evening, we dragged our overweight luggage through the narrow alleys of Stone Town on route to our hotel. Pushing the pram over uneven ground and past intricately carved doors, we were ushered upstairs to a warmly lit lobby with spices decorating the inner nooks of glass-topped tables.
Couples spilled out the doors embarking on a night of excitement in an exotic new land and families headed upstairs for dinner on the rooftop. Exhausted from a full day of travel, despite a short flight, Vaughan and I could hardly wait to explore the alleys and breathe in the island air from the rooftop.
Again, we nearly almost forgot that we had a baby. From two weeks into our marriage we’d left South Africa to live and travel through South East Asia and for the past three years had travelled as young, occasionally wild and childless people, free to roam and move about at any time of the day, dining wherever we chose and going to bed whenever we wished. Now we had a curfew, a little person’s bedtime to consider and a wanderlust that required curbing.
Thankfully Caleb is one of the happiest travellers we’ve ever encountered. In fact, he is happier when on the go, than at home ( wonder who he got that from) and loved his ever-changing scenery and new faces. Whilst he sometimes fell asleep easily (but often through strong co-ersion in his carrier) he didn’t transfer well so moving him from one sleeping spot to another at bedtime was not something that worked well.
By day we swam, played on the beach and indulged the island-lover in him. When darkness fell, we bid farewell to the warm evening and ‘date-nighted’ indoors on prawns, fillet and lobster cakes whilst he slept.
We’d have to tag team, letting one of us loose to enjoy the resort’s live entertainment whilst the other kept watch. One night, my mom babysat the sleeping cherub whilst we ran off like childless backpackers to savour freedom at night.
I laughed at the thought of my single travelling days when holidays meant waking up just before the breakfast cut-off time at the hostel at 1pm, lounging for hours on the beach with a book, sweetly exhausting days of endless sightseeing before heading out to enjoy the nightlife.
Now with a child, we found ourselves at breakfast before anyone else was awake and trying to precariously balance Caleb’s evening crazy hour over canapés (before giving up and ordering in) and retiring just as everyone’s night was starting.
As much as I occasionally mourn my solo and couple travelling days and wonder what in goodness’ name I did with all that sacred free time, I wouldn’t change our new season as a family for anything.
For a baby, everything is so new and magical, so to experience a place through his eyes is just surreal. I tend to notice the simple, small yet beautiful things in nature and my surroundings that I once overlooked. Also, I couldn’t imagine a better gift to share with him than travel.
Many intrepid travellers feel they need to give up travel once they have kids and ‘settle down’ in one place forever, but I decided long ago that this wouldn’t be us. Whilst life with a baby is certainly the biggest and most beautiful challenge I’ve ever faced and travel now seems daunting, a little preparation can make it quite doable.
And who knows, you may discover just how much your kid loves camping, exploring and travelling. Ours does and we plan to continue showing him as much of the world as possible albeit with less night outs, late sleep-ins and wandering too far off the grid…for now.
Family Friendly Resorts we stayed at in Zanzibar:
If you are really wanting to splurge this five star resort on the West Coast of Zanzibar proved incredible as a family of three. Our suite had its own private pool and great space to separate our relaxation space from his sleeping area. With everything so far away, it was great to have things to do on the property such as a tennis, biking around (with a baby chair on the back), watersports (although when we went in May it was too windy) and a games room.
Dinner only started after Caleb's bedtime so we ended up ordering in a lot, which they charge for and which can become expensive. Sunsets out on the jetty (with optional champers and canapés) are really spectacular plus Caleb loved the resident donkeys. Staff here really went out of their way to ensure we had assistance with a baby, especially when dining.
Ocean Paradise Resort and Spa:
Ocean Paradise is the ultimate on-the-beach resort where you can spend your time lazing on loungers beside the pool and on the sand. It's a beautiful, tropical property with luxury huts interspersed beneath palm trees.
We absolutely loved the tranquil, turquoise ocean here but didn't enjoy the vendors harassing us for sales each time we stepped near the gate. Also the breakfast area is not really accessible with a pram so it took a bit of hoisting up lots of stairs to reach the top. We loved the evening entertainment and music beside the pool plus the silent black and white films played at the top bar. Even though it's just a room with separate bathroom area it is rather spacious and the cot fitted perfectly within our poster bed's mosquito net.
DoubleTree by Hilton, Stone Town:
Situated in central Stone Town, everything was within walking distance. There's no pool, but were kept cool by the welcome breeze on the restaurant's balcony. The view of the roofs over Stone Town and towards the ocean is definitely a highlight. And evenings there were wonderful.
With a baby's cot in the room, it did get quite cramped so perhaps a family room option would be better.
A checklist before travelling to Zanzibar ( or other Malaria areas) with a baby:
- Call your local travel clinic to find out which vaccines and medications are required before entering the country. If a Malaria area also double-check what your child’s paediatrician advises before making a decision on your course of action.
- Note: If you are breastfeeding, you won’t be able to have certain medications or vaccines.
- Check that your hotel will supply a travel cot in your room, as well as a mosquito net.
- If your hotel does not fumigate upon turn down, bring your own mosquito repellent to fumigate while you’re out.
Lauren and Vaughan Manuel McShane are the writer and photographer behind the Travel Manuel. Their flights from Johannesburg to Zanzibar were sponsored by Fastjet and included accommodation - follow their adventures on Instagram or Twitter.
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