Personal Travel

What it was like to travel to Sri Lanka with a six-month old

My husband and I always said that having a baby wouldn’t change the way we travelled. We love to go on trips where we’d travel around, exploring, discovering, adventuring, eating local food, drinking local drinks…you get the picture. Right, we thought when we found out we were pregnant, we’ll just keep on doing all that, but with the baby in tow, she’ll love it because we love it!

And so she was born, and the time came to find somewhere amazing to go. Holiday research being one of my major life loves, I set to work, discovering where in the world is particularly good to go with a six month old. Thailand? Easy to travel around, great beaches, bit of culture. Canada? We have family there, also easy and convenient. Mexico? A place neither of us had been there before, great food, relaxed.

But then I thought, the baby isn’t going to care where we holiday, so why should I choose a destination for her? Why not go to a place that I really want to go! And so we booked Sri Lanka.

In preparation we ploughed through web pages full of tips for travelling with a baby, bought a load of things that would either be extremely useful or absolutely pointless and planned an itinerary that would both satiate our appetite for exploring and stay in places long enough that the baby wouldn’t feel like all of her time was spent in a car seat.

And this is how it all worked out…

Our itinerary

We decided on a two week trip for baby’s first trip. I’d like to point out the fact that we had a fully planned itinerary with a car and driver, which is not the way I would usually do things, so a major concession to Little Miss straight off, but with the amount of time we were visiting for, the distances involved and the amount of stuff we had, it was the right choice for us. Sri Lanka has so much to see and do, you need a lot of time to do it justice but two weeks was about all the time we had and could afford. Lucky to, as this was February 2020 and Corona was just on the brink of really kicking off in the UK.

Colombo, the capital, is home of the international airport and where we arrived. We spent one night here before blazing a trail across to Habarana, where we spent four nights. Habarana is located at the heart of what is known as Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’; from here you can explore the timeless ruins of two of Sri Lanka’s ancient seats of power Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, the cave temples of Dambulla and, one of the island’s most recognisable sites, Sigiriya or ‘Lion Rock’. All of these spectacular places were on our itinerary, and we managed all of them except Dambulla, which I think was pretty good going.

Our next destination was Nuwara Eliya, up in Sri Lanka’s central highlands, where we spent two nights. We travelled by road to Kandy before taking the popular train up through the tea plantations which was a glorious way to travel, and extra good for Baby as she didn’t have to be strapped into a seat…not that she appreciated the views. Here, we visited a tea plantation in the sunshine and generally admired the beauty of the place.

Finally we spent six nights by the sea in Beruwala. This wouldn’t have been my first choice to be honest, there are far lovely seaside places we could have stayed – Galle, Marissa, Hikkaduwa, to name just a few. But as the trip down from the highlands was pretty epic, it was a case of as soon as we hit the coast, we stop and stay! In terms of sun, sea, sand and palm trees, it ticked all the boxes. There was also a lovely pool and a little restaurant selling fresh fish about 200 metres along the beach. Whilst we were there, we also took a day trip to Galle, a place I desperately wanted to visit, which ended up being a bit of a disaster with us only getting about an hour to spend there.

Did it work?

I think if Sri Lanka hadn’t been so beautiful, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself much. I sorely missed the freedom to explore, especially at places like Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Wandering willy nilly through ancient sites is one of my favs. The days that we were sightseeing felt quite rushed, and therefore stressful, and I didn’t feel I paid enough attention to what I was seeing. I did get to climb Sigiriya sans baby, who stayed at the base with her dad, and it gave me a taste of the old days and is one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Having said all that, on the other days it was nice to slow down, enjoy the sun and relax around a pool with our new little one – just being somewhere else after nearly six month mostly sat on the sofa feeding a newborn was pretty special.

I also suffered major mum guilt because the car seat that was provided was for a toddler, not a baby; we had debated many a time whether to take our own, but the tour company had sent a picture of an infant car seat that they had so we decided to leave it. We spent a lot of time holding Baby’s head when she fell asleep so it didn’t flop forward. It also didn’t help that in my sleep deprived state, I’d managed to leave the baby carrier on the plane, never to be seen again, so just having a pushchair was a bit restrictive in some places.

Our driver was lovely and loved Baby. In fact, she got so much attention! We had Sri Lankan grannies cooing over her and local kids peering at her through her pushchair shade as she napped, which was really lovely. I also found it amusing that the driver called the pushchair her ‘go cart’ as most people in Sri Lanka don’t use one, and carry their children everywhere instead, so some of the attention could have been on her method of transport rather than her!

Our flights

We flew from Heathrow to Colombo with SriLankan Airlines. Heathrow was pretty easy – there’s actually a family room that I never knew existed, with a place for kids to play and a private room to feed. We had bulkhead seats and were able to board first, getting ourselves set up with the bassinet and everything we needed before everyone was onboard. While it was great to have the bassinet, Baby wasn’t a fan, so we ended up having to hold her for most of the flight. The airline does have a flight attendant dedicated to looking after the kids onboard, and the one we met was lovely and helpful. We even got a little pack with a changing mat and wipes in it.

The flight on the way home…I can’t remember it at all! I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve repressed it for some reason, but I do remember that we were allowed to the front of the check-in queue at Colombo airport because of Baby, and that there was also a dedicated family area and bathroom in departures for feeding.

The gear

We had had a few trips planned for 2020 – we also had two abroad weddings we were going to as well as Sri Lanka, so we bought stuff that would work for all three…thanks Corona! The major things were a new lightweight pushchair – a Joie Tourist – which folds up quite small. Not carry-on small but small enough. My one complaint about it is that the hood didn’t, and still doesn’t, keep the sun off, but from my research that seems to be quite a common complaint. We supplemented with a Snooze Shade, which Baby wasn’t happy about, as it meant she couldn’t see. She’d poke her head out of the side to see what was going on instead!

We got a pop up tent to have by the pool and on the beach as a place for her to kick about and nap out of the sun and protected from insects, which was probably unnecessary, and an inflatable pool ring for her to float about in, which she enjoyed very much. A white noise machine for nighttime and naps, and a few pouches of purees as she was ready to wean while we were away. We ended up just giving her some of the beautiful tropical fruit to try, which is probably why she only wants to eat sweet things still! 

Would I do it again?

I don’t know. As much as I wanted our travels to be the same as they were before baby, it was pretty naive of me to expect that everything would be the same. Perhaps I’m just not flexible and relaxed enough to be one of those people who can just travel with their baby – but maybe the amount of time we had was an element, perhaps the fact that my maternity leave was ending a week after we got home also played a part.

Now that she’s a bit older, and sleeps better, I would be more willing to try that sort of holiday again, but if I was to travel with a baby in future, it would be a holiday based in one place with a few, nice chilled trips out to lovely sights. None of this is down to the baby herself, she was pretty chilled out, and loved looking at all the birds and animals, and going in the pool and all the attention she got wherever she was, so whatever I was feeling was probably self sabotage!

As for Sri Lanka, I didn’t appreciate you as much as I should have done, and I will come back one day and really take the time to soak up all the wonders that you have to offer, and love you as you should be loved.

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