I love the quote by author Isak Dinesen that reads “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” A beach holiday has always been one of my favourite kind of getaways as it combines everything in the best possible way. However, bringing babies along on a such a break can be a different ballgame altogether.
We braved a beach holiday in Langkawi with our 20-month old twins in January, towards the tail end of the monsoon season when the torrential rains had tapered off. We enjoyed blue skies and sunny days. What I learnt at the end of our 4-day, 3-night family vacation is that with a little bit of planning, babies and a beach holiday go very well together, like Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik.
Below are some tips if you are thinking of a similar trip with baby over the Malaysian beach holiday season (that officially starts in March!).
Select a child-friendly hotel
With tots in tow, you are unlikely to venture outside the location. So, check if your accommodation has facilities and activities to keep your little ones engaged. We chose The Andaman because:
- It was well recommended by friends and mummy forums / Facebook groups, and www.hotels.com offered good deals.
- We heard their beach had powder-fine sand and was clean – more comfortable and safer for little tushes to sit on, and little feet to walk on.
- Kids under 3 years eat for free, and the menu is pretty decent. It is a kids’ menu that is not an apology for one; and might actually meet with the approval of parents who advocate healthy meals. Not only are the usual pastas, pizzas, burgers and chips there, but also corn-on-the-cob with melted butter, cheese and fruit kebabs, vegetable crudités with dips, and rice paper rolls. You might be tempted to steal bites from your toddlers’ plates, like we did.
- There is a playroom and organised activities for kids. Though our twins were too young to participate in the daily kids’ excursions (revolving around nature and exploration) around the resort, they enjoyed the ride-ons, tunnels and playhouse at the Young Explorer’s Club room when it was too hot to be outside.
- There are meaningful activities offered at their in-house Coral Nursery e.g. private guided snorkels around the nursery every morning, educational talks on marine life as well as fish feeding every evening where parents and kids can actually go inside the nursery waters to do so. There is also a Touch Pool with animals like starfish, sea cucumbers etc. It’s a great way to expose children to marine conservation.
- The pool has a kids’ slide, and the towel hut loans out beach toys.
- The hotel concierge was very responsive to our email queries sent beforehand. They emailed us the kids’ menu ahead of time (making it easier to decide what foodstuff to pack) and even secured us airport transfers with child seats, which frankly surprised us. It is always worthwhile writing to your selected hotel to check if they can accommodate your requests.
Even if it isn’t sunny, your baby’s delicate skin can still burn so sun protection is vital. Here are some tips:
- Babies younger than six months should be kept out of the sun altogether and in the shade. Older babies and toddlers should also stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day).
- Dress babies in cool cotton clothes that loosely cover their legs and arms. Consider wide-brimmed hats that shade their faces and necks (e.g. legionnaire-style caps with long flaps at the back), and even baby sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun and sand.
- Use a sunscreen specially formulated for babies/children, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Make sure it has a broad-spectrum brand with a four-star or five-star rating that offers UVA and UVB protection (stated on the packaging). Do a skin irritation test at home before using the sunscreen. Before going out, apply a fairly thick layer to areas of baby’s skin not covered by clothes or a hat – including hands and feet.
- Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours, and after baby has played in water. Small children can still get sunburnt in the water. So if you take baby into the sea, keep her T-shirt or UV swimsuit on.
- Aloe vera gel can provide good aftersun relief (Sasa has this).
- Fashionable swimsuits (especially for little girls) are fun but rarely functional. Best to go for practical bodysuits with sleeves and pants that offer UV protection and keep baby warm. Mothercare, Speedo and Arena have good ranges.
- Washable baby beach sandals will protect baby’s feet from the heat of the sand and any sharp shells or stones. We got Nike ones from Parkson in 1 Utama.
- Swim diapers (we used disposable ones by Huggies)
Baby beach / pool gear
- Have big towels on standby after swimming. Babies and toddlers can lose heat quickly after they have been in the sea or pool, and will need to be warmed up immediately.
- A beach sarong is useful for kids who are uncomfortable with sand. Many babies have immature sensory systems, and may get upset when walking on sand and having sand stuck to their body. However, I personally feel it is good to slowly get your baby accustomed to these new sensations and desensitise them through progressive exposure, unless they get particularly distressed. My usually active son refused to budge when initially placed in the sand, but slowly got used to it.
- A cooler bag with snacks and drinks to stave off hunger or dehydration. Bring plastic ziplock bags for “taking away” baby-friendly food (e.g. raisins, buns, hash browns) from the hotel breakfast buffet as snacks between meals.
- Baby pool floats
- A bucket, spade, and inflatable beach ball can keep a baby happy for many hours – we got these from the larger Mothercare and Daiso outlets
- A camera to capture memories of baby’s “firsts” at the beach
- Plastic bags (for wet clothes)
- Thermometer, Baby Paracetamol, Baby Sterimar, nasal aspirator, antiseptic cream or wipes, plasters
- Rehydration sachets
- Insect repellant (we like Badger’s) and bite cream (like Lucas Papaw)
Beach holidays with babies are drastically different from any pre-baby vacations you’ve taken. You may feel like you had days of non-stop exercise rather than a relaxing week in paradise. It can be exhausting. But if you plan ahead, revise your expectations and include some mummy “me time” like a massage, you can still have a great getaway.
Bon voyage, babies!
Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.
Image Credit: Li-Hsian.