Want to visit Japan with an infant? Here’s how to make your trip a success

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When I first started traveling solo and blogging 10 years ago, one of the most persistent things I got asked was, “When are you going to settle down?”

The question irked me. It suggested that there were only two paths in life. But it didn’t seem to me that traveling and having a family had to be mutually exclusive.

Years later, having returned from my 20th flight with my now 7-month-old (which was our second international trip together), I know firsthand that adventures don’t have to end just because you have a baby. That said, traveling does look different with a little one.

When I decided to visit Japan with a young child, for example, I asked my community on Instagram for suggestions and received a direct message saying that Japan was “not really baby friendly.”

The more research I did, however, the more conflicting information I found.

People complained that the hotel rooms were too small, that some restaurants did not allow babies or children, and that transit could be difficult with all the extra baggage that children often require.

I’d been to Japan twice already, and I remembered it being one of the friendliest, most accommodating places I’d ever visited. So, I trusted my initial impression and decided to give it a shot for our first international family vacation. Fortunately, the country turned out to be just as welcoming to babies as I’d hoped.

Right away, Japan impressed me with its family-friendly amenities. There were impeccably clean family bathrooms almost everywhere, as well as ample changing tables. Several airports even have free strollers, should you decide to leave yours at home.

Restaurants were also quite accommodating, often offering an extra bowl of rice, a toy, a high chair and other amenities without us needing to ask. Plus, our baby got attention everywhere we went in the form of smiles and peek-a-boo interactions. I’m sure he’d happily move there full time.

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That said, there were some key things I did to make our trip successful.

Related: 12 tips on how to travel internationally with a baby

Book business-class flights

KRISTIN ADDIS

This was our first trip crossing the international date line and several time zones. My biggest worry was how we were going to get over the jet lag. I knew if we could have a comfortable experience flying to Japan and back, our chances of preserving nap time and having our baby sleep on the flight were much greater.

It just so happened that we flew both of Japan’s major airlines during this trip. For our flight out, we struggled to find a mileage option that matched what I had banked, so I used American Express Travel’s International Airline Program to find a 25% discount for our business-class flights with Japan Airlines and used my The Platinum Card® from American Express to book. The tickets were fairly reasonable at $2,000 each, plus $250 for having a lap infant.

I was so glad we opted for business class on this part of the trip. Not only was the service top-notch, but Japan Airlines’ Sky Suite meant we had almost complete privacy, with plenty of room for naps and tummy time.

During the trip, I scanned for deals and found flights home on ANA via United for 90,000 miles each.

Like our experience with Japan Airlines, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the air with ANA. Our little guy slept almost the entire overnight flight home, as did his parents.

If you’re like me, you may worry about getting dirty looks for bringing a baby into business class. Don’t stress about it, though, as we had no issues during our trip.

Odds are your child will not be the only baby (as was the case for us). People frequently remarked about how our son handles flights like a champ, even though we weren’t doing anything special to keep him calm. Lie-flat seats and the white noise of an airplane can do wonders for sleep!

Related: The best ways to travel to Japan with points and miles

Pack light

One of the toughest things to do with a baby is pack light. However, given the number of stairs in places like metro stations, I knew we’d thank ourselves later if we only took what we could carry. So, we left the stroller and car seat at home, opting to baby-wear and rely on public transportation.

Ultimately, it was the right way to go. Japan’s public transit system is efficient and reliable, so you can easily get to all the places you’ll want to visit without renting a car or using a ride-hailing service.

To make our journey to and from Japan that much easier, we also rolled the dice and opted not to bring his travel Pack ‘n Play. As light as it is, it still requires its own bag and was too much to carry on this trip.

Instead of bringing a portable crib, focus on accommodations with floor beds so your child can easily have their own mattress. I did this and also took advantage of my American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts credit so we could stay at The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Marriott-affiliated property that offered a surprisingly rare family amenity: a crib.

Related: How to pack — and prepare — for travel with a baby

Feast on convenience store cuisine

It was a running joke during our trip that we were either eating like royalty or dining on convenience store cuisine. We enjoyed both ends of the culinary spectrum, sitting for traditional multicourse kaiseki dinners and taking multibowl ramen tours. We even brought 7-Eleven’s finest back to our hotel so our baby could have his normal early bedtime routine. It saved us on long travel days, too.

I can’t imagine any other country where I would be as pleased with eating so many meals from convenience stores, but as anyone who has been to Japan knows, the country has some incredible food. You can get everything from hot meals to dried fruit in addition to inventive chip flavors, boiled eggs, mochi and Belgian waffles, among other items.

An added bonus is that convenience stores are everywhere, from train stations to just about every major city block, so you won’t have to venture far to grab a bite to eat. This proximity to affordable dining makes it extremely easy for anyone, especially a young family, to find sustenance.

Related: A beginners guide to visiting Tokyo: Everything you need to eat, see and do

Keep the itinerary loose

KRISTIN ADDIS

When traveling with a baby, flexibility is key. My biggest regret about the trip is that we did not have enough days for our first stop, Kyoto. Since we were still adjusting to the new time zone, we mostly stayed in our apartment rental until midday.

It was a good thing I hadn’t planned or booked too many activities, as things always come up when traveling with a baby. Sure, that means you can’t check as many things off a bucket list as you’d like, but the trade-off of watching your baby experience a world where everything is new to them is more than worth it. They may not remember the trip when they’re older, but it still means a lot to them in the moment.

It means the world to me, too. Instead of squeezing in more sightseeing, I’m glad we decided to prioritize one or two things per stop so we could save time for precious spontaneous moments with our son. Anytime we were able to achieve more was a bonus, and we never regretted keeping our day-to-day activities limited.

Related: The best types of vacations to take with a baby

Bottom line

Though what your trips look like will ultimately change after expanding your family, it doesn’t mean you have to limit your time away from home. There’s a big world to see, and we all deserve to keep adventuring, regardless of our age.



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