Being a guidebook author and a journalist, I travel a lot for work. And for leisure; I didn’t get this job by accident. So when I became pregnant, I thought I’d make some adjustments but it never crossed my mind to stop travelling altogether.
Now approaching the end of my second trimester, I feel like I have made the best of it. Over the past five months, I have travelled to Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil and France, the latter on four separate occasions, including two extended research trips for the latest edition of Lonely Planet’s France guidebook. And it has all been a breeze.
Disclaimer: I am fit, healthy and enjoying a (single) trouble-free pregnancy. Were it not the case, I wouldn’t have been able to do as much. But provided you are well too, there is no reason why you should hang up your rucksack and put your passport on sabbatical until baby is old enough to fly.
Overall, I found that a little planning and some minor concessions (many of which I have to make at home anyway) were all that was needed for a great trip.
- Health check: Every woman and pregnancy is different so check with your doctor or midwife that they’re happy for you to travel (mine were very supportive). They’ll also be able to advise on medications you can or can’t take and what to do about immunisations and other disease prevention (more on that in a moment).
- Insurance: Policy provisions can vary depending on where you live, so it's important to check the fine print. If you're European travelling in Europe, most policies will cover you if you’re enjoying a trouble-free pregnancy (as with every condition, you’ll be covered for unexpected events, not routine appointments). Just take your medical notes with you, should anything happen. But in Australia, for example, no insurance provider will cover a pregnant woman flying internationally in the third trimester. Call your travel insurance before you set off; travelling without insurance could be extremely costly if you were to go into labour early while abroad.
- Flying: Many airlines put restrictions on pregnant women in their third trimester and the restrictions vary depending on whether you are flying long or short haul. Check the requirements before you book. In Europe, as a rule, the cut-off point is 36 weeks for a single pregnancy, 32 for twins/triplets. Once you’re past 28 weeks, some carriers ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date and that there are no complications with the pregnancy. Otherwise, the usual advice applies – drink plenty of fluids, move often and wear compression socks (pregnant women have a slightly higher risk of DVT, especially on long-haul flights).
Malaria and dengue fever prevention
This is the most delicate topic I had to deal with. Health professionals advise pregnant women not to travel to malaria-prevalent areas because pregnancy reduces the body’s immunity to the disease. If you must go, your options for prophylaxis will be more limited than usual: some drugs cannot be taken at all during pregnancy; others can only be prescribed during the last six months; others still only work on some strains of the disease (and therefore only in certain areas/countries).
As a rule, I take prophylaxis if travelling to a malaria-prevalent area such as Côte d’Ivoire (I know some travellers don’t, but that’s a debate for another article). Unfortunately, there was nothing I could take this time around, so I decided instead to go all out on prevention.
The powerful insect repellent DEET is not recommended in the first three months of pregnancy; talk to a trained medical professional about other options. Covering yourself up is key: I wore long sleeves, long trousers and closed shoes and decided to have dinner indoors in the evening rather than on balmy terraces. I also slept in an air-conditioned room; even better would have been a mosquito net on the bed, although these were surprisingly scarce in Abidjan’s mid-range hotels. I also bought Avon Skin So Soft (avonshop.co.uk/product/bath-and-body/skin-so-soft/skin-so-soft-original-dry-oil-body-spray.html), having heard that it worked wonders (it is actually a moisturiser). Its properties are not scientifically proven but anecdotal evidence is plentiful, so I thought I’d give it a try. The strategy worked for me: I left Côte d’Ivoire after four days without a single bite.
In Brazil, it was dengue, not malaria, I had to think about. There is no vaccine or prophylaxis available so I applied the same bite prevention strategy as with malaria. I did get a few bites over our two-week holiday, but then I’m not sure they were mosquitoes…
There are other diseases or health concerns you may have to think about before travelling, including immunisation - whatever the issue, do speak to your doctor about it so that you can make an informed decision.
Food and drink
I’ve found the food and drink restrictions of pregnancy to be my biggest frustration (if this were Twitter, I would add #firstworldproblem). I am a real foodie and cocktails are my guiltiest pleasure - having to forego unpasteurised cheese and charcuterie (cured meats) in France and caipirinhas in Brazil was akin to punishment.
On the plus side, I found people to be endlessly accommodating. In Corsica, I had waiters running back to their kitchens to check which, if any, of their cheeses were made with pasteurised milk; in Brazil, friends plied me with plates of specially well-cooked barbecued meat; and in the south of France, a restaurant made a fuss of preparing me a non-alcoholic aperitif.
Apart from these few restrictions, I followed the same precautions as usual to minimise the risks of food poisoning: filtered or bottled water if tap water is unsafe; piping hot food; salads from places you trust. I also carried snacks (cereal bars, dried fruit or bananas) to stave off the munchies (a pregnancy novelty).
OK, so perhaps you’ll have to swap canyoning for a trek and postpone your diving course until after the baby is born, but on the whole, I found that being pregnant has not stopped me from enjoying an active trip (and US athlete Alysia Montaño certainly rammed the point home in her recent 800m race - check out the video here). During my research for the France guidebook, I did several hikes in Corsica and the Riviera, cycled around Nice and kayaked off Île Rousse. In Brazil, swimming, snorkelling and hiking on Ilha Grande were among the highlights of my holiday.
The only time I felt uncomfortable was on a dreadful road in Parque Nacional do Itatiaia in Brazil. Knowing we’d have to do the same in reverse the next day, I decided to walk the worst stretch instead. As with health precautions, check with your doctor or midwife if in doubt about any activity.
It may be stating the obvious but wearing comfortable clothes is essential. I wore all my usual clothes until I was about three months pregnant and regretted not having invested in a pair of maternity trousers somewhere into the 2000km I drove for my France research (plan B was unbutton and unzip the jeans while driving – not terribly glamorous).
I got it right in Brazil, however: one pair of maternity jeans, a pair of linen cropped maternity trousers, baggy low-waist shorts and plenty of dresses. Maxi/long dresses were a dream; the short dress-cum-leggings combo also worked a treat (a thicker version of the latter would be perfect for winter/colder climes).
For swimwear, think about how comfortable you will be showing your bump: ‘tankinis’ and one-piece swimming suits are great alternatives to bikinis. And although I don’t have any plans to travel somewhere cold until the baby is born, if that were the case, I would certainly make sure that whatever coat I take zips over the bump – no one wants a draughty tummy.
If you are showing, be prepared for people touching your bump, even strangers, especially in Mediterranean or Latin cultures. You may also encounter some disapproval about you travelling. On the other hand, you’re likely to be shown unexpected kindness and attention: we received our first baby presents in Brazil from people we had only just met.
Need a few ideas on how to keep your young explorers entertained at home or on the road? Check out our Lonely Planet Kids books and apps. Kickstart the travel bug by showing them just how amazing our planet can be.