So our plans to holiday in the UK once we had a baby were pretty short-lived. By six months old she had travelled to Spain, eight months – Antigua, and her first birthday was celebrated in California.
In the run up to the latest trip we would be asked if we were going any where with our leave. We would explain, nervously yet excitedly, that we were off to California. Often we were greeted with a look that suggested we might be a little crazy, others a look a look of sympathy. Why on earth would you travel that far with a baby? We were excited by the trip – excited to catch up with family and friends, spend her first birthday at the Monterey aquarium, and enjoy time on the beach with her. Closer to the trip I did start to wonder why on earth we would go on such a long flight with a little one that wanted to crawl and cruise everywhere. How would she cope being confined? Would she sleep on the flight? How would she manage an eight-hour time difference? In my head I started to believe that if this trip went badly we would never travel far from the UK again. Antigua had been a lovely holiday but the five-hour time difference had been tough on Amelia. It led to us going to bed early and accepting that we would be up for the crack of dawn (or just before to be accurate). The next sentence was then a rationalisation that by the time we would next travel abroad she would be older and different again, so it was likely that we would do it again! Each time we have travelled with her it has been a very different experience.
It’s not possible to give advice that I am sure will work for everyone and their little one, since they are all different. But I can share some ideas that have worked well, and not worked well for us when travelling with Amelia.
- Preparing and packing – Be prepared! Pack early. I am really good at planning to pack early and then being very last minute. It’s not the idea scenario. We have been lucky enough not to forget any items. The list I end up making of things to remember is extensive! I would say that when planning the most important factor to consider is where are you going. By the time we went to Antigua the weaning process was fully underway. Since we were going to an island I made sure that I had enough food to last for the trip. The same went for nappies and wipes, etc. However, when going to the USA I packed enough to last the first couple of days because I was sure we would easily find a supermarket that sold everything we would need at reasonable prices. The lighter you can travel the better.
- Hand luggage – Try to keep this as minimal as possible. You have to be able to carry it all, and the baby, through airports when they don’t return your buggy at the gate and you must collect it from the baggage reclaim. However, make sure you have enough supplies for the flight. A well-stocked nappy bag is required, complete with a change of clothes (or two) for any mishaps. On a flight home Amelia somehow managed to unscrew the lid off a water bottle and completely soak herself. Having forgotten the all-important change of clothes she ended up disembarking in a cardigan, in London, in December! Make sure there are some toys to play with and keep their interest. However, be sure to avoid anything noisy that’s going to drive fellow passengers mad (I speak from a pre-baby perspective there). Have enough food and drink for the flight. Snacks work well to keep them busy. A really good tip I read was to order what you need from Boots in advance and collect from the post-security branch. This removes the need to worry about unpacking it all, tasting it (if required) and then repacking it all to pass through security. I didn’t pre-order for the latest trip and the amount of trays and clear plastic bags needed drove me a little mad. Especially since after stuffing them into the bags because I was told to by the man handing them out, I then had to unpack them all because the lady at the x-ray scanner said that’s what I needed to do. Trust me – pre-order and collect. It saves a lot of hassle! If you are going to take it through security make sure all the items you need to separate out are in one place so that its really quick and easy.
- Think about bedtime – Up until the most recent trip we took the Sleepyhead with us when we travelled. It provided an instant sleeping place for Amelia so that she could nap anywhere, and in travel cots it provided some security and familiarity. We also take her other bedtime paraphernalia – usual blanket, comforter, and Ewan the Dreamsheep. I don’t wash them in preparation for travel so that they smell familiar. We also take her sleeping bag and comforter on the plane with us. This way she has something familiar when napping, and if the flight is an overnight one then we can recreate bedtime as best as possible. I also took a big cushioned blanket to use as added padding and not all travel cots come with a good mattress. Where possible try and keep your bedtime routines as close to normal as possible when away. This seems to help Amelia get used to being away from home. We also realised after the Antigua trip that Amelia is definitely disturbed by us sleeping in the same room as her, and vice versa. So when we went to the USA we used AirBnB more than hotels. This meant we could select accommodation where we could put Amelia to bed in a separate space/room to us. If you are going somewhere where this is not possible, and have a child that’s not standing yet then the Snoozeshade for travel cots can be helpful. It sits over the cot and provides a ‘cover’, which also blocks out light to make the room darker, and can works as a bug net.
- Car seats – When travelling to Spain we took Amelia’s car seat. It was a group 0 seat, and we had the attachments for our pushchair so it doubled up as the seat top for the pushchair. In Antigua we chose not to take one at all since we were visiting a resort. By the time we went to the USA she had progressed to the next stage seat. As such we didn’t feel it was quite so practical to take ours since it would become another piece of (bulky) luggage. Plus, I wasn’t keen on it being damaged since it’s a necessity and they are pretty expensive! So we hired a car seat. It’s useful to note that we were told that, in the USA at least, you couldn’t leave the hire car parking lot unless you have your child restrained in an appropriate seat. We hired ours from the car hire company. In practical terms it was the better idea but Amelia did not get on with it at all. It wasn’t as comfortable as our little princess was used to, and as such she struggled to drop off to sleep as easily as she would in the car at home. There was a lot of screaming! Also, don’t forget your mirror if you use one with your rearward facing car seat. Its good to be able to see what they are up to in the back of the car. We did forget ours and ended up buying a new one whilst we were away.
- Stay flexible – Don’t have a rigid schedule. If you go with a tight schedule or plans to do everything there’s a chance you might get stressed or be disappointed. We’ve had ideas about what we would like to do on our trips, and perhaps one or two ‘must-do’s’ but we’ve tried to keep it less planned than perhaps we might have previously. We also made sure that we didn’t stay places for less than two nights at a time and tried to space our stops out evenly. Thinking about driving distances if you are doing a road trip, and bearing in mind that it may not take the time that the satnav says it will. Expect unscheduled stops, and embrace them! Our USA trip led to an unscheduled wine tasting because we stumbled upon a vineyard when we took the next exit off the highway because Amelia was screaming! We are now the owners of two lovely bottle of wine ready to be enjoyed. Consider travelling with friends so you can share parenting duties, or have someone to go off and do a trip with (we missed the snorkelling opportunities in Antigua).
Overall I would say don’t be afraid to travel with a little one. We really enjoyed travelling before Amelia came along, and it’s so nice to take her along with us now. It’s different, yes, but it brings about new experiences. Who knew you could enjoy a ride on the Dumbo ride or Snow white ride at Disneyland as a fully-grown adult! Don’t worry about what fellow travellers and passengers are thinking. We’ve had some grumpy looks as we board the plane, from people who think Amelia is going to scream the whole way. They’re the ones feeling bad when she’s peering over the seat and greeting them with a wide smile, and being really well behaved on the flight.
Enjoy your travels, and let me know if you have any other tips for travelling with little ones!