NEWSFLASH: Going away with a little one is doable, and can even be enjoyable.
In fact, there is a sound argument which states the younger they are, the easier it is. Babies basically want to be warm, fed, cuddled and rested which they can do in most places so they don’t mind long-haul flights as much as we do (plenty of little leg-room, even in economy!)
That said, jetlag, long journeys and foreign climes can take their toll on us poor parents so do yourself a favour and bear in mind The Three Golden Rules of Surviving Travelling with Kids:
Rule Number 1: Think carefully about where you want to go.
Your own private pontoon in the Maldives may have been your idea of heaven pre-baby, but try picturing your water-loving toddler trying to leap off it in some sort of paradise-themed suicide stunt every 5 seconds and the gloss somewhat fades from the shiny dream. Remote island in Scotland? All very well until your baby has a fever and you can’t buy calpol for 50 miles. Or it rains for 7 days straight and you’re stuck in your authentically draughty Crofter’s cottage.
This doesn’t mean you have to go to Butlins – we had a great family holiday in New York City when our son was only 4 months old – but be realistic about what you’ll spend your time doing. Bringing us to…
Rule number 2. Where will you stay and what will happen in the evenings?
An out of town B&B is all very well but come bedtime for your little one, you are stuck there unless you fork out for a babysitter every night. Even if you were willing to pay for one, it can be hard to find one you’d trust with your precious littl’un when you’re just passing through somewhere.
Similarly, if you’re in a hotel, try to avoid having just one bedroom for all of you and no baby-listening service. Otherwise you are simply stuck in a darkened room once the little one is snoring sweetly.
Of course you may decide to take them out in the evening with you in the effortlessly chic way French families seem to. Many children surprise their parents by behaving surprisingly well in this scenario but it’s not exactly time off for you as the Dreaded Overtiredness Monster threatens to call.
Use all your contacts to find out about child-friendly places to stay or reliable babysitters. Do they have baby-listening (basically you hand your monitor to someone else who comes to get you from a pre-agreed restaurant usually on-site if you’re needed)? Do they have family suites at reasonable prices? Do they have a list of babysitters they endorse? Can your share one with anyone else? At my sister-in-law’s recent wedding in the Channel Islands, four different guest families chipped in all of £10 a night to have a babysitter watch all our monitors while we danced the night away in the same hotel.
Or would you be better with self-catering where you can heat up baby bottles at any time of night, cook in to save a bit of cash and watch telly in a sitting room in the evening? Granted, no one makes your bed or changes your towels but in New York, we rented a two bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side for far less than a hotel room, and really enjoyed doing a little simple cooking and having family breakfasts together. We found it on airbnb.com, but you could also consider doing a flat swap for your flat in London to further bring costs down.
Some of our best holidays as a family have been staying in a villa in Europe with other young family friends. The kids entertain themselves at times and once they’re in bed it feels like a night out for you every night as you watch the Mediterranean sun dip armed with a chilled glass of local fizz and some of your best friends to share it (and the washing up) with.
Rule number 3. Travel savvy.
Travel as light as you can whilst bringing all the essentials. Try to be what my husband terms “a mobile unit” – that is that between you and your partner you can carry/wheel/push all your luggage yourself including any buggy. We usually manage with two big-ish wheelie suitcases, a rucksack for day trips, the changing bag hung on the buggy and, if required, the travel cot worn by the other one as a backpack.
A bit of kit goes a long way and doesn’t have to break the bank. We bought a travel cot for £20 from Asda and it has done us proud for two and a half years. Do learn how to put it up before you need it on day one of your holiday when you’re exhausted after a long journey – otherwise you risk hurling it out of a hotel window in frustration long after bedtime. When our youngest was tiny, we took a mini travel cot which packed up no bigger than a book – something like this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Koo-di-Sun-Sleep-Travel-Bassinette/dp/B004O2UPLE/ref=sr_1_3?s=baby&ie=UTF8&qid=1445608858&sr=1-3.
For that tricky 6-16 month phase where they really struggle to use a normal chair, a travel highchair like this can be very useful: http://www.jojomamanbebe.co.uk/sp+jojo-wipe-clean-pocket-highchairs-in-weaning-and-mealtimes+d3339
Get some adapters to plonk your carseat on your buggy. Most airlines (even Easyjet!) will let you travel with a buggy and carseat as well as your luggage. You could consider getting a smaller pushchair for travelling if your normal buggy is very large. You could even splash out on the beautiful Babyzen Yoyo http://www.babyzen.com/faq-yoyo.php for a pushchair which can fold into aeroplane overhead lockers and avoids that fun game “Find Our Buggy” every time your at the luggage carousel. Otherwise take your sling/baby carrier on the plane and keep your buggy till the last minute – you can always check it in at the gate just before you board the plane.
Check the law in your destination country about travelling with infants in cars and taxis.
A mini coolbag & mini freezer packs is very helpful for keeping kids’ food fresh as you travel. But bear in mind restrictions on bringing fluids on airlines.
We found a set of reins unbelievably useful in airports (and… er… everywhere) for our tearaway toddler until he was about 2.
Check voltage of electrical items. We once took my breast pump all the way to the US only to discover it was incompatible with US mains voltage so was a total waste of valuable luggage space.
Consider leaving your bulky steriliser behind and using either sterilising tablets or the good old-fashioned boil-in-the-saucepan method if there’s a kitchen where you’re staying.
Pack morale-boosting snacks for everyone in your hand luggage, and more nappies & spare clothes than you think you’ll need.
Bring or buy some small toys to entertain your little ones. A metal model aeroplane was the perfect “holiday present” for our son once and it got him excited about going on a flight. £2.50 well spent. And ipad ipad ipad – work that Peppa Pig magic.
And finally, a e-reader with a light to help pass the time during those inevitable early morning feeds…
-Sarah Kowenicki, brave mother of two sweet well-traveled little boys