Parenthood is, for many, one of the most wonderful parts of life and, without a doubt, worth the personal sacrifices that go along with it. That said, the late nights, early starts, constant preparation and being ‘on-call’ 24/7 can eventually start to take its toll. For many, a holiday or mini-break is the go-to remedy for those days when it all seems a little too much. But with your new ‘third wheel’ in tow, the thought of a weekend away can feel as unlikely as winning the lottery. But does it have to be that way? Not necessarily! Here are some of our top tips for traveling with babies and toddlers.
What is a good age for a baby to start traveling?
As with most aspects of parenthood, there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this. The early months are when your baby is generally at its most vulnerable and, arguably, most needy. Regular feeding, nappy-changing and sleeping generally mean that the benefits of a trip away tend to be outweighed by the practical considerations.
That said, after the first three months or so, infants develop rapidly and are often far less ‘fragile’ than parents may fear. In fact, the three-month threshold can, for many families, be the turning point where trips away from home become a viable option once again, provided they are well planned and kept somewhat low-key. A week on the beach in the Bahamas may be pushing it, but that long weekend in Europe may well be on the cards sooner than you first imagined.
After all, this is that sweet spot in life where your baby is far less likely to be significantly disturbed by travel or new surroundings — and is yet to get on their feet and start running around causing mischief! In fact, many babies react surprisingly well to journeys of up to several hours, often spending much of the time asleep or taking in their fascinating new surroundings. Spending a night or two in a strange environment is also less of a concern at this age, particularly if you pack a few comforts from home. Who knows — you may finally all get that good night’s sleep you’ve been craving!
Toddlers, on the other hand, will be much more engaged in the whole experience. While this will create endless opportunities to create wonderful memories as a family, it’s also important to remember that they will also be more sensitive to disruption of their routines and strange surroundings. This may manifest itself in a number of ways, but it’s worth remembering that toddlers may not necessarily understand the concept of ‘travel’, so be sure to build extra down-time into your schedule to allow them to cope with the sudden changes.
First trips away from home can be a stark reminder of how much we rely on our home surroundings for support. That said, with a little careful planning and some smart packing, a few essentials will go a long way to making your first holiday a success. Just remember to make your packing list appropriate to your destination — a stroller will be much more useful in Europe or the US than it would, say, on a trekking holiday in Nepal!
- Baby carriers are invaluable when traveling with young children, and are often a more practical option than a stroller. Wrap-style carriers can be perfect for younger babies, while the ever popular Ergo carrier is ideal for children up to age 2.
- If planning to undertake longer walks or hikes, or extended sightseeing on foot, a backpack-style baby carrier is a great option and will allow your baby to enjoy the view, too!
- If renting a car or driving extensively while abroad, a combined car seat/pushchairs can be useful if your car rental company does not offer their own for hire. Realistically, this is only practical in developed countries where you can safely drive yourself between your destinations.
- Traveling with lots of extra clothing that can be worn in layers is an excellent way of maintaining your baby’s temperature while on the move.
- Travel-sized blackout blinds are a great way of maximising rest time on longer journeys or simply keeping your little one cool and protected from the sun.
- Modern life calls for all manners of electronic equipment, and iPads and the likes can be a great way of keeping the kids entertained —just remember to pack the chargers and adapters! Make sure you don’t forget a portable baby monitor when packing your electrical items.
- Lightweight and collapsible shelters are essential if spending extended periods outdoors, providing protection from both the sun and wind, or even rain!
- A portable or foldable travel high chair is another useful item to consider packing, making mealtimes easier and more comfortable for all involved!
- A fair proportion of hotels will not have cribs available, so look into purchasing a travel cot or travel baby bed ahead of departure.
Health & Safety
It goes without saying that traveling with babies and toddlers calls for extra precautions when spending time away from home. Alongside all the regular ailments that can affect the little ones, spending time in unknown places can also carry its own risks. Being prepared and packing a few smart essentials will help to make your trip as safe as possible.
- A simple child-proofing kit containing door knob covers, electrical socket covers and the like will instantly transform most hotel rooms into baby-safe zones. A basic first aid kit, including a baby thermometer and common medicines (such as Paracetamol, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Decongestants, Cough Suppressants, Electrolyte Solution and Tylenol), is also advisable.
- High factor sunscreen, offering both UVA and UVB protection is essential for keeping delicate skin safe during extended periods outdoors. While an absolute minimum of Factor 30 is recommended for delicate young skin, many brands even offer a special ‘Baby’ sunscreen which will be by far the best choice!
- Using your own car seat on public transport, in taxis or in hire cars will offer the maximum protection to your little one while traveling although it will add considerable weight to your packing.
- When flying, keep a pacifier or sippy cup onto hand for quick relief in case the changing air-pressure causes discomfort.
- Check with your doctor well ahead of traveling to see whether any vaccinations are recommended for your destination, and ensure these are administered in good time.
- Where practical, staying on your ‘home’ time zone can be a great way of minimising disruption to your little one’s routine.
- Toddler’s love to explore the world by putting everything in their mouths. On holiday, try using disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to keep this to a minimum to avoid stomach bugs. If the worst should happen and your little one gets an upset stomach, remember to keep them hydrated with small amounts of clear fluids and water mixed with electrolyte solution.
Meal times are an essential part of the day for any infant, and whether breastfeeding or using formula milk, life on the road can make it challenging to keep to your routines. After all, nobody likes being hungry a long way from home!
- Snacks and food are not only vital to your baby’s wellbeing but also make for great distractions on long journeys. Keep a few small items easily accessible at all times in case a hunger pang should strike.
- If you are breastfeeding, be sure to carry an extra bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated on the go.
- If you are not breastfeeding, ready-to-use formula milk is by far the most convenient option while traveling — just be sure to check for any restrictions on carrying liquids when flying.
- An extra-large, wipe-clean bib for mealtimes will minimise the need for complete outfit changes, and in turn, allow you to go for longer durations between doing laundry.
- If you are traveling to a destination where it will be easy to find the food your baby needs, be kind to yourself by only packing what is necessary for your journey — although having a small buffer in case of delays is a great idea.
- When dining out, try to book in early when the restaurant is at its quietest. That way, you don’t have the worry of upsetting other diners should the kids start acting up. Check ahead to see if high chairs are available!
Rest and ‘downtime’ will be a major part of your first trip away as a new family, so it’s vital to make sure the accommodation you choose is suited to your circumstances. With a broader range of option available than ever before, a little research and planning will go a long way to making your trip memorable for all the right reasons.
- Holiday homes and apartments can be a great option, as basic facilities such as a kitchen with refrigeration will typically be available — invaluable when it comes to mealtimes and storing food for baby.
- Be sure to request a cot, if needed, well ahead of arrival to give your accommodation enough time to make the necessary arrangements. Better still, use the filter function on booking websites to choose accommodation which provide baby facilities as standard.
- A thorough check of your room for potential hazards as soon as you arrive may be arduous after a long journey but will save a lot of worry for the rest of your trip.
- Booking the night before you are due to arrive can be a great way of ensuring you can check in as soon as you arrive, particularly after an overnight journey.
- If within your budget, larger accommodations with multiple rooms can be a great way of ensuring you have your own personal space to retreat to at the end of the day. Many hotels have one-bedroom suites, which are sometimes cheaper than an apartment-style setup, and can be a good option to give parents a break when baby goes to bed.
- Don’t think that because you’re a new family, you can’t enjoy a touch of luxury. Some of the very best hotels are also the best equipped and most baby-friendly!
- If you are going to a hot-weather destination, checking for a kiddie pool is a good idea!
If your planned trip calls for air travel, don’t give up hope just yet! While many parents anticipate flying to be one of the most stressful aspects of traveling with young children, this doesn’t have to be the case. Airlines are better equipped than ever to cater to younger travellers, and a little preparation in advance can go a long way.
- The majority of airlines will offer priority boarding for those traveling with young children, allowing you extra time to get settled into your seat.
- Paying a small surcharge for an extra-legroom or bulkhead seat can be a great way of improving comfort and guaranteeing that all important extra space.
- The dry atmosphere on board aircraft can cause rapid dehydration and discomfort, so be sure to have a sufficient amount of drinks on hand, with spares in case of a delay to in-flight service.
- Both, before an hour of the journey and during layovers, make sure you find out what facilities are available for families at the airport and take full advantage of them. Baby change rooms, play areas and quiet zones are all fairly common and can make the world of difference during long periods of waiting. If nothing else, it can be a great way to meet other parents and share experiences!
- And if all else fails, having a few ‘in-flight bribes’ to hand, such as a packet of sweets, can be a useful last resort in calming most situations.
Before setting off, it’s important to take two minutes to step back and check that you’ve covered all of the basics. Here’s a basic packing checklist to get you started:
- Nappies – One per hour of travel, plus extras in case of delays.
- Nappy changing mat – either disposable or reusable.
- Wipes, hand sanitizer gel, nappy rash cream, tissues and all other changing-related goods!
- One or two changes of clothes per day.
- Plenty of plastic bags to store dirty or soiled clothing.
- Baby food, lightweight plastic eating utensils, a wipe-down bib and, of course, food and snacks!
- Bottles, formula, extra nipples, juice cups and a breast pump if you use one.
- Extra dummies, some small toys, a travel-sized nightlight and any other small items to comfort your little one a long way from home.
- A collapsible stroller and car seat if traveling by car and space permits.
- A selection of snacks and drinks to keep you going through a long journey!
There’s no denying that the early days of parenthood can not only be hugely rewarding, but also challenging. At a time when it seems that your own existence revolves entirely around nurturing your newborn, it is essential to also look after your own wellbeing, and make sure that you get the downtime you need and deserve. And now, having read our tips for traveling with babies and toddlers, we hope that your dream vacation as a new family seems just a little more achievable!