As regular travellers, the arrival of our little one totally changed our travel style. So what are the challenges we face travelling with kids?
It’s been 18 months this weekend since our little one arrived and although we have still travelled quite a bit, our whole experience and strategy when travelling has changed. But with some adaptations and a bit of planning, travelling with the little one from a baby through to being a toddler has been… Well, great fun, but quite a change to our normal approach to travel.
Flight times vs meal/snooze times
When you’re baby free you pretty much pick the flight that you want. Save £20 by choosing the 5 am flight out of an obscure airport? Yeah whatever, we’ll drink through until departure time – maybe we can sleep on a bench in the airport.
With baby in tow this is one of the first no-nos. Getting a baby ready at silly o’clock, onto public transport and through an airport is just not fun. So you naturally gravitate towards flight times that can work around baby’s waking, feeding and sleeping times. This isn’t such a big deal as you’ll normally find that the price difference is negligible (often just £20 or so for short haul). We aim mostly for snooze times to be during the flight, or possibly while getting to the airport for minimum fuss while waiting to board.
Airlines let you take loads of stuff for baby
When you’re flying with a baby or toddler airlines normally let you take extra stuff like the buggy, a travel cot and a small bag. And crucially they let you pop it in the hold. We’ve found the budget airlines like Ryanair are kinda inflexible and pretty much insist you take all the stuff through the airport until its time to board. But some airlines will let you pop stuff in the hold at checkin, for no extra fee.
Some liquids are also okay to take through, including milk or water for baby if its in a baby bottle or cup.
We haven’t yet done a flight more than 3 hours with our little one, and that has so far been quite a test as it is. When very small they just need amusing and entertaining with toys, magazines, books and food – which is pretty tiring in its own way. Then as baby learns to walk suddenly she isn’t interested in books and toys, she wants to run up and down the walkway playing peek a boo with people. Which is, you know, very cute and all… For an hour.
Whatever your views on baby screentime, you’ll be grateful for a few downloaded episodes of Peppa Pig on your phone or tablet. Not just for your sanity but for the people around you. We also tend to buy a new kid’s magazine in the airport which usually gives you about an hour of distraction time.
Heading off on holiday you probably take enough pants and socks for a week or so, plus a change of shirt and some toiletries. Easy. Everything in a day bag probably, right?
With baby in tow suddenly there is a whole universe of stuff that you never even thought you’d end up needing ever in your life. Portable baby chair? Assortment of squeaky toys? Baby cups, bowls and cutlery? Enough wet wipes to last until next year? A full sized inflatable Iggle Piggle? Ok I might have exaggerated with the last one, but you get the idea.
Nightlife is a no no
One of the joys of travelling is exploring the local nightlife, enjoying a sunset cocktail or going for a romantic late night meal. But baby says no chance… If you’re aiming to stick to baby’s bedtime routine, that means you’ll be having your romantic meal (if you can call it that) and boozing during the daylight hours, and you’ll be back at your accommodation to put baby to sleep for the usual bedtime (give or take an hour or so). After all, you don’t want to be bedding down baby half cut and closing in on midnight.
So nightlife now consists of Netflix and possibly a glass of wine. Woop woop!
Self catering is good
If you tend to go for hotels then my tip is, go for self catering. AirBnb and self catered hotel rooms mean you can rustle up a snack if baby needs it, you can store extra bits and you’ll have a kitchen which makes it much easier for mealtimes. We’ve been doing pretty much 100% baby led weaning, which is great, but is apocalyptically messy. In a self catered kitchen this is no big deal, but we did ruin a hotel dining room in Edinburgh back which went down well.
If you go for a hotel room and need to use the hotels dining room then bring some kind of plastic mat (in the UK, Poundland do disposable feeding mats) to minimise the inevitable floor buffet. Oh and hostels? Forget it…
You meet the locals
In some places, especially tourist centres like Venice or Paris, you can go the whole trip pretty much only speaking to customer service personnel. Having a baby totally breaks down the barrier and you’ll end up having chats with randoms about everything from what she’s like at the moment through to more general stuff about life the universe and everything.
In Bilbao we seemed to make friends everywhere, in large parts due to baby wandering up to randoms and shouting at them. Equally, in Paris we probably spoke to more locals than I ever have in my multiple years going to Paris thanks to the charms of the little one.
Have a plan
When you travel solo, or whatever, you can literally arrive somewhere and head out the door and see what happens. Got lost? Cool, lets explore. No idea what to do? Fine, lets sit in a cafe and browse guide books until you work out the best things in town.
With a baby you don’t have that luxury. Having a few way points, ideally ones that pass by play areas and factor in possible tantrums, feeding issues and snooze times are all a good idea. This doesn’t mean you can’t explore, but it just means knowing your options will make it ten times easier if it all goes to shit (literally). Trying to find somewhere to change a baby in a strange town when you don’t speak the lingo is not fun.
Another thing is being aware of the terrain. When we were in Edinburgh we didn’t factor in the hills of the old town and all the steps, so it took us a while to go around the accessible alternatives. Bring a buggy and a sling and be prepared to do a bit of a hike when needed.
Prepare for the weather
Since travelling with our bub we’ve been in both scorching 30°c heat, torrential downpours and subzero temperatures. This is basically the same as travelling solo, but you if you get sunburned or soaked you just shrug it off eh. Baby won’t be so forgiving. Be prepared and bring the things you’ll most likely need: shade, sunscreen, waterproofs, a blanket, plenty of water…
Although we’ve only travelled in Europe with our little one so far, street food is still a saviour. When she is freaking out and hungry, a distraction with a snack is a good way to calm her down and enjoy a bit of the local culture. Asia and South America are also great for street food, but if you’re worried about food poisoning I’d aim to keep it as fresh as possible – so meat and fish straight off the grill, or fruit that has been freshly prepared.
Although we’ve never been mountaineers or long distance hikers, we do like to get a bit of a mission on the go. From a half day coastal stomp, to a trek up a local hill, an expedition is one of the great ways to get to know an area.
Baby changes the approach slightly, and usually means you’ll be using accessible pathways and probably only doing a fraction of what you would normally. If there is an option for something like a funicular, bus or train, perhaps take this one way and walk the other way. Also there better be a playground at the end of it or you’re in trouble.
Snow sport lovers will be aware that a day on the slopes is going to be a bit more managed when you have a little one. Although we haven’t yet done a trip with baba to the slopes yet, most resorts have a creche setup for kids, normally over 18 months. This is usually extra (and quite expensive), so perhaps organise a day of creche and a day where each of you hit the slopes solo while the other baby sits.
You’ll also find creche options in beach resorts and high end hotels too, which is handy for a bit of mummy and daddy time. Sometimes they come as part of the package, sometimes not. If you’re booking a package, check first what comes included.
Dealing with baby’s bedtime in a massively different time zone is a challenge we haven’t had to deal with yet, but the difficulties involved are well documented. Where possible, try to move them as close to the new time zone as you can before departure. This might involve a bit of strategic waking or keeping her awake a little bit longer than usual to adjust before departure.
Factor in the fact that days one and two are going to be a bit of jetlag nightmare and work out how to adapt. This is usually some incremental adjustments to bedtimes and using activities and distractions to manage the inevitable temper tantrums (yours and theirs).
Baby loves travelling too
Your new arrival doesn’t mean the end of your travelling days, but a change in the way you do your travel. Yes, you’re less likely to find yourself in a seedy nightclub at 4 am doing vodka shots with the locals, but you’re more likely to find yourself at a baby friendly cultural event and not feeling like shit the next morning. OK, sleep deprivation notwithstanding.
But travel with your little one can be a joy and is the start of a new chapter in your life. So enjoy it for what it is and embrace it!
Got any tips for travelling with kids? Share your experiences of travel with toddlers and babies with us below… Cheers!