In his first six months my baby has been to nine countries, travelled roughly 6,000 miles and spent around 50 nights away from his own home (though always with us).
We’ve stayed in a cottage in Yorkshire, been camping in Wales and in Dorset and most recently took a month-long road trip round Europe where we visited France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.
When you have a baby every trip away needs some thought, but obviously that last holiday took the most planning: we were away for 30 nights, slept in 13 different places, covered thousands of miles and spent a lot of time on the road. When we set off, our baby Sam was five months old.
So when Expedia got in touch and asked me to share some travel tips, I thought it might be useful to talk about what how we made travelling with a baby easier and safer, some of the things we took with us and what we learned along the way.
1. Go at the ‘easiest’ baby age
If you can be flexible about when you travel, think about your baby’s development and go at a time that will be best for you all. So many parents said we were going at just the right time – I gather holidaying with children is easier before they’re mobile!
Sam was largely breastfed during our month in Europe, and we didn’t start him on solids until we came home – so feeding was straightforward. Since we got back he’s become much more active, rolling over repeatedly and is getting close to crawling. I can see that travelling with him would have been more difficult if he’d been even a month older.
2. Work out and limit travel times
Before we went we planned our journey, using Google maps to work out travel times and from that our destinations and overnight stops. We decided that 4-5 hours driving in one day would be the absolute maximum – we only did this two or three times; usually a travelling day involved 2-3 hours of driving.
You have to take into account how well your baby travels and how happy he is in the car seat. Luckily Sam is pretty content in the car and usually slept while we were travelling from place to place. We made sure he had toys to hand and we packed the car in such a way that I could sit next to him on the back seat if needed.
3. Plan your days around meal and nap times
While I’m not a believer that a baby’s routine should be set in stone and never strayed from, it’s sensible to bear in mind his usual habits when planning what you will do each day.
For example, we tended to begin our driving days around 9-10am, to coincide with Sam’s normal nap time. He’d usually sleep for the first two hours at least. If we had a lot of ground to cover in one day, we’d break it up and factor in a long lunch break somewhere nice, which gave us all the chance to stretch our legs and get some fresh air and sunshine. When back in the car, he’d often be ready to sleep again.
Likewise, on sightseeing days, give yourself plenty of time for breaks when baby can lay down, stretch out, move around and play with you. Think about where it is best for you to be at the times they usually sleep and eat. It’s the obvious kind of thing: don’t decide to tour a museum just when baby is ready for lunch.
To help you stick to your rough schedule, it may be wise to book ahead to avoid big queues at major sights. We wished we’d done this for the Colloseum and Vatican City in Rome.
4. Make time for your baby
Even though we were away in Europe for a month, we had six countries to visit and lots we wanted to see. But my advice if you’re travelling with a baby is to not pack in things to do every minute of every day. Make time for your baby as well as seeing the sights.
Stay flexible if you can in case they fall ill or have an off day, and throw in ‘spare’ days with no particular plans so you can focus on them – this may end up being a day at the beach, around the pool or picnic in a park. We had to accept we couldn’t do absolutely everything we wanted when we were away; we’ll just have to go back some other time to pick up the places we missed.
5. Stick to a familiar routine
When you’re travelling there is bound to be lots that is new to your baby, so keep whatever you can ‘normal’. We tried to put Sam to sleep at around 7pm each night, which is his usual bedtime, and before bed he had a bath or shower then a bottle, just as he would have at home.
You might not be able to embrace all the spontaneity of travel you could BC (before children) but you don’t have to give up completely the holiday pleasures you enjoyed previously. A couple of times we got Sam ready for bed and let him sleep in the buggy while we enjoyed a meal at a restaurant.
6. Go self-catering
When we were away, we stayed at a range of accommodation: with friends, in hotels, guest houses, a tent and a caravan.
We found it best to have self-catering facilities, so we could get Sam to sleep then cook a meal together – and invariably sink a bottle of good, local red wine which would usually cost less than €2.
When we were planning the trip, I felt that tents – the ones that are all set up for you with beds and a kitchen, and on campsites with lots of facilities – would be a good and cheap option for most of the trip. Unfortunately we found other campers very noisy, and we weren’t happy having more than the baby keeping us awake at night.
As a result of what we’d experienced in the first 2-3 weeks, we booked our accommodation for the last 10 days or so through AirBnB. We had one bad experience, but found most of the homes to be of a good standard and competitively priced. And having a complete home with all the usual facilities – including a washing machine for all that dirty laundry a baby generates – was brilliant.
7. Get a backpack
Forget your designer nappy bag or even your favourite tote. When you’re travelling for any length of time a backpack is by far the most practical bag for carrying around your necessities. It leaves both hands free for taking pictures or reading maps and as you can see I often had Sam strapped to my front at the same time :)
// at Krka National Park in Croatia //
This is what I usually carried in my backpack:
- nappies, nappy bags, wipes, hand sanitiser, changing mat
- baby sunscreen
- change of clothes and perhaps a jumper or sunhat for Sam
- bottles and formula
- travel documents and information
8. Take a reclining pushchair
As I mentioned when I shared my tips for going camping with a baby, we have a compact buggy for travelling with – the Baby Jogger City Mini – which is a little expensive but folds nice and flat with just one hand. It also has a full hood which protects from the sun and reclines fully which was particularly important for us while travelling in Europe because it meant that Sam could nap safely when we were out and about.
// in Strasbourg, France //
9. Get into babywearing
It’s no secret I’m a fan of babywearing but I’m not sure how we’d have managed while travelling if we didn’t have a baby carrier. Without it I think we would have really struggled to visit national parks, climb hills and steps to visit castles or make our way round big cities like Rome on public transport. With it, we saw everything we would have if we’d have been baby-free tourists.
// overlooking Salzburg, Austria //
Sam is becoming a bit resistant to being strapped into things these days, but as long as I’m moving he’s usually very happy in a baby carrier.
You want a sling or carrier that you and your baby find comfortable, so that hopefully your baby will sleep in it and it doesn’t strain your back. If you’re not sure which one to go for, you could get some advice and try out a few at a local sling library.
For the trip, I borrowed a Connecta from a library and loved it. Now (because Connectas seem to be a little like gold dust) I’ve bought an Ergobaby which is also great. Both have hoods, which protect baby’s head from the sun and helps them nap.
10. Always have food ready
Like most, my baby has a meltdown when tired or hungry. Particularly at the age he was while we were travelling, he tended to decide he was starving with very little notice, so if we lost track of time or weren’t able to feed him instantly we could have a very loud baby on our hands for a while.
For most of the time we were away I was breastfeeding, so that was fine: no equipment, preparation or warming/cooling required – except for finding a convenient café. But we’d decided I’d stop feeding him at six months so were moving him onto formula for about the last week or so of the trip.
So we could always make food on the go, wherever we were, we travelled with a portable gas stove and stove-top kettle, for boiling water. The kettle was handy even when we were staying in apartments, because few Europeans have electric kettles.
I also had with me, usually in my rucksack, a flask for hot water (this also proved very handy for night feeds), clean bottles and portions of formula.
// breastfeeding in a rather strange, out-of-the-way area in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia //
// bottle feeding in the Mirabell Palace Garden, Salzburg, Austria //
11. Keep things organised
With several one-night stops in our itinerary, we were packing and unpacking frequently. When loading the car (or your luggage) make sure you always know where the essentials are – nappies, wipes, food etc – so you can get to them in an emergency or as soon as you reach your destination.
In your accommodation, set out an area for the baby, if you can. We often used a spare bed as his changing zone and kept his clothes and first aid kit there too.
12. Take familiar toys
Take whatever toys you have room for. We took Sam’s gaudy play gym – it earned us several strange looks when we were getting it in and out of the car, but it let us put him down for a few minutes and gave him a familiar environment to lie and play in, and he was happy there while we got things done.
Sam doesn’t really have a comforter, but it would be a good idea to take something that might help your baby settle to sleep in a new place.
Of course – you are your baby’s favourite toy! And you don’t take up any extra room :)
13. Don’t take what you can buy there
You will pretty much find nappies and wipes wherever you travel to, but you might want to take your own food. In Europe, we found finding familiar food brands more difficult and of course we couldn’t always read the label in another language – though translation apps on the phone came in handy!
14. Set up your phone for the internet
I know people – myself included – used to travel before we had the world wide web in our pockets but for the life in me I can’t remember or imagine how we did it.
I paid £1 a day to have access to a little data on my phone. It was so handy being able to pop on to Google maps to get your bearings in a new place – to find the nearest supermarket, locate the train station, fill up with fuel. Luckily we didn’t have any medical emergencies but it would have also helped us find a doctor or hospital quickly – obviously important when you’re travelling with a young baby.
We also used the internet on our phones to translate, as I’ve already mentioned, and there’s also YouTube with all its baby sensory videos! I find they usually keep Sam entertained if I’m desperate, at least for a few minutes.
// at Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy //
15. Get a passport in good time
Getting a seven-week-old baby to pose for a photo that was acceptable to the passport office was an interesting experience, and he already bears hardly any resemblance to his picture, but it’s a good idea to get your baby’s passport application done with plenty of time to spare before you travel. I think we received Sam’s passport about 4 weeks after applying for it, but you never really know how long it will take.
16. And travel insurance
It’s terribly sensible, but make sure you get good travel insurance cover so that you know the whole family will be looked after should anything go wrong. We also had European breakdown cover for a brand new car, just to be safe.
17. Pack a first aid kit
Make sure you have some basic medicines and potions for your baby. At the very least, your first aid kit should include infant paracetamol, something to ease teething pain, high-factor sunscreen and nappy rash cream.
18. Clothes for the climate
Stating the obvious here, but look up what the weather is likely to be like for the whole time you’re away, and for each place you’re visiting. Take warmer layers when you’re out and about, and a waterproof coat or cover for the pram. Don’t forget the type of bedding you might need: we took thin and thick sleeping bags, for warmer and cooler nights.
19. Think positive
Yes, some of our family and friends were telling us we were crazy to take a baby travelling for a month. We had some doubts about whether it was the right thing to do, but we know ourselves and our baby and we felt strongly that it was something that would be a good experience and would benefit our family.
If you make up your mind to do it, be positive rather than worried. Obviously how good you find the travelling depends on your baby to some extent, but it also depends on your attitude.
Sam was just brilliant company to have around; we regarded him as the best travelling buddy, rather than seeing him as a burden.
20. Read my post on going camping with a baby..!
When we went travelling we took a lot of the things we had with us when we went camping, so have a read of this post I wrote about going camping with a baby. Things like the travel cot, compact buggy, Milton steriliser and sun tent all came with us around Europe.
// on Lake Como, Italy //
We did sometimes have pangs of guilt about dragging Sam around Europe, essentially making him do something that was our dream, not his. He absolutely beamed when we got back home to our house, and he slept much more soundly in his own bed than when we were away.
But I don’t regret taking him on the trip for a minute. He genuinely loves being outdoors; he flips his head from side to side, taking it all in, and loves looking up at the sky and trees.
He had our attention, all day, every day for a month. I’m not sure that’s something most parents do, when they’re at home with all its distractions and the chores to do.
Being in all those different places with new views and smells must have stimulated his senses and fed his curiosity. Baby sensory class eat your heart out.
I don’t want my child to be at all scared of new experiences, and I don’t think a child should hold you back completely (you might just have to find a new way of doing things). After all, if you’re happy, usually they’re happy.
I hope this post is helpful if you’re thinking of taking a baby travelling. And if you’ve done it, please share your experiences!