Getting ready to go on holiday with little ones can be like planning a military operation. We've enlisted the help of our resident baby sleep expert, Hannah Love, to show us that with the right planning, travelling with a baby can be a breeze – after all, babies are perfectly portable.
I know a lot of people avoid travelling with small babies but my experience is that smaller babies are very portable (get baby used to sleeping in a pram and you can enjoy time sunbathing with a baby who is napping regularly!) Personally, I think the hardest time to travel with children is between crawling and 2 years old – when they are mobile but have no sense of danger – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done either! Between those ages I found taking a travel cot invaluable as you can use it as a playpen by the pool – just add some toys – this gives you a little rest knowing they are safe.
Even when your baby is in the perfect routine, travelling (especially across different time zones) can throw up a number of challenges. Having spent many years travelling across the globe as a nanny for professional golfers, I have picked up plenty of tips for travelling with a baby. I hope you find some of them useful.
Before you go..
List your essentials
Useful things to consider taking are: a buggy, carrier sling (you’ll need this at the airport if you are checking in the buggy), travel cot, first aid kit, medicines and sun protection, travel black out blinds, steriliser and bottles (if using) and baby’s formula. It’s also a good idea to have some travel wash – it’s surprising how many sets of clothes babies can go through and being able to wash a few essentials will save a lot of packing space. Don’t forget inflatables for the pool, swimming nappies and sun protecting suits/hats if you are going somewhere hot.
Pack for every eventuality in your carry-on luggage
Think two changes of clothes, bottles of water, food, dummies, quiet toys, books, new activities for your child to discover, muslins, baby sleep bag, sachets of Nurofen and Calpol…There is a lot to be prepared for! Top tip: When it comes to liquids in your hand luggage, even if bottles are over the 100ml limit, you can usually still take them as long as you’re willing to drink some of it. Sealed cartons or powder are also fine.
Check your luggage limits
You are only entitled to one carry-on bag and your baby (if under 2) is not usually entitled to any so your handbag will need to be included in the baby’s bag. Most airlines will allow you to check in a sealed pack of nappies as well as your luggage. Do remember, however, that you will be able to buy nappies, wipes, food etc. once you reach your destination. Most airlines will also allow you to take two pieces of baby equipment free of charge (e.g. a pushchair and car seat or a car seat and travel cot).
Take a good pushchair
If you want your child to sleep in their pushchair while away, make sure it’s a good one. I know a lot of people opt for light-weight strollers rather than the big travel systems, but it can be very hard to sleep in these if they are not used to them. This can be restrictive when you want your child to sleep while you sunbathe or eat out.If you have a two-part pushchair (e.g. Bugaboo or iCandy), it’s best to check this in with the suitcase rather than leave it at the door of the plane, which means you will need a baby carrier for the airport.
Have all your documentation in order
Your baby will need a passport – gone are the days when children can travel on their parents’ passports! A baby’s first passport can take 5-10 weeks to process, so make sure you leave plenty of time. Be ready for the joys of getting a good passport photo from your baby – you can do this at home, a white sheet on the floor with baby lying on it is the easiest way.
Plan your journey around your baby’s present schedule
If you need to be at the airport for 3pm but your baby usually sleeps from 12-2pm, then leave at midday so your baby can sleep in the car. Starting your journey with a well-rested baby will definitely help to prevent meltdowns at the airport!
At the airport and during the flight
Leave plenty of time
Travelling with a baby is very, very different to travelling on your own. You will need to allow for feeds, nappy changes, dropping off pushchairs and oversized baggage and other baby-related tasks. You will also be the first to board the plane. The time at the airport will fly by and there probably won’t be time for shopping!
Prepare for sleep
Car seat comfort
For a child who has their own seat on the plane (and remember you can opt to pay for children under two years old to have their own seat), you can take your car seat on board and strap them into it. Smaller babies and children will be more comfortable this way and therefore better able to sleep well on the flight.
Taking the car seat on the flight means you will have it with you at the other end. This is something you may well be pleased about when you see the hire costs in some destinations!
Ensure your baby is feeding (breast, bottle or sips of water) during take off and landing to help with their ears. Take Calpol just in case they are uncomfortable.
Keep up fluids
Your child will need plenty of fluids on the plane – it’s dehydrating!
Once you are at your destination...
Familiarity is key
It’s a good idea to take along any items your child uses habitually for comfort or sleep. Don’t forget their swaddle or sleeping bag! The more familiar your baby is with their surroundings at bed time, the less chance their sleep will be affected by the change.
Bloomsbury Mill nap mats are perfect for travelling, providing a familiar and safe place to nap and relax. They are also lightweight and very portable. I always recommend these to my clients for travelling and have such great feedback from them.
Also, remember to take other sleep cues such as music (there are great phone apps available) and maybe a sheet from home for the travel cot. Note that even in very hot countries, the rooms can get cold at night so make sure you take warm bedding and pyjamas.
The first night of your holiday you may want to stay in the room while your child goes to sleep to provide a little reassurance in their new surroundings. Sit in the room, read a book or potter around (unpacking) so they can see you, but try not to focus your attention on them. The next night you should be able to walk out of the room as you do at home, and it’s especially important to do this with older babies and toddlers.
Keep in mind your time zone
Keep the evening routine
When going out in the evening, keep your child’s bedtime routine as usual. Once you have completed your usual night time rituals, put them into their swaddle or sleeping bag and then straight into the pushchair. Fingers crossed, as you wheel them out to dinner, they should drift off and stay asleep while you eat.
If it is hot, remember to offer plenty of fluids. For breastfed babies this may mean more feeds or even considering feeding on demand in order to ensure baby stays hydrated.
Whatever happens while you’re away, remember, anything can be fixed once you arrive back home. It is practically impossible to undo any good routines and habits in just a week or two, so try and enjoy yourself. If this means resorting to survival tactics such as co-sleeping or night feeding then so be it. All this can be reversed (with a little persuasion and consistency) on your return home.
Sun cream application
We all know it’s vital to apply sun cream but doing this to a wriggling toddler can be like taming a snake! The best way to apply sun cream to a bigger baby or toddler is with them facing away from you. This way you can have more control, and it will make the process easier to manage. Opt for a factor 50 plus and re-apply regularly, especially if they will be in the water. Always have babies in a hat and if your older toddler has their hair parted then ensure you don’t forget to protect the parting too.
The testimonial below shows that you can even complete a sleep training program when you are travelling. This family, as with many that I have worked with, did a lot of travelling during the training. I have completed sleep training with families that have emigrated, moved house, gone on holidays, lived between two countries and they have all worked. Babies adapt well to change, as long as there are consistent things in place.
If you have a good routine, a good bed time routine, sleep triggers that you can carry over to wherever you go such as music or white noise, a sentence that you say and maybe even a sheet that smells like home babies do adapt well.
Children benefit from holidays just as much as we do. Different experiences, families together, more time from you with no work and parents being more relaxed – don’t shy away from these special times just because you’re worried about what might (not) happen.