Many people think their travelling life is over when they have kids, but gadding about with a newborn is easy as long as you bear certain essentials in mind, such as not taking them to very hot places.
The bad news is that this doesn’t last long – as soon as your child is mobile (crawling from about six months, walking from as early as 10 months), it becomes difficult to make journeys of any real length, whether by plane, train or car. Although some kids are more able to sit still than others, in general until they’re at least three or four and able to amuse themselves with books and colouring materials, you’re unlikely to consider long trips worth the pain of dealing with a screaming, flailing, frustrated, red-in-the-face toddler.
Bear in mind, however, that under-twos do fly for free on mainstream airlines (on budget airlines you may be charged – and often, bizarrely, the infant fare is higher than the adult fare). Also, when you’re flying with infants, there’s plenty of help to hand in the form of practicalities such as bassinets (on-board carry-cots) and baby food and sometimes even luxuries such as ‘sky nannies’.
Planning Your Holiday
• Remember that all babies and children need a passport of their own. The fastest you can get a first UK passport is one week, but you’ll pay almost double the standard fee. Otherwise, submit your application at least six weeks before you plan to travel.
• If you’re going abroad, check passports – if your five-year-old has had one since s/he was a small baby, it will expire very shortly! (Many parents get a shock at the airport after assuming that kids’ passports last 10 years, as adults’ do.) Note also that some countries require both adult and child passports to have six months’ validity beyond the date of entry, regardless of the duration of your stay.
• Although you can fly with a newborn from the age of one week (with an all-clear from your doctor), wait until they’re 8–12 weeks old to fly if possible, because they're vulnerable to germs circulated by aircraft ventilation systems.
• Avoid hot countries. If you are heading for warmer climes, check your accommodation has air-conditioning.
• Well in advance of your trip, talk to your GP about health precautions for your destination, including any vaccinations needed. You might decide against taking small children to places where they need anti-malarials (see Healthy & Safe Family Holidays and Breaks).
• Check the official UK Government site for up-to-date travel advice by country and any warnings that are in place.
• For advice on EHIC healthcare cards and health and travel insurance, again see Healthy & Safe Family Holidays and Breaks. The most basic health advice is to take two of anything vital that could get lost or broken, such as glasses or an inhaler, and a prescription for any crucial medicine (plus a doctor’s note detailing what it is and who it’s for).
• Spend some clearheaded, child-free time writing detailed packing checklists, one general and one for your child. Begin with daily essentials and vital travel documents, then concentrate on any requirements relating to your destination. (Tip: Keep a permanent ‘travel box’ containing small items that are only needed for trips, from passports and EHIC cards to adaptors and earplugs.) Refine the lists over a few days as things occur to you, until you’re certain you have everything covered. Hopefully this will obviate the risk of last-minute panic packing!
• The UK government also publishes advice on air travel, including what liquids and other items you can and cannot take on board.
• Have a mind for excess baggage you may be generating, largely made up by many changes of clothing plus bulky items such as packets of nappies and wipes in industrial quantities. You might also be nervous about finding familiar brand names in your destination, especially for formula, baby food and sunscreen. Firms such as Travel Tots Accessories (or, within the USA, Mexico and Brazil, JetSet Babies) ship your chosen products and supplies direct to your destination for your arrival.
• When booking transport, whether a hire car or a flight, pre-book any equipment you need for your baby, such as a car-seat or a bassinet. (If you’re taking connecting flights, make sure to book equipment for all stages of your journey). Book children’s meals on planes too, and find out if your airline offers baby supplies, such as nappies, wipes and food, on board, which can lighten your load.
• To curtail the distress and time spent sorting stuff if vital documents get lost or stolen, make two copies of the details of your passports, bank and credit cards and bank and insurance company contacts. Carry one copy of each separately to the originals and leave the other with somebody at home, together with an itinerary of your movements.
On the Road or in the Air
• Try to time journeys with nap times where possible.
• If you have to make a long trip of eight hours or more, by whatever means, consider travelling overnight so you can all sleep (bar the driver, should you go by road) and arrive relatively rested. If that’s not feasible, look at possible break sites about halfway through your journey – on a six-hour car-trip, or instance, see if there’s a child-friendly attraction three or four hours in, even if it’s just a soft-play centre or outdoor playground.
• Get your head round the fact that any form and duration of journey will disrupt your child’s routine. This disruption will be particularly acute if you travel long-haul across time-zones, incurring jet-lag (see our tips for flying with kids). If you do have to cross time-zones, keeping one parent’s watch set to the time in your home country will help you keep tabs on what your baby needs and expects.
• Think about investing in a good baby carrier – one of our favourites, the Ergobaby Carrier, can be worn on the front, back or side so will last your child up to about age three or four. On some trips, you might even be able to dispense with the need for a buggy/stroller, leaving hands free for luggage/holding older kids’ hands. Similar options are baby rucksacks and hip-seats such Hippychick's.
• Another good investment is a Gro Anywhere travel black-out blind, which attaches to any window via suction cups and prevents early awakenings due to light in a hotel or villa bedroom that doesn’t have adequate curtains. (Tip: it has a waterproof back so you can also use it as an impromptu mattress protector or a picnic mat!)
• A portable highchair may be useful, saving you having to hold a squirming baby while feeding it, or forcing a toddler to remain seated on a precariously balanced cushion. They come in all kind of guises, from fabric highchairs that slip over chair-backs and fold ultra-small to self-inflating booster seats.
• Pack a basic childproofing kit to use both en route and at your destination, including a non-slip bath mat, safety plugs (that fit in the country you’re visiting) and perhaps temporary door and window locks. Also buy or put together a rudimentary First Aid kit containing Calpol (sachets), a thermometer, antiseptic gel/wipes and plasters, sterile gauze, bandages and tape, and insect repellent and calamine lotion (good for sunburn as well as bites).
• Write your mobile number/accommodation details on your kids’ hands when you are out and about, and if they’re old enough to understand, impress on them the importance of never divulging their name to a stranger.
• Wear a money belt under your clothes with credit cards and vital documents. Parents keeping an eye on luggage and the safety of young children make easy targets for pickpockets and thieves.
• Count off your luggage each time you move to a new setting, ie from a train to a taxi, or in or out of a hotel room. Remembering who has what is impossible, but if you note that there are five bags in total, it’s easy to do a quick check every time you move.
• Book in advance – it’s one thing arriving in a strange city as a backpacker looking for a place to lay your head, and quite another arriving at a destination with no booking and tots in danger of a meltdown. Your needs are a lot more specific with young kids, too – you’ll need a room that fits you all, or interconnecting rooms. Source and book a hotel in advance, and keep an email printout confirming arrangements, including any amenities you’ve booked, such as a cot.
• Print a map of the hotel’s location and keep its phone number to hand. If you’re travelling in from an airport, find out in advance your transport options and book if necessary, or at least make sure you have adequate cash to hand and a Plan B.
• Consider a self-catering house or apartment, allowing you to save money on eating out and to remain flexible. Small kids hate sitting in restaurants for hours, so three meals a day strapped into a highchair will be hell. Self-catering facilities allow you to eat in or make up picnics for the beach or park. You also tend to get more space – and that doesn’t just mean the kids and their toys, but also for you wanting to chill out after they are asleep.
• Alternatively, compromise with an ‘apart-hotel’ – an apartment with access to hotel facilities, such as a pool and restaurant. This kind of accommodation also has the benefit of practically assuring ready-made playmates for your kids.
• Another good option is sharing a villa or gite complex with friends with children of the same age.
• If you’re booking accommodation with childcare, do some elementary research before committing – do the staff speak English, for instance, and is the childcare facility or nanny accredited by an official body (such as OFSTED in the UK) or police-checked? Online parents’ forums can be good sources of info on the standard of specific kids’ clubs and the like.
• Bear in mind that if you are looking for a resort with a kids’ club/activities, some places require children above a certain age to be nappy trained.
For more advice and information on different modes of transport with kids, see our section On the Go.