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Travel with tots – how to enjoy it!

July 8, 2010 1 comment
Eleanor sunning herself in Cape Town 2008

Eleanor sunning herself in Cape Town Nov 2008, aged 6 months

One of the major pastimes me and Jules didn’t want to miss out on by having children was being able to go on decent holidays abroad, and before Eleanor was two we managed to take her to South Africa twice, Antigua once and several times to southern France to visit her grandparents. As in all things baby, there were tribulations & logistical hurdles to get over along the way, but rest assured that not only is it possible, but it can also be great fun and a relaxing (yes, I really did say that) experience, as long as you bear a few things in mind – and most importantly of all, plan ahead!

Passports
Ready for our first visit to France to see my mum, we dutifully sent off for Eleanor’s first passport when she was a month old.

The process of getting a passport photo in the first place at first seemed like a bit of a hurdle – I had visions of us cramming into a photo booth (leaving the pushchair outside to get stolen), me having to squat on the floor and hold her up at arms length as I stayed out of sight; or pay a fortune to the many predatory photo studios that stalk you from the minute that you procreate. Happily I found a website on which you could upload a digital photo of your baby, and they would crop and edit it to fit the strict criteria for acceptable passport photos (which include such near impossibilities for a tiny one as facing straight on, no smiling, no other people, plain background, no accompanying toys etc) and send you a set of four within two days in the post. This was a huge find, and made us marginally less daunted about the whole process.

On the subject of kids passports – they’re valid at first for 5 years, and anyone who’s seen at close hand how much a baby changes between birth and the age of 2, never mind 5, can’t fail to find this slightly ridiculous. Pity the customs workers (I never thought I’d be in a position to say that) who having let through an entirely different child has to try to describe the other wailing bundle that got smuggled out in front of them
Even this is arguably better than the situation when I was a kid, with mine and my brother’s names just written in our parents’ passports and not needing any ID of our own at all.

Interestingly, my mum remembers her mum, my uncle Colin and herself being refused entry to a cross channel ferry once whilst trying to go on a family holiday in the 50s, because at this point even the wife didn’t have to have her own passport – and was just another piece of chattel on the list on her husbands’ identification. My grandad hadn’t come on this holiday, and while my nan had brought his passport with them, it wasn’t valid for them unless the passport holder was there, so they had to travel back from Dover all the way home to Leeds, to add further to the disappointment, and embarrassment.

What to take.
Not as much as you think! Unless you’re going to outer Mongolia, believe it or not, most places sell nappies, jars of baby food and formula. Usually it’s exactly the same brand you buy at home, and often cheaper – and it won’t kill you (or your baby) if they have to compromise a little bit. Take enough for max 3 days, and go shopping on your 2nd day and stock up for the rest of the hols.

Driving to the airports and checking in
Whatever you do, don’t get your kids in the car until everything else is packed. If it’s still possible to leave them in a bouncer chair/cot/playpen while you pack the car & get everything ready, then do. If not, then get them dressed and let them play in their room/run around and get rid of some energy before they’re strapped in. Travelling inevitably involves too much sitting around in one place, and I don’t know any mobile kid who doesn’t prefer moving around when it’s possible.
On long haul journeys where we know we’ll have tons of luggage we’ve often paid extra for the valet parking service which is an absolute godsend. You drive to the drop off point, a nice chap in a waistcoat helps you unload onto a trolley and then drives your car off to be parked. Much nicer than trailing through a long stay car park 10 miles from the airport whilst paranoid about getting to the flight on time. It’s even better on the way home from an early morning long haul landing – a nice purring warm car to meet you, and no 6am stumble to find the car and defrost yourself and the windows with a crying baby in the back, and the beginning of post-holiday blues.

Security and baby food/milk
The last few years of added restrictions taking liquids on planes have caused endless issues for those with babies, but again, there is a knack.
Option 1: check whether the airport has a Boots after check in. Ring them and reserve a few cartons of ready made milk and jars of baby food, pick them up after check in and hey presto – all sorted for the flight.
Option 2: boil & cool water for formula, and put more than you need in each bottle sealing each tightly afterwards to keep sterile. Do enough bottles for your entire journey (including an extra one just in case of delays before you get on board/leave the airport). Take the milk powder in pre-measured portions with you so you can mix it in at a moment’s notice, and take a straw so that you can taste the water in each bottle to show customs that it’s not liquid explosive (or whatever they think it might be. The straw is important so that your saliva doesn’t touch the water and stop it being sterile, and the extra water in each bottle is important so that there’s the right amount left for your pre-measured milk powder when you need to mix it. Better to pour a little water away than not have enough – too much milk powder:water ratio can make your little one ill.

On the plane
Long haul flights are surprisingly much easier than short haul, as long as you’ve booked a bassinet. That way you get the bulkhead seats, and with luck your baby will sleep for the majority of the journey. Have everything they may need handy – toys, milk, snacks, and a dummy for take off and landing – really important as the pressure can hurt their ears and a dummy helps to equalise the pressure as it changes.
Remember you will need to keep the baby on your lap during take-off and landing, so plan for a bit of disruption & them getting bored sitting still – if they’re mobile let them sit/play with toys on the floor until the very last moment, and if tiny a sling can do wonders.

If you’re doing a night flight get them changed into the PJs and preferably a travel sleeping bag (genius inventions – with holes for a 5 point harness – I’ve got this one). If possible do it after check in & before getting on the plane, so they’re snug & you can get them in the bassinet & off to sleep with the minimum of fuss once you’ve taken off.

The car seat/pushchair/travel cot dilemma
Most airlines let you take a pushchair (normally to the steps of the plane, which is brilliant), a travel cot and a car seat (in the hold) for free on top of your baggage allowance. For tiny tots you can get pop up travel cots which are brilliant and take up barely any room/weight in the car/suitcase/trolley.

Think hard about the car seat. If you’re struggling with a lot of luggage it can be a pain, but if you have *any* doubts about the availability or safety of car seats in your destination country, take it with you. Many countries have lower safety standards than the UK and this is a risk not worth taking. *Do* practise putting it in/taking it out of the car a few times so you’re not cursing yourself and the whole world whilst figuring out how to do it for the first time in a year after a red eye flight. Not fun, I promise.

We figured out all of the above through trial and error, with a bit of advice from other people – and by the return from the 2nd of the 10 or so trips we’ve done with her we were like old hands. Eleanor slept from practically the moment she got on the flight till we landed, and we even got to see a film or two, and have a Bloody Mary to start the holiday feeling.

Enjoy, and let me know of any other tips you find!

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