As my little boy approaches his first birthday, I've been taking stock of a lot of things recently - how little sleep we've had in the last eleven months, how much he's changed, how much love I now carry around in my heart - and I've no doubt that I'll do my best to put into words how many different emotions this milestone is prompting in my motherhood diaries. On a completely different note I've also been taking stock of a few practical things - how I should never have tried to cook a two-course meal for visiting family less than two weeks after giving birth, how I wish we'd had a night light for those middle of the night feeds from the very first day, how I wish I'd tried introducing solids earlier than six months - and in doing so I realised how, when it comes to travel, we're pretty much there. As in, we kinda know what we're doing. Or at least, we feel like we do, which is almost more of an achievement.
One of the biggest parts of travelling with a little one is packing for a trip. Once sorted (or you feel like it is!) you look back on the experience in a way that is a bit like reflecting on childbirth itself; you're not sure how you managed to do it, but you're pretty bloody happy and proud you have. Ironically, like my labour (just the 42 hours!) packing for a trip can take almost as long as birthing a child, but at least you're not in as much pain, though you'll probably still do it in your underwear, should you wish to, and again, like labour, you may need a lot of back-rubbing and hand-holding to get you through the really teary moments.
Seeing as I now quite regularly get asked for advice for travelling with a baby for holidays and weekends away, and as a follow-up to my flying with a baby travel tips, I thought I'd throw some of these tips - what to pack (and what not to pack), where to pack it, and how to carry it all - down in a blog post, including some essential items we never travel without. We're still learning new tricks as we go so maybe I'll update this a few times in the future, but I at least hope these tips are useful for you if you're thinking of travelling with your little one in the first year of his or her life.
Packing Tips for Travelling With a Baby (under 12 months)
Pack the day or days before
If you thought you were a quick packer before you had children (read this post for my packing tips for lazy travellers to see how I used to be a last minute packer every single time) then let me now inform you that like many things you used to be before you had a baby (well rested, able to cope with hangovers without crying, good friends with your hair straighteners) that part of you is also gone. You will forever need at least four times as long to pack and you should never, ever, ever leave it to the last minute unless you're a fan of sleepless night and panic attacks. Even if you're flight is at 11pm, you should still pack the day before. I've learnt this the hard way after I did leave it to the day of travelling (our flight took off at 4pm, I thought we had hours!) and so many unforeseeable obstacles came flying at me that I was still running around searching for enough clean underwear, baby in my arms, as the taxi pulled up outside the door.
Write a list... and keep it
When we were preparing for our four day trip to the South of France I wrote several lists of what to pack in our checked-in luggage for me, for Baby Bird, as well as what needed to be in the changing bag. As I smugly crossed off each item the day before we left, I celebrated the completion of packing by having a glass of wine and ripping all those lists in two and depositing them in our paper recycling bag.
A month later, I was packing for a four day trip to Italy and I had to write virtually exactly the same list again... thus wasting valuable naptime that I could have spent writing my books, shaving my legs, eating biscuits or something equally worthwhile.
If this wasn't clear in my previous post, let me make it clear now. Get check-in luggage. And if it's going to cost extra then CHECK IN LUGGAGE IS WELL WORTH PAYING FOR! Put simply, travelling light with a baby is not easy. In fact, it's near enough impossible... unless of course you like wearing the same thing every day on a week's holiday and pulling off the baby sick look halfway through the week.
You can save yourself so much hassle, juggling and backache by checking in as much as you can before you get on a plane. Not only do you have less things to worry about or haul behind you as you go through the airport and security, but you can actually bring more stuff with you. Not that you should maximise your baggage allowance, but you can at least stop worrying about liquid limits (which FYI don't typically apply to baby food/milk) and can throw in a couple of extra nappies without sweating over it.
Enough "essentials" for 48 hours
Another good reason to do check-in luggage.... Depending on where you're headed it may be relatively easy to stock up on nappies, wipes and baby food... or it could be a complete nightmare, but my experience suggests that usually within two days you've located a supermarket and done a bit of a shop. While this is fine when you're travelling without a baby, you definitely don't want to "wing it" when it comes to a dwindling nappy supply. On our last two trips, I actually managed to pack enough nappies for the full trip - they are very light after all - but I did have to get some more wipes, which are heavier.
Look into hiring baby equipment at your destination
If you're travelling to a popular city, town, resort or destination, there's a good chance that there will be a local company giving you the opportunity to hire baby equipment like travel cots, high chairs and even strollers. A few years back, before we were even thinking about Baby Bird, my brother and his family came to stay and we hired a cot and a high chair from an Amsterdam company. I'll be honest, it wasn't cheap (I think the total cost was actually about the same as buying a budget travel cot) but it was practical and easy to organise.
Less is more... and "new" is AWESOME!
While I knew that this applied to so many things in life, I didn't expect it to apply to toys, but it's true. Baby Bird is much happier when he has only one or two toys (or "things") in his line of sight to play with or pick up and chew on. That's why we only pack a handful of toys for trips and we do what we can to keep the chosen toys away from him in the days or weeks (if we're that organised!) before we're away. That way the toys are new and interesting to him. Occasionally, we also buy new toys before we travel but it's nicer to get a few bits while we're away, a different kind of souvenir!
Things to Pack When Travelling with a Baby (under 12 months)
The following are the things I wouldn't leave home without... or rather, if I did forget one of these things I would fully permit myself to buy a bottle of gin from duty-free.
My number one tip for flying with a baby is pretty much my number one tip for travelling with a baby: wear your baby as much as you can. While not super easy to pack compactly, baby carriers are relatively light and can provide a lot of comfort to your little one, while also gifting you a lot of practicality in the form of two hands, and/or the option to fold up or lose the buggy if you are walking somewhere that is not conducive to a stroller, like the beach, a hike trail, or even a busy city centre. Just in case you're inerested, we've had the Classic Ergobaby carrier since our boy was about 5-6 weeks old and we have loved it, but if I was going to do it all over again I would get this Ergobaby 4-Way carrier so that he can also be carried forward facing. We also had a Lulabu Soothe Shirt for when Baby Bird was very little but he grew out of it quite quickly so we never got to travel with it; would have been fantastic if that had been possible as it's incredibly practical!
You can read more baby-wearing while travelling tips here.
Cheap(ish) buggy (once baby is 5/6+ months)
We have a beautiful Joolz stroller/pram combo that cost us more than a week's holiday, but it is perfect for walking around the city with our little guy and we have certainly got our money's worth... well, nearly. I'm sure we will have by the time he's outgrown it at least. I hope. But we don't take this with us when we travel. At least not all of it. When Baby Bird wasn't yet able to sit up we would travel around with the Joolz frame but with the car seat as his seat, so we didn't have to take both a car seat and a bassinet. Then, as soon as Baby Bird was able to sit up, we looked at getting a much lighter and easier to carry fold-up stroller. We um-ed and ah-ed about how much to spend on one of these seeing as we'd only really use it when we travelled, and in the end we actually went with a very affordable option (similar to this one and at about the same bargainous price!) that was getting good reviews from grandmas and grandpas saying it was a good buggy for occasional quick trips when their grandkids were staying with them, which is pretty much the same frequency we planned on using the buggy for. The benefit of this is that we really don't worry about it in transit. If it gets broken (which I hear happens a lot!) then it gets broken and we can still afford to buy another cheap replacement. As it is, our little no-name, no-label, no-frills buggy is going strong even if the right front wheel does stick a bit....
Baby clothes you're not that fussed about
I've quickly learned that new environments mean new kinds of messes for Baby Bird and whether it's crawling on an airport floor as we wait for check-in (Spoiler: airport floors are FILTHY!) or his unique way of eating French bread (how did it become so soggy and liquid and blended into your clothes!?!?) his clothes always seem to get much dirtier when travelling than in the predictable surroundings of home. Clearly, my boy does not like to wear the same outfit two days in a row! So don't go packing super smart, super expensive, super impractical clothes that you'll only cry over as you try to scrub the gelato/hummus/duck poo out of them. I speak from experience of all the above offending items.
Even if you're baby is no longer in the newborn spit-up stage, muslins are light to pack, brilliantly absorbant for messes and incredibly versatile becoming a blanket, a shade, a cover-up for nursing, a pillow (for your baby, or perhaps more likely for a parent squashed into a window seat with a 10kg lump of sleeping baby on them) or even a substitute hat if you should be so stupid as to misplace your baby's sunhat which I seem able to do with impressive consistency (see below).
These small muslins and these larger swaddle-size ones are my favourites and are still going strong after MULTIPLE washes. (They're not cheap, but I do find cheap muslins don't wash as well and don't stay as soft so in my book these guys are worth spending more on.)
Two (or more) sun hats
I'm starting to think baby sun hats are like teaspoons and hair grips - they just disappear when you need them the most, especially when you're travelling and they've got somewhere new to run away and hide in. I've bought three hats for Baby Bird in the last few months. I've not seen one of them since I got it out of the bag, and I'm only 60% sure I could locate the other too... Hmm, time to buy another!
Oh and one with a chin strap is essential unless you want to spend your entire holiday putting your hat back on your baby's head.
If you still need to sterilise your baby's bottles these microwaveable bags are a great and really quick way to do so without boiling pans of water or lugging a microwave steriliser the size of a bird cage around with you.
This little trick we got from my brother and although I breathed in through my teeth at the price, I can already say after less than three months use, this table-mounted baby seat completely worth the price tag. Lightweight, easy to pack or carry and super fast and safe to "hang" on to most tables, we use this seat a lot at home too taking it out with us to restaurants or friends' houses in Amsterdam.
Portable night light
If you're still doing night feeds, or your little one isn't the best sleeper in the world, then bring a night light with you because you can't predict what the lighting options will be in your accommodation. We didn't on our first few trips and we suffered a lot of stubbed toes or blinding-light-induced headaches as a result. You don't need anything fancy, just something portable and light that you can switch on easily when you need it; something like this has worked very well for us.
Bed linen for baby
Do not assume that "bed linen provided" includes bed linen for the baby, and also do not assume that if it does that it's the same kind of bed linen you use at home. We stayed in a very stylish five-star hotel in London with Baby Bird and his cot was lovingly made-up with a small pillow and mini duvet. Wonderful. except he was only 4 months old and that kind of bedding would have been considered a health hazard. So if you're still swaddling or if you use a sleep sack, bring whatever you need with you. I also like to bring a cot sheet with us because it smells more of home and is supposed to help him sleep better... but considering my baby isn't the best sleeper when we travel this may not be my best tip ever...
A soft mat or some extra padding
So travel cots. Would you want to sleep on one? Hell, no, me neither.
My experience of travel cots is that makers seem to be in competition with each other for the hardest possible mattress and my little man can be very princess-and-the-pea about mattress softness so packing something to pad out a travel cot is a great idea. We bought a padded ISI Mini play mat when Baby Bird was little and we worried about him lying on our wood floors - we were such generous, attentive parents way back then err... six months ago - but we now use it to pad out hard travel cot mattresses. (I just tried to find a seller for you but I can't, other than in the Netherlands, so maybe they've stopped making them.) It may seem a bit of a faff packing this seeing as it's quite big but it weighs nothing and is easy to squash into the top of our suitcase. Towels may do just as good a job if you have space for some of them or you can get some extras from your hotel.
Because who wants to be carrying or washing dirty bibs when you're on holiday? We love these small fold-up Skip Hop ones for our changing bag and we also take at least one of these all body haz-mat suits, ahem neoprene bibs (as well as using them at home).
Enough familiar foods/formula
While I'd love to say that Baby Bird will eat anything and everything, he doesn't. Getting him to try new foods isn't always easy so I do like to make sure I've got some fall-back options just in case. While a quick Google search may be able to tell you if your destination country stocks your baby's preferred brand of formula/food (I usually find a big supermarket in the country I'm going to and have a quick look at their online shopping website), if you're a little clueless then pack up a few portions of familiar foods so you can ease your bambino into new foods. You may also find that not everywhere has organic baby food (I'm looking at you, France) so if you have strong preferences for what your kid eats, or indeed if your baby has allergies, then pack for this. And here's a great post for more tips for travelling with formula milk.
Enough food for babies AND parents on travel days
One of the biggest mistakes I've made when packing for a travel day is not packing snacks for me. While I fill up my bag with fruit, crackers, jars and pouches for Baby Bird, I have nothing for me to eat when hunger strikes, usually when I'm nowhere near a shop or cafe and have been ambushed by a sleeping baby lying diagonally across me. Having a baby with you on holiday means you can't always quickly nip somewhere to find a restaurant or a supermarket and as a result I've eaten more Ella's pouches than I care to admit just to keep my hunger (or hanger) at bay.
Painkillers (again for babies and parents)
Teething babies do not come with any kind of advance warning. By the time you've spotted the waterfall of drool coming out of their mouths, you're only hours away from a hot and bothered and highly distressed human being. And that's just the parents. So do yourself a favour and pack that Calpol, or whatever your country's child paracetamol equivalent is. Also have some for yourself because travel / teething / too-much-prosecco can take their toll on a parent...
Your sense of humour!
Because when things go wrong/a nap is missed/you've lost that darn sun hat AGAIN, laughing will certainly help more than crying! (Though you are totally allowed to cry. I do. All the time.)
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I hope this was helpful! I have some other posts about travelling with little ones via the links below,
Frances M. Thompson
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