As a parent, life suddenly becomes full of significant milestones, from your child's first smile to those wobbly initial steps and onto toilet-training, starting school and learning to ride a bike. What we don’t always realise is how important these markers are for us too, not just as points in the passage of time but often as periods of intense learning in the complex art of parenting. Baby travel provides plenty of opportunities for growth, both for you as a parent and for your infant in their development.
Your baby’s first trip away, whether it’s a short drive out to the country for a long weekend, taking the train to a different state or neighbouring country or flying further afield, is not something any of us forget in a hurry. I still remember in detail the highs and the lows, and exactly what we vowed never to repeat again. We live in London and the birth of our first child coincided with the opening of St Pancras International as the Eurostar station. Given it was just down the road from our flat, we merrily booked ourselves onto the first public train and set off to explore Paris with our babe in arms. But while our son might have been easily to carry in his sling, everything else I insisted on bringing with us was not so portable. With hindsight a two-day trip with a newborn does not require a special cot, a baby monitor (we were never more than a metre away from him) or two of the baby manuals I would not at that stage leave the house without. On the plus side we still reminisce about the lovely attention our son received on the train and how carefree we felt exploring Paris together with our beautiful (and admittedly mostly sleeping) baby.
If you’ve travelled extensively before starting a family, that first trip with your baby can be a huge deal. Life might have changed beyond all recognition but you need to prove you can still do what makes you tick. If having a baby has made you want to start travelling, we salute you. What better way is there to teach your children about our wonderful world than to show them it?
Dealing with the anxiety
Responsibility for a very small person can induce anxiety in the calmest of people so the idea of leaving your normal routine, home comforts and a health system you know how to navigate can be daunting. However, travelling with an infant is also an amazing opportunity and one you will look back on fondly as they get older. We will never regret taking our second child to Istanbul as a nine-month-old (even if his toddler brother gave us a run for our money on several occasions) or our cross-Europe train adventure from London to Slovenia with six-month-old baby number three.
An infant usually doesn’t walk that much (if at all), sleeps a lot and hasn’t yet learnt to answer you back. This leaves you free to make all the decisions without interventions from junior, and allows you to maximise the napping periods for long lunches or museum visits. And crucially, you’re not constantly running around on hyper-alert for a toddler with a death wish.
So we’ve convinced you that travelling with an infant is worth it. What next? Here are our top tips for life on the road with an infant.
Adjust your expectations
This is not going to be the holiday where you try mountain-biking for the first time or party the night away for days on end. Look for destinations where you can enjoy a quieter pace of life, with lots of parks, baby-friendly cafes and perhaps shops and museums to potter in. Cultures with reputations for actively welcoming small people such as those from the Mediterranean, South America and Southeast Asia can be a good place to start. It’s much more relaxing to deal with a crying baby when that baby has already been fussed over.
Know your comfort levels
If, like us, routine is a key part of your parenting style then make sure you take a trip which allows you stick to it (unless of course you’ve suddenly decided this is the time to mix things up). Find a location which will give you a nice place to base yourself, with plenty of options for getting out and about as well as some lovely little treats to make yourself feel like you are really on holiday. For us, a trip to the Scottish island of Mull ticked all these boxes. Our home for the week was a farm cottage with two rooms (plenty of space – tick; plenty of cows to moo at – tick); we were close to Tobermory to potter around, Glengorm Castle for a history fix and the Isle of Iona for amazing seafood. Arriving by ferry was also a big hit with a nine-month-old already developing an interest in transport.
Those of you with a more spontaneous parenting style might want to embrace the opportunity to take a city break or multi-city trip while the baby is still young enough to be bundled up and transported easily around.
However relaxed you might be as a parent, when you’re travelling away from home with an infant you still need to be sure you have a decent medical kit (thermometer, age-appropriate painkillers and so on). It’s also wise to consult your pediatrician and (if appropriate) the local travel clinic before departing and to know what emergency numbers you need to call if there’s a problem. Once children start crawling or toddling, hand sanitisers can be a great way to ward off bugs, but equally, embracing a bit of dirt and mess can be part of what makes the whole experience memorable.
Accept you will take way more than you actually need
It’s an unwritten parenting law that travelling with a very small person will always involve you bringing more than you really need. Our advice? Embrace this, and learn from it. Doing anything with infants involves a huge amount of kit (spare clothes, nappies, age-appropriate snacks, spare clothes for you, more age-appropriate snacks) and that’s without a stroller or sling, layers for changeable weather and toys to attempt to keep them occupied. Look on your first trip as a chance to learn about what you really need and what you can survive without.
Keep calm and carry on
We’ll never forget arriving in Funchal, Madeira, with our sixth-month-old and the battle we had to get the car seat securely fastened in the hire car (something the staff were unable to help us with due to regulations). It. Was. Stressful. We were under pressure to get going but the roads were steep and winding, and we knew we had to make our baby safe. But we couldn’t for the life of us work out how to get the seat safely in. Then we took a step back, the solution became clear and suddenly we were on our way, ready to explore somewhere new as a family.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s not worth travelling with a little one as they won’t remember it. Firstly, you will and that matters. Secondly, the details of the trip may escape them in later life but the experience of the journey, of being somewhere new and of your undivided and relaxed attention will remain with them – it will help form the person they become. Now go out there with your baby and conquer the world! Or, at least, a small corner of it that’s accessible to you and your parenting style.