Updated: Nov 27, 2020
Travelling for the first time with your new baby can be a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
It’s your first family holiday where your baby gets to dip their toes in the sea and play in the sand (or in reality, eat it!). It feels like utter joy.
But then, like the much anticipated waves your questions start rolling in, one by one:-
• What can you take with you?
• What do you actually need?
• What about liquids?
• Where’s best to stay?
• Will baby cry throughout the flight?
• How far should we risk flying?
• What about healthcare?
It’s enough to put you off going altogether.
Don’t despair. That’s what I’m here for.
Having worked in the travel industry for so many years, I could find myself flying up to six times a week and my airport routine was slick. I was incredibly efficient - straight through check-in, bag drop, security, done! Grab a bite to eat, head to gate, board, laptop out and always an aisle seat. I had my preferences and my routine and was always one step ahead of the security and checks.
Enter travelling with a four month old baby and if I could produce a record scratch in a blog, this would be the time to do it! Say goodbye to any former slick self routine and get ready to embrace “faffing”.
There’s no avoiding it. You absolutely will be the person holding up the security queue as you try to hold a baby in your arms while simultaneously trying to remove your shoes and belt. My advice? Try and have a game plan, relax and be as calm and organised as you can. But mostly, accept it and just go with the flow.
For us, our first trip with our baby was a holiday to the Algarve in Portugal. We flew from our local airport in Southend-on-Sea. It was small, the flight was short and all in all it was nice and easy. And since we were hiring a car and planning to explore, we took our big pram with us (which could collapse into separate parts) and our car seat. With an infant under two, these can be taken on most major airlines for free. In terms of liquids, I was mostly breastfeeding for this particular trip so I didn’t have to worry about any milk or food in my hand luggage, but more on that later.
Clearing security was the same as before except for the pram and baby juggling and depending on the airport there’s different ways of negotiating this. The pram has to be empty and some will ask you to put it up on the scanner belt while others will allow you to push the pram through the security scanner, then return and walk through the it again by yourself. The pram is then subject to a further check with handheld scanners or a manual search. If you don’t want to be juggling trying to hold your child while navigating this part of the process then my top advice is to invest in a baby carrier or sling. They are especially useful at the other end. I have been told on quite a few occasions that the pram would be waiting for us on the tarmac once the plane has landed. This has happened exactly zero times, the pram ending up being delivered to us via the luggage belts, and each time I’ve been grateful for the baby carrier as we’ve trudged the distance to the baggage collection. If you do put your baby in the sling or carrier once you’ve dropped your pram at “Bag Drop” be prepared to have to remove them and the carrier as you go through security. Some airports do offer “family queues” which is helpful. It’s also a bonus for other passengers, saving them from having to stand patiently waiting while you empty out the contents of your baby bag for a security check. Of course, there is always the option of choosing to fly Business Class in which case, off you pop through priority!
To take your pram to the airplane steps or not, or check it in as luggage at “Bag Drop”? That is the question! I’ve done both and when it comes to planning your holiday, this is one of those small but important details we would discuss. Either option has its pluses and minuses and it does depend on certain factors: the age of your baby, the size and navigation of the airports you are travelling to and from, whether you’re travelling alone, etc. But here’s my pros and cons of the buggy dilemma…..
Pro’s to taking the pram to the aircraft:
· You get to load your hand luggage onto your pram and give yourself less to carry.
· You don’t have to carry your baby, which in a bigger airport can be a bit tough on your back.
· If you are travelling alone it makes going to the loo so much easier, particularly if baby is very young (i.e. not walking).
· The only option if your baby doesn’t like being in a sling or baby carrier all that much.
· If your baby walks, or even prefers to run everywhere, perhaps strapping them in at busy points will ease the stress.
· It gives baby a chance to nap without being disturbed - although they most likely will wake when you have to take them out to go through security.
Con’s of taking your pram to the aircraft:
· You cannot use escalators and need to search out the lifts, which can take longer, be slightly out of the way, or have you waiting in queues.
· It can be tricky with a pram and other carry-on luggage if the only way to the plane is via steps. This is common for short-haul flights from a major city airport, or even a low-cost airline. It is unlikely that another passenger or even ground staff will help you. The staff are busy. And for passengers this very strange “dog-eat-dog, must-get-on-the-plane-as-quickly-as-possible-and-at-all-costs” mentality kicks in. You are simply an obstacle they need to get round to beat you onto the plane. (Harsh but true!)
· It can become a difficult juggling act: Trying to get baby out of the pram, gathering all your hand luggage together, unfastening clipped-on toys, folding the pram and perhaps putting it in a protective cover is quite a challenge at the gate or aircraft door or steps while others are bustling around you. Be prepared for other passengers to glare at you while doing this. They can’t help it; this circus act is the most interesting thing they’ve seen for the last hour.
Usually, airlines invite those passengers with children to board first (if, of course, you’re not already priority boarding or a frequent flyer cardholder). This can be such an advantage in terms of sorting the pram and giving you a little more time to organise your seat and all you’ll need for the journey. On the other hand, it does mean spending a little longer in a confined space with perhaps a wriggling, unsettled baby while those around you board. Once you’re onboard though, try and relax. The less tense you feel, the more relaxed baby will be. Try to position everything you might need for the flight in close proximity - baby bag at your feet, toys, dummies, snacks and milk in seat pockets.
My number one top tip is to feed on take-off, as those wheels leave the tarmac. And do the same again as the plane starts to make its descent. The sucking motion really helps to regulate baby’s ears to the change in air pressure and hopefully avoids the non-stop screaming and crying that you sometimes experience on a plane with children. If you’re breastfeeding, despite the cramped conditions, you’re good to go whenever you need to. If you’re bottle feeding, try to prep that bottle the minute you’re on board to have it ready when you need it. A dummy can work just as well too. And for slightly older children, try a lollipop.
I took my son to Australia while he was on the bottle. Unluckily for me, he was a bit fussy and only liked warm milk so the cartons of readymade baby milk were out of the question. Airline staff can be restricted in terms of letting you have hot water to heat bottles so I had to come up with a pre-planned solution that would work. I took a few more sterilised bottles with me than I thought I might need (just to be sure) and had about 1-2 ounces of cooled boiled water in each. I also had a thermos of boiling water with me (which I later refilled at a coffee shop in Doha) and quantities of pre-measured baby formula. Mixing the hot thermos water with the cool bottled water seemed to do the trick in mixing the perfect baby cocktail! I was able to calm my hungry baby when necessary and not leave my fellow passengers too frazzled from the noise.
For weened babies or toddlers, I can’t say it enough: snacks, snacks, snacks and more snacks. The pre-packaged pouches like Ella’s for example are also particularly handy, especially for longer trips where pre-made homemade food may not keep or travel well. Airlines typically offer jarred baby food, which mine never liked. And remember to pack as many bibs and wipes as you can possibly fit in your baby bag. My top travel foods would be baby wafers and crisps, non-messy fruit, banana chips, dry cereal, sandwiches, crackers and raisins. And don’t forget the cool boiled water for drinking.
All the food and drinks you need can go through airport security. You just need to get it all out and tell them it’s baby milk/food etc. They may ask you to try it so they know it’s legit– I never have, but bon appetit to you if they do!
In terms of accommodation, I always choose something a little roomier, which allows us at least a bedroom and separate living room. Kitchenettes can also be extremely useful, particularly if bottle feeding but at the very least, a kettle will do. And if there’s not one in the room, don’t be afraid to ask for one. I have always been very specific on requesting a cot, or extra bed for the room, and to state where I want it to be situated. Housekeeping will often place an extra bed in the lounge but if you want to keep the living room a space to enjoy and allow your child some peace as they sleep, then siting the extra bed in the bedroom is a must.
When it comes to booking your trip, I have an arsenal of travel life-savers and top tips to call upon. We’ll go through exactly what you might need depending on the length of your stay, the distance you’ll be travelling and the weather you can expect at your destination.
Since that first trip, my son and I have travelled twice to Australia, numerous times to Spain, to Italy, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Mallorca and Tenerife - and all before he turned four. I’m therefore well placed to offer advice on stress-free travel with children and items you might need but may not have thought of: types of prams (my best buy was an umbrella buggy with a big hood), blackout blinds, UV protectors for prams, clip-on pram fans, swim nappies and swimming aids, etc.
And since I’ve now travelled under the new COVID-19 rules and guidelines too , I can adapt my advice for children and families to ensure you’re fully prepared and know what to expect.
In my business, preparation is everything. Planning ahead and anticipating what to expect leads to less stress, happier parents and even happier children. A perfect combination for an ideal family holiday.