Travelling with a Baby

27 December 2021

Imagining taking baby away on their first holiday is sure to conjure up images of your little one twisting their tiny toes into the sand for the first time, or splashing their excited legs in the pool, but before you arrive at your destination you are undoubtedly going to stress about the process of travelling with your baby.

Now, I’m not a worrier – I have a rather blasé ‘it will all be ok’ approach to most things, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to plan and be prepared when you’re travelling with little ones. No, it’s not as easy as travelling without them, but it shouldn’t be daunting and the thought of it certainly shouldn’t put you off travelling altogether.

I’ve booked holidays for many families with babies and small children over the years, so I’ve always been well-aware of the practicalities of taking kids away, but it’s only since having and travelling with my own babies that I could really appreciate the process of booking a trip and getting to your destination! Here are some of my top tips for booking and taking your little ones away on their first adventures.

1. Where to go

Before kids we travelled far and wide, hopping from island to island and catching two or three flights to reach our destination, and we always said that having kids wouldn’t stop us from having adventures. But it has changed where we choose to go.

You should decide what you want from your trip – if you want to catch a bit of sun, enjoy a nice beach and warm sea, then there are tons of places in Europe and the Mediterranean within easy reach of the UK. You don’t have to overcomplicate things by choosing a far-flung exotic destination, if all you want is a beach holiday. Some of my favourite European destinations for taking babies and small children include Greece & Spain, including the Canaries and the Balearics. These firm favourites are a popular choice with many families for good reason – they have an abundance of hotels well-equipped to care for your family while you are away, from small self-catering apartments in friendly resorts, to 5-star hotels with world-class activities and facilities set on private sandy beaches.

If you are searching for more – maybe you want to immerse yourself and your family in a different culture, or maybe you need to travel long-haul to visit relatives abroad – then try to choose a destination that can be reached with a direct flight. Dubai is a great year-round choice with multiple flights daily from most of the big UK airports and the journey time of around 7 hours is not too uncomfortable with a baby on your lap. If you’re feeling braver then you can reach the tropical shores of the Caribbean, or the Indian Ocean gems, Mauritius and the Maldives on direct flights out of London and, in most cases, Manchester too.

2. When to travel

There are two main factors here that might help you decide on when to go away. Firstly, what will the weather be like at that time of year? Travelling to the Middle East or even Southern Europe in August with a baby under 6 months might simply be too hot – you don’t want to spend your entire holiday in an air-conditioned room because it’s just too warm for a baby by the pool. May is a great time for most Mediterranean destinations in terms of temperatures. And the benefit of travelling in the shoulder season means you’ll probably save hundreds, if not thousands, compared to travelling in the middle of summer.

Secondly, babies age will determine how easy they are to travel with. Most airlines won’t accept babies under 2 weeks old, and personally I wouldn’t recommend anything earlier than 2 months. In the early weeks of becoming a parent you’ll almost certainly experience some level of exhaustion. You’ll probably be working hard to establish a routine too! I think unless you are travelling with extended family that are very willing to assist with caring for baby, it would be a lot of stress to travel very early on. I personally also wanted to wait until my little ones had received their first vaccines, so they had some form of protection from illnesses before we took them abroad.

I’d also think carefully about weaning while you’re abroad – if you are going to be on holiday when baby turns 6 months old then I’d consider delaying weaning for a week or two or waiting until baby is closer to 7 months old before you go away. It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me, just something I’d plan around if it wasn’t too much hassle!

If you are travelling with baby in their first few months of life, then think about applying for a passport early and paying for an express or in-person appointment to guarantee receiving their first passport on time.

3. How to fly

You know where and when you want to go, but what’s the easiest route you can take? I’ve mentioned already trying to get on a direct flight. Depending on their age, you might find it easier to book a flight that coincides with naptime. This can be hard to predict, especially if you’re booking in advance, as their routine may be different from what it is now, so don’t place too much emphasis on it. Babies will nap almost anywhere and at any time of the day when they are small. When we took our first away at 3 months old, he napped for the entire flight. As they get closer to a year old you might find that being on a plane is simply too exciting or noisy for them to sleep.

I also see lots of families paying more for early morning flights, thinking it will be easier. In my experience it’s not a bad thing to fly later in the day – you don’t have to wake baby up in the early hours to get to the airport on time, the airport is usually quieter later in the afternoon or evening, and if it’s getting closer to bedtime when you board the plane then chances are, they’ll be exhausted from the day and hopefully fall asleep on the flight.

If you’re travelling as a family, I’d also recommend pre-booking your seats to make sure you’re sat together so that you can pass baby between you easily – a child under 2 will usually travel on your lap, but you can sometimes request a bassinet seat for long-haul flights – speak to your travel agent when you book your trip to request this!

You can decide if you prefer a window or aisle seat – I’d recommend a window if baby is young – more chance they will be asleep and nobody will disturb you if they need to get past you – and an aisle if baby is older, so you can get out and walk down the aisle a little with them if they get very fidgety.

4. Where to stay

Hotels, villas and apartments all have their own pros and cons when it comes to travelling with small children.

Villas come with most of the appliances you’d get at home – a proper kitchen to prepare food and milk, maybe a washing machine so you don’t have to pack so many clothes or worry about trips to a laundrette! They will also likely offer you the space to have a separate bedroom for baby if they are old enough, and some can offer equipment hire, such as travel cots and highchairs. However, they are usually remote, so you’d likely need to hire a car, and unless you’re travelling as a large family it can be expensive.

Hotels come with more facilities – they might have a splash park for babies, or playgrounds if you have older kids with you. They will probably have on-site restaurants and bars, so you don’t have to worry about cooking, and are usually well-located so getting out to explore is easy. Many hotels offer family rooms, some even have bedrooms for kids decorated and designed especially for them. Most hotels can offer extra equipment such as a microwave or bottle warmer in your room, or a small fridge to store food or formula. They’ll usually have travel cots you can use free of charge, and some even offer services such as a creche or babysitting – though you should check minimum ages before you book if you’re planning on using these.

Apartments can offer the best of both worlds – particularly apart-hotel style accommodations, where you can use hotel facilities and sometimes even stay on all inclusive basis, but you still get some of the facilities in your room such as a kitchenette, and separate sleeping areas, which can be great if you need to put baby to sleep, but you want to stay up and have a drink or meal in the living area!

Also, think about where you’ll stay in terms of how easy it is to reach once you land. Do you really want to be making a 3-hour coach journey or hang around waiting for ferries after you’ve just escaped a long flight? A short and easy transfer can make the journey much more bearable – think about upgrading to a private transfer to cut down on travel time if necessary.

5. Get Organised

Between booking your trip and actually going away you’ll probably start thinking about some of the practicalities while you’re away. I’ve added a packing list at the bottom of this post, which might help you decide what to take with you, but there are some other considerations than simply what goes in your suitcase.

Feeding was possibly my main concern when we went away for the first time with a 3-month-old. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, then great – this part will not be a massive concern for you. In fact, if you are considering switching to formula or combi-feeding before you travel, I would possibly think about delaying this transition until you get home.

If you are formula or combi-feeding when you travel, then you’ll need to think about things like sterilising equipment, warming or storing milk, and making up feeds on-the-go. I should mention that I am not recommending the best way to manage this, I’m just letting you know what worked for me.

Bring several sterilised bottles with you for the flight. If you are delayed, you’ll need more than just one or two to get you through the journey. I also can’t recommend enough using the little pre-made bottles of formula for the flight. Yes, they’re more expensive, but you’ll save the hassle of trying to make up a bottle with a flask of boiling water on your tray table and a baby on your lap at 30,000 feet. Worth it for sure. Make sure you bring enough for the flight there and back, plus any extra for delays. There is no restriction for going through airport security with baby formula, so don’t worry about the 100ml limit. You’re also allowed to bring a flask of hot water if you do want to make up powdered formula (or if you have to, like I have with my second who has a milk allergy), though you may be asked to pour a little out or taste any pre-made formula to confirm its contents. You should also pack enough formula (powdered or liquid) in your hand luggage to last the first day or so – if your case goes missing then you want to be able to feed your baby until you can source some more.

I always try to feed baby on take-off and landing – it helps their little ears adjust to the different pressures. Cabin crew, and hotel staff I have always found to be very accommodating when it comes to warming or cooling baby bottles too, so don’t worry about this while you’re away.

Sterilising is possibly the trickiest obstacle – nobody wants to pack a bulky steriliser in their suitcase, but there’s nothing stopping you if you do have the space to do so. Some hotels (but certainly not all) are partnered with baby equipment hire companies, who will rent this out to you locally, so this is worth exploring. Another option is to use sterilising sachets or tablets, and to sterilise equipment in the sink/bath of your room. You can also buy sterilising bags, which you can put your equipment inside in a microwave, if your hotel has one. If you use MAM bottles, these are self-sterilising using a microwave and a little water – the easiest option in my opinion.

Bathing baby abroad can be a little awkward – without a baby bath or support you’ll probably have to wash your little one in the sink – lots of fun if they’re old enough to sit up and splash about! I know a lot of people will suggest just bathing very infrequently when abroad, but I like to know that all that baby sun cream and chlorine from the pool is off their skin before putting them to bed, plus keeping bath time regular most evenings helps maintain their routine. If they’re too big for your hotel sink or there’s no bathtub then you can always sit in the shower with them on your lap – my eldest found a shower a real novelty!

Sleeping – the only thing I would suggest for sleep is to try and stick somewhere close to their normal routine as much as you can. If you’re going to be out later than usual one evening, then maybe take a pushchair so they can crash out in there once they get too tired. We found that afternoon naps would happen spontaneously wherever we were, but you could always head back to the room for an hour or two when the weather is very hot to cool off and relax for a few hours while little one catches up on their z’s! If you’d like some expert advice on baby sleep, especially if you are going to be heading somewhere long-haul where jetlag might be an issue, then I’d recommend following @just_chill_mama on Instagram, who offers some great professional advice and tips on helping baby to sleep!

Pushchairs & car seats are two bulky considerations, but you may be surprised to hear that most airlines will allow you to travel with two pieces of baby equipment (pushchair/car seat/ travel cot) free of charge when you’re travelling with an infant or child. Think about how you’ll get to your hotel once you get off the plane – if you’re travelling by coach then it’s usually expected that baby will sit on your lap for the journey, but a private transfer or taxi will generally require them to be in a suitable car seat by law. They are not routinely provided as standard – bringing your own is sometimes essential. If you’re taking a car seat or travel cot then this is usually checked in at a special luggage counter near the check-in desks. If you are taking a pram then you can usually check this in at the boarding gate – many airlines allow you to bring it right to the aircraft door or steps. A word of warning though – pushchairs are usually returned to you along with your other luggage at the baggage reclaim after you have cleared passport control. If you don’t want to carry a squirming baby or stand in a customs queue clutching them along with your passports and hand luggage, then bring a baby carrier or sling too! You can wear them as you board the plane, so it’s not taking up any hand luggage allowance/space and it frees up your hands to move around much easier. We also bought a cheap buggy specifically for travelling with – it’s lightweight and we don’t mind too much if it gets damaged on the plane.

Finally, make sure you have arranged travel insurance for the whole family. Babies can get sick just from the change in environment when you’re travelling and having to worry about paying for a private medical bill if you’re concerned about your little ones’ health in a foreign country is a stress nobody needs. Make sure you check which vaccinations baby needs to have before they travel – your GP will be able to give you the best advice on this. You can also apply for a GHIC (UK Global Heath Insurance Card) free of charge for your baby (and yourselves) here:

Packing list

The main aim is to pack as light as possible – the less you choose to carry, the easier it will be to travel with a little one – don’t worry too much about needing lots of stuff – most of what you need can be bought easily while you’re abroad too. I’ve based this list on travelling somewhere warm, but check the weather ahead of travelling so you can prepare for the right climate

Hand Luggage

Nappies and wipes – enough for the journey and any delays

Sterilised bottles and pre-made formula (if bottle feeding)

A few food pouches, spoons and snacks (if over weaning age – pouches are easier than jars)

Change of clothes for any accidents

Compact changing mat

Blanket – easier than a sleep bag for the flight

Sling or baby carrier

Calpol – helps their ears on the flight

Comforter or dummy if your baby has one

Hand sanitiser/sanitising wipes – you never know where you might need to do a nappy change!

Checked Luggage

Baby sun cream – if older than 6 months, younger babies should be shaded instead

UV Sun/Swim suits – keeps the sun and sand off babies delicate skin

Sun hat – I like the legionnaire style to protect their neck too

Sleeping bag – this will probably be a lightweight 0.5-1.0 TOG for the warmer temperatures

Sleepwear – may not be necessary depending on the temperature

Toys – choose just a couple, or leave them altogether if baby is very young

Light clothing – I find short-sleeved rompers easiest in hot weather

Socks and a warm cardigan or jumper for cooler evenings

Nappies – I like to pack as many nappies as I can fit purely because they’re more expensive abroad than they are in the UK, but you can save on packing by buying them from local supermarkets once you arrive if you prefer

Travel first aid kit – with a thermometer

Baby camera/monitor – if they’re going to be sleeping apart from you

Sterilising equipment/sachets

Formula – enough for the whole trip – although you can purchase it abroad, you may not be able to find your preferred brand

Baby toiletries / nappy cream – try and get travel sizes to save space!

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