For many new parents, travel is the furthest thing on their mind, fearing the disruptive effects of long-haul flights, foreign hotels and big days of sightseeing. However, even with a bub in tow, the joys of travel still exist, and it can be liberating for parents to know that holidays with little ones are still achievable, albeit with adjusted expectations. New mum Lori Jensen discusses her experience travelling to Europe with her husband and six-month-old daughter and shares her tips for families on the move.
Tell us a bit about your holiday:
This was our first holiday as a family and we went on a three-week trip to Europe. We started the holiday in Madrid and explored parts of Spain before heading to the UK to stay in Liverpool and London, then on to Paris before finishing up in Santorini.
Why did you decide to go on holiday with your young family?
We had done a lot of travel prior to having a baby and I wanted to prove to myself (and my husband) that we could continue this lifestyle, even with children. My sister and a lot of my extended family currently live in London, so it was a good opportunity for them to spend some time with our daughter, Isla. I also felt that it would be easier to travel with her when she was younger (six months at the time) and not mobile.
How did you find the flight?
Isla really surprised us on the long-haul flight. We paid slightly more to take a night departure, which worked really well because Isla was ready for bed and slept for 10 hours of the 14-hour first leg! I would definitely recommend this where possible as well as searching for flights with the shortest stopover to minimise time in the airport waiting for connecting flights. She was also very well behaved on all of the short-haul flights through Europe, so we were very lucky.
I would also recommend asking for a bassinet seat where possible, although these are restricted for certain weights so check and confirm this beforehand. Utilise options in airports that provide extra assistance to families such as priority boarding and complimentary strollers. Some airports also have priority customs and passport control lines for people travelling with children, which is a great time saver. Make sure that your child or baby has something to suck on (dummy, bottle, breastfeed) during takeoff and landing to minimise discomfort in their ears.
How did you find getting around each location?
We have a baby carrier and that made lots of situations more manageable and convenient. We used it on public transport and in airports, which saved us the hassle of carrying a pram up and down steps and negotiating crowds. The pram was still useful for longer day trips when we knew we would be in the one place for the majority of the day, and as a baggage cart when on the move between cities.
More family travel experiences:
Take the kids cruising. Family Fun On P&O's Pacific Jewel
Capital ideas for tots, tweens and teens. Kidding Around In London
Did you find the areas you visited to be family friendly?
Our daughter is breastfed and I found everywhere we went to be accepting of this. I researched each location and the customs and views around breastfeeding before we went and I believe as long as you are respectful of those then you shouldn't have any trouble. I would definitely recommend taking a thermos and cooler bag to keep food cool (if on solids) and water warm (for formula).
Probably one of the more difficult things was finding baby rooms to change nappies. While most places, museums, attractions and planes have those facilities, it is a different story when you're out and about for the day and it can be quite difficult to find somewhere. Laying the pram flat and using that is a good option or your lap, if your baby is small enough. I would recommend taking a portable change mat and some antibacterial wipes to clean the mat between changes.
Was there any aspect of the trip that was more challenging than expected?
I think having to be a bit less flexible in our plans was the most challenging. Where we previously would have been out and about all day, we had to be more conscious of making sure Isla had enough sleep, had opportunities to have solids and places to be changed. It was also challenging just having somewhere to physically put her. She can't sit, crawl or walk on her own so we often had to hold her. I think next time I would take a padded play mat that can be folded down or a bouncer that is portable. And the sheer volume of stuff we needed to take for her was insane and it was challenging having to carry that around. Lucky I had my packhorse/husband!
How did your travel style differ with your baby in tow?
We had to really adapt our travel style. Where we would previously be up and about early and not back at the hotel until late, we had to totally change this. We made sure that Isla had at least one decent sleep in the hotel each day unless it was a travel day. This might mean a morning sleep and then out and about for the day, or out in the morning and back for a lunchtime sleep and then out again in the afternoon. We found that this made her less tired and we were all able to enjoy ourselves more. It also gave my husband and me a chance to read a book and just relax while she slept.
We would also go out for an early dinner about 6:30pm, so we could be back at the hotel for a decent bedtime. This actually worked out quite well because it often meant we could go to popular places without a reservation and beat the rush hour. My best tip is to work out what you want to see in a place and then make that work with your baby, that way anything else you are able to do or see is a bonus.
Did you do as much on your holiday as you hoped?
I think you need to adjust your expectations and be realistic. Did we do as much as we would have pre-baby? No. And we were never expecting to. We saw everything we wanted to see and even some things that we hadn't planned on seeing. We did have to pass on a few things though. For example, an all-day tour in Santorini would have been too much for Isla and not as enjoyable for us as a result, so we did all the elements of the tour that we could and had to pass on the rest. Similarly, quad biking, flamenco nights and bike tours all had to be put on the list for 'next time' but I don't think either of us feels as though we missed out.
- If your baby has never slept in a portacot before your trip I strongly suggest a practice run beforehand - that's all you will be given! And take your own sheets and sleeping comfort items so sleeptime is still familiar.
- Be flexible. If you have a routine at home it will go out the window!
- Take lots of just-in-case medical items. It's easier to have these than to be miming, "My baby has diarrhoea" in a foreign pharmacy!
- Don't expect to do as much as you did when travelling pre-baby - you will be disappointed.
- Try to be relaxed and calm. Your baby will pick up on your anxieties if you're not and you won't enjoy yourself if you're on edge all the time. It is a holiday after all!
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