I know that many parents, new parents especially, are often uncertain when it comes to getting around with a baby and the mere thought of overseas travel can be daunting. As young, vibrant and socially active soon-to-be parents, my hubby and I always maintained that our little darling would fit in to our schedule rather than the other way around.
There was no way that we were going to allow our baby to dictate our social calendar. Upon the arrival of our baby girl we quickly realised that it was easier said than done yet we were still determined to stick to our guns, which meant that we were in for some serious baby haulage.
Breastfeeding, nappy changing, sleep (a precious commodity to baby and baby’s parents), routine disruption, public transport, and the attitude of the general public are only a handful of many obstacles to be considered when out and about with a baby. Naturally, the arrival of a baby requires compromise but it in no way means that the social/travel life of a parent is over. We had to work out the best way to take our baby out with us, in a way that would be both comfortable for us and, most importantly, cause as little disruption to our baby as possible: a challenge we were up for.
Since the birth of our baby eight months ago; we have manoeuvred our way through Italy, gallivanted around Holland, road-tripped through Devon; and frequented parks, museums, restaurants and friends’ houses.
Our baby girl’s trusty steed (also known as a BUGGIE) has become acquainted with tubes, buses, aeroplanes, trains and canal boats. I have breast fed my baby on the side of a canal in Venice and used the pram as a changing table on the pavement of every major city in Italy.
Our darling has witnessed the genius of Michelangelo, the melancholic fury of Van Gogh and the luminescent romance of the Pre-Raphaelites. She has screeched her way through the Vatican, paid tribute to St Francis of Assisi and floated her way down the canals in Amsterdam.
She won’t remember any of it but we will and that is special for us. I am here to say: fear not! Travelling with a baby is totally conceivable, and yes, even pleasant. I have narrowed down the 10 most important things that I have learned as I have gone out and about with my baby over the last eight months in the hope that they will encourage parents to keep some of their pre-baby dreams and commitments.
1. Your attitude as parent is what will make or break an outing or trip. The first thing to remember is that travelling with a baby is not the same as travelling without one. There are a million and one things to prepare and probably a million and one situations that will arise that you haven’t prepared for (and this applies to both local and overseas travel). Little things that wouldn’t usually constitute a big deal become a big deal when you have a baby to look after. Getting lost, trains that aren’t timely, trying to fit into a choc-a-bloc bus at 6pm – these are life situations that are magnified when you have a tired/hungry baby. The best thing to do is to take it easy. Don’t panic, fluster or get angry if things don’t go as planned; it is a conscious choice. Be flexible and be prepared to alter your baby’s routine just a little.
2. Babies are the best travel companions before they are 3 months old as they are not fully conscious of a night and day cycle. Most babies only succumb to a routine after 3 months, which naturally makes travelling a bit more difficult if you want to go out, ensure your baby sleeps and eats at the correct times. The point: take advantage of the 0-3 month age.
3. Your baby’s mode of transport is essential and how you carry your baby around is largely dependent on your baby’s sleeping habits. A sling is brilliant for short outings and a pram is necessary for long outings, purely because it functions as a comfortable, portable bed for baby. Most airlines are really helpful when it comes to travelling with a pram. You are allowed to wheel your pram to the aeroplane and it will be placed in the hull with the rest of the luggage at the last moment and should be ready and waiting for you when you arrive at your destination.
4. Babies seem to have a knack for needing their nappies changed at the most inopportune times when you are travelling. Take advantage of every changing room you come across and be prepared to do some public changing if necessary. A pram can function as a great nappy changing device if need be. Just pop into an alley, park or alcove and do the deed.
5. Feeding your baby while out and about need not be complicated. Whether your baby has specific feeding times or not, whether it is breast, bottle or solids – just do it. Prams and laps work as emergency high chairs, so if you are not within reach of a restaurant, coffee shop, park, car or any other more convenient feeding place just find a spot that isn’t madly busy and give your baby his meal.
6. With regards to bottle feeding your baby, water is not always readily available. If tap water is a no-no then you will need to find baby-friendly bottled water. Just any mineral water will not do because the mineral content is too high (usually the sodium count) and will be a problem for your baby to digest. It is not always easy to work out which bottled water is baby friendly when you are in a foreign country and labels are written in a language you don’t understand. It is a good idea to check this out before you embark on your travels and plan accordingly.
7. In terms of the attractions you plan on visiting, it is a good idea to do an inventory beforehand. Can you use a pram? Is your baby allowed to enter? Can you feed your baby there? You can then plan your visit according to the regulations of the attraction you are visiting.
8. When booking accommodation, always find out if the venue is able to supply a cot. This will help you decide whether you will need to take a travel cot with you or whether you can escape the extra luggage weight.
9. Travel light, especially if you are embarking on a lengthy trip and are relying on public transport. The mums will be laughing just about now as the terms baby and pack light are incongruous. Nonetheless, try your best.
10. Lastly, lose your scruples and be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. In order to travel with a baby, often we have to do things that we are not always comfortable with. Breast feeding in public is not everyone’s cup of tea and neither is changing a nappy on a pavement but sometimes you have no option and you just have to do what needs to be done. If people stare, who cares? Most of the time you will find that your inhibitions are largely internal and that nobody is actually paying any attention to your breast or your baby’s bottom.
Travelling with a baby is hard work, there is no way around it – but it is also stacks of fun. The memories that my little family has made over the last eight months are too precious and I absolutely cannot wait to tell my baby girl about all of the adventures that she has been on.