The good news is that the standard vaccinations your baby will receive at the age of two months, three months, four months and 12 months will protect her from a lot of the diseases you might come across when travelling. That said, there are of course plenty of further flung destinations for which additional travel vaccinations are recommended. The advice for older children, as for adults, is to make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse six to eight weeks before departure to ensure that everyone is up-to-date with travel vaccinations, but for babies and toddlers it’s worth having that conversation before you book the trip as some vaccines can only be given above a certain age.
Here are a few common travel vaccines and antimalarials, along with their lower age limits (helpfully provided by a doctor friend – thanks Anna!), that I hope might be helpful for the purposes of advance trip planning. For example, if hepatitis A is a major risk in a destination you’re considering visiting, but your baby is less than a year old, you might want to postpone that particular trip until she’s old enough to be vaccinated for hepatitis A. It’s important to stress here that I’m not a medical professional so this information is for guidance only.
Hepatitis A – from 12-months-old
Typhoid – from 24-months-old
Yellow fever – from six-months-old; given between the ages of six and nine months only during major outbreaks
Japanese encephalitis – from two-months-old
Combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) –from nine-months-old
Malarone – not recommended for children weighing less than 11kg
Doxycycline – not recommended for children
Mefloquine (Lariam) – not recommended for children weighing less than 5kg
Travelling without vaccinations
If you want to travel with your baby before she’s received the standard NHS vaccinations, it’s a matter of weighing up the risks of the trip against its benefits. When planning our first proper adventure with the baby girl – to the northern Spanish city of Santiago di Compostela when she was six-weeks-old – we reasoned that although she would not have been immunised by the time of the trip, she was at no higher risk of infection in Santiago than she was in London. By the time of our next adventure – 10 days in Goa a few months later – we had to do that risk/benefit calculation again as we considered the dangers of taking the baby girl away before she had received the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Again, we decided that the destination didn’t present very much of an increased risk, so away we went.
In the case of trips to destinations where a particular disease is a risk but a vaccine isn’t available, talk to your doctor or nurse about preventative measures. This might mean only drinking and brushing your teeth with bottled water, for example, or protecting against mosquito bites with the help of repellents and nets. I’ll be covering how to deal with mosquitos in an separate post – sign up for the mailing list so you don’t miss it.
I try to pack light for adventures with the baby girl, but I rarely succeed. Which is where buggy clips come in. I keep the pram rain cover, a SnoozeShade and the sling in the basket under the pram, so everything else – from nappy changing stuff to spare clothes and from toys to snacks – has to go on the handle bar. You can buy changing bags designed to hang directly from the pram, but I’ve never found one I like the look of, so I tend to use a large shopper and buggy clips instead.
The clips come in handy in plenty of other situations too, for shopping, as a secure place to keep my handbag when I’m not wearing it, and for the baby girl’s lunch box when I’m feeding her in the buggy.
There are various styles available, but I like the ones that are essentially large climbing carabiners with a bit of foam covering the metal to stop them slipping along your pram handle or scratching the chassis. The other options, which attach to the pram with Velcro, feel less secure somehow. Depending on the model of your pram and how much you care about it getting scratched, the foam may not be all that useful – if that’s the case for you, search online for ‘large carabiners’ rather than ‘buggy clips’. The results will be less expensive than the ones made with parents in mind.
The sooner you start flying with your baby, the easier it is. You probably spend most of your time with your newborn in your arms anyway, so the fact that you’re on a plane is almost irrelevant. The chief challenge of flying with babies is keeping them entertained and newborns don’t require much in that regard, so if you have the opportunity to go abroad with your baby when she’s still very little, go for it. The other benefit to starting when she’s small is that it’s good practice for flying with her when she’s bigger and more aware of her surroundings: she’ll already be familiar with the strange environment of an aeroplane, you’ll be more confident and you’ll both have a better experience as a result.
Take more food and milk than you think you might need – that way you’ll covered in case of delays, and will have plenty of snacks to hand that can serve as distractions at otherwise tedious or challenging moments. (We spend a lot of time walking up and down the plane with the baby girl, either carrying her or keeping a close eye as she toddles along, but when the fasten seatbelt sign is on and she’s not happy about staying put, a handful of baby rice cakes can be very handy indeed.)
Breastfeeding mothers might find themselves feeding more frequently and for longer than usual on flights, which can be exhausting, particularly at night, when you’ll be getting even less sleep than usual. Make sure you’ve got plenty of snacks for yourself, and that you’re drinking enough water. Some extra nursing pads might come in handy too. If you’re bottlefeeding, ready-mixed formula is much more convenient than making it up as you go. Bring enough sterilised bottles to last the duration of your flight, plus a couple of extras in case of delays. Extra muslin squares are a good idea whether you’re breast or bottle-feeding.
I’ve found that our feeding routine goes out the window when we’re flying, along with sleep routines (see below) – there are just too many distractions to contend with and it’s impossible to time things properly when you’re dealing with security, boarding, etc. So we try to go with the flow and offer the baby girl healthy snacks fairly often to make sure she’s getting enough to eat. For toddlers and babies over the age of six months, chopped cucumber and carrots, dried and fresh fruit, crackers, sandwiches and travel pouches of baby food are all easy options. You can put them in resealable sandwich bags, but we like to take mini Tupperware containers from home away with us, as they come in handy for snacks and meals on the go throughout the trip too.
The longer the flight, the more entertainment you’ll require, so pack as many small, non-noisy toys as you can reasonably fit into your carry-on. It may seem like overkill when you’re packing, but you won’t regret having a plentiful supply. A favourite soft toy or two is a good idea, as are lift-the-flap books, colouring-in book and crayons, stickers and toy cars. A ‘stunt wallet’ filled with a few membership and loyalty cards that I don’t mind losing can keep the baby girl absorbed for ages. We always have fun with the inflight magazines too.
A friend always wraps several small presents ahead of flights with her kids, which she saves for moments when they’re getting antsy. The novelty of the present keeps them busy and the upwrapping is exciting in itself. I haven’t actually tried it yet, as the baby girl isn’t all that interested in unwrapping yet, but I’m planning to give it a go the next time we fly.
You could bring all the snacks and toys in the world and your baby will still probably kick off at some stage during the flight. It’s no fun dealing with a crying baby on a plane, but try to remember that your fellow passengers are more likely to be feeling sympathetic than annoyed – chances are that most of them have been in the same position at some stage. Only a real jerk could get angry with a parent clearly doing their best to calm their baby, and life’s too short to waste time worrying about what the jerks of this world think of you. Also bear in mind that the noise of the engines muffles the crying for those sitting even just a couple of rows away from you, so it’s probably not as bad as you think.
We’re lucky in that the baby girl has never been a big crier – if she cries, it’s usually for a reason, and it’s just a matter of working out what that reason is and coming up with a solution. (It’s a different story now that she’s started throwing tantrums, but more on that later.) Teething is always very challenging, and affects her feeding too, so we always travel with Calpol, infant Nurofen and teething gel. Earache while flying hasn’t been a problem for the baby girl but troubles lots of babies and toddlers: swallowing equalises pressure in the ears so try to get your little one to breastfeed, eat or drink during takeoff and landing. Walking around can be a good distraction – make sure you’ve got a sling with you to take the pressure of your arms and back.
If nothing does the trick to stop the crying, take her into the toilet for a few minutes. The quiet and privacy might calm her down, and even if it doesn’t, being away from other passengers, even briefly, might calm you down so you’re better able to go back out there and deal with it. This can work for toddler tantrums too, if you’re able to physically manoeuvre your child. If not, employ distractions in turn until something works (see toys and snacks above).
Where to sit
Children under the age of two can travel for (almost) free on most airlines if sitting on your lap, though you can buy a separate seat for them if you want. If you’re doing so, you might want to bring a car seat to secure them – check with your airline which models are suitable. Children over the age of two require their own seat.
For long-haul flights, it’s well worth trying to book the bulkhead seats and a carrycot or child seat, depending on the age of your child. This is sometimes more straightforward to do over the phone rather than online. It’s a good idea to reconfirm the carrycot booking before you travel and at check-in.
If these seats aren’t available and there are two of us travelling with the baby girl, we always book window and aisle, in the hope that the middle seat will be left empty. This tactic often works, and even when it doesn’t, your neighbour is very likely to be willing to swap their middle seat for one of yours, so you end up sitting together. For short-haul, we find two seats across the aisle from each other more convenient than sitting side by side, as you’re both easily able to get up and walk around with the baby or get things out of the overheard lockers.
A plane is a very exciting environment for a baby or toddler and all those new faces, noises and activities can make napping tricky. Prepare for the trip by making sure your little one is well rested before you go, and don’t make ambitions plans for immediately after your arrival, if you can help it. That way if your baby doesn’t sleep at all on the plane, you can take the resulting tiredness in your stride.
You never know when a nap might be interrupted on a plane, so err on the side of encouraging your little one to nap as soon as she’s looking sleepy, rather than keeping her awake until her usual nap time. Pack your baby’s sleeping bag so you can mimic your usual nap time routine, and if you’ve got the bulkhead/carrycot seats, pack a SnoozeShade or similar that you can put on top of a carrycot to create a dark environment more conducive to napping.
What else to pack in your carry-on
Spare outfit Wireless bone-conducting headphones
Nappy changing mat and wallet with a nappies and wipes (plus nappy rash cream and nappy sacks if you use them)
Extra baby wipes
The Family Sounds workshop has already begun by the time the baby girl and I arrive (late) at the Wigmore Hall, and the foyer is full of enticing sounds: lilting song, drum beats emanating from a suitcase, sliding notes from a violin, a flute and a cello. Part of the extensive programme of family events at the hall, the workshop is aimed at under-5s.
The baby girl gets a name badge, we draw close to the magic suitcase and her name is pulled into the song. Workshop leader Esther Sheridan explains that we’ll be going on a journey together, collecting sounds in the suitcase to create a new piece of music. She then leads us all downstairs to the hall’s Bechstein Room, where the floor is littered with percussion instruments waiting for players.
The kids get stuck in with the shakers while the musicians improvise around a piece specially written by the Wigmore’s composer-in-residence Helen Grime. It’s wonderful to be able to listen to multi-instrumental music in the round, and Sheridan and the other workshop leaders hit the right balance in terms of atmosphere as they lead musicians and children into silence and sound and back again. The mood is informal, so everyone feels relaxed, but it’s not a free-for-all – we know where our focus is expected to be.
The next phase of the workshop, in which the group moves to different areas in the room to experiment with sounds of the forest, city and space, is less successful. The music is excellent – the musicians playing in unusual ways to create otherworldly and unexpected noises – but the interactive element feels undercooked. While the older and more independent children have a ball suggesting sounds to take with us on our journey, the little ones are sometimes left behind. As a result, the session begins to drag – two hours is a long time to ask babies and toddlers to pay attention.
That said, when the musicians and workshop leaders are engaging with the children one-on-one (shout out to Gawain Hewitt and his musical plant), and Grime’s evocative music is filling the space, this workshop is a delight. Venues like this one can feel rather forbidding; by throwing open the doors to families, the Wigmore Hall is doing important work in democratising classical music and developing the audiences of the future. It’s good to see.
It won’t surprise you to learn that beaches are a hit with babies and toddlers. From smashing sand castles (building them is beyond the baby girl so far) to splashing in rock pools, and from putting pebbles in shoes to picking up random bits and bobs and exclaiming excitedly about them, the fun is pretty much endless.
The entertainment taken care of, all that’s left to think about are a few practical concerns. Here are my tips:
1. Stay in the shade in the middle of the day, ideally between 10am and 4pm.
2. If your baby is under six months old, keep her out of direct sunlight entirely. Put her in lightweight clothing so she’s as covered up as possible, and use baby-safe sunscreen (the higher SPF the better, but at least 15+) on any exposed areas.
3. Apply sunscreen when changing your baby or toddler’s nappy at home before leaving for the beach. It’s much easier to get consistent coverage for that first application when she’s naked and not already covered in sand. Apply it all over just in case – you never know when a toddler might decide to strip off, and you want there to be sunscreen on when she does.
4. The easiest way to apply sunscreen to a baby or toddler is with a roll on. You can make your own from an empty roll-on deodorant – just pop the ball out with a spoon, wash and refill.
5. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if your baby has been in water.
6. Minimise the faff of reapplying sunscreen all the time with a UV-protection suit.
12. Another good way of keeping your baby cool is by covering her with a damp cloth (though admittedly less successful after she’s started crawling).
13. If your toddler isn’t enthusiastic about drinking water, keep her hydrated in hot weather by offering snacks like cucumber and watermelon.
14. Leave the pushchair at home, if possible, and take your baby to the beach in a sling instead. Dragging a buggy through sand or over pebbles is no fun. If you need a place to put your little one down to nap, consider packing the pop-up tent travel cot I wrote about here. It doesn’t offer full UV protection, so you can’t safely leave her in it in full sunshine, but if you’re in the shade, it’s ideal for a snooze.
It’s amazing how many things you can squeeze into a buggy organiser. Keys, mobile and travel pass for starters, but less obvious items too. If you spend a lot of time walking your sleeping baby around in her pushchair, headphones are an essential, whether for hand-free phone calls or sanity-restoring podcasts. Lip balm is good to have in cold weather and a pack of tissues is invaluable. If it’s bright enough outside for sunglasses, they need to go somewhere when you’re not wearing them – your buggy organiser is a much better place than on top of your head. Cash machines are never where you need to them to be, so a spare tenner is a must.
When the baby girl was very small and I was still in that phase of breastfeeding where you’re parched and ravenous all the time, I kept the buggy organiser stocked up with snacks and drinks. Now that she’s bigger, it’s still packed with snacks, but they’re for her, not me, and my keep cup has been supplanted by her sippy cup.
You’ll usually find an emergency toy car in there somewhere, and room is always made for a bottle of Calpol when the baby girl is teething. In goes her hat every time she decides she’s taking it off, thank you very much, ditto her shoes and socks. The buggy organiser is where we stow the baby girl’s ear defenders between gigs at festivals, and it’s a handy place to keep passports and boarding passes at the airport too.
There are lots of different styles to choose from, but I love the Grab & Go Stroller Organizer from Skip Hop. Insulating material keeps your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot, it’s spacious, and it comes with a detachable purse so you can leave your pushchair somewhere and easily take your valuables with you. Particularly in the early days, I don’t know what I would have done without it.
Public transport used to be my go-to method for getting to and from the airport but that’s all changed since the arrival of the baby girl. Unless our trip is a super short one, these days we travel with too much stuff to mess around with trains and buses for airport transfers.
On the couple of occasions that we have used public transport for transfers, we’ve carried the baby girl in her sling, having packed the pushchair away before leaving the house, ready to be checked in with the rest of the luggage. Doing so means there’s one fewer thing to manoeuvre on and off trains and up and down escalators. (If you prefer to use your pushchair rather than pack it, have a read of this post on train travel and this one on navigating public transport, for some useful tips.)
Taxis are the easiest option, but can be very expensive once you’ve factored in a car big enough for all your luggage and your baby’s car seat. More often than not, therefore, we drive our van and leave it in a car park near the airport, then take a shuttle bus to the terminal. If you’re willing to pay a little more, but still less than forking out for cabs, there’s always onsite parking, or valet services where your car is parked for you – usually available for car parks both on and off site.
When it comes to getting to your final destination from the airport, I highly recommend booking a transfer in advance, particularly if you’re arriving late at night, don’t speak the language or are visiting for the first time. You can request a car seat when you book your transfer, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get one, so it’s always safer to bring your own. (Most airlines won’t charge you for checking in a child car seat, but do check before you book.)
If you can’t bring your own car seat and end up having to take your baby in a taxi or private car without one, make sure you have a sling with you. The adult who will be carrying the baby sits in the back seat, straps himself in and then puts on the sling so the baby is held by the sling and not the seat belt. To be clear, I’m not advocating that you do this: it’s a safer option than having your baby loose on your lap or strapping her in with your seat belt, but it’s not a safe way to travel.
Hiring a car can be a very convenient way of doing things, if it suits the rest of your holiday plans. Car seats can be an issue here too, with some parents reporting having booked a car seat but finding none available on arrival. This doesn’t happen very often, but again, you can avoid worrying about it by bringing your own.
Traveling with a baby might stop you from doing some of the things you used to do on vacation — bar-hopping and fine dining, for example, are trickier with a small person underfoot. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun, though. London is well stocked with cultural experiences specifically designed with little ones in mind. Here are our favorites.
Theater Baby-friendly performances are a new thing on London stages, but it’s a trend that’s gathering momentum, with more and more venues offering one-off showings.
As with movie theaters, plays aren’t necessarily selected with underage audiences in mind, but changes are usually made to ensure that sound and lighting effects and actors’ delivery won’t overwhelm those all-important theatergoers of tomorrow.
Check with theaters such as Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and the Young Vic in Waterloo for specific parent-and-baby shows, and keep your eyes peeled for “relaxed” performances, which are aimed towards anyone who would benefit from a more informal environment, including kiddos.
Classical concerts Acclaimed pianist Miaomiao Yu founded the classical concert series Bach to Baby after becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunities out there for moms and dads wanting to introduce their kids to high-quality musical performances. The concerts present professional musicians performing in welcoming, family-friendly venues across London and South East England.
An informal atmosphere means that children are free to express themselves during the concerts while, at the same time, learning from their parents (who are asked to refrain from talking) about the behavior expected from them once they’re a bit bigger. Concerts take place in locations like beautiful historic churches and art galleries, making this a lovely way to discover some of the capital’s hidden gems.
Art museums You’d be hard pressed to find an art museum in London unwilling to admit a baby, but gallery-hopping with an infant can be a nerve-wracking experience all the same. Worrying about your child disturbing others and having concerns over the presence of diaper-changing facilities or places to breastfeed comfortably is no way to spend the day.
Fortunately, the Whitechapel Gallery has thought of everything, offering curator-led tours of its exhibitions for infants and their escorts that take place in the morning before the museum’s regular opening. At the end of the tour, gratis refreshments are available in the museum’s education space, with toys and playmats available to mini visitors needing to blow off steam.
Movies Many London movie theaters offer weekly parent-and-baby screenings, so there’s no reason to miss out on the latest releases, whether you’re into blockbusters or art-house flicks. Screenings tend to take place in the late morning and, with so many cinemas now serving excellent coffee and snacks, a visit to the movies feels like a real daytime indulgence.
Everyman Cinemas — where you’ll find comfortable sofas as well as more traditional seats — even throws in a complimentary hot drink and cake with every ticket.
Movies on offer are programmed with parents rather than babies in mind, but the atmosphere is sure to keep the small ones comfortable. Most cinemas turn the volume down a bit and leave the light levels in the auditorium higher than usual to ensure that younger moviegoers — and therefore their parents — have the best experience possible.
The first thing to check before booking an apartment or villa is whether babies and toddlers are welcome. Weirdly, not all property owners like the idea of small people puking on their sofas and slamming toy cars onto their coffee tables, and it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.
It’s worth mentioning the fact that you’re travelling with children in an email so if it comes to it later, you’ve got a paper trail. The baby girl’s grandfather fell foul of an incompetent letting agent recently and it was only because he could prove that he’d notified them that the baby girl would be coming along with us that they refunded him his deposit and found us another property at a discounted rate when the mistake was discovered several months later.
Ticking the ‘family/kid friendly’ box when searching on sites like Airbnb can be a time saver, or you can book via a dedicated family friendly letting agent – I haven’t tried any yet myself but there are lots available online. This is a good option if you like the idea of staying somewhere that provides absolutely everything, from baby monitor to nappy change station.
The next question to ask is what equipment they provide for babies and toddlers. This is less of an issue for UK bookings, as it’s not that much trouble to pack a travel cot and high chair, but for foreign trips you want to avoid lugging lots of stuff with you if possible.
As far as essentials are concerned, cots are usually available, though quality can vary. If your baby is very particular about where she sleeps, consider bringing your own travel cot. High chairs are less common, but not difficult to get hold of, if requested. It’s a good idea to bring a fabric chair harness with you, just in case – they’re very light and don’t take up any space in your luggage.
Less important, but extremely useful nonetheless is a microwave for warming up bottles and baby food, and a bathtub. We usually bring a mini inflatable paddling pool with us just in case it turns out that only a shower is available – more on this in my ‘essential kit’ post.
It’s worth asking about the layout of the property. If it has stairs, are stairgates available? This is a deal breaker for a lot of parents – whether or not you think they’re necessary depends on you and your child. Other safety concerns are fireplaces and wood burning stoves, which most likely come with a fire guard of some kind but perhaps not one robust enough to keep a curious toddler out of harm’s way.
In terms of access, how easy will it be to get in and out of the property with a pushchair? And once you’re in, is there somewhere to store it without folding it? If you’re renting a flat on an upper floor, is there a lift, or can you leave the buggy downstairs?
Stairs aren’t the only layout consideration. If you don’t usually share a bedroom with your child, how do you feel about doing so on holiday? Getting an additional bedroom is the most obvious solution, but such a choice usually has cost implications. A bedroom with a well ventilated walk-in wardrobe or ensuite bathroom can work almost as well if you don’t want to fork out for a separate room for your child.
Parents of very noise-sensitive babies and toddlers might want to enquire as to the location of your little one’s bedroom in relation to the street and to the room where you’ll be hanging out most of the time. You really don’t want to spend your evenings whispering and tiptoeing around the place while you’re meant to be relaxing. Parents of very light-sensitive sleepers will find it most convenient to pack a travel black-out blind in case the curtains aren’t up to scratch.
In terms of the local area, it’s handy to have a shop that sells milk and other essentials nearby and, if you’re staying somewhere for a while, a place to play. This could be a park with a play area, a local library, a beach or a child-friendly museum.
All that said, while the presence or absence of certain features in a holiday let might make your stay a bit easier, it’s not like it’s going to make or break your time away. Ask the right questions before you book so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, make sure you’ve got essentials like a cot and high chair, and the everything else will work itself out in the end.
We owned a pair of baby ear defenders – sound-reducing ear muffs – before we owned a cot. That’s what happens when you have a baby with a musician.
In all seriousness though, buying those ear defenders felt like a statement of intent. We were determined that having a baby wouldn’t stop us from doing the things we love, including going to gigs, and we knew that to have the baby girl along with us at noisy events, we needed some kit.
The thing to look for when you’re buying ear defenders is the SNR value, which tells you how much sound they cut out. Most of the ones available for babies and children have an SNR value of around 26db – enough to stop their hearing from being damaged, while not totally cutting them off from what’s going on around them.
Ear defenders that fold up are more convenient and less likely to be accidentally damaged in your bag. The more comfortable they are, the more likely that your little one will keep them on. At least that’s the theory – the baby girl was perfectly happy to wear ear defenders when she was little, but started to object at around 12-months-old. These days we have to keep her constantly distracted while she’s wearing them or she’ll whip them off in a flash.
We started the baby girl on a pair of Ems for Bubs, which come with an adjustable elastic headband, making them suitable from birth. Once she outgrows them, at 18-months-old, we’ll be getting her a pair of Ems for Kids. Whichever style you go for, just make sure the ear muffs cover the ear completely and that no hair is in the way.
We bought the baby girl’s ear defenders to use at gigs, but the first time she wore them was actually at a wedding of some friends of ours when she was two-weeks-old. The music wasn’t all that loud, but combined with the hubbub of conversation, it was all a bit overwhelming for her. We put on the ear defenders, she calmed down and we were able to relax and enjoy the party.
We took the baby girl to Glastonbury when she was about nine-months-old and kept her ear defenders on us at all times. She wore them at gigs, of course, but we also put them on at nap time, which was always spent on the move in the sling. That way we were free to explore the festival without having to wake her up to put on the ear defenders when we found ourselves in a noisy environment.
*WIN* a pair of baby ear defenders! I’ve partnered with Ems for Kids to offer two lucky winners a pair of Ems for Bubs baby ear defenders in a colour of your choice.
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The closing date is 25 January 2018 at 23.59 (GMT).
I’m giving away two pairs of Ems for Bubs baby ear defenders, in a colour of the winner’s choice (subject to availability).
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