Flying alone with a baby

Flying with your baby or toddler is probably not an activity you relish, even if you do it all the time. Upping the ante and taking your little one on a plane single-handed? Madness, surely. Well, yes, but sometimes you’ve got no other option.

This week, for example, I’m visiting my brother and his family in Los Angeles. My partner is busy with work, so I had to fly by myself with the baby girl. I flew with her by myself once before, but it was a short flight and she was just six-weeks-old – a far easier proposition than taking a hulking 21-month-old half-way around the world.

I prepared myself for the possibility that she might not sleep at all, be super grumpy and to whinge for the whole flight. I did not prepare myself for the possibility that the flight would be cancelled after boarding, requiring a long slog back home by myself with the girl on the train, then a journey to a different London airport for a flight the following day.

You can only imagine my delight when that is exactly what happened.

Clearly, I would have preferred to avoid the stress and tedium of this situation. Looking on the bright side however (something I was only able to do once I’d got home, put the baby girl to bed, and drunk a cold beer in the garden), the cancelled flight turned out to be pretty useful as a trial run for the one the following day.

Pack light, pack clever

A toddler stands in a queue with a buggy and a wheelie bag
Waiting to board the cancelled flight with the ill-advised wheelie bag

I consider myself a good packer, but I made a bad call when it came to packing for that cancelled flight, opting to bring a wheelie cab bag along with our suitcase, my little handbag backpack and the buggy. I could handle it all myself at the airport, but the moment I had to leave the baggage trolley behind I was seriously overburdened, reliant on the kindness of strangers.

I would have taken a cab home from the airport that afternoon but couldn’t find a taxi company with a car seat available at such short notice, and didn’t want to risk a long drive without one. I could have waited an hour and a half for my partner to come back and pick us up, but the baby girl was already seriously overtired and I wanted to get her home as soon as possible (plus, my partner was busy trying to book us another flight).

In the end it worked out fine: we got the train to London Bridge and my partner picked us up from there, various fellow travellers having gone out of their way to help me juggle the luggage and the girl. We arrived home safely and emotionally unscathed (the one moment where I almost lost it was when I saw the sign at Gatwick Airport Station that says no trolleys allowed past the barriers, and the attendant told me that there was a train in three minutes and then not again for nearly an hour; seeing my despair, he let us through with the trolley, we dashed to the lift, and made it to the platform with 30 seconds to spare), but I made sure I repacked the contents of the wheelie bag and my backpack into one big backpack for the flight the following day.

Bags within bags

A toddler pushes a buggy next to a pile of luggage
Too many bags for one woman and a toddler

If money were no object I would have booked the baby girl her own seat on the plane. Not fancying doubling the cost of our trip, however, I opted to have her on my lap (possible until the age of two). Our time on the cancelled flight was a lesson in exactly how little space we would have for our belongings with just the one seat, and how organised I would need to be to make sure I had everything we needed when we needed it during the flight. So that night after returning home from the airport I did some judicious repacking.

All the baby girl’s food and milk went into one tote bag, all the other essentials – toys, books, headphones, phone, nappy change wallet, sleeping bag and pyjamas, jumpers for us both, toothbrush and toothpaste – went into another, and both these bags went into my backpack. After we’d boarded I was able to stow the food and essentials bags under the seat in front, leaving everything else – items that I thought might come in handy  but wouldn’t definitely need (spare clothes, Calpol, etc) – in the overhead locker to save space.

Doing it this way, I discovered, means you can keep to a minimum the number of times you get up to take things out of the overhead locker – useful when travelling alone with a toddler, absolutely essential when travelling alone with a babe-in-arms.

Avoiding meltdowns

A toddler plugs in a phone charge on a plane
Plugging and unplugging my phone charger kept the baby girl occupied for a surprisingly long time

The baby girl was overdue for a nap when we boarded the (soon to be) cancelled flight. I had brought toys, books, a phone full of downloaded episodes of Hey Duggee and Sarah & Duck, and plenty of food, yet for some reason (probably because I was tired and hot too), I was inept at putting these distractions to good use, and the girl just got grumpier. I made it worse by attempting to get her to nap in the sling, something she was clearly not going to do just to suit me.

On the flight the following day things went more smoothly. I dressed her in cooler clothes so she wasn’t so affected by the heat, and it helped that the seat next to us was empty so we had some space to spread out.

The baby girl was just as tired as she had been the day before, but I was quicker to whip out the snacks and cycle through the available distractions at the slightest sign of an impending meltdown. In terms of my own sanity, I made good use of my wireless bone-conducting headphones, listening to podcasts while playing with the baby girl. I don’t do this at home, preferring not to divide my attention, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

A baby in a pushchair sucks her thumb
In the queue for immigration at LAX

Instead of trying to get the baby girl to nap at her usual naptime, I threw the schedule out the window and waited until they dimmed the cabin lights. After putting her in her sleeping bag and reading her a story, she was happy to go to sleep. It only lasted an hour, but she was chilled enough to lie there awake and quiet for another hour after that.

I tried to put the baby girl down again for another sleep later and she just wasn’t going for it, so I gave up immediately and we spent the second half the flight walking up and down the plane in the dark, carrying bits of rubbish to throw away in the bin in the galley. It was quite tedious for me, but the baby girl enjoyed herself and a lot of the other passengers seemed to find it entertaining.

Fingers crossed we can repeat that positive experience on the flight back to London next week. Please, please, please let it not be cancelled….

Booking plane tickets for a baby or toddler

Children under the age of two travel for (almost) free on most airlines as long as they’re sitting on your lap, but you still need to book a ticket for your baby. The information required for booking varies depending on the airline but be prepared to provide your baby’s full name and date of birth, as you would with an adult booking.

Fees and taxes

A man sleeps with a sleeping baby on his lap while a flight attendant passes
The baby girl and my partner passed out on our flight back from the Canaries

Most airlines charge either a small one-off fee (usually around £20) or 10% of an adult fare for a child under the age of two sitting on an adult’s lap. Because one-off fees are set, it’s sometimes cheaper to pay for a seat for your baby on budget airlines, though bear in mind that you won’t get infant baggage allowance (see below) on an adult ticket.

There’s no airline tax to pay on tickets for children under the age of 16 leaving from UK airports, but you may be charged a local tax on the ticket for the return journey, depending on where you’re travelling from.

Children aged two and over require their own seat, which are usually charged at around 75 per cent of the cost of adult tickets. If your child will be turning two while you’re away, get in touch with the airline before you book. Some airlines will waive the fee on the return journey, some won’t, but it’s always worth asking.

Booking a ticket for an unborn child

2016-10-23 12.14.21
Post-feed on the baby girl’s first flight, to Santiago de Compostela, when she was six-weeks-old

If you’re pregnant and booking a trip that will take place after your baby is born, most airlines will ask you to put ‘Infant [Your Surname]’ as the name and your due date as the date of birth, then call them with the correct details after the birth. Policies do vary though, and you probably won’t find information this niche on airlines’ FAQ pages, so make sure you phone or email to check before booking. Each airline has its own minimum age for flying so double check this too – it’s 14 days on easyjet, for example, while babies can travel with British Airways 48 hours after birth.

Which seats to book

Infant lap tickets are limited to one per adult so if you’re travelling with two children under the age of two you’ll either need to bring a second adult or book a seat for one of the little ones. In the latter case, you’ll also need a suitable child restraint system, depending on the age of your child. This might be a car seat (check with your airline which models are allowed) or an AmSafe Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES), which is suitable from 12 months. They aren’t cheap, but you can save some cash by hiring one on eBay.

For long-haul flights, it’s worth trying to book the bulkhead seats at the front of the cabin and a carrycot or child seat (depending on the weight and height 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 again at check-in.

If these seats aren’t available, and there are two of us travelling with the baby girl, my partner and I try to 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 anyway.

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 in a sling or get things out of the overhead lockers.

There are restrictions on where in the cabin you can sit with an infant on your lap – exit rows are always out of bounds and other rules apply on some airlines. This will usually be made clear when booking. Some airlines will let you reserve seats for your whole party for no extra cost if you’re flying with a baby but be on guard for those that don’t (ahem, easyjet) so you can factor the additional cost of sitting together into the price of your trip.

Infant baggage allowance

A toddler sits in an open suitcase, other bags on the floor around her.
The baby girl helping us unpack on our trip to Gozo, November 2017

The rules around cabin and checked baggage for infants under two, whether sitting on your lap or in their own seats, vary wildly from airline to airline, but you can expect to be able to bring two or three large items of baby travel paraphernalia, such as pushchair, travel cot, car seat and a small additional cabin bag for nappies, milk, baby food, etc. Beyond that, it’s hard to generalise so check when booking.

For ideas on what to pack, including snacks, toys and essential kit, check out my post on flying with a baby or toddler. You might find my general baby/toddler packing list handy too.

Travel documents

I’ve written a couple of dedicated posts about travel documents so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that you’ll need a passport for your child and a visa if one is required for your destination. If you’re taking a child abroad you technically need permission from anyone with parental responsibility for that child (i.e. your other half, if you’re travelling without them) – more on this in my other post.

A baby in its mother’s arms holds a new British passport
Just after this was taken the baby girl turned to the photo page and had a proper laugh at herself as a two week old

Juggling childcare and scuba diving on the Maltese island of Gozo

Published by Diver, April 2018, with the headline “Child’s play in Gozo”.

A scuba diver is photographed in front of a channel through a cliff in Gozo
Diving the Inland Sea © Steve Pretty

Our daughter has spotted us coming out of the water, and I can see her reaching for me as we walk back to the truck. I rush to put down my tank and peel off my dry suit as she squirms in my babysitting brother’s arms – she’s suddenly desperate to be reunited after my short sojourn beneath the waves.

My partner and I get changed and pack our gear into the truck, passing the baby girl between us and back to my brother when faced with tasks requiring two hands. We strap her into her car seat, and she’s asleep before we reach the main road.

On days like this, diving with a baby in tow feels like a breeze.

It’s all pretty new for us. This trip to Gozo is only the second time we’ve been diving since our daughter was born 14 months ago, a follow-up to a week at Somabay in Egypt when she was seven-months-old.

For that first dive holiday we travelled with some friends with a baby, and tag-teamed babysitting and diving so we were able to buddy each other some of the time.

Here in Gozo we’re trying another childcare option. My 19-year-old brother Yoji is babysitting in exchange for us covering his accommodation and transfers. My partner and I had assumed that we would leave Yoji and the baby behind in Marsalforn while we dived, but dive guides Denis Marin and Georgia Mainente – in charge of Atlantis Diving Centre while owners Brian and Stephania Azzopardi are out of town – were quick to suggest that they come with us in the dive truck instead.

I shouldn’t have been surprised really – the team had already organised us an apartment with a cot and high chair, and the dive centre is equipped with a big pile of toys belonging to the Azzopardis’ daughter.

Somehow we’ve stumbled upon the most family-friendly dive centre in the world.

A baby sits on the beach watching a scuba diver come out of the sea
The baby girl waits for us on the beach after a dive © Yoji Caird

We picked Gozo partly because it’s one of the warmest winter dive destinations in Europe, but also because I’ve been itching to come back here since learning to dive in Xlendi Bay just over 10 years ago.

I never made it to the island’s star underwater attractions on that trip – awesome geological features like the Blue Hole, Inland Sea and Cathedral Cave – and it’s high time to tick them off the list.

Coming here in November, and for just a week, is something of a risky move, but it’s the only time we have, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for good weather.

We get lucky – after two weeks of strong wind, the dive sites on the north and west of the island are open for business again just in time for our arrival.

We start in Dwejra, at the Inland Sea, gearing up on the stony beach alongside tourists waiting for a fishing boat to take them out through the 80m channel through the cliff. It’s an easy entry off the jetty and, after a short swim on the surface to the opening of the tunnel, we make our descent over shallow boulders home to bearded fireworms and green spoon worms.

It’s dim and narrow here but as we step down a series of shelves to 24m, the channel widens and is flooded with beautiful blue light. Apparently infinite visibility makes this a treat of a first dive.

We turn left out of the channel and follow the algae-covered wall until we reach a narrow cave that cuts deep into the cliff, only accessible when the conditions are right. Pulled gently to and fro by the swell as I make my way in, I can see why you wouldn’t want to try this in rougher weather.

There’s a big shoal of damselfish mobbing the entrance to the channel and a few juvenile parrotfish and scorpion fish here and there but in terms of flora and fauna, this site (and Gozo in general, I’ll learn over the next few days) is really one for algae and sponge enthusiasts.

A carpet of bright green, red and purple covers the walls, providing ample grazing for the handful of nudibranchs dotted around the place.

We’re back at Dwejra bright and early the next morning to dive the Blue Hole before anyone else gets there. There are hardly any other divers around anyway – most of the dive-centres in Gozo are closed for the winter, in fact – but Denis is taking no chances.

His caution pays off – we have the place to ourselves and the entry is an astonishing experience as a result, the surface of the water perfectly still, giving way to the brightness of an archway on one side and the darkness of a cave on the other.

A man and a woman look out at the view at Dwejra in Gozo
Denis tells us what to expect from our dives at Dwejra © Steve Pretty

We explore the cave (which, at just 14m down and with a wide opening, is accessible to all), finding conger eels and shrimp hiding in gaping horizontal cracks in the rock, before heading out through the archway.

Turn right, as we do now, and you find the ruins of the Azure Window, once Gozo’s most famous photo opportunity, but since March 2017 just a pile of massive boulders on the seabed.

The collapse of the arch in a heavy spring storm was a real blow for the island, but fortunately sightseeing’s loss was diving’s gain – this is now a truly brilliant dive site.

There’s not much life here yet – just a faint fuzz of green algae on the sun-bleached rocks – but that doesn’t matter because the area is a veritable maze of swim-throughs, offering endless routes to explore.

Heading back past the Blue Hole, we head up the Chimney, going nearly straight up from 20 to 12m, then up again to 7m to find ourselves in the Coral Gardens. It’s great fun, and beautiful too, the walls of the passageway lined with yellow anemones that give way to yellow-green algae up top that glows bright in the sunshine. Coral Gardens, we discover, is sheltered and shallow, perfect for beginners.

We finish our dive in the Blue Hole – all by ourselves once again. During the safety stop, I watch tourists peering in from the rocks above and a few tiny fish skittering around just beneath the surface. If I had to choose one way of finishing every dive from now on, this would be it.

The walk back to the car park, around slippery rock pools and along a path carved into thefossil-packed coralline limestone, is arduous but nothing compared to the route we take to Crocodile Rock – another of Dwejra’s dive site –  the following morning.

Snug in my dry suit and undersuit, I’m seriously warm by the time we’ve made our way gingerly across the moon-like expanse of spiky limestone pools, and it’s a relief when I can finally step into the 20° water. I can’t imagine what this walk must be like at the height of summer.

We swim on the surface towards the massive outcrop of Crocodile Rock for a few minutes before descending to discover that there’s much more of the rock underneath the water than there is up top.

Keeping it on our left, we gradually make our way down to 39m, to find boulders littering the sea floor but no sign of the large groupers we’re told sometimes hang out here.

Up above us, all of a sudden, are hundreds of barracuda shoaling in an enormous underwater valley between two steep peaks. They pour over the sheer edge of the rock towards us, circling our group before disappearing into shallower water. It’s a mesmerising sight.

After a couple of days playing with the baby on the beach of the Inland Sea, my brother is keen to see some other areas of the island. So after one more dive at the Blue Hole, Denis takes us to the Salt Pans, location of a handful of dive sites to suit various tastes and levels of experience.

To reach Dwejra from Marsalforn you have to drive into Victoria, the main town at the centre of Gozo, and out again, a journey of around 25 minutes, but the Salt Pans are just a short hop along the coast.

Gozitans have been harvesting salt from shallow pools on this beautiful patch of shore since Roman times. In the summer you have to be careful not to step in the pans on your way to the water, but it’s not an issue in the winter, so we stomp straight through.

The Blue Hole in Gozo, photographed from under the water
The Blue Hole © Steve Pretty

Our first stop is Reqqa Point, right at the far end of the pans, necessitating a slow, bumpy, off-road drive that I feel sure is going to end in disaster, but somehow doesn’t.

Steve is looking after the baby girl this afternoon so I’m buddying Denis, while Yoji takes the opportunity to do some snorkelling along the rocks above us.

Denis and I turn right after a giant stride in, descend 10m and duck down, feet first, into a chimney I would never have spotted on my own.

Popping out at the bottom, we double back to Reqqa Point and follow a sheer algae-covered wall west.

Denis points out the entrance to Bubble Cave, a favourite with technical divers, at 36m, before leading me to the top of a sea grass-covered plateau, from which we “jump” off into the blue.

There’s quite a swell at the end of the dive and the rocks below the exit ladder are slippery with algae so Denis signals for me to put my fins around my wrists and get ready. An unceremonious shove from below and I’m sliding up the rocks and grasping the ladder with both hands – not exactly a graceful way out of the water, but a whole lot of fun.

A scuba diver in shallow water, with Crocodile Rock in the background
Exploring the shallows at the end of a dive at Crocodile Rock © Steve Pretty

The next day we all return to the Salt Pans, Yoji and the baby playing in the rock pools in the sunshine while Steve and I dive Double Arch with Denis.

The arch itself is stunning – appearing out of the blue to one side of a large natural amphitheatre – but doesn’t warrant the tedious 10-minute swim on the surface to get there from the shore.

If you’re going to make an effort to get to a dive site in this part of Gozo, save your energy for Cathedral Cave. There’s supposed to be a ladder at the far end of the Salt Pans that puts you in just the right spot for the cave, but it’s been washed away by the time of our visit and won’t be replaced until the spring.

Which means that the only way to get there is down 100 steps cut into Wied il-Ghasri gorge, followed by another 10-minute surface swim – this time in rather more picturesque surroundings.

Under water it’s the usual mix of juvenile scorpionfish, nudis and algae, until all of a sudden I get lucky and spot a little octopus hiding in a hole in a wall. From then on it’s marine life a-go-go, Dennis pointing out a slipper lobster and a Swiss cow nudibranch, while a cuttlefish lurks in a crack at the opening of the cave.

Cathedral Cave is enormous, both above and below the water, entirely justifying its name. A small window lets in fresh air and enough light that we don’t need our torches to see by, and when we duck back under the water to make our way back out, the mouth of the cave is bathed in blue.

On the swim back to the gorge, the waves are smashing powerfully against the rocks above us, a sign of the arrival of a weather front that means that this will be our last visit to Gozo’s famed north and west coast dive sites this week.

The climb back up the gorge is exhausting but I’d do it all again in a shot for another glimpse of Cathedral Cave.

Close up of a flounder in the sand in Gozo
Close up of a flounder at Mgarr ix-Xini © Steve Pretty

We head to the south of the island for our final dives, trying out the sheltered bay of Mgarr ix-Xini and the scuttled passenger ferry Karwela. The wreck-dive is nothing special – with its deck at 33m down, there’s not enough time to explore properly on a no-deco dive.

Added to that, Karvela is dived so frequently that there’s barely any life there, even after 12 years submerged.

The opposite is true of the marine meadow area we pass over on our way back to shore, where I spot no fewer than four octopuses, plus my first ever long-snouted sea horse.

Mgarr ix-Xini, meanwhile, hosts a riot of cuttlefish and flounders, an opportunity for Steve to get his macro lens out after days taking spectacular wide angle shots, and a suitably rewarding spot for my brother to give diving a go for the first time.

Needless to say, he’s hooked, and keen to come along on another diving/babysitting trip the next time we need him.

It’s all been a resounding success. My partner and I have both dived a little less than we would have if we’d been travelling without our daughter – nine dives each over the course of the week, rather than the 12 you might hope to pack in – but that’s OK.

Taking things a little slower has given us the chance to relax in a way that we don’t normally get to do on a dive trip. We’ve even got to see something of Gozo’s topside attractions, checking out the ancient temples at Ġgantija, the impressive Citadel that overlooks Victoria, and pretty Xlendi Bay.

We’ll be booking our next dive trip with the baby as soon as we can work out where to go. And who we can persuade to babysit for us of course.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Direct flights to Malta from multiple UK airports with airlines including BA, Jet2.com and easyJet. Taxi or bus to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa, then ferry to Mgarr in Gozo.
DIVING: Multiple dive centres operate in the two resort towns of Marsalforn and Xlendi – Jo highly recommends Atlantis Diving Centre in Marsalforn, atlantisgozo.com
ACCOMMODATION: Basic apartments near Atlantis and five-minutes’ walk from the centre of Marsalforn are cheap. Atlantis has a lodge and can arrange villa accommodation.
WHEN TO GO: Diving is possible year-round, though strong winds can be a problem between November and February, and it can get very hot in midsummer.
MONEY: Euro.
PRICES: Return flights from £130 (May), Atlantis Lodge costs 60-80 euros per room per night (two sharing), a 10-dive package with Atlantis costs 220 euros pp.
VISITOR INFORMATION: visitmalta.com

How to do airport transfers with a baby or toddler

A man with a baby in a sling eats a salad on a train.
On the train on our way home from the baby girl’s first trip abroad, to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, when she was six-weeks-old.

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.

Baby and toddler destination guide: Gozo

We took the baby girl with us to the Maltese island of Gozo in November 2017, when the baby girl was around 14-months-old, and had a brilliant time. We only spent a week there, so this guide is by no means exhaustive – if you’ve been to Gozo with a baby or toddler, please add your own tips in the comments.

Getting there

Gozo doesn’t have its own airport, so you need to fly to Malta International Airport, then transfer by hire car, taxi or bus to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa. It’s a 40-minute drive and the ferry crossing takes around 25 minutes. You buy tickets on the journey back to Malta. Gozo itself is very small, so your transfer the other end is unlikely to be more than 20 minutes.

If you don’t want to hire a car at the airport (local options are available on Gozo itself), the most convenient way of getting to your accommodation is to book a taxi to transfer straight through to Gozo on the ferry. The cheaper option to have a Maltese taxi drop you at the ferry terminal and a Gozitan one pick you up the other end.

On our recent trip I just assumed that the transfer we had booked would take us direct to our accommodation, and was initially dismayed when it turned out we had to unload at the terminal, board as foot passengers and go from there. In the end, though, it all worked out fine – there’s an efficient luggage pick-up and drop-off service for foot passengers on the ferry which meant we only had to deal with the pushchair and hand luggage.

Getting about

It’s a legal requirement for children under the age of three to use a car seat in Malta, and children up to the age of 10 can only sit in the front seat if they have one. Some taxi companies will be able to supply a car seat, so it’s possible to book one for your airport transfers. If you’ll be using taxis a lot to get around the island though (which I don’t recommend as they’re expensive compared to both buses and car hire), you should bring your own. If you’re hiring a car, you can hire a car seat with it.

Buses on Malta and Gozo (which run 5:30am-11pm daily, plus overnight on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays) can accommodate up to two unfolded pushchairs. We found drivers and fellow passengers very helpful when it came to getting on and off, even when the bus was totally packed. Gozo bus routes radiate from a central terminus in Victoria, the main town at the centre of the island, which means you have to change buses if you want to get from one seaside place to another, or to tourist spots like the Ġgantija Temples.

High, narrow, uneven pavements make getting around with the pushchair a little perilous, but traffic mainly moves slowly enough in the villages that it doesn’t feel too unsafe in those moments when you have to walk in the road.

Eating out

The staff in every restaurant and café we went to were very happy to accommodate the baby girl, whether by providing a high chair and a bowl of plain pasta or letting us park her out of the way when she was sleeping in the pushchair in the evening. Most also had baby change facilities and several had child menus.

Essentials

You can buy nappies and wipes in the mini markets in the various small resort towns, but for anything else (baby toothbrushes, etc), and for more choice, you’ll need to go to one of the proper supermarkets in Victoria. Supermarkets are open all day, every day – the smaller ones have restricted hours in the off season. Chemists also sell baby supplies – they are usually open Monday-Saturday, though at least one on the island is always open on Sunday morning.

In terms of baby food and formula, small supermarkets have a very limited range, but the big supermarkets are better equipped. Small supermarkets all sell fresh milk.

Healthcare

The phone number for emergency services is 112 and there’s an accident and emergency department at Gozo General Hospital in Victoria. A European Health Insurance Card (I give you the lowdown on how to apply for an EHIC for your child here) will cover you for emergency treatment or treatment for existing conditions. More information on healthcare in Malta and Gozo on the NHS’s website here.

Things to do

There are sandy beaches at Ramla and its much less accessible neighbour, San Blas (don’t try taking a pushchair). San Blas is entirely undeveloped, while Ramla has a small kiosk selling snacks and drinks, so you’ll need to bring everything with you. There’s no shade at either beach, though you can hire umbrellas at Ramla.

There are smaller sandy beaches in the resort towns of Marsalforn and Xlendi, and lovely stony bays all over the place. Our favourites were Mgarr ix-Xini and the gorge at Wied l-Għasri, a secret spot you reach via 100 steps cut into the cliff.

There is a playground in Marsalforn and one right by the bus terminal in Victoria. Here is a handy list I found of lots more.

A woman and a man carrying a baby in a sling watch a sunset
Admiring the sunset at the mouth of Xlendi Bay, November 2017 © Yoji Caird

 

Essential kit, part 7: baby sleeping bag

When the baby girl was born my mum gave me the beautiful blanket that my aunt knitted for me when I was a baby. After just a few months, alas, we had to stop using it – the baby girl is such an active sleeper that she ends up at the other end of the cot from where you put her, kicking off blankets and wriggling out of pyjamas in the process. Fortunately we had a hand-me-down baby sleeping bag given to us by a friend, and have since amassed quite the collection of them, turning to eBay each time we need the next size up or a different tog rating.

The primary benefit of the baby sleeping bag is that it keeps your little one warm (the Gro Company has a helpful guide to tog ratings and what your baby should be wearing underneath her sleeping bag), but it’s handy in other respects too. Zipping the baby girl into her sleeping bag is an important part of the bedtime and nap routine, working as an effective sleep cue whether she’s at home in her own bed, at nursery, or out adventuring with us. The baby girl is a pretty good sleeper when we’re travelling, which is probably as much to do with luck as anything else, but the presence of familiar objects like her sleeping bag surely can’t hurt.

The most practical baby sleeping bags, I’ve found, are those designed with travel in mind – they have a two-way zip plus a slot at the back so you can use them with a car seat or five-point harness. This means you can dress your baby in her pyjamas and sleeping bag when travelling at night, put her to bed in her car seat or pushchair, then transfer her to her cot when you reach your destination, without messing around with other layers. We do this on journeys, but also on holiday, doing the standard bedtime routine before heading out to a restaurant with the baby girl all wrapped up in her pushchair. I prefer this style for use at home as well – it’s easier to get the baby girl in and out of a sleeping bag with a zip down the front than it is the standard ones that do up at the side.

A sleeping bag is more convenient than a blanket on planes and trains too, or indeed in any potentially chilly environment where you might have your baby napping in your arms or on your lap. You can even put it on over a sling, though you probably won’t be able to zip it up.

A baby wearing a sleeping bag sleeps curled up in a ball at one end of a cot.
The baby girl wriggles around so much in her sleep that blankets are useless. A sleeping bag keeps her cosy wherever she ends up.

Essential kit, part 6: pushchair sleep shade

A friend gave us a SnoozeShade before I had the baby girl and it’s something we use every time we go baby adventuring, whether just around the corner or far from home. It’s not a complicated bit of kit – it’s basically just a piece of breathable UV-protective black fabric that you put over the pushchair when you want your baby to sleep – but is no less effective for its simplicity. There’s a zip down the front for peeking in at your hopefully sleeping child and Velcro tags to attach it to the pushchair – they do the trick even in very strong winds, we discovered last month, when the village where we were staying on the Maltese island of Gozo was battered by a storm that nearly swept us off our feet on the way out to dinner one evening.

It took a few attempts to get the baby girl accustomed to the idea of going to sleep when the SnoozeShade went on, when she was just a few weeks old, but it’s worked a treat ever since. We give her a kiss, put one of her special cloths in her hand, tell her ‘night night’ and put the SnoozeShade over. Zzzzzzz.

If we had done more car journeys with the baby girl when she was still in her group 0+ car seat I might have considered getting the car seat SnoozeShade too. As it was, we made do with the pushchair one – it’s not a great fit on a car seat but it did the job.

We drape it over the top of the backpack baby carrier too, if we know the baby girl will need to sleep while we’re on a walk. It doesn’t look very pretty up there – a bit shroudlike, in fact – but it works just fine.

A pushchair, covered by a black sun shade, sits in an alleyway. A pair of little feet are poking out from underneath the sun shade.
Napping in the narrow back streets of Victoria, the biggest town on the Maltese island of Gozo, with the help of our SnoozeShade.

What you need to know to get through an airport with a baby or toddler

Air travel is a wonderful thing, but airports are a pain. I like the teeny tiny ones where you can arrive 20 minutes before your flight, but all the others make me wish I was taking a train instead. Add a baby or toddler to the mix and you’ve got the potential for a pretty wearying – not to say stressful – experience.

The key is to leave plenty of time so you’re never in rush. That might mean quite a bit of waiting around – which, let’s be honest, isn’t ideal with a baby or toddler either – but at least you stand a good chance of boarding your flight calm, contented and ready for whatever the next few hours hold (I’ll be covering flying itself, as well as airport transfers, in separate posts – sign up to my mailing list so you don’t miss them).

The one benefit of travelling with a baby or toddler is that airline check-in staff are almost always nicer to you than if you’re checking in alone. I get the sense that they’re more willing to turn a blind eye to a couple of kilos of extra weight here or there, on the understanding that babies require a lot of stuff. (Though now I think of it, the baby girl has always been remarkably cheery at check-in desks – who knows what treatment we might get if she was being a grump.)

Infant baggage allowance varies from airline to airline, but most let you check in two or three items of baby equipment free of charge, usually including a pushchair, car seat, travel cot and backpack carrier. You’ll want to check your airline’s policy before booking so you don’t get any nasty surprises before departure. Check in your pushchair and car seat at the desk or, if you’d prefer to have them with you as you go through departures, get them tagged at check in and leave them with airline staff when you reach the gate. At some airports you’ll be able to send your baby equipment through with the rest of the luggage, but at others you might be asked to drop it off in a different area.

Whatever you decide to do with your pushchair, it’s a good idea to keep a sling handy. The first time I flew with the baby girl, when she was six-weeks-old, I kept the pushchair with me until the gate and didn’t end up using it at all. Airports are very stimulating environments and the baby girl was unhappy unless she was being carried. Also, travelling alone with her, getting the pushchair down the stairs from the gate to the tarmac was a real pain – fellow passengers helped out, but it wasn’t ideal. I’ve since learnt that you can request special assistance in advance for those situations, but these days I just check everything in and avoid the problem that way.

At security they might ask to x-ray your pushchair, car seat or sling, so be prepared to carry your child through in your arms, and make sure that if you there’s anything else in the pushchair it’s easy to lift out and put through the machine too. The last few times I’ve flown with the baby girl I’ve been able to walk through the scanner with her in the sling – if only I could remember to wear the sling under my jacket so it’s easy to remove.

Formula, sterilised water for preparing formula, cow milk and soya milk for babies are exempt from the usual rules about liquids in hand luggage, so you’re allowed to take them through security, as well as gel packs to keep them cool. They need to be removed from your carry-on so they can be screened separately (incidentally, you don’t need to be travelling with your baby to carry expressed breast milk through). The rules vary slightly from country to country, but security staff have always been understanding in this regard in my experience.

My final tip relates to food. You’ll obviously need to take enough baby food or milk to cover the number of meals or feeds you’ll be in transit for, but don’t underestimate the power of snacks either. Take as many as you can fit into your carry-on, so in the event of boring delays or just general grumpiness, you’ve got distractions at the ready.

A woman in a red jacket carries a shoulder bag and a baby in a sling at airport security.
A remarkably easy passage through security at Malta International Airport on the way back from our dive trip to Gozo, November 2017.

 

 

 

Packing list for travelling with babies and toddlers

Travelling a lot for work, I prefer to spend as little time packing – or thinking about packing – as possible. Nerdy though it may sound, I never start the process without consulting one of several packing lists – city break, hot climate, cold climate, hiking, scuba diving, etc.

The baby girl was four-weeks-old the first time we went away with her, to a cottage in Wales to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday over a long weekend. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a packing list for the task at hand. After a chaotic day and night throwing baby stuff into various receptacles almost at random, we managed to hit the road. My partner driving, I immediately set about writing a list.

Here it is, more tidily laid out than in the original version on my phone, and with a few annotations. I hope you find it useful. If there’s anything I’ve missed, please add your own packing essentials in the comments (I’ll be doing a separate post on travelling in hot climates – if you want advice about what to pack for a hot climate trip in the meantime, drop me a line in the comments below).

Baby monitor
Or a spare phone or tablet if you’re using the Baby Monitor 3G app (for more information on why this is a brilliant thing, here’s my recent ‘essential kit’ post about it).

Baby nail clippers 

Baby sleeping bag

Bathroom stuff
Bath additive, baby shampoo, toothbrush, baby toothpaste.

Blankets
Something warm, plus one you don’t mind getting grubby that you can use for sitting on when out and about.

Car seat
Plus adaptors if you have a ‘travel system’ pushchair.

Clothes
Two complete outfits (vest + sleepsuit + sweater; or vest + trousers + top + sweater) per day, snow suit/coat, hat and spare; socks; shoes.

Documents
Passport (here’s how to apply for one for your child), visa, birth certificate, permission letter (if appropriate – here’s more information), Personal Child Health Record (‘red book’). 

First aid kit
Including thermometer and painkillers (Calpol, ibuprofen, teething gel).

Inflatable paddling pool
See my post ‘Essential kit, part 1: inflatable paddling pool’ for why you don’t want to leave home without one of these.

Muslin squares
For swaddling, cleaning up, and as comforters.

Nappies
8-12 nappies per 24 hours away, depending how much your baby is pooing in the days leading up to your departure. You can almost always buy nappies where you’re staying, but if you’re travelling with a very small baby, or are going somewhere remote, better to be safe than sorry and take enough from home to last you for the whole trip.

Nappy wallet and change mat
Including nappy sacks, nappy rash cream and hand sanitiser.

Night light 

Pram/pushchair
Sunshade for napping, plus a bag of some kind to pack the pushchair into if you’re flying. We have the official travel bag (bought on eBay) for our Bugaboo Bee (also eBay), which is excellent because it protects the pushchair from being chucked around by baggage handlers and also gives you extra space to stow baby stuff. If you don’t want to buy the official version for your pushchair, there are generics available. But go for one with wheels and/or backpack straps if possible. In a pinch you can use a heavy duty bin liner for each bit of the pushchair (and remember to pack extras for the return journey).

Sling
My ‘essential kit’ post on slings covers some of the different options available.

Toys and books

Travel cot/tent/bassinet
Having been on a couple of trips now where the cot provided hasn’t been fit for purpose, I highly recommend bringing one of your own.

Wipes
One pack of wipes per 72 hours away. Though you can buy baby wipes when you arrive, the options might be pretty rubbish – very highly scented, for example, or not suitable for sensitive skin – so if you’re fussy about these things, just bring a couple of extra packets from home.

 

*Optional extras depending on you and your baby*

Breast pump

Dribble bibs

Dummies

Teething rings

Wireless bone-conducting headphones
These are a must for me – find out why in my ‘essential kit’ post all about them.

 

*If breastfeeding*

Folding sock airer
See laundry detergent below.

Laundry detergent
A small quantity for hand washing milk-soaked bras (and nursing pads, if you use washables).

Nursing bras
Including a couple comfortable enough to sleep in if you’re still at the stage of needing to wear a bra and nursing pads to bed.

Nursing pads
Take more than you think you might need in case the disruption of travel makes your baby feed more frequently, thereby causing your breasts to leak more than usual.

 

*If bottlefeeding (whether formula, expressed breastmilk or a combination of the two)*

Bibs

Bottles, etc

Bottle brush

Cold sterilising tablets or liquid
Only necessary until your baby is a year old – see my post ‘How to sterilise your baby’s feeding equipment when you’re away from home’ for tips

Formula

Washing-up liquid

 

*If your child is eating solids*

Baby food in jars or pouches for emergencies
Plus any type of food you really couldn’t live without while you’re away. The baby girl is a bit of a fussy eater at the moment, but will always polish off a big bowl of porridge for breakfast, so we take a small Tupperware container of oats away with us if we’re self-catering just in case we can’t find any locally at our destination.

Baby/toddler spoons

Bibs/smocks

Laundry detergent
A small quantity for washing bibs so you don’t have to pack one for every meal.

Snacks

Travel high chair
I cover the various kinds available in my post on eating out with babies and toddlers.

Tupperware
One or two small ones so you’re able to feed your child with food from home when out and about.

A toddler sits in an open suitcase, other bags on the floor around her.
The baby girl helping us unpack on our trip to Gozo, November 2017.