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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Essential kit, part 4: sling

Aside from a pushchair, a sling – or baby carrier as they call them in the US – is the bit of kit you’ll use most often when adventuring with your baby. In the very early days it’s ideal for making her feel supported and secure while you have your hands free to get things done, whether at home or out and about. While your baby is little it’s also much more convenient to carry her on you than to lug a pushchair around, particularly in crowded environments or locations with lots of stairs, like train stations (but have a read of my post on navigating public transport with a pushchair for when you do get to that stage).

Once the baby girl was a few months old she got too heavy to carry about in the sling all the time, but I still never leave the house without it. I transfer her into it when I want to look around an art exhibition without the hassle of the pushchair, for example (more museum tips here), and use it as a tool of last resort to calm the baby girl down if she’s flaking out about something when we’re on the move. For long hikes my partner will carry her in our big backpack carrier, but I use the sling for short walks over terrain the buggy can’t handle.

A sling is particularly invaluable when flying, especially if you’re travelling solo with your baby. You can take a pushchair as far as the gate, or sometimes onto the tarmac, but you can’t take it into the cabin, so once it’s gone into the hold, a sling is the only way to effectively juggle baby, cabin baggage, passport and boarding pass. It’ll also save your arms and back when walking up and down the plane is the only thing that works to keep your baby quiet in the air. With any luck she’ll snooze in it too. (All this applies to train journeys too, of course.)

Finally, a sling means that you take your baby out with you in the evening during those first few crazy months before she’s settled into a bedtime routine and is still sleeping a lot of the time. This won’t work in all situations, obviously – you need to make a call depending on what you’re doing and where – but we took the baby girl out to dinner with us in her sling every night of our trip to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain when she was six weeks old (more on eating out with babies and toddlers in a future post – sign up to my mailing list so you don’t miss it), and I’ve been at comedy gigs where audience members have brought their little ones along.

We had the baby girl out in the evening with us in the sling at Glastonbury Festival too when she was nine-months-old. It wasn’t as easy as when she was small, as she was sleeping less well in the sling by then, but it was still doable and meant I could see more evening gigs than I would have otherwise been able to.

There are lots of different styles of sling to choose from, so see if you can find a local sling library to try some out before you invest – hire fees are usually minimal. For what it’s worth, the most popular brands among my parent friends are Ergobaby (we’ve got the 360) and Lillebaby. I never got on with stretchy fabric slings – too much material, hard to get the right fit – but my partner and I both loved our Vija tops, which look like ordinary T-shirts but have special supportive panels in them to enable you to carry a baby up to 7kg or so, with skin-to-skin contact.

A woman carries a baby in a sling, holding a pair of binoculars up to the baby's face. In the background is the rocky landscape with a lake.
The sling came in handy for short hikes in Joshua Tree National Park in California. © Steve Pretty

Essential kit, part 3: pop-up tent travel cot

I’m not looking forward to the day the baby girl outgrows her pop-up tent travel cot. We bought it for a trip to Goa when she was four-months-old, and have used it every time we’ve gone away since then, at hotels, B&Bs, in our campervan, when staying with friends and relatives, and for nearly a month over the summer when we were working in Edinburgh.

It’s handy for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that it functions almost like a separate space within the room because it’s entirely enclosed once it’s zipped up. It’s not soundproof, and it doesn’t entirely block out the light, but it’s better than an open cot in both respects (if it’s not dark enough in the room we’re trying to get the baby girl to sleep in, we usually drape a breathable blanket over the top of the tent). The zip itself is important too: zipping the tent closed works as a sleep cue – for our baby at least (except when it doesn’t, of course). And once it’s closed, it’s a barrier to mosquitos and other insects.

Given how different sleeping in the tent is from sleeping in a cot, you’ll want to do a few practice runs before you go away. It took the baby girl two naps in the tent in our living room at home to get used to it, as I recall.

Depending on your destination and type of trip, you might find the tent useful in the daytime too; and for more than just napping. We put the baby girl in it all the time in Goa so she could roll around with her teething rings and toys in a relatively clean environment. We must have looked ridiculous carting it to and from our room all day, but the staff took it in their stride. We thought we’d use the tent on the beach a lot, but ultimately it was too hot to do that, so we stayed in the beachside restaurant most of the time and took turns going for dips in the sea. We’ve used it camping too, as a way of safely stowing away the baby girl for the moments when two sets of hands are required to set up or strike camp.

Further perks are that it packs down very small and is very light. It’s so small and so light in fact that you can take the tent as carry-on on a plane, or pack it into your luggage. Your actual cot cunningly concealed, you can then pass off another small bag as a travel cot, thereby making the most of your infant baggage allowance of (usually) travel cot, pushchair and car seat. I’ll be covering infant baggage allowance separately in a future post, so sign up to the mailing list if you want to read more (there’s a link on the sidebar on the right).

A major downside of the tent is that it doesn’t provide complete shade, so you can’t rely on it in sunny places – your baby will still need sun cream, a hat, etc. It gets pretty warm in there too – in Goa we used a little battery-operated fan and covered the baby girl with damp muslin squares to keep her cool.

The tent is very easy to pop up and pack away, but the fact that you have to be either on the floor or in a very deep bend to get your child into and out of it means that it won’t be ideal for all parents/carers. We use a conventional travel cot when we take the baby girl to stay at her grandparents’ house.

Baby on holiday in a pop-up tent travel cot on a beach in Goa, with the sun setting over the sea. A mini fan is keeping the baby cool. There are sun loungers on the beach.
The baby girl in her pop-up tent travel cot on the beach in Goa, her miniature fan keeping her cool.