Baby and toddler destination guide: Edinburgh festivals

As an arts journalist, the Edinburgh festivals are a high point of my working year. I’ve spent pretty much very August since 2007 up there, including 2016, when I was eight and a half months pregnant and mildly terrified that I would end up having the baby girl in Edinburgh rather than London. (It worked out fine: in the end she came 10 days late, by which time I’d been home for ages.)

I had my concerns about taking the baby girl to the Fringe in 2017, but as I was still breastfeeding, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I was definitely going, which meant that she would be coming too. My partner and I decided to spend a stupidly large proportion of our festival income renting an entire flat (including a spare room for visiting grannies/babysitters) and come up as a family.

I haven’t come across many other journalists taking small children to the Edinburgh festivals, but there are lots of performers that do it. This post is for them (and indeed anyone working at the festivals) but it’s also for non-performers; ordinary punters considering whether to brave Edinburgh with a little one in tow. My message to you is… do it!

Things to do

A baby girl sits on stage at the end of a performance for babies
Wowed by Scottish Opera’s BambinO at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017

Shows for babies and toddlers at the Fringe are still very much in the minority compared to shows for older children, but it’s a genre that’s growing. They’re spread around the hundreds of different venues so the best way to find them is to search by category at tickets.edfringe.com and filter by age suitability. A lot of companies or artists making work for children hedge their bets by putting a lower age limit than is really reflective of the show, so you’ll need to read the marketing blurb and use your judgment when it comes to picking what to see.

The great news for theatre, comedy, cabaret and dance fans is that babes-in-arms (usually up to the age of 2, but it varies) are welcome at a massive number of shows at the Fringe. There’s unfortunately no way of filtering shows via their babes-in-arms policy on the Edfringe ticketing site; you have to click through to the individual show listing to find out whether infants are allowed and if they need a ticket.

Fringe venues aren’t usually accessible with pushchairs, and there’s rarely anywhere to park them, so take your little one in a sling if you can.

The Royal Mile is a great place to get a taste of the madness of the Fringe, though if you’re there with a pushchair or toddler on foot it might be best to go in the morning before the crowds descend. Catch see street performers at work, see snippets of shows at various pop-up stages and maybe even receive free tickets for later that day from performers desperate for an audience.

Two of the biggest venue companies, Underbelly and Assembly, have huge astroturfed areas in George Square Gardens that are good spots to let toddlers roam as you grab a drink or snack. They get very busy as the afternoon wears on. Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows offers something similar on a smaller scale, though there’s no shade there so it’s not ideal in the middle of the day.

Along with hosting lots of children’s shows, the Kidszone at the Pleasance Courtyard runs arts and crafts activities suitable for children up to the age of 10. There’s a little puppet theatre there too and ad hoc storytelling sessions.

There are lots of events for toddlers at the Edinburgh Book Festival, meanwhile, including readings of new books by your favourite picture book authors, craft activities and music sessions. Unlike the Fringe, the Book Festival takes place at one pop-up site, making it much easier to navigate with small children in tow. It’s also pushchair accessible.

A baby sits on the floor of the Imagine gallery at the National Museum of Scotland
The baby girl checks out the big kids’ side of the Imagine gallery at the National Museum of Scotland

Away from the festivals, you’d be crazy not to check out the National Museum of Scotland. There’s a fantastic children’s gallery where babies and toddlers can roam around, dress up, curl up for a story and play with a range of toys and musical instruments. There’s lots to do for kids elsewhere in the museum too, from laughing at taxidermy animals (a favourite activity of the baby girl’s) to playing in a sandpit. Entry is free.

Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh’s natural history museum, is also well set up for visiting with little ones, including a soft play area (it can get a bit raucous in there during the school holidays, so is better for toddlers than babies), plenty of high chairs and a microwave for heating up baby food and milk in the enormous café.

The Royal Commonwealth Pool has a shallow training pool and a brilliant soft play area that’s open until 6pm every day. It’s got a dedicated under-2s area so your little one doesn’t have to battle it out against children double her size.

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the UK’s only giant pandas, as well as all the other excellent animals you’d expect from a world-class zoo.

The Meadows, Edinburgh’s sprawling city centre park, has good playgrounds in the middle and at its far western and easternmost points. On the other side of town, the Royal Botanic Garden has free admission and runs family activities and trails. It’s also a venue for Fringe events for young children.

Please add your suggestions to add to this list in the comments below!

Childcare

You can take your little one to a lot of shows at the festivals, but not all of them, and there are some venues that don’t allow under-18s in at all. If you’re travelling as a couple or with other family members you can simply tag team babysitting and seeing shows – the nature of the festivals means that there are always lots of people seeing shows by themselves, so you won’t feel like a loner.

If that’s not an option, Edinburgh-based childcare agency Super Mums can provide festival nannies and babysitters to come to your flat or hotel, or to take your little one out and about. They can even stay the night if you need them to. It’s a good idea to book in advance but they can usually help out last-minute too.

Getting there

A baby sits amid a pile clothes and toys
Taking everything out of all the bags for fun on the train back to London from Edinburgh

You can fly to Edinburgh Airport from all over the UK and Europe and a handful of destinations in the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the city centre by car (there are plenty of car hire companies to choose from), taxi, Airlink bus or tram. Read my posts on booking plane ticketsflying, airport transfers and getting through airports with babies and toddlers for tips.

Edinburgh’s main railway station, Waverly, is located in the heart of the city centre. It has several taxi ranks and is served by a large number of bus routes. My post on long train journeys with babies and toddlers might come in handy when it comes to planning here.

Getting about

Parking in the centre of Edinburgh is a nightmare so far better to leave your car at home and use the city’s excellent public transport system instead. Buses have space for a couple of unfolded pushchairs, though wheelchair users take priority. You need to pay the exact fare; drivers won’t give change and don’t look kindly on being asked to do so.

Far more convenient is the m-tickets smart phone app, which lets you buy a variety of tickets in advance to validate as you board. Tickets for Edinburgh’s trams can be bought on the app or at the ticket machines at tram stops. You’ll find more general tips on public transport with a pushchair elsewhere on the blog.

Edinburgh is well supplied with reasonably priced black cabs which are large enough to fit an unfolded pushchair. As elsewhere in the UK, you don’t need a child car seat for journeys in private hire vehicles.

Edinburgh is pretty compact so walking is often the fastest way to get around. The New Town is mostly very easy to navigate with a pushchair, with wide pavements and plenty of pedestrian crossings. The Old Town is a different story: it’s very hilly, pavements are narrow and lots of the streets are cobbled. It also gets very busy in August so leave plenty of time to get wherever you’re going.

Accommodation

A huge proportion of Edinburgh festival lets are flats in tenement buildings with winding stone staircases and no lifts. There’s sometimes space to lock a pushchair in the hallway at the bottom of the stairwell in these buildings but you can’t depend on that, so unless you like the idea of lugging a pushchair up and down stairs every time you go out, make sure to rent a ground-floor flat.

For information on what other questions to ask before booking self-catering accommodation, please see my post on the subject.

Eating out

Toddler in a portable high chair at a table in a restaurant
The baby girl in her Totseat portable high chair

As many of Edinburgh’s restaurants and cafes occupy small or architecturally idiosyncratic premises, often up or down stairs from the street, it’s easier all round if you’re unencumbered by a pushchair. Some places have high chairs, but not enough to rely on, so bring your own; the Totseat is very light and packs down small enough to pop in a handbag. You’ll find general tips on eating out with babies and toddlers elsewhere on this blog.

Essentials

There are small supermarkets all over central Edinburgh and a number of large ones a short distance by bus or car. The city is also well equipped with pharmacies.

Emergencies

The phone number for emergency services is 999 and there’s an accident and emergency department at the centrally located Royal Hospital for Sick Children. The one time we had cause to use it the baby girl was seen very quickly and the staff were excellent. Adults and children aged 13 and up should use the accident and emergency departments at the Royal Infirmary in the south of the city. Treatment is free at both hospitals on the NHS.

Baby’s first holiday

Published in the July/August 2018 issue of Baby London.

Travelling with a baby is a daunting prospect for many parents. Even mums and dads who were experienced globe-trotters before starting a family can feel overwhelmed when thinking about the logistics of that first holiday with their little one. Break the organising down into bite-sized chunks, however, and it all becomes a bit more manageable, leaving you time to get excited about the adventures that await you as a new family.

Getting a passport

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

Fill out a paper application for your child’s first passport to take advantage of the Post Office’s ‘check and send’ service, which costs around £10 on top of the usual fee. The rules around passport photographs aren’t as strict for babies as they are adults, but it can still be tricky getting them right – a visit to a high street photo specialist or chemist will save you a lot of stress. If you’ve filled everything in correctly and sent in the right documents, the passport will be ready in about three weeks. There is a also fast track service to turn around a new passport within a week – it costs extra and you’ll need to attend an appointment.

Questions to ask a hotel

Most hotels should be able to supply a cot and high chair but do check when booking so you can bring your own if need be. Ask about in-room amenities: a kettle and fridge are absolute essentials; a bathtub is pretty handy too, but not a deal breaker. We always travel with a tiny inflatable paddling pool that fits in the bottom of even the most compact shower stalls. A balcony is a massive boon, giving you somewhere to sit and relax after baby’s bedtime. It’s worth asking about babysitting too. Most family-friendly places should be able to arrange it.

Enquire about a room at the end of a hallway but away from the lifts or stairs. Not only will your baby be less likely to be disturbed by the noise of other guests and, being further from occupied rooms, you’ll feel less guilty if your little one cries in the night.

Depending on your destination, it’s worth asking about the cost of a suite compared to a standard double – in a lot of the big US hotel chains there often isn’t much difference, and you’ll be grateful of the extra space to stow not just your sleeping child, but all their gear too. If that’s not an option, a large wardrobe can work nicely as a miniature bedroom for storing baby’s things out of the way and keeping the main room more organised.

Travel vaccinations

The standard vaccinations your baby will receive on the NHS will protect her from most of the diseases you might come across when travelling, particularly in developed nations. Further flung destinations often require additional vaccines, some of which can only be given above a certain age, so talk to your GP or practice nurse before booking your trip to make sure you’re covered.

Flying with baby

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

Take more food and milk than you think you might need so you’re covered in case of delays. Be prepared for baby’s feeding and sleep routines to go out the window when flying – there are just too many distractions to contend with and it’s impossible to time things properly when you’re dealing with security, boarding and other demands. I try to go with the flow and offer my daughter healthy snacks frequently to make sure she’s getting enough to eat. (Snacks can also serve as very useful distractions if your baby is getting bored or frustrated.) Breastfeeding mothers might find themselves feeding more frequently and for longer than usual on flights because the baby will seek comfort in the strange environment.

Pack as many small, non-noisy toys as you can reasonably fit into your carry-on. Soft toys and lift-the-flap books are a good bet and I find a “stunt wallet” filled with a few expired loyalty cards that I don’t mind losing can keep my daughter absorbed for ages. Walking up and down the plane offers endless new sights, sounds and interactions – you’ll probably spend a lot of the flight on your feet! A sling comes in very handy for getting your little one to nap while you’re on the move.

We always travel with Calpol, infant Nurofen and teething gel just in case. To avoid earache, encourage your little one to breastfeed, eat or drink during take off and landing. It offers a distraction from all the commotion.

Where to go

Swimming pool with loungers, umbrellas and palm trees
Carlisle Bay, Antigua

Pine Cliffs Resort, Algarve, Portugal. This clifftop resort boasts the largest kids club in the region and accepts babies from six months, leaving you free to enjoy the spa, golf course and 11 restaurants. Baby will love the bouncy castle and sandy beach too. Rooms from £145 per night. pinecliffs.com

Carlisle Bay, Antigua. This slice of paradise has its own private stretch of beach, where swaying palm trees offer plenty of natural shade. The pool is great fun, the kids club is open to babies six months old, and the staff are incredibly welcoming. Rooms from £773 per night. carlisle-bay.com

Sani Beach Hotel, Halkidiki, Greece. The crèche at this elegant all-suite hotel is open to babies from four months old, but you can also take advantage of ‘Babe Watch’ and take a dip in the sea while qualified staff look after your little one on the beach. From £160 per night. sani-resort.com

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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

Practical tips for a scuba diving holiday with a baby

Published by Diver, May 2018, with the headline “Baby diver”.

Scuba divers come out of the sea while a baby watches on a beach
The baby girl watches while her diving parents emerge from the sea at Gozo’s Wied il-Ghasri gorge © Yoji Caird

Almost the moment my partner and I found out that I was pregnant, we started talking about the first dive trip we’d take with the baby. We had lost count of the number of times that people, on finding out that we were divers, told us wistfully how much they used to love diving too…before their kids were born and that phase of their life came to an end. We really didn’t want that to happen to us, but we knew that we would need to be proactive if we were going to continue diving as new parents.

When our daughter was three-months-old we booked a week’s diving at a Red Sea resort with some friends who have a baby around the same age. That trip, which took place when she was seven-months-old, was exhausting, but it was also an unqualified success and got us talking about where we could take her next. Two dive trips later – first to the Maltese island of Gozo, then to El Hierro, the most remote of the Canary Islands – this is what we’ve learned.

Choose your destination wisely

While in the past our choice of dive destination was informed mainly by what we could afford and whether we had the time to do it justice, these days there are more factors to consider. Babies and jet lag are a bad combination, so we try to avoid time differences greater than four hours unless we’re going away for at least 10 days. Flight time and transfers come into play too – long-haul flights are doable with a baby or toddler, but short-haul is certainly easier, and the smoother the transition from airport to accommodation the better. If you’re itching to visit a particular long-haul destination, however, there is definitely an argument for doing it sooner rather than later – most airlines charge a small fee for travelling with a baby, while toddlers two and up pay full fare.

All those considerations might seem limiting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: there’s a lot of world out there to dive and it can be helpful to have your options narrowed a bit. Being forced to shift the focus onto some of the excellent, but less glamorous, diving available closer to home can be positive too. We are UK-based, but had never thought to go the Canaries before, for example, because far flung spots like Sipadan and the Great Barrier Reef just seemed like more tempting options. But on our recent trip there, we dived on an underwater volcano, spotted bull rays for the first time and explored some of the prettiest shallow caves we had ever seen.

Family-friendly dive centres

A man and a woman in scuba gear stand at the seaside with their daughter in a pushchair
Before a dive at the Salt Pans on the Maltese island of Gozo © Yoji Caird

Dealing with staff who are willing to be a bit flexible about how they do things (within the bounds of safety and not negatively impacting other divers, of course) makes all the difference when it comes to diving with a baby in tow. We really fell on our feet with the staff at the dive centres we’ve visited since travelling with our daughter. The dive guides and RIB driver at Orca Dive Club Soma Bay in Egypt were extremely patient when we arrived a few minutes’ late for the scheduled departure time for almost every dive, for example, while those at Atlantis Dive Centre in Gozo let our daughter and my babysitting brother (see below for more on childcare on dive trips) come with us in the dive truck so they weren’t stuck in the apartment.

Let the dive centre know that you’ll be travelling with a baby when you first enquire about a trip. Or if you’re booking through an agent, ask them to sound out the dive centre on your behalf. If they appear uptight at this stage, look for an alternative – travelling with a little one is unpredictable enough with having to worry about dive centre staff throwing a hissy fit if you have to opt out of a dive at the last minute.

In addition to making the diving itself more relaxing, and therefore more enjoyable, a family-friendly dive centre can also be helpful when it comes to recommending baby-friendly restaurants or activities, and some will even arrange babysitting. At Atlantis our little one was delighted to find a huge pile of toys belonging to the daughter of the couple who own it; and we were delighted to be able to sort out our gear in peace after each dive.

Get informed about your accommodation

If having the dive centre close by was important before, it’s even more so now – babies take up a lot of time and you don’t want to spend any more of it in transit than strictly necessary.

Other factors to consider when you’re choosing accommodation are proximity to shops, bars and restaurants, availability of healthcare (more of an issue at remote destinations in the developing world than elsewhere) and the presence of a pool (ideally heated) or baby-friendly beach.

The biggest accommodation decision you need to make is between resort and self-catering. The latter is certainly easier as far as flexibility around meals and snacks for your little one, but grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning take up valuable time that you might otherwise be able to spend diving. Hotel buffets are also excellent if your little one is hard work at mealtimes, allowing you to tag team eating and childcare while not letting your dinner get cold.

Make the most of childcare

Two women in scuba dive gear hold babies wearing sun hats
Tag-teaming babysitting and diving © Steve Pretty

Couples where only one partner dives have it easier when it comes to travelling with a baby – just make sure the non-diving partner gets some relaxation time doing what they like, too.

If both dive, the simplest option is to tag team diving and childcare, but that can feel like a somewhat sad way to spend a vacation if part of what you love about scuba is sharing it with your other half.

Many resorts have a free or inexpensive kids’ club, some of which are open to children from the age of two. This can be an excellent – and fun – solution to your childcare problem, but won’t be right for all children. You need to be prepared for your child to take a while to settle in or refuse to go altogether.

Taking a non-diving friend or relative along to babysit is a good alternative; and offering to cover some of the costs might entice more candidates for the role, if your budget stretches that far. Or go with another pair of diving parents who will be happy to look after your little one while you dive and vice versa.

Be organized

Vacations are supposed to be about kicking back and going with the flow, right? Sadly not, if you’re talking about taking your baby away with you diving. Gone are the days when you can just roll up at the dive centre, do a day of diving and head straight to the bar afterwards. That doesn’t mean you won’t have a brilliant trip, it just means you need to do a bit more day-to-day planning than you used to.

On our trip to Egypt, my partner and I and the other couple all each squeezed in two dives a day every day by doing very efficient changeovers. After each dive the babysitting pair would be waiting at the dive centre with the babies, ready to hand them over the moment the diving pair were out of their wetsuits. As the new diving pair prepared for their dive, one of the new babysitters would take charge of the babies, while the other rinsed and hung up both sets of gear. We would also discuss at dinner each night who was diving and when on the following day, making use of both early morning and sunset dive options so we could pack in as much time underwater as possible.

For self-catering trips, meal planning will allow you to have as chilled out a surface interval as possible, especially if your accommodation is close to the dive centre. It’s not always easy pinning down exactly how long you’ll be out on a dive, so having something easy like sandwiches or leftovers that be quickly thrown together or heated up is a good route to go down.

Be prepared for a slower pace

A woman and a baby play on rocks, photographed from the water
Hanging out at El Tacarón natural swimming pool on El Hierro on a day off from diving © Steve Pretty

Unless you’re taking a babysitter along who’s happy to look after your little one all day every day, it’s unlikely that you will be able to do as much diving as you did on trips pre-parenthood. Chat with your partner (and whoever is helping with childcare, if applicable) before the trip about your expectations – all things considered, how many dives will you each be able to do per day? Getting into the right frame of mind – that you’re there not just for diving but also to spend some time together as a family – will ensure you have a more enjoyable experience.

With that in mind, it’s probably best to hold off on those bucket list dive destinations until your child is old enough to be left at home with a relative while you travel – or of an age to dive with you! You don’t want to fly half way round the world just to spend your trip seething with jealousy when you find out that you missed out on seeing the sardine run/marine iguanas/a shoal of manta rays because it was your turn looking after the baby.

Destinations that require long boat trips to reach the dive sites are best saved for another time too. Opt instead for a resort with an excellent house reef, or plenty of local dive sites, so you can dive a couple of times a day with a minimum of fuss. You may not see anything really earth shattering on this type of trip, but sometimes a slower pace can give new passions room to breathe, whether that’s observing fish behaviour, spotting rare nudibranchs or getting handy with a GoPro.

Remember that increased time topside is also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the cultural side of a destination, get to know a new cuisine or explore the great outdoors, all elements that might have played second fiddle to the diving before your little one came along.

Don’t be intimidated

If all this sounds like hard work, don’t worry…I promise that it will be worth it. A dive vacation with your baby in tow is a very different beast to the dive vacations you took before you became parents but different doesn’t mean inferior – go into the experience with your eyes open and you never know what adventures you might be letting yourself in for.

Flying with your baby

A baby grabs her father's face on a planeThe 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.

This post only covers flying itself, but I’ve written about airports and airport transfers too, plus documents for travelling with children, buying travel insurance and applying for a passport for your child. I’ll be covering booking flights soon – sign up to the Baby Adventuring mailing list so you don’t miss it.

Feeding

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

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.

Toys

A mother and child look at a magazine on a plane
Flicking through the inflight magazine for the 768th time on our flight back from Gozo

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.

Crying

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

A man sits next to a makeshift tent on a plane
An attempt to get the baby girl to nap on the plane in a makeshift tent we erected on our empty middle seat

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.

Sleeping

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

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

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.

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

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