14 handy tips for taking your baby or toddler to the beach

It won’t surprise you to learn that beaches are a hit with babies and toddlers. From smashing sand castles (building them is beyond the baby girl so far) to splashing in rock pools, and from putting pebbles in shoes to picking up random bits and bobs and exclaiming excitedly about them, the fun is pretty much endless.

A woman and a baby play on a black sand beach
Playing on the black sand beach in La Restinga, on El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands

The entertainment taken care of, all that’s left to think about are a few practical concerns. Here are my tips:

1. Stay in the shade in the middle of the day, ideally between 10am and 4pm.

2. If your baby is under six months old, keep her out of direct sunlight entirely. Put her in lightweight clothing so she’s as covered up as possible, and use baby-safe sunscreen (the higher SPF the better, but at least 15+) on any exposed areas.

3. Apply sunscreen when changing your baby or toddler’s nappy at home before leaving for the beach. It’s much easier to get consistent coverage for that first application when she’s naked and not already covered in sand. Apply it all over just in case – you never know when a toddler might decide to strip off, and you want there to be sunscreen on when she does.

4. The easiest way to apply sunscreen to a baby or toddler is with a roll on. You can make your own from an empty roll-on deodorant – just pop the ball out with a spoon, wash and refill.

5. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if your baby has been in water.

A woman in a sun hat carries a baby in a sling on a beach, its head covered by a cloth
The baby girl naps in the sling under a damp cloth on the beach in Goa

6. Minimise the faff of reapplying sunscreen all the time with a UV-protection suit.

7. Pack a spare hat for your baby in your beach bag (one with a peak and long flap at the back is best).

8. When changing your baby’s nappy at or after a visit to the beach, don’t bother trying to remove sand with wipes. Let it dry then dust it off.

9. Disposable swim nappies are a waste of time and money. If you’re taking your baby in the water, go for a reusable neoprene swim nappy and cotton inner instead. If she’ll just be playing on the beach, normal nappies (or going without, of course) are fine.

10. Empty yoghurt pots make excellent sandcastle-building tools if a bucket and spade aren’t readily available.

11. Pack a mini inflatable paddling pool so your child can have a dip even if the sea is too rough or chilly for her to go in.

12. Another good way of keeping your baby cool is by covering her with a damp cloth (though admittedly less successful after she’s started crawling).

13. If your toddler isn’t enthusiastic about drinking water, keep her hydrated in hot weather by offering snacks like cucumber and watermelon.

14. Leave the pushchair at home, if possible, and take your baby to the beach in a sling instead. Dragging a buggy through sand or over pebbles is no fun. If you need a place to put your little one down to nap, consider packing the pop-up tent travel cot I wrote about here. It doesn’t offer full UV protection, so you can’t safely leave her in it in full sunshine, but if you’re in the shade, it’s ideal for a snooze.

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

How to leave the house with a newborn

A smiling woman with a baby in a sling holds an ice cream cone.
Jubilant on an early solo outing with the baby girl.

Your newborn baby is probably not leaving you much free time to get things done, but it pays to get organised in advance, if you can. Being prepared ahead of time, rather than rushing to sort everything out just as you’re walking out the door, is key to reducing the stress of those first outings. (This advice holds good for older babies and toddlers too: having the baby girl’s bag and pushchair packed and ready to go makes getting out and about much easier; alas, I’m rarely as organised as I’d like to be. This is very much a case of do as I say, not as I do.)

If you’re taking your baby out in her pushchair, you’ll want a bag that will hang off the handles. Specialised changing bags are useful but by no means essential for this purpose – a lot of ordinary shoulder bags or shoppers will work just fine with a pair of pushchair clips (we use these ones from My Buggy Buddy). For journeys with a sling (often easier than a pushchair, and more comforting for very little babies – more about why slings are excellent in my ‘essential kit’ post on the subject), a backpack is almost certainly your most comfortable option.

Either way (and it’s not a bad idea to prepare two bags so you’re ready to go with both sling and pushchair), here’s what you need:

  • nappy changing mat and wallet with a few nappies and wipes (plus nappy rash cream and nappy sacks if you use them)
  • a muslin square or two, depending on how pukey your baby is
  • spare outfit – vest, sleepsuit, jumper
  • hat
  • blanket
  • spare T-shirt/jumper for yourself in case the baby vomits on you in an impressive way

If you’re breastfeeding you’ll also need:

  • spare nursing pads
  • bottle of water and some snacks for yourself

If bottle-feeding:

  • sterilised bottle and teat
  • bottle of ready-made formula OR powder formula in small sterilised containers, plus a vacuum flask of just boiled water
  • bib

Optional extras:

  • if you’re recovering from an episiotomy, an inflatable ring cushion to sit on
  • if you’ve got long hair, a couple of hair ties
  • if your baby suffers from wind, Infacol
  • dummies
A father with a baby in sling holds a pushchair
At the bus stop before our first bus journey with the baby girl.

For trips with the pushchair make sure you’ve got the sling with you just in case your baby has a meltdown and you end up needing to carry her in your arms. It should fit in the basket under the pushchair with no difficulties, leaving plenty of space for a rain cover and a sleep shade (another piece of essential kit). Have your baby’s bag packed and hanging off the pushchair ready to go, along with a buggy organiser to hold essentials such as a phone, wallet, sunglasses, etc.

Have your baby’s warm outer layer, your own coat, and a pair of comfortable, slip-on shoes (I wore the same pair of ankle boots every time I left the house for the first three months of the baby girl’s life) ready by the door, and don’t worry at all about what else you’re wearing or if you’ve showered that day. You will almost certainly have puke on you, but that’s fine: no one will care – they will be too busy being impressed that you have made it out the door with such a tiny human in tow.

The best moment to attempt an outing is immediately after a feed, so you’ve got maximum time before you need to find somewhere to sit and get your boobs/a bottle out again. Check that everything is ready to go (including making up a bottle of formula if you know you’ll be feeding your baby very soon – otherwise, it’s safer to stick with making up a new bottle when you need it), change your baby’s nappy, cross your fingers that she doesn’t poo again as you’re walking out the door and leave the house as fast as you can. Good luck.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Adventure review: Rave-A-Roo, Ministry of Sound

The first time I went to the Ministry of Sound – at the tender age of 16 – someone threw up on my shoes in the queue. On this most recent visit, to check out indoor family festival Rave-A-Roo, the worst that happened was a leaky nappy. I think you could call that progress.

Launched in early 2016, Rave-A-Roo is a brilliant concept: an opportunity for children to dance, play and generally run wild in an environment so stimulating that it takes them all weekend to wind down again, while their parents drink overpriced prosecco and indulge in nostalgia for their clubbing days.

The baby girl isn’t really Rave-A-Roo’s target audience, but babies are welcome, and there are enough exciting things to look at (giant disco ball, anyone?) and different places to sit to make this little adventure worth the trouble.

Clouds of bubbles waft over us as I park the pushchair in an undercover area in the venue’s courtyard, a suitably enthusiastic DJ Cuddles (I’m desperate to know if he uses this stage name for adult gigs too) playing pop tunes in front of tables covered with jewellery-making paraphernalia.

Worried about the volume levels, I bring the baby girl’s ear defenders, but they end up staying in my bag. The main room – headlined by none other than everyone’s favourite ovine film star Shaun the Sheep – would be too loud to go without ear protection for longer than a few minutes, but the baby girl isn’t interested in being in there anyway. Crawling is all she wants to do right now, and the main room isn’t the place for it, so despite the temptation of a flock of inflatable ducks, we leave it to the bigger kids.

We spend most of our time in the Funky Soft Play Room, carving out a corner for ourselves in the midst of dozens of wired toddlers. The soft play isn’t quite as soft as it should be – the only cushioning on the floor of the inflatable that holds the soft play equipment is a few rag rugs – and there’s no one in authority keeping the rowdier children from going rogue. The small pile of baby toys in the corner is welcome, but positioned in such a way that it feels like we’re in constant danger of being stepped on.

The other place we hang out is Chill-A-Roo, aka the Ministry’s VIP area, which overlooks the main bar on one side and the biggest club room on the other. No concessions to the family crowd here apart from a barista serving proper coffees, but the baby girl is happy enough sitting on a banquette and hitting her cup against the table while I drink a hot chocolate.

At £12.10 for early bird tickets (going up to an eye-watering £25 on the door) for adults and children over the age of 18 months, Rave-A-Roo isn’t cheap, but the super friendly vibe, plus nice touches like nappy change supplies in the loos, swings it for me. The baby girl will be too little to really appreciate it for a while yet, but if Rave-A-Roo is still running in two or three years’ time, you can find us in da club.

A baby holds a ball in amongst some soft play equipment.
The baby girl larging it in the Funky Soft Play Room at Rave-A-Roo at Ministry of Sound.

Hiking with babies and toddlers

I’m very much a fair weather walker. Various members of my family will happily set off up a hill in driving rain, but if there’s not at least a reasonable chance of it clearing up in the foreseeable future, count me out. I like hiking, but being soaked to the skin on a cloudy mountaintop just isn’t my idea of fun.

I tell you this to make it clear that hiking with your baby isn’t just the preserve of hardcore walkers. If you enjoyed the occasional hike before your baby arrived, don’t be afraid to give it a go now that she’s here; as with all things baby-related, it’s just a matter of being prepared.

An all-terrain buggy will serve you well if you’re out and about in relatively flat countryside, but this post is really about the sorts of outdoor excursions that you wouldn’t attempt with a pushchair. For those, you’ll need a sling or baby carrier backpack. Which you choose depends on the age of your child, the type and duration of your walk and who’s doing the carrying. Don’t attempt a hike without some means of transporting your child, even if your toddler is a very confident walker; it’s highly unlikely she’ll be up for toddling along beside you for more than a few minutes and you’ll spend the rest of the walk carrying her in your arms.

We only started hiking with the baby girl when she was 10 months old, by which time she was big enough to fit into a backpack carrier. There are lots of different types available, but ours (which we picked up cheap in a charity shop) does up around the waist so there’s less pressure on the wearer’s shoulders, has lots of space for stowing all your other baby kit (of which more later) and a frame that means it stands up by itself, making loading and unloading the baby girl much easier.

The only trouble is that all of those useful features add weight and bulk – I’m fairly slim and only 164cm (5’ 4”) tall, and the carrier plus an increasingly heavy baby girl is too much for me. So my partner uses the backpack carrier and I use the lightweight sling, ideally with someone else carrying the rest of the baby gear (more on how brilliant slings are in this recent post). If it were just me, lugging the baby girl and all of both our stuff, I wouldn’t attempt a walk longer than an hour or so.

Whatever set up you opt for, you want to keep additional weight to a minimum, while ensuring you’re prepared for all eventualities. Take the lightest possible changing mat, a couple of nappies and a few wipes in a ziplock bag rather than your usual nappy change wallet. Spare clothes (including a hat) are essential, especially if your child is in a backpack carrier – you’ll warm up quickly as you walk, but your baby will be sitting still, exposed to the elements.

We eschew trousers and socks in favour of pyjamas with feet to stop the baby girl getting cold legs when her trousers inevitably ride up. Waterproof trousers to go over the top are a good idea if you’re walking anywhere with the possibility of rain. It might sound like overkill but for hikes in locations where the weather can quickly take a turn for the worse, it can’t hurt to bring a lightweight storm shelter.

Don’t be too ambitious when it comes to route planning, even if you’re an experienced walker. A hike that might have taken a couple of hours baby-free can easily become the work of an entire afternoon once you’ve factored in pauses for snacks; bottle or breastfeeding; giving parental shoulders a break; and pointing and laughing at sheep. Remember, too, that there’s no shame in cutting a walk short if things aren’t working out as planned.

Parents of rolling or crawling babies should consider packing a mat or blanket; breastfeeding mothers will appreciate having somewhere dry to sit too. If you’re bottle-feeding, ready-to-drink formula is much more convenient on the move than making it up from powder. Finally, keep a ready supply of snacks in your pockets that you can produce with a flourish as a solution to sudden onset baby crankiness – you’ll all have a much nicer time.

A family climbs a mountain in the Lake District, the man in the foreground of the picture carrying a toddler in a baby carrier backpack.
Our first proper hike with the baby girl, climbing Lingmell in the Lake District in July 2017. She was sound asleep when this was taken.

 

 

 

 

Eating out with babies and toddlers

Eating out with a baby or toddler can be a stressful experience, so your choice of eatery is paramount. You’d be surprised by how many cafes and restaurants are welcoming to children, but there’s nothing worse than dealing with a grumpy/messy/loud baby or toddler while restaurant staff and other patrons give you evils. If you get a bad feeling about a place when you arrive with your offspring in tow, trust your gut and go somewhere else (if there are no other options available, apologise in advance, cross your fingers and grit your teeth). If in doubt – and it pains me to say this, because I’m a big cheerleader for independent businesses – opt for a chain, in the UK at least, as they tend to be child-friendly and well equipped.

A high chair isn’t essential, but having one will make your life considerably easier. If there’s not one available, pick a table with enough space to park your pushchair right up against it and leave your baby strapped in while you feed her. (Having the pushchair close by is helpful, even if you do have a high chair, as it means you’ve got everything to hand when you need it; it also avoids having to wake your little one up if she’s napping when you arrive.)

For trips away where you’re going to be eating out a lot – or if you know in advance that the venue has no high chair available – bring a portable high chair. Ones that clip onto the table are great because your baby will be at the right height, but they’re a pain to clean; plastic ones that strap onto the chair are easy to wipe down, but bulky to carry; and fabric ones that slip over the back of the chair are super light, but mean your baby will be at eye level with the table. Another option is a lap belt, which keeps her securely on your lap but allows you the use of your hands.

Check out the baby change situation before you commit – changing your little one on the floor of a toilet cubicle isn’t a pleasant experience, especially once she’s at the stage of trying to escape while you’re at it. If you’re travelling in the UK, the NCT has a handy app that shows you nearby restaurants (and other places) with baby change facilities.

I’ve never had an issue getting restaurant or café staff to provide hot water to heat up milk or baby food, but it’s best to ask about this as you’re being seated, just in case. Bringing food in from outside can feel a bit awkward, but I’ve never had any pushback on this either. The older the baby girl gets the odder it feels, so these days I try to order something for myself I know she’ll eat rather than lay out a baby food picnic. It’s worth bearing in mind though that restaurant food tends to be saltier than ideal for babies, particularly those under 12 months – fine now and again but not something you want to be doing every day.

It’s all rather simpler for smaller babies, so make the most of this stage, before your infant becomes an unruly toddler. Taking your baby in a sling (you can find my post on this piece of essential kit here) rather than a pushchair increases your options as you don’t need to worry about there being space to park it – and time it right and you might even get her to sleep through an entire meal.

The choice of table is important: if one of your party is breastfeeding, a chair with a back makes for a much more comfortable experience; and sitting with your back to the room allows for greater privacy while breastfeeding. (I’m very pro breastfeeding in public and in no way advocate women hiding themselves away while feeding their babies, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood to show your boobs to an entire restaurant.)

Wherever you’re sitting, consider your escape route for that moment when your baby kicks off and needs jiggling and pacing to calm down – assuming it’s not freezing cold or pouring with rain, outside, away from the gaze and eardrums of other diners, is often less stressful than in. In warm weather I’d always go for an outside table when given the option, for this very reason – in fact I’d go for an outside table with a bigger baby or toddler too, as there’s less of an issue of them making a mess outdoors.

Whatever the age of your child, it helps to manage your own expectations before you set off – meals out with babies and toddlers can be fun, chaotic (in a good way) and sociable, but they’re never relaxing. Be prepared for the worst and you might just have a good time.

A pram with a cloth covering a sleeping baby is parked next to a restaurant table with a glass of red wine on it
Eating out with a baby or toddler is usually easier if you can park the pushchair right up against the table.

Train journeys with babies and toddlers

It pays to be very organised when it comes to taking a baby or toddler on a train, particularly if it’s going to be a long journey. Not all train companies will let you reserve a seat, and even the train companies that do don’t necessarily offer reservations on all their routes, but if you can book a seat, you should.

And the seat you should book, if it’s possible to specify (you can when booking direct through the Virgin trains website, for example, right at the very end of the booking process, or in person or on the phone with Great Western Railway), is one of ones closest to the wheelchair accessible seats. That way, if there’s no wheelchair user on your train, you can park the pushchair – unfolded – in the wheelchair space (it goes without saying that if a wheelchair user gets on, you have to give up the area for them). This avoids the faff of folding and stowing the pushchair in the luggage rack, but it also means you’ve got a place to put your baby down for a nap during the journey if need be. The wheelchair seats are also the closest to the disabled toilet, which is where you’ll usually find the baby change.

A pushchair with a cloth draped over it in the wheelchair area of a long-distance train, with the countryside rushing past outside.
Snoozing in the wheelchair area on a long-distance train.

If you can’t choose your actual seats when making a reservation (the case with the majority of operators), the next best thing is to select the ‘near the toilet’ option, as this will at least mean that you’ll be as close to the end of the carriage as possible. You might then have the option of leaving the pushchair unfolded, and standing with it while your baby sleeps, while at the same time keeping an eye on your stuff (less of an issue if you’re travelling with someone else of course).

This plan won’t work if the space between the carriages is small or if the train is busy, so be prepared to fold your pushchair. The underneath of the baby girl’s pushchair is perpetually in chaos, making it difficult to fold in a hurry, so before I set out on a train journey I try to remember to do an audit, taking out the non-essentials and making sure all the bits and bobs I might need are in one bag that I can quickly grab out of the pushchair and take with me to my seat. Travelling off-peak is always going to be preferable, but if that’s not an option consider leaving the pushchair at home. If you can get away with a sling instead you’ll have a much less stressful experience on a busy train.

A pram with a sleeping baby in the vestibule of a train.
The baby girl in her buggy in the area at the end of a train carriage.

In situations where you haven’t been able to reserve the seat you want, get to the platform as early as possible and ask a member of staff where the carriage with the wheelchair seats will be stopping, so you can be first to those seats. There’s a website and app called Realtime Trains that train staff use to get advance information on which platform trains are coming into – it’s a useful way to get ahead of the crowd on busy routes.

Once you’re seated, other things to consider are food and activities. I learnt the hard way that the staff in the café carriage can’t heat up baby food for you in the microwave – the ones on trains are too powerful apparently. They’ll give you hot water though, so heating up milk isn’t a problem. If you want to give your child hot solid food, pouches are a good idea.

A quick note about milk while I’m on the topic – while I’ve found breastfeeding to be far and away the most convenient option when it comes to travelling with a baby, the one situation in which I was glad to have a bottle with me was on an extremely busy train on the way to Hull when the baby girl was seven-weeks-old. It’s not impossible to breastfeed standing up on a tightly packed train, but it’s not ideal, especially if you’ve also got a couple of bags with you.

As far as activities are concerned, bring as many books and toys as you can bear to carry – it’s stating the obvious, but long train journeys are boring for small children. If you’ve nabbed those coveted wheelchair seats, put a picnic blanket on the floor to make a play area. The baby girl is only happy sitting on my lap for so long, and when she wants to be on the move, it’s easier to let that happen than to fight it.

Once you’ve reached your destination you may need to take a bus or, if you’re in London, the Underground. Check out my post on navigating public transport with a pushchair for tips on how to do that.

 

 

Baby and toddler hotel room hacks, part 1

Self-catering accommodation is almost always going to be preferable when travelling with a baby or toddler, but if you need to stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast, here are some tips to make the best of the situation. This post is a little longer than usual, so I’ve split it into two parts; look out for part 2.

Before you book, get in touch to find out what the hotel or B&B provides in terms of in-room amenities. A kettle is very useful for warming up baby food or milk, and a fridge for keeping it cold. If they’re not available – more common in a B&B – ask if you can use the management’s kitchen.

If there’s an option, and you can afford it, always go for a room with an en suite bathroom. It’s easier for baby bedtime, means you can keep dirty nappies separate from where you’re sleeping, and serves as a nightlight if you leave the door open a crack. Also, you don’t want to be traipsing to and from the communal bathroom when you realise you need to pee after you’ve got up to feed or soothe the baby. Ask for a bathroom with a tub; if there isn’t one available, pack a small inflatable paddling pool.

Washing and sterilising bottles is more challenging without a kitchen, but perfectly doable in an en suite if you’ve packed the right paraphernalia. You’ll need a bottle brush, a bit of washing up liquid (though I used shower gel last time and it was fine), cold sterilising tablets, and a Tupperware box with a lid. I’ll do a separate post on this another time.

Many hotels will provide a cot if you request it in advance, but bear in mind that it might be rubbish – the hotel we stayed at in Egypt didn’t include mattresses in theirs. So if you can handle the extra luggage, bring your own travel cot. If not, pack some bedding just in case – this has the added benefit of smelling like home, thereby making your child feel more secure in a new place. The baby girl kicks off her blankets so we use a sleep bag instead (it also comes in handy on planes).

The first few trips we did with the baby girl she slept in the carrycot bit of her pram. When she outgrew that we moved her into a little pop-up tent, which packs down very small and is super light. The other benefit of the tent is that it’s its own contained environment so your baby isn’t distracted by her surroundings. Whichever style of travel cot you opt for, have your baby nap in it a couple of times at home so it’s familiar when you go away.

If your child needs darkness to sleep, consider packing a SnoozeShade to cover the cot. That way you don’t need to worry too much about chinks of light coming in between the curtains, and can have a light on in the room after your baby has gone to sleep but before you’ve gone to bed (I find the buggy model of SnoozeShade invaluable too). For co-sleepers, bring a travel blackout blind instead, which you can sucker onto the window. They’re a bit of a faff to use, but worth it if your baby is very sensitive to light. You’ll want to buy head torches too if you’re co-sleeping – ones with an infrared setting won’t wake the baby but are bright enough to see your way around and to read by.

That’s it for now. I’ll cover dealing with noise, childproofing and some tricks for bedtime in the next post…

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The baby girl napping in her tent in our hotel room in Egypt (our hotel rooms are always this messy).