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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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

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.

 

 

 

 

Documents for travelling with children

Children require passports for international travel (read my post on applying for your child’s first UK passport), but for flights within the UK the adult travelling with them can vouch for their identity. The adult will need to carry photo ID, the more official the better (though I was intrigued to learn that the airline Flybe includes NUS cards and valid firearm certificates on its long list of acceptable forms of identification).

When it comes to visas to almost any destination you care to name, you can safely assume that the rules are the same for children as they are for adults. This has implications not just for pre-trip admin, but for budgeting too – fees are typically the same regardless of the age of the applicant (though they do often vary depending on the nationality of the person applying, something to watch out for if your child holds a different passport to you).

None of the above probably comes as much of a surprise – we’re all used to needing passports and visas to travel. What you might not be aware of is that if you’re taking a child abroad, you technically need permission from anyone else with parental responsibility to do so – ie if you’re a mother or father travelling with your baby by yourself, you need to bring a letter specifying that their other parent has given the trip the go ahead. To really do it by the book, the letter should be witnessed by a notary, and you should bring along proof of your relationship to the child, such as a birth certificate – the real thing, not a photocopy. Mumsnet helpfully provide this template consent letter for travelling with children to make sure you don’t leave anything out.

There are very few situations in which you would actually be asked to provide such a letter, but some countries are stricter than others so it’s worth checking in advance. Parents who don’t share a last name with their children also report more hassle in this regard (the law is designed to prevent child abduction). Sorting out the permission letter – particularly having it notarised – certainly sounds like a pain, but much less of a pain than being refused entry at the border and being sent home.

Update: a commenter on Mumsnet told me that she always travels with her children’s birth certificates because they have a different last name to her, and that she is usually asked to show them at the UK border. I think I’ll put a copy of the baby girl’s birth certificate in the travel document wallet the next time we go away, just in case.

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.

 

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

Child passports

Applying for a passport for a child is very similar to applying for an adult, but as it’s probably been a while since you did that for the first time, here’s a refresher.

You can apply online or with a paper form, which you can pick up at the Post Office. The online form is more convenient, but you’re on your own with it, whereas there’s a ‘check and send’ service available with the paper application, via the Post Office.

As with an adult passport you’ll need to include two identical photographs, though the rules about how children and babies must appear in photos are not as stringent as for adults. Children aged five and under don’t have to have a neutral expression and don’t need to be looking straight at the camera. Babies under 12 months can have their eyes closed.

I had the baby girl’s taken at our local Snappy Snaps, with her lying on a beanbag, photographed from above. This got around the problem of trying to support her sitting up without my hands appearing in the picture (she was only two weeks old at the time).

The photos have to be countersigned by someone who has known you (the adult applying on behalf of the child) for at least two years. That someone has to be ‘a person of good standing in the community’ – which is a bit nebulous – or someone who works in or is retired from a ‘recognised profession’. You can find a list of accepted professions here. They can’t be related to you, or live at the same address, and they must be a British or Irish passport holder who lives in the UK.

I know several people who have been tripped up by the countersignature thing, and have seen their child’s application delayed as a result, so be careful with this bit. Make sure the person who does your countersigning has included contact details – the passport office do check up.

For most applications for first passports, the only other piece of paperwork you need, in addition to the form and countersigned photos, is your child’s birth certificate (particular circumstances require additional documentation, though, so do read the forms carefully).

Child passports currently cost £46, or £55.75 if you use the ‘check and send’ service, and you can pay by card, cash or cheque.

If you’ve filled everything in correctly and sent in the right documents, the passport will be ready in about three weeks. If you need it sooner than that, there is a fast track service to turn around a new passport within a week, for which you have to complete the paper form, attend an appointment in person, and pay a total fee of £87. Note that while adult passports can be processed on the same day, the one-day service isn’t available for child passports.

If you do need to attend an appointment, bear in mind that the passport office in central London has lifts and baby change facilities, but there’s nowhere to sit at the counters where you get your application processed. I’m pleased to report, however, that the guy who did the baby girl’s application for me didn’t blink an eye when I had to undertake a few minutes of emergency stand-up breastfeeding at his desk.

You can find more information on applying for passports for children here.