How to do a music festival with a baby

Family-friendly music festivals offer a brilliant opportunity to hang out with your little one in a totally different way than you do at home, throwing the routine out the window and taking the days as they come. For parents of babes-in-arms that might mean revisiting your pre-child life, strapping your baby into a sling so you can stay up late and have a dance to your favourite bands. For toddlers, a festival is a (relatively) safe, contained, outdoor environment with thousands of exciting new sights, sounds, tastes and smells to experience. Watching festival gigs with the baby girl and seeing her dance along are some of my all-time favourite moments as a parent.

Of course, being at a music festival with a baby or toddler isn’t always easy. Make no mistake: it’s a very different experience from doing a festival child-free. There will be times where the lack of routine causes problems and times where you wish you’d left your little one at home altogether. But with a bit of pre-planning and a willingness to go with the flow, the good far outweighs the bad and everyone ends up having a lovely time.

Here are my tips for a successful festival with a little one, split into seven sections: how to choose a festival; camping; getting around; sleeping and napping; feeding and snacks; what to pack; and the importance of a getaway plan.

How to choose a festival

Adults and children play on the WOMAD sign at the music festival
Exploring at WOMAD Festival

If it’s your first time taking your little one to a music festival, opt for a smaller, family-focused one, such as Latitude or Just So Festival. Or if there’s one you’ve been to before and know well, that works too – just make sure you’ve done your research about family camping and other facilities for babies and small children. I’d steer clear of any festival that doesn’t have a family camping area or advice for families on its website, unless you’ve been before or have had a personal recommendation from someone you trust.

Some family-friendly festivals run a shuttle service from the carpark to the family camping area so you’re not having to lug all your gear – and your baby – by yourself, while others provide the facilities for baby bath time. Most offer a wide range of fun activities for even the littlest kids.

If your baby isn’t crawling yet, you don’t need to worry too much about activities however. Various festivals have baby areas, which are handy if you fancy a quiet sit down, and really come into their own in bad weather. More likely though, you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s portability to make the most of the festival’s offerings for grownup punters.

It makes sense to pick a festival not too far from home for your first go with your little one, unless there’s a particularly good reason to opt for somewhere further afield. Picking up wristbands, parking and setting up camp can be time-consuming and tedious, so cutting down on your travel time will make the whole process that bit easier.

Camping

I’ve confessed my personal bias for campervans elsewhere on the blog, but that doesn’t make what I’m about to write any less true. When it comes to festival camping, more than any other camping trip, a campervan is your friend: quieter, warmer, more secure, easier to keep tidy and better for making a quick getaway if you need to. If I didn’t own one I would seriously consider hiring one for festivals. While an awning is an excellent addition for a standard camping trip, it’s not really necessary for festival camping, as you’ll mostly be hanging out away from where you’re camped. If you need extra storage space, a small pop-up tent works well.

In my post on camping with babies and toddlers I advise buying the largest tent you can afford, and that holds here too. A lot of festival camp sites will feel safe enough to leave your buggy outside at night, but you can’t guarantee that until you get there, so make sure your tent has enough room to bring your buggy inside (and bring a piece of tarpaulin to put it on so you don’t get the rest of the tent grubby).

A tent with a separate interior room means you can sleep separately from your child, and a blackout tent is an ideal solution for little ones (or their parents!) who are sensitive to light. If that’s not an option, a pop-up tent travel cot is an effective way of creating a bit of a cocoon around your sleeping baby – it doesn’t block out all the light but is better than nothing, and will keep her safe from biting insects too.

There’s lots more practical advice about camping with babies and toddlers in my dedicated post on the subject. Lots of it is relevant for camping at festivals – using pillowcases rather than suitcases for clothes, for example, and ideas for baby bedding – but don’t worry about the section on bath time as it’s unlikely you’ll have the facilities to do it properly at a festival. Baby wipes are your friend here.

Getting around

A man pushes a child in a pushchair at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl in her three-wheeled pushchair at WOMAD Festival, 2018.

A pushchair – ideally one with big wheels – is essential festival kit, as far as I’m concerned. I did Glastonbury last year with the baby girl (aged 9 months) in just a sling and it was exhausting. The combination of her weight and a backpack full of baby paraphernalia was just too much, a situation made worse by the fact that she would only sleep in the sling if I was standing up. At festivals this summer I’ve been able to put her to bed in the pushchair (see below), wearing ear defenders, and stay out late, whereas at Glastonbury last year I had to put her to bed in the van each night and miss out on the fun.

You could probably do a festival with just a sling with a smaller baby, and someone to help lug the baby stuff, if you really wanted to, but I don’t see why you would. By all means bring a sling, because it will definitely come in handy at some stage, but a pushchair just makes everything a lot easier (and doubles as a means of transporting your camping gear from the car park to the campsite). Just don’t forget the rain cover. And if you’re taking a pushchair with pneumatic tyres (which I highly recommend as they offer a much smoother ride over bumpy ground), remember to bring a bicycle pump and puncture repair kit.

Feeding and snacks

A toddler in a sun hat eats corn at a gig at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl munching on corn on the cob in a pause from dancing along at WOMAD Festival.

Jars and pouches of readymade baby food come in very handy at festivals, along with non-perishable healthy snacks such as oat bars, rice cakes, baby crisps, nuts and dried fruit. You don’t want to be queuing up and paying over the odds for food every time your little one gets peckish. And while it’s unlikely you’ll be doing much cooking, it makes sense to bring muesli or cereal for breakfast so you’re not having to leave the campsite before you’re ready to start the day proper.

For bottle-fed babies, pre-sterilised bottles, while wasteful, are the easiest and most hygienic way to go, given that you probably won’t have access to hot water for washing up. The other option is to use cold water sterilising tablets, which I’ve written about how to use elsewhere on this blog. Bottles of ready-mixed formula are much more convenient than messing around with powder with a grubby festival happening all around you.

Sleeping and naps

Part of the fun of being at a festival is the freedom from the usual routines, so it makes sense to come with a more relaxed attitude to napping and bed time. That said, foregoing naps altogether is a recipe for disaster for most small children – it’s a matter of finding the right balance for your family.

In any case, a festival is such a stimulating environment that your little one will probably just conk out of her own accord in the pushchair or sling at some point. If you can anticipate that happening, try to put on her ear defenders before she does so that you’re free to explore without worrying about noisy gigs waking her up or damaging her hearing. A pushchair sleep shade is handy for keeping the sun off her while she’s napping during the day and for blocking out bright lights at night time.

When it comes to bed time, we tend to do our usual bedtime routines at the campsite (pyjamas, teeth brushing, sleeping bag, story) then take the baby girl out with us in the pushchair. She doesn’t normally fall asleep until long after her usual 7pm bedtime, and sometimes we even get her out of the pushchair for a run around if she wants to, but eventually tiredness gets the better of her.

What to pack

A toddler wearing ear defenders watches a gig in a tent at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl in her ear defenders enjoying a gig at WOMAD Festival, 2018

These days you can buy almost anything at a festival, so it’s not the end of the world if you forget something essential. But in an ideal world, on top of all the usual festival essentials (cash, phone booster battery, etc), you’ll need:

For babies and toddlers
Sunscreen
Sun hat
Ear defenders
Plastic-coated picnic blanket
Extra baby wipes
First aid kit
Infant paracetamol/ibuprofen
Baby sleeping bag
Sling

For toddlers only
Waterproof jacket and trousers
Non-toxic permanent marker for writing your phone number on your toddler in case she wanders off

Getaway plan

In all likelihood it’ll all go smoothly and you’ll have an awesome time but when you’re travelling with a little one it’s reassuring to have a getaway plan in case unforeseen circumstances (torrential rain, for example) make you wish you were elsewhere.

Write a list of important phone numbers and keep it in your wallet so you’ve got them handy in case your phone dies. Have a look to see where the nearest hospital with an A&E department is, and write that down too. On arrival, make sure wherever you’ve left your car will be accessible throughout the festival in case you need to drive off early. Or if you’re going by public transport, do some research as to how you would reach the nearest station or bus stop in a hurry. Finally, in the event that you needed to leave late at night or just couldn’t face camping for some reason, what’s the accommodation situation like nearby?

Have fun!

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.

Sun protection for babies and toddlers

Taking your little one out in hot weather can be nerve-wracking. So here are some tips on how to protect that perfect skin from the sun, whether you’re on holiday somewhere exotic or adventuring close to home.

It’s best to keep babies and children out of direct sunlight entirely, particularly at the hottest time of the day, between 11am and 3pm. Put your little one in lightweight clothing so she’s as covered up as possible and use baby-safe sunscreen on any exposed areas. For visits to the beach, swimming pool or paddling pool, a UV-protection suit and hat provide excellent coverage. A sun tent (I like this pop-up one that doubles as a travel cot) means you’ve always got somewhere shady to lay your baby down.

Sunscreen

La Restinga beach
Hanging out in the late afternoon winter sunshine on El Hierro in the Canary Islands

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (this tells you how much protection the sunscreen offers from UVB radiation) of at least 30 and a UVA star rating of four or five to get maximum coverage. My paediatric dermatologist friend recommends the Australian brand SunSense – it doesn’t actually include a separate UVA rating because in Australia all sunscreens must screen UVA as well as UVB. An SPF50+ sunscreen will filter out at least 98% of UV radiation.

Remember that sunscreen can go off, particularly if the bottle has been left in the sun for extended periods. Have a look for an expiry date on the packaging; if there isn’t one, use it within a year. If you notice the cream has a strange consistency or smell, that probably means it’s degraded, which means it’ll offer less effective sun protection and might even cause irritation to your child’s skin.

Apply sunscreen when doing your baby’s final nappy change before leaving the house – it’s much easier to get consistent coverage when your little one is naked. Apply it all over just in case – you never know when a toddler might decide to strip off, and you want her to be protected if when she does. The easiest way to apply sunscreen to a baby or toddler is with a roll on; these small bottles are expensive for the quantity you get, so I suggest buying a big bottle and making your own roll on from an empty roll-on deodorant – just pop the ball out with a spoon, wash and refill.

Persuading a wriggling toddler to let you apply sunscreen can be challenging, particularly when you’re already out and about and she wants to be dashing around. For some reason the baby girl loves putting on cream (it might be because I used to do a bit of baby massage at bedtime so it’s got cuddly associations for her, but really, who knows?) so I tend to make a big thing of sunscreen, to make it seem like a treat rather than something tedious to be endured. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if your little one has been in water.

On the move

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

Most pushchair brands make a sun canopy you can attach to keep your baby in the shade when on the move. Personally I find the canopy easier to use than attaching a parasol. A pushchair sleep shade will give you even fuller coverage for when your baby is sleeping.

Now that the baby girl is a bit bigger she hardly ever lets us put the sun canopy up, so it’s a matter of covering up with clothing, a hat (if she can be persuaded to wear a hat; and it’s a big if – I’d welcome tips on how to talk her into it!) and sunscreen.

For a babies in a front-carrying sling, all you need is a hat and sunscreen for her hands and feet. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat yourself can offer extra coverage. Backpack carriers, where your child is high up on your back, often come with a built-in or attachable sun canopy – make sure yours has one before investing.

Dealing with sunburn

If your baby or toddler gets sunburnt, get her out of the sun as soon as possible. Talk to your GP – they may want to see your child to check that the sunburn isn’t severe. In the meantime, cool the skin by applying a damp muslin square or flannel for 15 minutes a few times a day, give her tepid baths, and get her to drink plenty of fluids to cool her down and prevent dehydration. Apply water-based moisteriser (oil-based products can worsen burns) to relieve any itching and give baby paracetamol or ibuprofen if the sunburn is causing her pain.

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Sightseeing with babies and toddlers

There’s a temptation, once children come along, to abandon cultural holiday experiences like galleries, historic houses and cathedrals in favour of guaranteed child-friendly pursuits like beaches, waterparks or camping. I’m certainly not knocking that type of holiday (you can read my post on camping with babies and toddlers here, in fact) – I just want to make fellow parents aware that it’s not the only option available. When it comes to unweaned babies in particular, sightseeing with your offspring is not really very different from sightseeing child-free.

You don’t even need to be on holiday to enjoy these sorts of sightseeing excursions. Parental leave is a great opportunity to get to know your own back yard a bit better, whether that’s visiting a gallery for the first time, ticking a major tourist attraction off your list or exploring the sightseeing possibilities of a nearby city or town. There are only so many ‘rhyme time’ and baby swimming sessions you can go to in a week anyway, so why not mix it up by swapping into holiday mode and taking your offspring to see something new?

Timings: feeding, nappies and naps

A pushchair covered with a SnoozeShade on the concourse at Waterloo Station
Snoozing at Waterloo Station en route to Strawberry Hill House

Travelling at nap time (the baby girl has always been a good buggy sleeper, but I appreciate that not everyone is so lucky) increases the chance that your little one will be alert, cheery and interested in whatever you’re seeing when you get there. I try and give the baby girl lunch or a snack when we arrive (read my post on eating out with babies and toddlers), but before we start the experience proper, for the same reason. Eating and drinking isn’t allowed outside specific areas at a lot of attractions, so it makes sense to fuel up before you go in. This is less of a consideration for unweaned babies as you’ll usually be able to find somewhere to feed a small baby, whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding.

Some attractions are excellently equipped with myriad baby change toilets, but many are not – at historic houses in particular the facilities are often in an out building far away, for example. Doing a pre-emptive nappy change on arrival means there’s one less thing to think about as you’re wandering around (though obviously a code brown situation could occur at any moment, particularly if your baby is very little).

A trip to a nearby playground or soft play place after you’ve finished your visit is an excellent way of letting your toddler blow off some steam. If I’m planning an excursion and it’s a toss up between two attractions, the proximity of a playground can be a useful deciding factor.

Whatever the age and mobility of the little one you’re sightseeing with, be less ambitious in your planning than you would be if you were child-free, and factor in lots of breaks. Lugging a baby around, even a newborn, is more tiring than sightseeing solo, and you’ll need to stop to feed her every couple of hours anyway. Going anywhere with a toddler takes forever – leave extra time for those moments when she won’t get back in the buggy, walks off mid-nappy change, loses a shoe, etc, etc, etc.

Essential kit

A toddler wearing a bag that looks like a bee at the top of the stairs at the Gothic masterpiece Strawberry Hill House
Action shot of the girl and her bee bag at Strawberry Hill House

You’re likely to have a pram with you, so will need to factor that into your travel planning (see my blog post on public transport with a pushchair for tips). That said, you should be prepared to leave your buggy at the entrance of the attraction you’re visiting, as not all of them are accessible to pushchairs. It’s worth calling ahead to check the pushchair policy, and make sure you’ve got a sling with you just in case. (On a recent visit to Ham House and Garden in West London, where you have to leave your buggy at the door, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they have a few slings available for parents to borrow – well played National Trust, well played.)

Don’t forget to transfer any essentials (bottles, muslins, nappy change wallet) from the pram into your bag so you’ve got everything you need with you. It’s better to take a little longer to get yourself sorted at arrival than have the faff of returning to the pram for something important later on.

I wasn’t sure about toddler reins in the past, but I’ve become a fan since the baby girl started walking. She has a little bee backpack with a sort of leash attached to it, which has come in very handy on recent visits to historic houses. It’s extremely rare that I would actually use the leash to halt her progress, but it’s comforting to know that I could if I needed to, particularly if there are stairs around. The baby girl doesn’t like holding my hand most of the time when we’re out and about (I’m pleased she’s so independent of course, but this does make me just a bit teensy bit sad, I must admit), but the backpack means I can keep her close.

Where to visit

Your options are almost limitless when it comes to sightseeing with a babe-in-arms, but there’s more to think about once your little one is crawling or walking. ‘Family-friendly’ attractions, often involving either animals or the great outdoors – I’m thinking aquariums, zoos, city farms and botanical gardens – will be almost guaranteed fun for your toddler and entertaining for you too. More ‘grown-up’ attractions need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Here are a few tips based on my sightseeing adventures with the baby girl…

Museums and galleries

There’s no hard and fast rule about which museums and galleries will make you feel welcome when visiting with a toddler, but I’d usually go for a large institution over a small one. In general, the more rooms there are to explore the more likely you are to be able to find somewhere for your child to run around/have a bit of a shout and not disturb other visitors. Smaller institutions also tend to be more tightly packed with exhibits, always a bit of a worry if your child has trouble with the notion of ‘look but don’t touch’. I’ve covered visiting museums and galleries elsewhere on the blog – you can read that post here.

Places of worship

A buggy in a Byzantine-style chapel
The baby girl snoozes in the pram at Westminster Cathedral

Churches and other places of worships are always welcoming in my experience. You wouldn’t necessarily think that a church would hold much interest for a toddler but the combination of lots of space – including high ceilings, which little ones often find pretty impressive – and unusual acoustics make them a surprisingly diverting outing.

Historic houses

Historic houses can be great but make sure you do some research ahead of time so you don’t end up at a stately home full of priceless antiques – paranoia about your toddler breaking something doesn’t make for a relaxing experience. What you’re looking for is the type of historic house that’s all about the architecture, gardens, etc, rather than a treasured furniture collection. (We had a great time at Strawberry Hill House and Garden – I pretty much let the baby girl run around at will because the rooms were mainly empty and it wasn’t busy on the day of our visit.)

Another good rule of thumb is to go for a historic house that runs events for young children. Even if there’s nothing suitable for toddlers specifically, the fact that the team there will be used to having kids around is a good indicator that you’ll be made welcome.

A fun activity to do with toddlers at historic houses (this works for galleries and museums too) is to hunt for animals in paintings, tapestries or stained-glass windows. When it comes to your own enjoyment of the place you’re visiting, forget the idea of reading any of the information boards or a guide book if you’re there with a toddler – your attention will be too divided for such demanding intellectual pursuits. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an informed experience however – I’ve found myself chatting to volunteers at historic houses much more than I ever used to, apologising in advance for the moment when I’ll inevitably have to rudely dash out of the room after the baby girl mid-conversation.

Essential kit, number 10: buggy clips

A loaded up pushchair on a trainI try to pack light for adventures with the baby girl, but I rarely succeed. Which is where buggy clips come in. I keep the pram rain cover, a SnoozeShade and the sling in the basket under the pram, so everything else – from nappy changing stuff to spare clothes and from toys to snacks – has to go on the handle bar. You can buy changing bags designed to hang directly from the pram, but I’ve never found one I like the look of, so I tend to use a large shopper and buggy clips instead.

The clips come in handy in plenty of other situations too, for shopping, as a secure place to keep my handbag when I’m not wearing it, and for the baby girl’s lunch box when I’m feeding her in the buggy.

There are various styles available, but I like the ones that are essentially large climbing carabiners with a bit of foam covering the metal to stop them slipping along your pram handle or scratching the chassis. The other options, which attach to the pram with Velcro, feel less secure somehow. Depending on the model of your pram and how much you care about it getting scratched, the foam may not be all that useful – if that’s the case for you, search online for ‘large carabiners’ rather than ‘buggy clips’. The results will be less expensive than the ones made with parents in mind.

A woman feeds a child in a pram in a decorated town square
Out for the evening with an overloaded pushchair on our trip to the Canaries

 

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

Essential kit, number 9: buggy organiser

A close up of a buggy organiser hanging from a buggy, full of stuff.
Buggy organiser: truly essential kit for baby adventuring, whether near or far.

It’s amazing how many things you can squeeze into a buggy organiser. Keys, mobile and travel pass for starters, but less obvious items too. If you spend a lot of time walking your  sleeping baby around in her pushchair, headphones are an essential, whether for hand-free phone calls or sanity-restoring podcasts. Lip balm is good to have in cold weather and a pack of tissues is invaluable. If it’s bright enough outside for sunglasses, they need to go somewhere when you’re not wearing them – your buggy organiser is a much better place than on top of your head. Cash machines are never where you need to them to be, so a spare tenner is a must.

When the baby girl was very small and I was still in that phase of breastfeeding where you’re parched and ravenous all the time, I kept the buggy organiser stocked up with snacks and drinks. Now that she’s bigger, it’s still packed with snacks, but they’re for her, not me, and my keep cup has been supplanted by her sippy cup.

You’ll usually find an emergency toy car in there somewhere, and room is always made for a bottle of Calpol when the baby girl is teething. In goes her hat every time she decides she’s taking it off, thank you very much, ditto her shoes and socks. The buggy organiser is where we stow the baby girl’s ear defenders between gigs at festivals, and it’s a handy place to keep passports and boarding passes at the airport too.

There are lots of different styles to choose from, but I love the Grab & Go Stroller Organizer from Skip Hop. Insulating material keeps your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot, it’s spacious, and it comes with a detachable purse so you can leave your pushchair somewhere and easily take your valuables with you. Particularly in the early days, I don’t know what I would have done without it.

Questions to ask before booking self-catering accommodation for you and your baby or toddler

A baby crawls along a corridor in an old house, past some shoes
The baby girl on one of her frequent journeys up and down the corridors at Sackville House, a beautiful 16th-century property in East Grinstead where we stayed when she was 15-months-old.

The first thing to check before booking an apartment or villa is whether babies and toddlers are welcome. Weirdly, not all property owners like the idea of small people puking on their sofas and slamming toy cars onto their coffee tables, and it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.

It’s worth mentioning the fact that you’re travelling with children in an email so if it comes to it later, you’ve got a paper trail. The baby girl’s grandfather fell foul of an incompetent letting agent recently and it was only because he could prove that he’d notified them that the baby girl would be coming along with us that they refunded him his deposit and found us another property at a discounted rate when the mistake was discovered several months later.

Ticking the ‘family/kid friendly’ box when searching on sites like Airbnb can be a time saver, or you can book via a dedicated family friendly letting agent – I haven’t tried any yet myself but there are lots available online. This is a good option if you like the idea of staying somewhere that provides absolutely everything, from baby monitor to nappy change station.

The next question to ask is what equipment they provide for babies and toddlers. This is less of an issue for UK bookings, as it’s not that much trouble to pack a travel cot and high chair, but for foreign trips you want to avoid lugging lots of stuff with you if possible.

As far as essentials are concerned, cots are usually available, though quality can vary. If your baby is very particular about where she sleeps, consider bringing your own travel cot. High chairs are less common, but not difficult to get hold of, if requested. It’s a good idea to bring a fabric chair harness with you, just in case – they’re very light and don’t take up any space in your luggage.

Less important, but extremely useful nonetheless is a microwave for warming up bottles and baby food, and a bathtub. We usually bring a mini inflatable paddling pool with us just in case it turns out that only a shower is available – more on this in my ‘essential kit’ post.

It’s worth asking about the layout of the property. If it has stairs, are stairgates available? This is a deal breaker for a lot of parents – whether or not you think they’re necessary depends on you and your child. Other safety concerns are fireplaces and wood burning stoves, which most likely come with a fire guard of some kind but perhaps not one robust enough to keep a curious toddler out of harm’s way.

In terms of access, how easy will it be to get in and out of the property with a pushchair? And once you’re in, is there somewhere to store it without folding it? If you’re renting a flat on an upper floor, is there a lift, or can you leave the buggy downstairs?

Stairs aren’t the only layout consideration. If you don’t usually share a bedroom with your child, how do you feel about doing so on holiday? Getting an additional bedroom is the most obvious solution, but such a choice usually has cost implications. A bedroom with a well ventilated walk-in wardrobe or ensuite bathroom can work almost as well if you don’t want to fork out for a separate room for your child.

Parents of very noise-sensitive babies and toddlers might want to enquire as to the location of your little one’s bedroom in relation to the street and to the room where you’ll be hanging out most of the time. You really don’t want to spend your evenings whispering and tiptoeing around the place while you’re meant to be relaxing. Parents of very light-sensitive sleepers will find it most convenient to pack a travel black-out blind in case the curtains aren’t up to scratch.

In terms of the local area, it’s handy to have a shop that sells milk and other essentials nearby and, if you’re staying somewhere for a while, a place to play. This could be a park with a play area, a local library, a beach or a child-friendly museum.

All that said, while the presence or absence of certain features in a holiday let might make your stay a bit easier, it’s not like it’s going to make or break your time away. Ask the right questions before you book so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, make sure you’ve got essentials like a cot and high chair, and the everything else will work itself out in the end.

A man and a baby walk down a tiled corridor in an apartment.
Slippery floor tiles in our apartment in El Hierro made walking practice that bit more difficult, but the baby girl took it all in her stride.

 

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