Attention new mamas and mothers-to-be: you might be daunted by the idea of travelling with a newborn, but at Smith & Family we’re all about paving the way for happy family travels. We know all the best baby-friendly boutique escapes, plus, Lord knows, nobody’s as deserving of a holiday than a new mum. But don’t just take our word for it: here, food and travel writer Nicky Evans sings the praises of travel with a baby…
Having taken my son to the Canary Islands when he was two months old, and to the Caribbean three months later, I now take a glass-half-full approach to travelling with a young baby – it’s not just possible; it can, in some ways, actually be preferable. OK, so maybe nothing beats a carefree break à deux. But rather than leave your baby with relatives or give up your holiday habit altogether, here are a few benefits to bringing a baby on board.
For one thing, new parents laugh in the face of jetlag. We’re used to sleeping for only two hours at a time, functioning for long stretches on little to no sleep, and feeling foggy-headed around the clock. Young babies, too, barely register the time change – being used to regular naps, they quickly adjust if you maintain your routine, and a poker face.
Incentive number two: a baby is a ticking time bomb: as soon as the little one hits school age, you’ll be obliged to go on holiday during the high-season crush, paying over-hiked prices. On the other hand, with a baby, you can travel whenever you like. What’s more, with one parent on maternity leave, only one of you has to beg for time off work. Still need convincing? Under-twos only pay taxes for their flight, as they don’t require a seat.
The flight… Although I can’t deny that going long-haul with an infant can be challenging, there are actually great benefits to flying en famille. Firstly, with a decent airline your luggage allowance increases dramatically – and if you’re staying somewhere with a washing machine or laundry service, then you can guiltlessly claim that extra space for yourself. So wave goodbye to the finely balanced capsule wardrobe and carry on the kitchen sink.
Flying with a baby also means getting the best seats in the house – well, the best in economy at least. Bassinets are located in the bulkhead of the plane – the seats with free extra legroom that most passengers try to blag. Since this spot is also close to the toilets, you’re likely to attract a number of baby groupies (usually middle-aged women) during the journey. In the best-case scenario, they will offer to take the little one off your hands for a few minutes to enjoy a harmless nostalgia hit. This allows you – and your grateful neighbours – to take a break.
If a difficult flight leaves you stripped of all positivity, just repeat this mantra: at least I didn’t travel with a toddler. As soon as your baby starts moving, flights will become an unending nightmare of roaming up and down the aisles, saying (or shouting) ‘No’, managing tantrums, and apologising to other passengers. Babies, conversely, sleep a lot, are easily distracted and can be entertained on your lap.
In any case, you’ll appreciate your baby once more when you reach the airport. Some passport control stations have special lanes for young families, with much shorter queues, while others allow travellers with young babies to jump straight to the front – look out for ‘special assistance’ lanes.
All of these benefits come before you even reach your accommodation – and this is where the fun really starts. Most new parents will tell you that their brilliantly organised lives were smashed to pieces by the new arrival. For me, the worst casualty was my fastidiously tidy house. So imagine my ecstasy at rediscovering hotel housekeeping services: having someone tidy up after you and your baby once – if not twice – a day is a holiday in itself, believe me.
Then there’s the fact that you will likely eat some or all of your meals out, meaning no food shopping, cooking or washing up (all of which feel like almost impossible feats with a newborn baby). Add to this the listening-in and sitting services, which allow you to recharge your batteries and take time out as a couple again, and you’ll soon reacquaint yourselves with the people you were before you became Mummy and Daddy.
Wherever you’re planning to travel, you will find that most countries are more naturally baby-loving than Britain – being accompanied by an under-two will elevate you to near-celebrity status. Embrace the extra attention lavished upon you by taxi drivers, waiters, shop assistants, hotel staff and passers-by – the universal language of babies opens the door to a lot of kindnesses.
Last but not least, if anyone deserves a luxury holiday, it’s a couple of stressed-out first-time parents. So book your first family trip with an open mind: before you know it, you’ll be planning the next one…
TEN TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH A BABY
• Before you travel, check what necessities – mosquito nets, sterilisers, etc – your accommodation can provide, and whether there is a washing machine and/or laundry service.
• Book your flight with a good airline: you don’t need the hassle of stingy baggage allowances, oversized luggage charges and free-for-all seating.
• Buy a car seat that is FAA-registered. These can be used during the flight in place of bassinet seats – handy if you board when the baby is asleep.
• Pack a sling in your hand luggage – pop your baby in it for naps (especially during daytime flights) to keep your hands free.
• Feed your baby during take-off and landing to minimise the pressure difference and avoid discomfort to their ears.
• Use sterilising tablets – they are easy to use and far less bulky than electrical equipment (though your hotel may be able to provide sterilising equipment or even do it for you).
• Fill a spritz bottle with cold water for an instant cool down in a hot climate – an easy way to reduce the risk of infant dehydration.
• Buy a beach tent for pop-up shade – it will give you and your partner much more beach time and provide privacy for feeds.
• Do plan sightseeing trips – but be realistic about how much you can fit in around feeds and naps.
• Remember that newborns are perfectly portable if you want to have dinner out, but babysitters or in-room dining services can help maintain their night-time routine.
Nicky Evans is a food and travel journalist and mother of one. She has written for publications and websites including BBC Food, Time Out and Square Meal, where she is currently News and Online Editor. She is also one of three women behind thirty-something lifestyle blog Everyday30.com. Follow her @Everyday30blog