This post is about travelling with a bébé. No matter how organised you are (or you think you are) when you travel with your miniyou, you will inevitably feel like a backpacker. If, like me, at 18 years old you specifically avoided doing the “backpacking thang” because you can’t pack for sh!t and you didn’t fancy hauling your home around on you back, this will come as a rather unwelcome surprise. Buuuuut by now we’ve established having a baby is a bit like being permanently hooked up to an electric shock machine so – fine – let’s get on.
Why would one travel with a bébé?
Travelling is not easy. Don’t be under any illusions. It is fun but it is confusing for everyone.
Your planning will depend largely on bébé and their routine. We have adopted a fairly chilled routine and found Bébé FF has fallen naturally into his own schedule. He’s a fairly regular creature. I’ve also resigned myself to the fact I’m unlikely to have a REAL nights’ sleep for a while. I’m ok with that. Overall he’s not too phased by travel, but that could be because we’ve been on the go since he made his own dramatic journey into the world.
Our major travel incentive is family. Just to recap, Bébé FF is half French, and his French relatives reside – unsurprisingly – in la belle France. As such we spend a fair amount of time en route to or from France. He’s also got strong Yorkshire roots, meaning that we hit the M1 Northbound frequently. In addition to all this, Mr FF has itchy pieds. He can’t stay still and he likes to be on a train/plane/cruising in the voiture as often as possible. Since Bébé FF joined us at the start of this year, we have done more travelling than some people do in a year. Or even two. And there’s more to come. Long haul. Yikes. So we have to have a strong travel game. I should caveat, at this point, you may think you have the Olympic gold in travel game one week, and then Bébé gets a tooth or a bug or learns to crawl and you’re out. Game over. I don’t purport to be an expert. However, if this is vaguely helpful to anyone thinking about travelling, it will be worth it. This is how we do it:
How does one travel with a bébé?
~ think about logistics. You’re no longer able to run for flights and jump onto transit trains whilst simultaneously sipping a mochachocafrapucchino and reading Grazia. You have a small person and a shedload of paraphenalia. Pick a flight at a time you can manage both in terms of getting there and bebe’s normal routine. If bébé is usually in bed at 7pm, an evening journey might not be sensible. Also factor in all the journey time. You may land at 6pm, but you’ve got to get your luggage and then get out of the airport and then get home. It’s obvious but when you’re sleep-deprived anything can happen.
~ find out what you can beg/borrow/steal on location. Think sleeping equipment, car seat, buggy even. Do you need to take everything?
~ find out where you are seated on the train or plane. The more space you’ve got the better. If on a long haul flight, you’re aiming for a front row with a baby bed. Not all seats can accommodate an infant so be sure to check when you book – you can’t sit in seats by the emergency exit for example. On the train, a table can double up as baby seat/bed and even change (sorry fellow commuters but needs must).
– think about whether your day-to-day survival mum bag is necessary for the trip or do you need to upgrade to a bigger bag. If flying, check your luggage allowance with bébé as you’re generally allowed extra, up to two bags per person, but it depends which airline and which flight seats you’ve got.
~ nappies and wipes; always take more than you expect. Standard.
~ change of clothes on your person at all times. And a bag for the dirties. Poo-smeared everything isn’t a good look. Or smell. Nappy sacs are good on the go, or a dedicated waterproof zippy bag. On our first flight Bébé FF did a strategic poop as we were waiting to board the plane. Not just any poop, but a full on body-covering explosive Poonami. Up the back and out of the sides. Dripping. Cue dramatic clothing change whilst all the passengers on the plane waited patiently for Mr FF to master the crotch poppers. Which one clips where? Under pressure this question is doubly hard. We located the zippy poo bag (a present kindly accept by Grandmere F upon arrival – mums are just legendary at washing stuff aren’t they!) and scrambled on to the plane; the air hostess whispered to us “whenever you are ready, we are ready.” With a smile she handed over the special mini seatbelt, Bébé FF snuggled in and we were off.
~ milk / water/ Bébé food for the journey. If you’re using your boobs, nice one, less to carry and be “tested” as you go through security. On our last flight we had two baby sippy cups of water; one made it through unnoticed, the other was retrieved and tested. A very panicked security chap came to us brandishing the sippy cup, eyed Bébé FF and declared “ce n’est pas de l’eau. Ce n’est pas possible.” Then he glared at us. A moment of terrible guilt flooded over me – my cleaning and sterilising skills are so sub-par the Evian water is unrecognisable. L’horreur. After filling out a number of forms (in English, security guy “c’est quoi “name”?”) and being detained in a dark room under spotlights (not really but the frenchies can be a bit dramatic) it turned out their machine was broken. Phew. Bébé FF proceeded to tip the cup all over the chair and himself in any event, thus rendering the whole process superfluous.
~ bottles/ sterilising equipment (we use microwave bags)/ cleaning brush/ milk/porridge for the whole trip. Apparently you can pre-order milk / milk products from Boots at the airport and pick it up when you get there. If you take this as carry on it could significantly reduce your check-in luggage weight. Thank you Ali for this great tip – we will be trying this on the next journey.
You probably know that the number one cause of baby screaming on flights is the air pressure hurting their ears. Like when you were little and someone told you to suck a sweet, the best way to avoid severe earache for Bébé (and therefore for all surrounding passengers) is to get Bébé to suck. On your nipple, on a bottle teat, on a dummy, on your finger. The hardest part with this is (a) getting the timing right so that you don’t run out of suckable things on the runway whilst you wait 20 minutes for every other plane under the sun to depart (b) not inadvertently over-feeding to the point you cause a vomito. As it happens our inaugural plane vomito was a bug-aggh-boo but it could happen.
~ chewy colourful rattly crinkly bulky toys, ideally of a size that when launched at a neighbour it will scare the living daylights out of them. Self-explanatory.
~ car seat – think about whether you need one and if hiring a car, is it more economical to bring your own – anything over 5 days ish with a daily hire charge for a car seat you may be as well taking your own. We got a simple luminous blue bag to transport ours (Amazon prime – Blulu). It has straps to carry on your back. As I said, the backpacker look is inevitable. Embrace it. Go bright blue. Ours attractively hit the back of my knees as I was walking so I looked like I was about to collapse with each step. #winning
~ sling / baby carrier – so helpful as it gives you some hands free time and may be useful for lulling bebe to sleep or if they get fidgety. Mine also sometimes doubles up as a feeding cover.
~ something from your bebe’s bed. This is to help bébé transition from their normal bed to their travel bed/cot. So far we’ve been lucky enough to have travel beds wherever we’ve been. We have taken Bébé FFs sheepskin liner (thanks to Grandma + Grandpa) and his “main” bed teddy, a muslin that’s been in his bed and near mummy, and a dummy. I’m not going to lie, we’ve not had 100% success – if it’s too hot or noisy or the mattress is not comfy then Bébé FF ain’t gonna sleep. Also if you’re sharing a room with bebe and you don’t usually do this, it will also make it harder for everyone to sleep. Worst case scenario they come in avec vous. You may not sleep but bébé probably will.
~ Bébé suncream, sun hat and bébé swimwear – ideally the body-covering SPF 50 and UV protection 40+ business. Bebe’s skin is super sensitive to the sun. Technically they shouldn’t go in the sun, like ever, but practically it is impossible unless you stay in your bedroom all holiday. Non merci. You have just got to be careful. Bébé FF has eczema so we have the added bonus of special creams and extra emollients before and after swims. We do also have some “Baby banz” which look like goggles and act like sunglasses. Bébé FF is deeply confused by them and usually they only stay on for a few minutes (enough time for me to snap and give the illusion he’s loving them…malheureusement non.)
~ fewer clothes than you think. They are small but they take up space. If it’s hot, Bébé will be in vests, swimwear and nappies. If it’s chilly, with careful surveillance and lots of bibs that will take the bulk of the dribble and food spillage, you can probably get a couple of wears out of stuff.
~ muslins. Take hundreds. The big swaddle ones are amazeboobs. Use them to wrap Bébé, shade Bébé, cover Bébé, cover the floor, cover the bed, prop up in a seat or high chair, and generally waft Bébé with cool air (makes them giggle – best.thing.ever.). Also good for stated use of mopping up milk/ débris.
~ passports and booking details. We are beyond tired. I’ve left the house before without them.* Nuff said.
*pre-bébé, don’t tell anyone.
Travel BONUS BALLS
~ you’ve heard me rave about it before, but the Babyzen yoyo pram is a legendary luxury for nipping around the airport and onto the plane. Bebes quickly become heavy and wriggly. If you can persuade them to sit in the yoyo you save yourself armache and tears. You’re also going to be holding on to your wriggler for the duration of the journey (unless you get a little bed on longer flights), so it’s good to get some space and air before you get snuggly. The Babyzen folds up and can be carried on to the plane (although you may still have to explain this to the airport staff).
~ lavender and camomile – scents, oils, creams, bath products. These help Bébé relax and calm down for bed or travel. We have lavender in his room at home so I try to take a little pot of lavender soothing night balm with us. I’m not convinced it does much and I usually forget I’ve even brought it (story of my life) but if nothing else it smells good when I do find it.
~ baby flotation devices for the pool. We got one from Amazon and also they have them in Decathlon. Bébé FF loves it and it means we can have hands free a bit whilst letting him cool down and bobble around.
~ water spritz. Often readily available in France, not so much in the UK, v handy for sweaty Bébé and parents. Cools and calms. Could also be used to clean scruffy hands and may be occasionally mistaken for deodorant. N.B. won’t go through security if bigger than 100 mls unless you can persuade them it’s for bebe. We managed this once and were pretty pleased with ourselves. Partly because we paid ten times the normal price on Amazon for a blumming Evian water spray. It is just a can of water after all. Very handy, but just water.
~ travel portion of Napisan – cold water soak on the go.
~ emergency snacks for you. Hanger when in a foreign place is not pretty.
~ your stuff e.g. the luxurious old pants, bras and breast pads. (If you’re breastfeeding don’t forget these as they aren’t necessarily easily available in the corner store and stinky milk bra is doubly unpleasant after a week in the heat. For some reason I am incapable of packing an appropriate number of these and end up running short and having to improvise.) As a mama bear your own packing is lowest on the list of priorities. In the past months I’ve travelled with fewer clothes than ever before, I’ve even forgotten to pack things like pants and sunglasses. It doesn’t matter and you survive. But take a moment to remember you are going away too, and you may actually enjoy the trip once you are there.
Good luck and bon voyage ❤