It’s true: the spontaneity of going on a trip with a baby brings a whole new level of unpredictability. But unpredictability brings adventure. Kids get the most out of every moment they’re awake, and therefore as a parent, so do you. I’ve seen a lot more sunrises across Australia than I had before travelling with a tiny tot.
So, after 12 months of travelling with our baby girl, we’ve learnt a quite a few things. Expectations about how I thought we’d travel as a family have been tested, strategies for how to travel best as a family have been tried, but every trip we’ve undertaken has been an adventure. And most importantly, we’ve continued to travel and had a load of fun doing it!
Here’s a summary of the tips we’ve collected during our first year of family travel. We hope by sharing these it’ll inspire you, or help you tackle, a trip of your own:
- Don’t Be Afraid To Pack Minimally: Tiny travellers don’t care if they wear the same thing everyday. They just want to be comfortable. I tend to pack just 1-2 outfits per possible weather condition and wash as we go. We carry less, but the baby is always comfortable and covered.
- Pack What You Can’t Do Without: We often get raised eyebrows when we check in for a flight with a baby. We really don’t take absolutely everything we ‘might’ need, we favour packing the essentials only. We take:
- Travel cot (if not provided by accommodation – ask your accommodation before you go)
- Baby carrier
- Travel nappy/diaper change
- Clothes/nappies/blanket/toys (see ‘Play’)
- Water bottle (6 months+)
- Baby spoon (6-12 months)
- Know Your Accommodation: Ensure your accommodation helps you control the temperature: whether that’s air conditioning to keep you cool in summer, or good heating for winter, book your accommodation with these facilities so you can also carry less items with you to keep you and your baby comfortable.
- Managing Sleep Schedules: Whether your baby is on one, two, or three naps, we found that incorporating this ‘down time’ as part of your travel day a key to success. Babies can nap on planes, in their car seat, in a baby carrier facing in, or in a pram (if you travel with one). On every trip described in this blog, our day is pieced together around the baby’s naps. In our view, it hasn’t held us back and if anything, it forced us to stop and soak up the atmosphere more. Most importantly, our tiny traveller is getting the rest she needs to grow.
- Bed Familiarity: From 6 months onwards, we found travel cot familiarity a big help to overnight sleeping (including inevitable regressions). Where we could, we try to arrive at our destination before at least one of her naps so that she can sleep in it during the day. We found this familiarity really translated to her being more comfortable sleeping in her new environment at night.
- Toys Aren’t Us: We pack limited toys when we travel. Not only to reduce the number of items to lug (or lose!) on the road, but also we’ve found that our tiny traveller is far more interested in exploring her new environment than a toy from home. Here’s what we travel with:
- a few light books (for plane/car journeys and evening story time)
- a bed buddy (Miss One’s cuddle toy)
- 1-2 ‘toys of the moment’ (from 6-12 months we also travelled with a car mirror from home)
- Playground Patrol: We’ve added a new talent to our travel repertoire: playground spotting! With an active and adventurous kiddo, we found incorporating a stop at the local towns’ slide or swings an important part of travelling as a family towards the end of this first year. We make it work for us all: Miss One would play whilst we sip a morning coffee; or we go for a late afternoon walk to collect dinner ingredients (or dinner on the run).
Food (Solids: 6 months+)
- Meal planning: Since our tiny tot started on solids, we’ve found it really easy to manage her never ending appetite by meal planning (which we also do at home). We have found it best to plan 60-70% of the meals during a trip, leaving the remainder free to keep you flexible and versatile to eating out too.
- Pack a (weather friendly) picnic: Once your kid’s into trying big people food (aka. ‘solids’), it’s important to carry food that won’t spoil in the conditions you’re in. Perhaps that’s obvious, but if you’re travelling in conditions you’re unfamiliar with (heat/humidity if you’re from a cool climate; or the reverse) it’s quite salient. Not only for food safety reasons, but also to minimise your food wastage. Plain rice crackers/corn thins, bananas, cut apple/pear, and simple sandwiches are easy travel foods with minimal mess. Or carry a kid’s cool bag with an ice brick if you can manage.
*N.B. Our daughter was breastfed so our advice is skewed to her weaning to big people food from 6 months.
Health & Safety
- Slip Slop Slap: This is really important when travelling in Australia, but also across the world. Always carry a hat and sunscreen (for use 12 months+) and dress your child in sunsafe clothes (covered shoulders etc). It’s best to do outdoor activities early in the morning (until 10am) or in the late afternoon (3pm onwards). Shade is king.
- Pack a Family Medical Kit: From the get-go we travelled with a baby medical kit. Then we were dealt a lesson: it’s quite a challenge to remove a tick from an adult’s shoulder without any gear! Ever since, we pack medical essentials for both adults and babies, with the items dictated by the destination we’re headed to.
- Break A Big Journey Into Sections: Whether it’s a flight and car trip in one day, or a long road trip; plan out the journey into bite size pieces and work them in around your baby’s rhythm (your eat/play/sleep movements). Yes, it takes longer to get to where you are going. We do this on every journey and find it’s less stressful for everyone.
- Mimic everyday activities on holiday: What does your child’s regular day look like? For us, our daughter’s days are filled with play time, pram walks, and occasionally short (15-20 minute) car journeys. This rhythm is what is normal to her; we find she has less patient for different activities (e.g. in our case, travelling a lot in a car) so we ease her into these when we can.
- Planning Your Holiday Activities: Research the activities that you feel are baby-friendly for you before you go. Take that loose list with you. When you arrive, commit to the day’s activity on the day (and not before). This gives you the freedom to choose your adventures based on time, weather, baby temperament and the mood on the day. This way you’re not overcommitted, yet you still can have a “full” and fun time as a gang.
- Take It Slow: With every trip we take, the looser our itinerary is! We now travel with ‘nothing days’ included in our holiday plan. ‘Nothing days’ are those that we just hang out on holidays as we would at home: allowing our little girl to explore, eat at home, play on stairs or collect rocks from the garden. We have grown to enjoy these days and feel our travelling has improved. We really get to soak up a location these days.
- Most Importantly: Yes, travelling with a tot is more work. DO IT ANYWAY!