Travelling with a baby: Less stress, more fun

baby crawling on busy street
Our first trip with Mark happened when he just turned 3 months. We had enough of the miserable dark winter and my pregnancy and all the tiredness of first nights with disrupted sleep with a small baby. Zsolt and I definitely needed this vitamin sea.

My philosophy is that baby is happy when his mom is happy (of course, using the voice of reason) and in our case, as Mark was breastfed exclusively until 6 months, a healthy growing baby is when his mom is healthy. So following this logic the sun, sea, good food and beauty would not have hurt the baby either.

My family tried to talk us out of the idea of going on holiday, saying that Mark will not enjoy it, he might get sick and the key argument: “His ears will hurt so much when on the plane.”

So, how did it go?

The first thing – enjoyment. Hmmm, it’s hard to say when the baby is only three months old whether he enjoyed the trip. He did enjoy some things: being fed, being carried and taking a shower. He did not enjoy some others: sitting in the carrier too long, not being allowed to lick the floor or pull out my hair. When he learns to speak, I’ll definitely ask him, how he liked the holiday in general.

The second – getting sick. That I was fully prepared for. I mean, of course I don’t want my son to be ill, but babies do catch colds, get bad stomach or other sicknesses all the time, so there was a big chance he would get sick anyway, with or without us going to some warm place beforehand. So I judged that better we have a holiday. When we came back home, it was so cold and rainy that if he wouldn’t get sick we should have baptised him baby Arnold. But he did catch a cold, sneezed for a whole week and proved that he is a normal human baby.

Baby sleeping in his car-seat under the oldest olive tree in Crete
Baby sleeping in his car-seat under the oldest olive tree in Crete

Ok, but seriously, what might be useful to keep in mind when travelling with babies? Now, I have to note that I’m speaking just from my experience, and as it is usual with the babies – they are so different – and so might be your experience from mine. If you need a more detailed list of what you actually need to prepare for a relaxed flight, here is a rather comprehensive one. Here I am just sharing some things which worked for me in a way I would like to have read them before travelling with a baby myself. Because somehow anything concerning the baby and travel gets so stressful – but it doesn’t need to be.

The younger the baby, the easier it is to travel

Simple maths: a three-month old baby sleeps much more than a six month old, who in turn sleeps more than a one year old. Young babies are easier to please in a small space of a plane seat (especially if it is a Ryanair seat). And it costs significantly less to travel with a smaller child too.
Our three month old was happy with a breast or a bottle, a parent making funny faces for some odd one to one and a half hour, then a nappy change, a dummy, little carrying around, and the baby drifts to sleep. If you are lucky and/or your flight is short, he will sleep for the rest of the trip and you can now start reading your Lonely Planet guide (in a rather uncomfortable position, but hey!). Or even sleep. My husband performed that trick several times, but I’m a really bad plane-sleeper, with or without babies. Here are some tips, which can help, if you are like me.
And if the baby doesn’t sleep for the full duration of the flight, then just repeat the routine one, two, three times.

Our nine month old needed some action: crawling on his parents, being carried around the plane to look at other passengers, eating proper food (thank the inventor of the food pouches). Otherwise the routine is similar, though longer and more demanding, leaving you less room for your Lonely Planet guide.

With the one year old or older, prepare to spend the most of your flight walking up and down the aisle after the toddler, apologizing to the passengers, whom he managed to “engage” on his way. Ok, with toddler it will also really help to do some research on the gadgets, which can save you some energy and occupy your child (here is a good one to start with). You will have no time for your Lonely Planet guide, so either read it at home or prepare to explore the destination yourself. But! If you have your phone in your pocket or your Fitbit on, you’ll see that by the time of arrival you actually had a decent workout – all that without even landing yet! So now smile back at the passengers, who look at you with some compassion and go eat that local pastry! They don’t know that you actually can eat three pieces of cake a day AND come back home even fitter and leaner than before the holiday. Thank your toddler for that.

Don’t try to be a perfect mom/dad

I would even go further and say “generally don’t”, but let’s stick to the travelling. The harder or longer or more demanding the trip is, the fewer parenting principles from home I usually stick to. Some things which are normally not allowed now can make your life much easier while travelling.  I am speaking about cartoons or other “forbidden” playing with the phone, eating cookies, getting the clothes dirty.

And remember what I said before? Happy mother = happy baby. Or is it vice-versa?

Enjoying a coffee in London and a moment of peace
Enjoying a coffee in London and a moment of peace

When I was flying for the first time alone with Mark (1 year 2 months at that time) from London to Vilnius, the boarding was 2 hours delayed. Then the matters got even worse and we were stuck for one more hour in a little transit area between the gate and the exit to the plane. It was hot and crowded, Mark was tired and got very impatient sitting in the carrier. Throughout that trip we were saved by baby cookies (I had an emergency bag of them and it was an emergency indeed), Teletubbies in the airport corner and the fact that I allowed him to crawl on the floor getting completely and utterly dirty.

I believe though that I felt much less stressed than the mom of a child of similar age next to us, even though she had her husband and mother together), who was constantly shouting to her son to “watch his trousers.” The morale here is the following: when the times are tough, just let go of some perfectionism for a little while, just to keep you sane and relaxed to be able to actually enjoy the time on the arrival.

Cold jarred baby food is allowed

Zsolt and Mark enjoying an aperitivo in Iseo
Zsolt and Mark enjoying an aperitivo in Iseo

Before travelling with an over six months old baby I was also a “cook your baby fresh home-made food” adept. But when you are travelling, chances are that you leave the hotel in the morning and not come back til the evening. And chances are that there are not so many restaurants on your way, serving six month to one year old baby friendly food.

Of course, this period (of suffering) in your life is not so long, and soon you will find yourself able to feed your baby from the grown up table. But there is still a time in your child’s life, when he/she will eat quite a lot, but it still needs to be mashed, baby friendly and all that. And if you happen to travel in this period of time to a warm country, you will not be able to cook and bring the fresh home-made food for your baby with you. So in almost all countries you can just get jars with baby food, which do not even need to be refrigerated.

Baby in a restaurant with a view

When Mark was ten months old we went to Northern Italy and ended up hiking for a week around the lake Iseo. Mark didn’t have any teeth then, and even if he had and could chew restaurant food, there were no restaurants in the woods on Via Valeriana. And even if there were any, as any Italian restaurants, they would be closed/not serving lunch by the time we would come there (we have this kind of bad luck with Italian restaurants). So we had our jars with us, and no possibility to even heat them up, but we found out our son enjoyed them cold even more.

Baby carrier is a multitasker

 If your child sits in the carrier, don’t forget to take it with you on your trip. If your child doesn’t sit in it, do try different carriers before you give up completely.

The carrier has multiple functions for me during the travels:

1. It allows you to go to places, where you could never get with the stroller. We went through the woods and up and down the hills surrounding Lake Iseo in Italy. And in Crete you can’t really reach Balos so easily from the land.

Hiking to Balos and Gramvousa view point with a carrier
Hiking to Balos and Gramvousa view point with a carrier

2. You can put your child to sleep on the plane easier (and your hands are free to browse your phone) while you are walking up and down the aisle. I think if I didn’t have this option, I’d be very frustrated each time it takes Mark long time to fall asleep. But this way I just read all my emails and Facebook updates or read an e-book in offline mode.

Final thought

This is it for now. Of course, this will be followed by “Travelling with toddler”, “Travelling with two children” etc. And each time revisiting this section I will probably think: Oh, such naïve thoughts! But if at least any of them was slightly useful to anyone of you and made you breath out, relax and decide to go on another trip, then it was good I wrote it.

As a kind of post-scriptum: this was our breakfast view during our first trip to Crete with 3 month old son. And every morning while having our Cretan breakfast, coffee and orange juice, I was watching our baby watch the sea and thinking, whether seeing such breath-taking beauty from such early age actually leaves any mark on you. I will never know for sure, but if it does, then it’s worth all the stress of travelling with a baby.

Liked this post? Pin it!

baby travel pin

3 thoughts on “Travelling with a baby: Less stress, more fun

  1. cactuschild says:

    Although I don't have kids I have taken holidays with my friend and her hubby and their two littleuns and although the smallest slept all the way,I think the only time the other one complained was when she was confined to the aeroplane seat for over two hours. I think travel is fun for children because there are constant scenery changes and different things to see and do compared to back home 🙂

  2. Karen says:

    I totally agree with many of your points .. especially about the carrier. It’s the number one thing to survive a trip with kids.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thanks for your kind words! It’s great to hear that I got some things right from someone, who has more experience in all this baby-travelling. 😉

Don't be shy, write what you think!