A friend with a new baby recently asked me for some long-haul travel tips. I managed to dredge up some helpful ones from past (mis)adventures and, on the eve of our trip to South Africa, figured I’d round up a dozen for our dear readers.
• First, the flight. You’ll need an array of stuff, so keep it simple. Avoid carrying on winter coats or masses of bottles and food – pack that cumbersome stuff away in your checked (roller) baggage. Pack an ample carry-on with food for 24 hours (squeeze tubes are the best, or a few disposable tupperwares; snacks like raisins and Cheerios; some plain, pre-cooked pasta in a pinch). Avoid water and milk – you’ll be able to get those on the flight. Fill a disposable container with formula or powdered milk and a scooper, then ask for boiled or tap water when you board; alternatively, bring Tetra-pak’d pre-made formula. You should make do with 10 nappies, a full pack of wipes, an extra sleepsuit, extra tights (they’re small and double for trousers), bibs and a T-shirt for the kid; an extra T-shirt and leggings for yourself (spit-up and spilled orange juice can be uncomfortable when worn for extended periods). A sarong does double duty as a shawl and a darkening shroud for sleep time. If you think you may need baby meds, buy them in sachets – most airlines will confiscate bottles of Calpol.
• If you’re travelling with only one child consider booking a seat away from your partner. You can take turns handling the baby, while the off-duty parent can catch up on rest out of eye- and earshot. Splitting up may also help the on-duty parent eke into a coveted bulkhead seat. Though airline staff will ask you to board first, ignore them. Last is best, first is worst – especially if you’re (inevitably) delayed on the runway.
• If you think bringing a pack’n’play/travel cot is a wise idea, reconsider. It’ll be that extra annoyance that will hold you up throughout the entire trip. Instead, email hotels and villas ahead of time to make sure there are cots available. If not, consider suggesting they order a fold-away and offer to chip in (it’ll be worth it). If that fails, you can always rig up a crib on a mattress between two pieces of furniture surrounded by cushions. Your child may need time to adjust, but then they often do, wherever they sleep.
• Whether you bring a push chair or not is really up to you – it can be invaluable in airports, for mid-day naps and as seating when in restaurants. But think twice if you’re spending time in an old town with cobbled streets, or a third-world country – the pavements will be treacherous. Consider taking a baby backpack (better yet, a backpack/stroller hybrid), or a sling – some of the craftier ones convert into high chairs when hung over a chair-back.
• Speaking of high chairs, follow the advice above, or invest in a collapsable booster you can pack in your luggage. But if you’re already committed to bringing your buggy, that can double as a feeding chair (and it’s handy for the post-meal nap). Remember: your baby won’t tolerate any seat for long.
• Bring a carseat only if you must. For brief transfers some will make do belting themselves in and keeping a tight grip on the baby. If you rent a car, most countries will offer carseats (though they cost a premium and you’ll have to install them yourself). Google “hire baby equipment” to find an agency that will sort you out with cumbersome gear.
• Which toys to bring and how many? That’s up to you. But consider one or two soft-cover books, if your baby has a routine bedtime story. Big kids can have old, peeled crayons (they’ll be left in the crevices of the airplane) and any half-used pad and a sticker book. A pencil case with assorted “treasures” will keep babies occupied for a while. Frequent your local charity shop ahead of your trip for cheap treats, or stocking up at the airport once you’ve checked your bags. You can collect more toys at markets at your destination.
• Pack seasonal or well-worn clothes your child may soon grow out of. I like to dispose of stuff throughout the holiday (maids and babysitters appreciate donations) though it doesn’t make much of a dent. Ask ahead if there will be washing facilities at your destination – if so, bring half of what you’ve laid out.
• A baby monitor, batteries and voltage converter is invaluable. Once you’ve put the kids down, you can stroll out to the beach for a quick breath of fresh air, head downstairs to the in-house restaurant or even sit in the hallway and play a card game – as long as you keep in range. If you hire a babysitter, he or she can read a book outside the door rather than disturbing the children inside.
• If you can’t get to sleep without a few minutes’ reading, bring a booklight. It can make all the difference. Headphones also make sense – especially if there’s a TV in the room. Otherwise, you can use them to listen to podcasts on your iPod.
• Pack a small first-aid kit with plasters, small scissors, insect ointment, more Calpol, a baby thermometer and Purell. My kids are prone to conjunctivitis, so I stock up on anti-viral eyedrops.
• If you plan on spending time on a beach, consider one of those small, collapsible baby tents (they also double as travel cots). Get baby used to it before you leave, and maybe he’ll surprise you by napping in it while you soak up the sun. Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen whatever your plans; ears, hands and feet are easy to miss and the first to burn.
Now, get some sleep before your flight.
Ellen Himelfarb is a freelance writer and mother of two. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org