Six tips for travelling with a baby or toddler

baby looking out of plane window - Gregory Andreacchi / EyeEm
baby looking out of plane window - Gregory Andreacchi / EyeEm

Even for the most seasoned traveller, taking your first trip as a new family can be a daunting prospect. There’s so much to think about before you even set off that some, myself included, may wonder if it would be easier to stay at home.

But don’t do that. Last June I went away with my six-month-old daughter, Nora, and husband Seb, for our first foray abroad. Here’s what I learnt.

Location, location, location

We picked Sintra, Portugal, an hour’s drive from Lisbon, for simple, smart reasons: good weather, short flight, no time difference and an easy distance from an airport with many flights from the  UK.

lady holding baby looking at beach
lady holding baby looking at beach

Plane sailing

Under-twos usually fly “free” on your lap (you pay tax or a nominal fee). British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet allow two pieces of free equipment – a pushchair, car seat or travel cot – plus extra hand luggage for the baby but other airlines vary, so check. Baby milk is not subject to the 100ml liquids rule. Bring dummies and/or feeding equipment as sucking helps their ears during take-off  and toys (spinners that stick to windows/tray tables are lightweight).

There are a handful of prams that fit into an overhead compartment (eg the Babyzen Yoyo or Bugaboo Butterfly), otherwise you can usually wheel it up to the tarmac before it goes in the hold. If this is the case, it's worth bringing a carrier in case you're waiting and need to be hands free.

If the airport offers fast track through security and passport control, it can be worth buying it  – getting stuck in a long security queue with an unhappy baby is torturous. (Though sometimes, these queues can be longer than the regular queues so it's always worth assessing.) The Stansted fast track pass, for example, is as little as £7 per person (each side of travel). Some airports, however, such as Lisbon, have a handy separate check-in and security queue for those travelling with children so it might not be necessary.

family walking through airport with pram - Zia Soleil
family walking through airport with pram - Zia Soleil

Airlines often call families to board first – not, in fact, always a great idea, especially if your little one is on the move. It just means more time on the plane.

Don’t, as we did, leave it until you book the holiday to order the child’s passport, especially in peak times, in case of delays. Also don’t forget, as we did, a full spare change of clothes in hand luggage. Nora had an accident as soon as we got to the airport. Luckily we hadn’t yet checked the suitcases in so were able to pull something out instead of being forced to buy overpriced, sloganed Harrods children’s clothing in the departures lounge.

Baby on board

Book a car well in advance (there’s a shortage right now), ideally with a company that has a kiosk in arrivals, or – even better – one that brings a car directly outside the terminal. Faff is the enemy when travelling with children.

If your child is under four, do bring your own car seat if possible: you can’t guarantee they will have stock and so might end up with a booster seat.

Bedding down

Villas are great, especially if, like us, you are travelling with other families. In our villa, every family had their own bathroom, the pool was fenced off (necessary for toddlers) and there was a glorious walled patio where we could have long, languorous  dinners once the tots all went to sleep. And a washing machine!

But don’t disregard hotels entirely. We ended the trip at family resort Martinhal near Cascais, which has a kids’ club where we could leave Nora while we had massages, and a shady pool area. The downside? Unless you book a suite or have outdoor space, you’re sharing a room with the baby. But it’s a small price to pay for no washing-up.

pool - Martinhal Cascais
pool - Martinhal Cascais

Pack light(er)

You don’t need nearly as much as you think, especially if you have a washing machine. Key items we brought included a comforter that smelt of home and a book to try and emulate the bedtime routine.

A night light and white noise machine (your phone can work for the latter) are advisable, even if you don’t use these at home – you never know what the lamp situation will be or what you may need to drown out. A SnoozeShade was also essential for sun protection and naps out and about.

Use packing cubes – and bring enough nappies for a few days. I wrongly assumed I could bulk buy them in Aldi and then spent an afternoon driving round pharmacies (a different beast on the continent).

Manage expectations

Perhaps the most important tip of all: it’s no longer fly-and-flop. It’s fly and… parent in different, exciting and (hopefully) sunnier climes. And, if you stay at that hotel, less housework.

Do you have any tips for travelling with babies and young children? Please share in the comments section below