Before Evie came along, I think I was rather naive to just how much our day to day lives would have to adapt to cater for our tiny human. Of course I was well aware that things were about to change forever, but until you actually have your baby in your arms and are living the sleepless nights and 24/ 7 demand, I think it’s impossible to anticipate just how much your world will be flipped upside down by the arrival of a new person. And equally how your every waking breath, thought and last drop of energy will forever more be directed towards loving this new person and making their life the best it possibly can be.
While the change is undeniably a wonderful one – our lives have been enriched beyond words by Evie and her growing personality – it can take time to get your head around the fact that so many of the things which formed such a huge part of your life before, are no longer possible.
One of the biggest changes for us as a couple has been getting used to the idea that we can no longer just book a last minute flight to wherever on a whim and work out the logistics later. That we can no longer board a flight/jump on a train with only a small backpack of essentials and see where it takes us. That those unplanned holidays where we’d walk and walk and walk some more all day long until we’d devoured every last part of a city, and ate and drank our way around the hot spots might be a thing of the past. We used to spend whole evenings scrolling skyskanner for cheap flights, book up Airbnb’s all over the world and plan adventures for any free weekends we had.
Travelling is something we both love so much, and I’d always imagined we’d be a travelling family once we did have children. Stu travels a lot with his work and travel writing is something I’ve always enjoyed so when I was pregnant I used to remark that when Stu had to go away, the baby and I would simply come with him, a vision of myself with a backpack on my back and a baby in a sling on my front filling my head. I think I might have even been one to utter something along the lines of ‘the baby can fit around our lifestyle, not the other way around’ (Pah! How naive!). And while I really do hope that we can make this fantasy a reality in some way or another (we are determined to show Evie as much of the world as possible and teach her about all different cultures) and in time get back to more regular travelling, I now realise that getting anywhere with a baby in tow is no easy feat and any form of travelling – from a trip into London to a 7 hour drive up the motorway – takes meticulous planning, a large degree of patience, a touch of bravery and a very large bag.
There’s no way we could just jump on a flight without a second thought any more, gone are the days of saving money by only taking carry on luggage, any accommodation now needs to be baby friendly and our days of walking non stop until our feet drop off and then happening upon a little bar to eat local food and drink cocktails have been replaced with breaking activities up into 2 hour stints and getting home before the bedtime routine.
But even though things are different now, 4 months in, we’re starting to find our feet with travelling and realising that getting out and about with Evie is absolutely possible and needn’t be as big a hurdle as it felt initially. From day trips to weekends away and putting plans in place for our first family holiday, we’re learning on the job. Things now require a lot more planning, a different approach and a certain amount of flexibility to accept that we won’t be able to do everything we might have previously done, but having that quality time as a family makes it all worth it.
We are definitely still learning as we go, but so far these are my top tips for making those getaways as straight forward as possible;
1. Invest in the right kit
Having the right travel pieces to suit your trip or outing is essential. Evie loves her pram when out walking, but I’ve found it’s not so practical when it comes to getting on and off public transport and it’s rather bulky to take with us when going away. Unless I’ve got an extra pair of hands, If I’m doing a day trip somewhere on the bus/train I’ll often just take Evie in the sling instead as it frees up my hands and I don’t have to worry about lugging something up and down stairs as well as carrying a baby. If we’re driving to our destination and won’t necessarily be doing much walking once there, we’ll just keep Evie in her car seat which can then attach to our pram legs and avoid the need for the bulky bassinet. And when it comes to going further afield or for longer trips, a stroller designed especially for travel is ideal, as even the thought of trying to navigate the airport and board a flight with car seats, removable bassinets and legs that don’t fold up properly gives me a headache. We’re building up to our first flight with Evie in August and our first trip abroad in October so she’ll be around 6 months before we face that hurdle but I’m really excited to try out the Baby Jogger City Tour when we do. As a buggy specifically designed with adventures, weekend trips and flights in mind. Once it’s folded it can be packed neatly into its backpack style carry bag, which conveniently meets the carry on requirements for most flights. This means you can wheel your baby right up to the door in their buggy before having to fold it away, and avoid the need to put a travel system in the hold.
I’m going to be doing a proper review of this piece in a couple of months (it’s made for babies from 6 months to 3 years so Evie is still a little small for it at the moment) once we’ve navigated our first aeroplane adventure with her so I’m looking forward to reporting back then about how it fared, but so far I’m more than impressed with how easily it folds up (hello one handed dismantle) and how dinky it is once compact in its carry bag – result!
2. Plan ahead
Seems obvious but a bit of forward planning goes a long way, even if you’re only venturing out for the afternoon. I’ve always loved to plan anyway and am never far from a list, but our trips were definitely more spontaneous before Evie came along. Now I find that if I know exactly what my route is, where I can factor in a feed and what possible hurdles I might face, I feel a lot calmer about heading out and avoid being that stressed out Mum in tears at the train station because my baby won’t stop screaming. It took me weeks to muster up the courage to even take Evie on the train to London with me, and even then I had to take my Mum with me for moral support, and just in case commuters weren’t open to helping me up the stairs at the tube with a stroller. A route that I wouldn’t have even batted an eyelid at before, now needed prior planning, looking up which stations had lift access and factoring in which would be the least busy/ stressful. But we did it, and as with everything once you’ve got over that first hurdle, the next trip never seems as big a deal. For me, planning train times around feeds, ensuring I factor in a sit down and a coffee break every couple of hours and avoiding areas that are overly busy make for a much happier adventure. Similarly when embarking on a longer road trip, we now make sure to plan out our route making sure to add in a stop every couple of hours to allow Evie a bit of a stretch, feed and interaction with us before getting back in the car.
3. Be prepared
Again it’s an obvious one but the Scouts had it right with their motto, and now that Evie is with us, preparation is key. When it was just the two of, if we forgot something we’d usually make do but now if we get half way down the motorway only to realise we’ve left Evie’s favourite toy/a blanket/ the rain cover behind it’s a much bigger drama. Two things I never take out of the storage basket are the rain cover and sun shade as the weather can turn so quickly and while it might be slightly annoying if Stu and I get rained on for half an hour, I would just hate for Evie to get affected by either cold and rain or direct sun. Similarly the changing bag always has both a sunhat and a cosy cardigan in it. One thing I was never really prepared for before was just how much stuff a baby requires on even a regular day out, and when it comes to an overnight stay/holiday, well, let’s just say their packing list reads like that of a true diva. From a change of clothes for every day (never underestimate the destruction a poo explosion can cause) to nappies and bottles and wipes and muslins, toys and blankets and books and playmats, it’s easy to fill a whole suitcase just with their must haves.
4. But only pack the essentials
The first time we did a weekend away from home with Evie, we took absolutely EVERYTHING with us, filling the car to the brim with two weeks worth of clothes, pram and car seat, cot and sleepyhead and even her activity gym, terrified that she might not survive without all her familiar items around her and we’d be in for a rough night if we forgot something. As it happened, she took really well to new surroundings and actually wasn’t that interested in her usual toys and routine. Now we’ve figured out our – away from home – essentials – which include the sleepyhead to be placed in any bed/cot for a bit of continuity, at least one familiar blanket and toy, and the rest we leave it home, reassured that we can pick most things up in a supermarket should we need them. Now, we’ll only take enough nappies and wipes to see us through the journey and first day and then pick up a pack once at our destination. Instead of bringing multiple bottles and our at home steriliser, we take one bottle and a travel sterliser and just wash and sterilise the same bottle each day (we combination feed so only usually do 1 bottle a day at most). If away for less than a week, we know we can get away without a bath (babies really don’t get that dirty) so avoid the need for towels and toiletries, and if we’re staying somewhere with a washing machine, we just take minimal clothes and wash things once there. This way we ensure at least some space in the suitcase for our own clothes!
5. Plan out outfits beforehand
It’s easy to want to bring a mountain of baby clothes with you to cover all weathers and all eventualities. Thinking ‘but if it’s rainy, we should bring that raincoat, and we might need both trousers and shorts if it’s sunny, and what about jumpers too?’ but this is exactly what I did on our first weekend away and we didn’t make it through even half of it. The last time we visited family for a long weekend I tried a different approach and simply planned out an outfit for each day, with a spare vest and sleepsuit (which would also double up as pyjamas for the evening) as the back up in case there was a poo/sick incident. It meant a much smaller suitcase, and a lot less hassle getting Evie dressed each morning as we didn’t have as many ‘options’. If she was too hot, I would just take off her leggings and leave her in a vest, too cold I’d add a jumper or switch her into her sleepsuit early.
6. Double up a day bag as a changing bag
Why carry more baggage than you need to? Whenever we are away, I leave our large changing bag at home and avoid having to carry both a handbag for myself and a bag for Evie by doubling up with a day bag that can fit both our essentials in and is easy to carry. The rucksack is my current favourite choice, and again I’ll reduce our usual daily baggage to essentials and then be able to fit in my own bits and bobs too.
7. Factor in breaks
The most important thing we’ve learned after a few getaways is to factor in regular breaks for Evie and limit our adventures to two hour slots. The way we approached holidays previously, where we just kept going until tired and set off in the morning with a map and a rough plan, seeing where the day took us, just isn’t possible with a baby. We know that Evie needs to feed roughly every two hours, will need at least three naps a day, and gets bored being stuck in her pram/car seat for long periods, so our days out are definitely taken at a slower pace these days, accepting that we won’t be able to pack as much in. We find aiming for one activity in the morning, and one in the afternoon is usually enough for one day, factoring in feeds in between and trying where possible to let her have at least one nap back in the familiarity of her sleepyhead wherever we are staying, rather than them all being out and about in the pram/sling.
8. Be flexible with your normal routine
There’s no doubt that any resemblance of a routine that we have at home, all goes out the window whenever we travel. I found this quite difficult the first time we went away, as I felt like we couldn’t rely on the same timings as usual and it made us all a little all over the place with knowing what to do when. Ordering a takeaway with friends felt all the more difficult when Evie refused to go to sleep and the food went cold as we attempted to settle her, not knowing when she was going to wake up in the night left me feeling anxious about when to head to bed myself and when she took a rather unexpected three hour nap one afternoon, our plans had to be abandoned as we stayed at home not quite knowing what to do with ourselves. Now I’ve learned to relax a little and let things happen as they want to, knowing that we’ll get back to normal once home. If we need to keep Evie up with us in the evening until she’s tired enough to sleep then so be it (she’s on holiday after all). If she falls asleep on us one night rather than in her cot then it’s no big deal and if she’s ready to start the day at 4am then we’ll all just be a lot more tired that day.
9. Have fun
What with all the pre-planning, manic preparation and fixation on timings, it’s easy to forget to actually enjoy travelling with your little one. I’m quite an anxious person by nature, and it doesn’t take much for me to get stressed out and worry about the logistics of the day rather than seeing the bigger picture and enjoying the time we have together as a family. As an adult, I still have fond memories of family holidays and trips and I’d love Evie to look back at photos of our adventures when she’s older and remember the happy times, and not whether or not she went to bed at a set time!
If anyone has any other tips for making life easier travelling with a mini one, I’d love to hear them! Especially any advice on flying with a baby, as I admit to still being pretty nervous about our first flight in a couple of months!