Marcy Madzikanda: On travels with a baby. FAQ
I tried to travel as much as possible before I had a child. I made this a priority I cut back on many things (think designer bags, trips to the salon, mani-pedis, up to the minute fashion trends etc.) to enable trips abroad.
Whilst pregnant I planned, booked and paid for trips without a second thought. I figured it was good financial planning to pay for them while I had an income. Once I had given birth I nearly cancelled the first trip. It was scheduled when she was 7/8 weeks and I hadn’t thought about the first set of vaccines! She got these a week later. Do let your health visitors or GP know about these things before, if possible, they are extremely understanding. *obviously after reading this you will check your immunisation schedule and try to avoid travel at that time, or do your homework as to where to get it if away from home*
It was important for me to continue traveling after she arrived. Knowing what I know now, I wish I traveled more when she was younger. For a start it’s cheaper as she is in your arms for the flights and you pay a nominal fee for this on the larger airlines. (EasyJet charged nearly the price of a full fare on one flight I think and we thought we could have just paid for her own seat. Obviously you’d then need to take your car seat and check this with your airline. (This also seems to be the preferred option on domestic flights in the US).
Secondly, children are more ‘manageable’ when younger. Once they start walking, trying to keep them still on flights can be a chore, and stressful not to mention jet lag. When younger, once their milk and diaper needs are met they sleep for most of the trip (my experience). Be prepared for a sensory overload on planes as this can occasionally cause some children to be over stimulated and therefore not sleep. That’s when snacks, toys, games, activity packs and the iPad come to the rescue.
1. Think carefully about the time of travel. As much as I hate early flights, they work. My partner prefers them on the outbound leg as you get to maximise your holiday and they work well with kids. Give them their bath the night before, and when younger you simply change the diaper in the morning, keep their all in one romper on, put on an outer layer and straight into the car seat. At this time (think leaving the house around 3/4 am) I offer warm water to drink and always have a bottle to offer as the plane takes off or lands. If they can stay awake during the trip and at the airport that’s fine as they will soon sleep once in the air. (Check out play lounges at the airport and use them).
2. On the inbound leg, we usually go for a late afternoon flight. If long haul, we aim to travel overnight arriving in the morning. Both options aim to minimise travel during rush hour traffic and usually fit into the time your child will naturally be asleep.
3. Book your flight early and contact the airline to reserve a bassinet as this will free up your hands during meals, and your child can have somewhere to spread themselves. You are automatically allocated the bulkhead seat (long haul) giving you more leg room. They go quickly so reserve ASAP. The flight attendants will set this up for you once you can remove your seatbelt (before or after drinks dependent on how busy they are)
4. Reserve a baby meal if weaned. This can come in handy should your supply runs out or used in emergencies. If you formula feed I’d pack a few pre-made bottles (pricier but in the event you run out, you have these to hand)
5. Strip your packing right down. Before I had my child I’d always lay out my outfits and edit. Many returned unworn. When you travel with a child, pack essentials. You need your hands free and can’t afford to have excess luggage. Worst case scenario, buy what you need when you get there. (In an emergency as you will often be charged double for something cheap) Try to get your essentials in one backpack or carry on suitcase for short trips (mama & baby) it’s doable I promise. On longer trips (5 weeks in the US) I had one medium sized suitcase 23kgs, and one rucksack for both of us! If you are traveling alone remember you will be pushing the buggy (travel system with car seat) and luggage (practice at home as well). We use the same suitcase for all three of us with a rucksack each when we travel together. I promise it’s doable. We also pack a lightweight expandable bag when we know we’ll do shopping abroad.
6. When packing your rucksack/carry-on think through a typical day with your child. Then pack the items you need in freezer bags and place near the top of your bag. You will be able to take this out when you get to your seat, put your back pack in the overhead locker, stow that freezer bag under the chair and if you packed correctly that’s the only thing you need to get out of your bag. For example, for baby 1 small and 1 large muslin cloth, a few safety pins (to create a dark sleeping area over bassinet or yourself) 3 diapers, wipes, stack pots with measured out formula or pre cut fruit (blueberries, grapes, peeled and separated satsuma, cheese) paracetamol sachets, 1 change of clothes (you and baby), small tube of diaper cream (100ml or samples), a couple of sachets of meals and a toy). We got our little one ‘reading magazines’ so these act as her distraction while we all have a moment with the papers and magazines. Pace the toys out so you have something new every so often leaving the electrical items as a last resort. Have you ever tried prying these off a kid? It ain’t pretty. Imagine doing that on a plane. I will let that sink in.
7. Check you have your EHIC – may not be valid after BREXIT (I lived on this site when I was starting to get my financial affairs in order) and check your baby is covered on your travel insurance. Always travel with insurance.
8. Make copies of your passports and birth certificates have a few copies each and carry one with you at all times when abroad instead of carrying your passport.
9. If you aren’t married (this maybe too late for some, but a heads up to your nearest and dearest) and your child has a different surname to yours. Ensure your surname is one of their middle names for official paperwork. This will save you time at boarder control.
10. Pack a bottle of oilbas oil and some cotton pads (tissue could work as well). This is a trick from a flight attendant on Virgin Atlantic. If baby starts crying as the plane ascends or descends, put some drops on the pad (you can have a plastic cup ready before hand) and place the pad inside and let your child inhale as this helps to ease the pressure in their ear drums. Add this to your freezer bag.
11. I always buy night & day nurse, vitamin C, paracetamol and echinacea – getting a cold on holiday is the worst! Spending time looking for it…. not worth my time. You often can’t find these supplies or are sold wrong items when you feel you are coming down with a cold. I have noticed in some parts of the world the culture is to let it run its course, or no meds for under twos, language barriers etc. I generally take a dose of effervescent Vitamin C and echinacea before and after flights and wash my hands frequently. How many times have you caught a bug on a flight or when you arrived on your holiday? I also pack a bottle of infant paracetamol, nasal spray and chest rub.
12. I download books, magazines, music and shows on my phone. I can do most things on it with one hand or sleep.
13. I always wear a coat / fleece with zipped pockets, put my passport, boarding passes and phone in one pocket and in the other, lip balm, ear phones, cash (for coffee or taxi) I will use there and credit card (no international fees on payments try and pay this in full or use cash) and that’s all I need on a flight. I’ve learnt to strip it right back. I used to use a cross body bag to put all my bits but over time I’ve adapted to have essentials on me.
14. Consider the outfit to travel in. Think about going through security and removing belts, shoes, jewellery tripping the alarm etc. I keep it real simple to avoid the drama and am able to keep my shoes on or get back into them quickly if I need to. Think either a t-shirt dress or yoga pants, T-shirt and trainers. Comfort over style always.
15. At checkin I put the travel system in one of these bags and place it in the hold. It’s survived a few trips and light weight. I’ve seen ads for sturdier looking bags you may want to consider and use to stash diapers, formula etc. as there doesn’t appear to be a weight restriction on this. I wouldn’t do it with this as it does not zip up but it does the job. The knack is to stack your car seat into the frame and fit both in one bag to avoid having to look for two different items at the other end. I’d also consider a cheaper buggy for travel as they get bashed on flights.
16. On arrival, your buggy may not come out with your luggage on the carousel. It maybe with larger items, so check where this is and get that first if possible and put baby in before attempting to get your luggage. Some staff can be most unhelpful at the end of a long flight so either minimise the need for interaction or find out if a porter can assist and tip them after, they may be able to help you with your luggage to the car.
17. After checkin in my travel system I use my most valued purchase the Mothercare XSS stroller made by GB Pockit in the airport. Check this buggy Fold I know many have rated the baby zen for flights, but if you are using smaller domestic planes in the US for instance they will go into the hold when you board. The worst thing ever is having to walk from the plane with your luggage, carrying baby with no buggy when you land (first world problems I know). Even when you get to airports where some are ‘supposedly’ provided (think Gatwick) I can almost guarantee you will not find any when you disembark, they will all be left unattended by the luggage carousel. This happened on my first trip so I had to find an alternative. The only difference I have noticed is the colour options and the cost. Supposedly there’s a different frame and bigger wheels on the GB Pockit. During the sales the XSS was £100. Please note this is not an everyday buggy, it works really well when you travel, or need a lighter buggy in the car and has become a lifesaver when I’m using the tube in London alone and I know the route doesn’t have step free access. It has also been a life saver on the Parisian Metro and my mother uses this when she takes her out as it’s really simple to get in and out of the car. It weighs less than 4kgs and clearly you can tell I LOVE IT and #notanad. Google for reviews for the link won’t work here. (Madeformums httpS?!) Some people swear by baby carriers and this may work if your baby will stay in one. Mine didn’t and weighed a tonne so I had to find an alternative. I now leave the Upperbaby on most trips and only take the XSS. Many parents will ask you about it, even the flight attendants as the fold is so compact. The new model has a lie flat option and I believe has been adapted for a car seat. I have considered trading in my version for this, but she is older and loves walking. It comes in a bag you can carry it in if your child doesn’t need it (and on flights stash your freezer bag kit)
19. Always pack a throw you can spread on the floor so your baby can stretch out, they can expend energy before they board. Particularly helpful when flights are delayed. You can pick a simple fleece from Ikea for a couple of pounds. My mother in law gave me this piece, left over fabric from something she was making.
20. You can pack as much food as you need on the flight. It’s hit and miss with hot water in flasks as some will chuck it, some let you keep it. You can however go to Pret after security and they will usually fill up your flask and give you warm milk for your toddlers. I also follow the same principle here re: freezer bags. Leave this at the top of your rucksack so you only need pull out the bags you need for inspection as opposed to rummaging through your suitcase, with baby.
21. You can preorder formula etc. at pick up at Boots but this doesn’t work for my hands free approach to flying with baby.
22. Remember when you go through security, your luggage, coats and buggy goes on the conveyor belt. You carry baby through. How organised you are here will guarantee the level of stress endured and prevent leaving things at security.
23. If you have an exceptionally excitable toddler I’d suggest boarding last as opposed to being one of the first on the plane. The plane will not leave you behind! Walk with your child use the toilet, change the diaper before you board, settle them if you can. This minimises the time you are sat before the plane taxis and hopefully using the narrow toilets to change a diaper. If flying in premium economy use the first class toilet at the front – more spacious. If you have packed as I’ve described above you need only whip one activity bag out and stow the rest (ask a flight attendant for help as the space maybe taken)- if you are traveling with someone else they can go ahead to stow the bags.
24. When baby flies in your arm, you are given an extender seat belt which you loop into your seatbelt then attach to baby. One thing I try to do is keep my seatbelt on even after the seatbelt signs come off. Make sure it is visible for the flight attendants as they will wake you and baby to ensure it’s on for your safety.
25. We have made the decision to stay in apartments when we travel as a family. These give us more space than hotel rooms. We always look for ones with washing machines, outdoor space (balconies) and lifts. We tend to pack laundry tablets (1 per day). Most apartments will provide detergent but you may prefer your brand. When it is available I think it’s a kind gesture and scores highly with us. The serviced apartments we stayed in Montenegro on her first trip did our laundry as part of the service. Don’t get me wrong there are some amazing hotels which are family friendly. We like the space apartments provide as a opposed to a hotel room also washing baby bottles etc. in a bathroom didn’t appeal. Also pack sponges for washing baby bottles, microwaveable steriliser bags, and steriliser tablets. Remember, in an apartment you can go old school and boil your bottles if you need to minimise what you bring.
26. If I’m traveling alone with my child then I stay in a hotel.
27. In 2018 we bought a Mifold booster seat from John Lewis and this has been useful and didn’t break the bank. I know taxis in the U.K. say you don’t need a car seat for toddlers, in some countries they will insist you have one. This fits in your back pack and fits most cars. I say this because I took it for a nursery trip. It didn’t work on the coach used as the seat belt strapped across the laps (legs) rather than across the chest.
I appreciate this may all sound rather militant, it’s tried and tested. Will be adapted as she grows however this foundation works for us, on flights and international trains including Eurostar. Try to relax and do not be stressed as that will stress baby and then it goes downhill. If your child cries, zone out the passengers and focus on calming your child. That’s all that matters. I think we tend to think of worst case scenarios and they never materialise. Through all the travels we had she only cried during the descent into LAX (about 5 minutes). She had barely slept the entire flight, was turbo charged, tired, and I later discovered, teething (her first) and we used oilbas oil (I’d imagine eucalyptus could do the same thing). Finally, if you can get the preflight drink take it or when the trolley goes down the aisle. You deserve it mama! Happy travels.
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