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Travel With a Baby: our tips, and what we’d do differently next time

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o, now that we have our first long trip (plus several shorter ones) with Max under our belts, I’m obviously a complete expert on travel with a baby now, and am here today to allow you all to benefit from my newfound wisdom.

Ahem.

OK, OK, I jest: I’m obviously still very, very far from being an expert on anything, and am basically just making it all up as I go along, but I did learn a few things from that first holiday, so, given that our next break is coming up fast, I thought I’d share a few quick notes on what we’d do again, and what we’d definitely do differently next time. Such as…

me and Max in London01.

Try to time travel to coincide with the baby’s naps

This obviously won’t always be possible, especially if you’re using public transport, but, as we were travelling by car, we were able to plan the drive around Max’s sleep schedule, to try to make the journey as easy as possible on him. We had a very long drive ahead of us, so I set my alarm for 4:30am, and gave a still half-asleep Max a bottle, while Terry quickly loaded up the car with everything we hadn’t managed to pack the night before. (We tried to be as organised as possible, so this was really just stuff we’d used in the morning, or overnight – like the Sleepyhead, for example.) We were on the road by 5am, and Max – who’d barely woken when I got him up – was fast asleep again a few minutes later, which meant we were able to get a good chunk of the driving done before he woke up for his next feed.

road trip: the road at dawn

By doing it this way, Terry and I obviously knew we’d be pretty tired by the end of the trip, but, well, we have a 7 month old, so it’s not like we’re not used to it (And honestly, I’d have been tired by the end of a long road trip regardless of what time I got up…), and we figured us being tired was preferable to Max being awake and bored for the duration of the journey. So, 5am start FTW!

pancakes and coffee02.

Plan rest stops in advance, if at all possible

This is one from the ‘Things I’d Do Differently’ files. As we were travelling with a baby, we knew we’d have to make more frequent rest stops than we would have on our own, and we decided to just play this by ear, wait until Max needed a break, then pull in at the nearest services. Sounds good in theory, but, in practice it meant I got the pleasure of changing Max’s nappy in some of the filthiest bathrooms I’ve ever seen, because, WOW, some of those places were nasty: and because it wouldn’t have been fair to Max to just feed/change him then stuff him straight back into the car, we ended up spending much more time in them than we’d ideally have liked. YUCK.

(The pancakes were good, though, not gonna lie.)

To get around this issue, on the drive home we made a better effort to plan our rest stops in advance, and to avoid the motorway services at all costs. So, we made one stop at the Metro Centre in Newcastle, for instance, which not only had a dedicated (and clean!) baby change room, but which was also a lot more interesting to spend time in than a motorway cafe, for sure.

(I didn’t buy anything, though. No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either…)

03.

Pre-plan entertainment for the baby

Max slept a lot of the time we were in the car, but he obviously didn’t sleep ALL the time, so, before we left, I packed a bag with some of his toys and books, and kept it in the front seat with me so that, when he woke up, I could just start handing things back to him, one at a time. This actually worked better than I’d thought it would, but we did, inevitably, reach a stage where we’d exhausted all options for entertainment, and he had a bit of a cry. Thankfully, he fell back asleep again shortly afterwards, so it wasn’t too bad, but I think we have his age to thank for that: I’d imagine back-seat entertainment could be a lot trickier with an older child!

04.

Be organised with your packing

packing cubes inside suitcaseAs a chronic over-packer, I knew perfectly well that I’d pack far too many clothes, both for Max and for myself. And yeah, I totally DID pack way too many clothes, no surprises there. Although I packed too much, though, it actually wasn’t really an issue, because, here’s my top trip for travel with a a baby:  or even without one, really:

packing cubes

PACKING CUBES.

THEY ARE A GAME-CHANGER, SERIOUSLY.

I got these ones from eBay, and, honestly, the quality isn’t fantastic, but even so, they did the job, and totally changed my packing life. Not only did they allow me to fit a lot of stuff into a very small space in the suitcase, once we got to our destination, I was able to just transfer them straight into the wardrobe/drawers without unpacking the individual items. I did unpack and hang up my dresses, and some other items that would’ve gotten badly creased otherwise, but things like undies, nightwear, and all of Max’s little sleepsuits and rompers remained in their cubes, which meant I could find everything really easily – and then just stick them back into the suitcase again when it was time to go home.

So, yeah, I would 100% recommend these, and, as I said, not just for baby clothes etc, because packing cubes are for everyone. Yes, even you, Terry.

In terms of packing and organisation, however, we still have a lot to learn, because, in addition to the items in the cubes, we also had 1,001 other random items with us (Plus all of Terry’s clothes, which he steadfastly refused to put in, “Those stupid cube things.”), and the result was that, about 20 minutes after we arrived, the room we were staying in looked a lot like it had been burgled, and we basically spent the next week engaged in a non-stop search for various items. (NOT clothes, though. Because they were all safely in their cubes. SEE, TERRY?)

What we should have done here, of course, was to apply the same level of organisation to the room itself as we did to our suitcases, and, I don’t know, maybe have some kind of system of, “Clean bottles go here, used bottles go there… ” and so on. Instead, we just had everything in this huge mess on the floor, which, well, you live and you learn, don’t you? DON’T YOU?

On the subject of packing, meanwhile, Obvious Tip is obvious, but…

baby Max in his stroller

05.

Try not to over-pack

So, I mean, we were always going to be on a hiding to nothing with this one, because, it being our first trip with a baby, our instinct was to just take EVERYTHING with us, and we decided just to go with that. As it turned out, we did use everything we took, other than clothes, plus an inflatable swimming seat, which took up a LOT of space in the suitcase, and didn’t even make it out of the box. (My in-laws have a pool, which we thought we might take Max into, but, as it turned out, there just wasn’t enough time.) We’d actually known in advance that we probably wouldn’t use this, because I wasn’t keen on the idea of him going “swimming” just yet, but it was one of those “just in case” items, which I will definitely try to resist bringing next time. (Ditto the spare cover for the Sleepyhead: takes up more space than you’d think, and didn’t get used, so next time I think we’ll just take our chances…)

As for the rest of the equipment I mentioned in my last post on this subject, you’ll be pleased to know that we didn’t take the nappy bin OR the baby bath… We didn’t miss the baby bath at all, but I DID miss the nappy pail, tbh, although not enough to drive almost 500 miles with it in the back of the car, so…

Other than the flotation device, then, I think the only thing we wouldn’t bring next time would be the Chicco Next-to-Me, which we’d brought along because it folds down relatively flat, and we obviously needed somewhere for Max to sleep. This was fine for the first 5 days, but then, as we were packing up, ready to come home, I sat Max down in it, just to keep him contained while we got on with the packing, and, 30 seconds later, I looked round and there he was, standing up in it, and looking mighty pleased with himself about it:

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A post shared by Max Miaoulis (@maxmiaoulis) on It was the first time he’d ever pulled himself up into a standing position, but, of course, once he realised he could do it, it was all he wanted to do, so he spent that night in the Sleepyhead on the floor (We tried putting it between us on the bed, but there wasn’t enough room…), and the Next-to-Me went onto Gumtree as soon as we got home. Next time, I think we’d take a travel crib instead: I did consider just taking the Sleepyhead on its own, but, now that he’s able to stand up, and is doing his utmost to start crawling, I’d worry about him being able to escape from it in the night!

It was the first time he’d ever done this, but, of course, once he realised he could “stand” it was all he wanted to do, so he spent that night in the Sleepyhead on the floor (We did try putting it on the bed between us, but there just wasn’t enough room…), and the Next-to-Me went on Gumtree as soon as we go home. Next time, I think we’d definitely take a travel cot instead: I did consider just taking the Sleepyhead, but he’s very close to being able to get himself out of it when he wants to, so I’d worry about him escaping during the night.

As it happens, though, my parents actually bought a travel cot when he was born, so he’d have somewhere to sleep in their house, and, as well as being a safe place for him to sleep and play, it also has an attachment which allows it to double as a changing table, which I reckon would be really handy: for this trip, I just relied on the portable changing mat that came with my changing bag, but that meant lying him down on a hard floor a lot of the time, and I think it would’ve been more comfortable for both of us for me to be able to stand up, and change him on something a bit softer!

(Oh, and I’d also take WAY fewer bibs and burp cloths: I had an entire packing cube devoted to these, and even more in the changing bag. In my defence, just a few weeks ago, we’d have gone through all of them in a couple of days, and then wished we’d packed more, but, since we started weaning, Max’s reflux has been much better – so much so that we barely used any of the burp clothes, and only about 50% of the bibs. Of course, I’m probably tempting fate by saying that, so, moving on…)

Speaking of changing bags…

visiting Margate with Max(The only photo I could find of my changing bag: that’s it hanging from the back of the stroller!)

06.

Re-pack your changing bag every night

I mean, I’m sure anyone with a baby already has the packing of their changing bag down to a fine art, but, if you don’t, now is the time to start, trust me. We were out and about every day during our trip, and were sometimes out of the house for 12 – 14 hours at a time, so we needed to be really sure we had everything we’d need for the day, either in the bag itself, or in the compartment at the base of the stroller. Just to make sure we didn’t forget anything essential, I made sure to pack the changing bag every night before bed, just so I didn’t have to do it in a rush the next day, when we were trying to get out of the house to catch a train/ferry/whatever. There’s just SO much to remember here, and while we were lucky not to have any major oversights, next time I’ll probably get Terry to check the bag over before we leave: for some reason, this particular duty always falls to me, and I have so many things to remember that I can practically guarantee I’ll forget something. Still, as long as it’s not the baby, right?

And, last, but possibly most importantly of all…

07.

Try to keep the baby’s routine as normal as possible

Another one from the “Things I’d Do Differently” files here. If you’d asked me before the trip, I’d have said Max’s daily routine was pretty flexible, really, and not all that important to him. To which I now say, HAHAHALOL.

So, in short, Terry and I vastly underestimated the importance of sticking to the usual routine in terms of feeds, naps etc, which meant we had a week of REALLY bad sleep from Max, and hence a week of really bad sleep for us, too. In our defence, it can be hard to stick rigidly to a routine while you’re travelling: in our case, we were out and about every day, and although we managed to keep the feeds more or less on track, napping was another matter altogether.

At the time of writing, Max is still at a stage where he’ll usually fall asleep in either the car or the stroller: during this trip, he spent more time than usual in both, which meant he slept more during the day, and then was wide awake at night. In all honesty, I’m not really sure how we could have handled this differently: we didn’t go on holiday just to sit in the house all day, observing regular nap times, after all, but the lack of sleep ended up being really challenging for us, and it was even more stressful than it would’ve been at home, because, when he woke up crying during the night, we were paranoid that he’d wake everyone else in the house too. (Our family were quick to assure us that they didn’t mind, having been through this with their own kids, but we obviously didn’t want to keep everyone up all night, and be the worst house guests ever …) Also, at home we take it in turns to get up with Max during the night, but we’re only able to do that because, at home, he sleeps in his own room. With all three of us in together, it meant that, when he woke – which was A LOT – we both woke up too, so next time we’ll definitely try harder not to disrupt his routine more than we can help, as hard as it may be!

*   *  *

Of course, as I said, we obviously still have a lot to learn, given that this was our very first trip together, and we chose to play it safe by sticking to the UK, and staying with family. Now that we’ve done it, though – and lived to tell the tale – we’re really keen to do some more travelling: which is why, at the end of this month, we’re off to Aberdeen for a little city break with Max: this time staying in a hotel. It’s a long, long time since either of us visited the Granite City, so if you have any recommendations, we’d love to hear them!

how to survive your first vacation with a baby

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2 Comments
  • Ginger
    August 22, 2018

    Packing cubes are amazing! I’m a super organized and efficient packer, but I was blown away by how helpful the cubes are. It’s so much more efficient to pack things together in the cube and then just pull that out when things are needed. Especially on longer trips, they help so much with keeping things organized. I have a lot of different sizes, particularly the smaller ones, and use them for all sorts of gadgets and things in addition to clothing.

  • Katharine
    September 21, 2018

    The “bag of toys in the car” trick will actually work for a long time! The difference is that as they get older you hand it over for them to unpack and explore themselves. I’ve got a two year old, and he loves the zipper on his “surprise bag” as much as anything in it (which are almost never really surprises, because we don’t buy new toys for every trip). We also always put a sheet or two of stickers in there, because they cost less than a latte and can entertain him for a good 30 minutes (aka forever in toddler time).

    Sounds like your first trip went wonderfully — congrats! Hopefully y’all will be all caught up on sleep soon. 🤞🏼🤞🏼

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Travel With a Baby: our tips, and what we’d do differently next time