Thinking about braving your first family trip with your baby in tow? Our stress-free travel guide will help you plan, prepare and pack for your holiday, whether your baby is breastfed, bottlefed or weaning
Travelling with your baby for the first time can be daunting – after all, you’ve already filled your home with all manner of baby paraphernalia, how on earth are you going to manage in transit?
I know the feeling. By the time I had my son, I considered myself a seasoned traveller. My husband and I were packing pros. We didn’t want to stop travelling just because we had a baby, but the practicalities of planning and taking the trip put me on edge. First time we went away, I packed everything - and the kitchen sink! Luckily we were travelling by car and I had a whole boot to fill. If I had ‘luggage allowance’ to consider, it would’ve been tough!
With the right planning, travelling with a baby can be a breeze – after all, babies are perfectly portable. For a first family trip, a short break in the UK, travelling by car or train, can help simplify the process. In addition to the huge range of destination and accommodation options available, you’ll also have more flexibility when it comes to choosing travel times that most suit to you and your baby.
When thinking about your holiday accommodation, both self-catering options and hotels have their advantages. With self-catering, you’ll have more space, as well as your own kitchen for preparing food and bottles, but a hotel or resort will offer more facilities, such as baby pools or a crèche, which may mean you have more time to relax.
Location is also key. “Consider the location of your accommodation,” says Debi Green from babygoes2. “Ensure that it’s not too remote – you’ll want to have easy access to shops, chemists and doctors, just in case.” Take a look at our Your destination - questions to ask section below for more advice.
A car journey is a simple way to get away. The destination options are endless, your luggage and essentials are close at hand and you’re not restricted to travel timetables. “Many families opt for self-drive holidays,” says William Grey, author of Travel With Kids (Footprint Travel Guides). “With the freedom of the open road, you can travel when you want and for as long as you want.”
Unlike toddlers or older kids, boredom isn’t an issue for babies. Most love to sleep in the car, so you can work your journey around feeding and nap times or even consider driving at night (as long as you’re well-rested).
Ensure that your car seat is secure and fit sun screens to the windows if you’re travelling in the summer.
Also activate the child locks – it’s unlikely that your baby will try to escape, but you never know! “A bottle and food warmer that plugs into the cigarette lighter is also very useful when you’re on the move,” says Debi Green.
If you’re going on a long journey, aim to share your driving with a friend or partner and plan your route in advance to accommodate regular pit stops for nappy changes, feeds and breaks. Take a few baby toys to occupy your baby en-route – older babies may enjoy story or nursery rhyme CDs.
Don’t forget your road map or sat nav – helpful for tweaking your itinerary, avoiding traffic or if you get lost! And make sure you have roadside assistance/breakdown cover.
Travelling by train will expand your destination options, without the need for early check-ins and faffing with luggage weight allowances. “Trains can be more relaxing with young children, as you can give them your full attention,” says Debi Green. “You will also usually arrive in the town centre, which can reduce your journey – and stress levels!”
Under 5s travel for free, but you may decide to book a child seat for the additional space – these tickets are around 50% of an adult fare.
Alternatively (depending on how often you plan to travel) you could also consider investing in a Family & Friends railcard. For just £28 per year, this ticket entitles up to four adults and four children to travel together. The adult seats are around 30% cheaper than a full fare and you’ll save around 60% on the child seat. Make sure you check out any travel restrictions before you buy.
Onboard you’ll find just basic facilities – there’s baby changing and you can request hot water for warming bottles. You won’t find baby food in the buffet car, so make sure you bring this with you – squeezy pouches are best for eliminating mess. Some trains have specific seating areas for families and you can book your seats in advance (avoid the ‘Quiet Carriages’). You may find it helpful to sit near the storage compartment. Be prepared for the short stop at your departure station. You won’t have long (approximately 15 seconds!) to grab your baby, luggage and buggy, so get yourself prepared in advance of your stop.
Yes, we know it’s not quite a UK break! However, the proximity to Britain and train connection means if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, a European city break isn’t farfetched. For this, you will need to allow for check-in time, but you could be in Paris in just over two hours. You’ll find baby changing facilities onboard, plus plenty of family-friendly facilities at St Pancras International, London.
Your baby will need a passport, so apply for this at least two months in advance.
Travel arrangements are just part of the travel-with-baby equation. It pays to do your research on your destination and accommodation. “Just because they’ve plonked a plastic slide in the garden and scribbled chicken nuggets on the menu doesn’t mean they’re going to go out of their way to welcome kids,” says William Gray.
It can makes sense to look for accommodation that is geared towards families as it means they’re more likely to provide the facilities and essentials you’ll need to make your holiday as stress-free as possible.
If you want to keep your packing to a minimum, find out if your accommodation can provide:
Also ask if there’s a supermarket or chemist nearby (walking distance if you aren’t travelling by car), in case you plan of picking up some more nappies or other baby essentials while away.
Some family-friendly accommodation will also offer:
One example is the Luxury Family Hotel group. It has hotels throughout the UK and prides itself on creating a home-from-home environment. All the facilities are geared towards families, baby equipment can be provided, and staff can prepare baby purees and finger foods to order. “We like to make it easy for parents,” says Sarah Bolam. “This is about time for you, as well as a family. Our crèches are OFSTED registered and provide free childcare [for a certain number of hours per day] so if you want to take a little bit of time out, you can relax safe in the knowledge that you baby is being well cared for.”
But it’s not just accommodation companies that aim to make travel with a baby easier. Just one of these companies is organic baby meal provider So Baby. It can deliver Holiday Packs of frozen food to your destination. Food can then be heated straight from the freezer at meal times.
Our essential guide is designed to help you pack the bare minimum, so please also consider your baby’s individual needs.
Finding out if your favourite brands of nappies, wipes, formula etc are available at your destination will help to minimise these packing lists.
A high factor sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat for your baby is on the list for those travelling in the summer, however you should replace these with a winter all-in-one/snowsuit, warm hat and mitts for travel in cooler months.
If there’s no cot or travel cot at your destination, add this to your list.
While it’s important to have a lightweight, easy-to-fold buggy, you might also like to take a baby carrier.
A changing bag that’s a rucksack or messenger-style bag for all your day-to-day travel essentials is also handy. Keeping your hands-free is a must when travelling with kids.
To make things easier, you can download and print the below breastfed baby packing checklist, bottlefed baby packing checklist and weaning baby packing checklist for free, in a printer-friendly A4 format.
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