Our BDM Lucy has recently returned from her first long haul family holiday since welcoming her son, Lowen, nearly two years ago. Here she gives her top tips on travelling with a toddler:
- Speak to the experts when it comes to travel
With most of the Keeva team having toddlers or young children, I knew I could count on my colleagues’ expertise when planning my holiday. There were so many things I hadn’t even considered before booking our trip – for example, how would I get my son, who at 21 months is a confident walker but has a tendency to lie down on the floor and refuse to move if he simply can’t be bothered, through security and all the way to the plane if we’d checked our buggy (answer: if your stroller complies with the airline’s maximum dimensions, you can take it all the way to the plane door and get it back as soon as you get off at the other end!) We also found this site useful in terms of letting us know what to expect on the plane: https://www.flyingwithababy.com – it has details of the seating arrangements, food options and maximum dimensions for baby items included along with your luggage allowance for babies and children, both hold and cabin bags.
- Try to book flights which fit around your child’s sleep patterns
When you think about it, planes are the perfect place for your child to sleep, as they’re just one big white noise machine. The more your child sleeps on the plane, the less you have to worry about keeping them still and occupied in the air, which we found especially difficult during turbulence when they need to sit on your lap and be strapped in. We chose night flights both ways to ensure we got some peace, and it worked – Lowen got a solid 7 – 8 hours each way, even if we barely slept. If you book a bassinet seat (we can do this for you free of charge at the time of booking your holiday) then you have the option of a bassinet (for babies under 6 months) or a baby chair (up to 2 years) which cabin crew will put up for you once the seatbelt signs have gone off. The drawback with these is that officially the child has to come out and go back on your lap if the seatbelt signs go back on – our experience very much depended on the cabin crew member looking after us as to whether this was enforced, as a couple of them turned a blind eye whilst Lowen was fast asleep. The ones who forced us to take him out were rewarded with a screaming fit!
- Become an expert at planning your cabin bags
We were surprised how amenable Gatwick security were when it came to our hand luggage. They had a family queue, which meant we didn’t have to spend ages waiting in line with everyone else to go through the scanners, and the team members were amazing with Lowen. By planning in advance we were able to keep as close to Lowen’s bedtime routine as possible, which ultimately set him up to sleep on the plane. We packed his pyjamas (and a change of clothes for the following day), his toothbrush and paste, two 200ml bottles of readymade formula and clean bottles (for bedtime and early morning milk), Calpol and Piriton (just in case), nappies, wipes, a travel sized pot of Sudocrem, an instant porridge pot for his breakfast, a ton of pre-packaged snacks, our iPad and baby headphones with volume limiters, some little toys just in case, and some books and activity magazines which cost us a small fortune but came in handy throughout the holiday. We also put his full size tub of formula in there, as, being a big pot of white powder, it’s likely the security staff would want to test it before letting you on the plane! Just before we got on the plane, we changed him into his pyjamas and brushed his teeth, and gave him a bottle of milk to drink as we took off to help his ears pop. He drifted off to sleep shortly after and we got to enjoy our dinner in peace.
It’s worth noting that most airlines don’t actually provide food for your child if they’re under 2 and don’t have their own seat booked, which we didn’t realise until just before we travelled – hence the porridge pot in the cabin bag. BA had some pouches which were available on request but there was no food offered for Lowen during the flight. Pack snacks!!
- If you can, book an airport lounge
We can book an airport lounge for you before you travel if you don’t get it included with your airfare. Airport lounges have been a revelation for us since we started using them three or four years ago. Comfy seating, charging points, unlimited buffet and drinks – what’s not to love? They’re particularly useful with small children as they have great baby change facilities and are a much nicer environment to hang out in for a couple of hours before your flight. They can run around in a safe environment, and some, like the BA lounge at Gatwick, even have kids’ play areas. We were so relaxed when we turned up for our flight – it might have something to do with the complimentary champagne on offer…
- Private transfers are a must
Unless you fancy lugging a car seat halfway across the world (if your seat even comes out of the car; ours weighs the same as a baby elephant) you will need car seats booked for your transfers to and from the airport. We can arrange all of this for you, and speak to the transfer company to ensure you have a car seat which is age appropriate for your child. This is only available with private transfers, as coaches or minibuses don’t have the correct setup to accommodate child seats. The bonus is that you don’t have to hang around at the airport waiting for the rest of your transfer to turn up, or worry about your child crying and annoying everyone on the way to the hotel!
- Kids’ clubs are your best friend
Though not fans of palming our child off on other people for the entire duration of our holiday, we did want a bit of adult time to ourselves whilst we were away. There are surprisingly few resorts worldwide which offer inclusive childcare for under 2s, and this was our main driver when picking a destination. We eventually settled on the Heritage Awali Resort and Spa in Mauritius (https://www.heritageresorts.mu/mauritius-hotels/awali-all-inclusive-resort), which has a kids’ club offering free childcare from 6 months + from 8:30am – 4:30pm every day for All Inclusive guests. I’m so glad we did. The kids’ club staff were wonderful with Lowen, and sent us photo updates during the day to reassure us when he cried at dropoff time in the morning. We put him in for the morning most days we were in the resort, and enjoyed two and a half hours of peace and quiet safe in the knowledge he was having a great time in an exceptionally well equipped setting. I managed to read two whole books; something I’ve not done since he was born. It was bliss.
- All Inclusive is the way to go when trying to feed a small child
Our son is (was) a notoriously fussy eater, and being vegetarian to boot I was concerned about how we were going to feed him for 10 nights away. I needn’t have worried – there were plenty of choices for us all in the A La Carte restaurants at the hotel, and the buffet restaurant was a great tool for us in getting him to try lots of different things. He came back liking Mauritian curry, vegetable gratin, biryani and pizza – something which he had always previously turned his nose up at despite being a staple on most kids’ menus. The fact we could give him little bits of everything meant that we could get him to try lots of bits and pieces without wasting a whole meal if he didn’t like it. It also meant we could give him unlimited watermelon after he developed a taste for it – a godsend if he was being particularly fussy or wouldn’t drink anything, which happened regularly! The hotel also had a puree menu option for younger children – again, something which you’d only get with a child-friendly hotel.
- Don’t be a prisoner in the hotel
Spending every day in the resort, no matter how amazing it is, can become a little bit like groundhog day. If you’re travelling 12 hours to go on holiday, it seems a shame to stay in the hotel just because you’re concerned about the logistics of going out and about. We used the transfer company (https://www.mautourco.com/) for our excursions, and they were excellent. We did a catamaran day trip operated by Croisieres Australes (https://www.croisieres-australes.com/) whose staff made sure Lowen was entertained all day, and had a full day excursion exploring the island with the wonderful Vikash from Mautourco, who even wheeled Lowen round in his buggy after we had too much rum at our distillery visit. Everyone took such good care of Lowen, and we felt so welcome everywhere we went, even when Lowen was being grumpy.
- Try to relax!
We were concerned that holidaying with a toddler would essentially be like a week off at home, except in a hot country – we’d still be run ragged trying to keep him entertained and would fall into bed each night utterly exhausted after a long day. Lowen seemed to pick up on the holiday vibe as soon as we got to the airport, and, for the most part, was well behaved with minimal toddler meltdowns – the change of scene definitely helped, along with the opportunity to enjoy our undivided attention without the distractions of cooking, cleaning etc which we have at home. We had the best time, and came back completely chilled out and about half a stone heavier. I can’t recommend the experience enough!