Taking your baby on its first holiday can be a daunting prospect, with plenty of questions…and the more you think about it the more questions there seem to be!
So what are the secrets to having a successful baby friendly holiday? Where everybody is happy and mum and dad get a break too? Is that too much to hope for? I don’t think so but here are my secrets to getting it right.
1) Ask Lots of Questions – Forums, Facebook and Friends
The great news is that it has never been easier to take a baby on holiday. Not only are families really well catered for now, particularly when it comes to booking a villa or a holiday home, but also there is so much information out there and it’s a well trodden route. Free online resources such as packing lists for travelling with a baby, blogs, parenting sites as well as forums, Facebook and friends are all readily available and generous resources.
Mums and Toddlers groups or relatives with young children are particularly good sources of information and I find that people love to share their experiences so make a cup of tea and settle in. You won’t have to go far to find people who have had a holiday with their baby recently and they will have a stack of advice about what they found worked, what was difficult and what they really wouldn’t bother doing again!
Online too there is a wealth of information. The parenting websites are full of general travel advice but don’t overdo it, it is easy to begin to feel overwhelmed!
Independent websites such as Trip Advisor, review sites and testimonials will give you a good feel for the accommodation but are to be treated with caution.
When looking at the big review sites in particular my top tip is to look avoid the extreme reviews at either end of the spectrum and to go for the more moderate and balance views in the middle .
And when you’re beginning to nail down the details, then do quiz the company that you are planning to book through. They should be able to answer questions about the accommodation and the location as well as giving you specific tips about travelling through the airport, hiring a car and so on.
My team and I regularly answer questions like these and have a lot of firsthand experience about holidaying with babies and small children. Our Facebook page is another place to post any holiday-with-baby related questions and you’ll get a quick response.
2) Think it through first:
Probably the biggest question to answer however is what type of holiday are you after? And how you answer this question depends on how old your children are and what sort of holidays you have been used to in the past.
Chunking up, it’s worth giving some thought to what you want to get our of your holiday. For me and my family it is about being relaxed enough to enjoy quality family time together and to recharge the batteries. For that reason my biggest tip though for a successful baby friendly holiday is to keep it simple.
Tempting as it might be to haul out to the Maldives (or similar) in an attempt to replicate life-before-baby I think this is to be avoided, certainly until you feel more confident. You’ll stress yourself out contemplating the flight, the food and your baby’s routine and chances are that you really won’t get the holiday that you dreamt of.
This is an extreme example but take my point. And the more stressed you are the less likely you are to be able to relax and enjoy this precious time together.
A more successful scenario would be to book a holiday where you are able to keep your baby within your routine, where your baby is able to feed and sleep in a way that it is used to, without to much faffing around with time zones. And if your baby gets enough sleep and food then you’ll all have a much more relaxed time.
And use the opportunity to relax and have an afternoon siesta…my children, even now, at the ages of 10, 9 and 3 expect us to close up and have a rest. This keeps them out of the sun, gives us all a break and now, they are older allows us to stay out later.
3) Holiday within Europe:
Going for the simpler option means choosing a destination with 4 hours flying time of the UK. I couldn’t face the prospect of an unnecessary long haul flight with my lot so we chose to explore some of the amazing locations within Europe.
(If you need some persuasion that taking a long haul flight with a small person is not a good idea, I can recommend reading this discussion on whether you should drug your child on long plane journeys. It sounds extreme but is extremely common.
And I’ve never felt that staying within Europe was a compromise. Some of my favourite places include the Algarve, southern Spain, the Dordogne or the south of France, in particular the area around in the south of France around Montpellier. And that’s just the start. There are literally dozens of stunning baby friendly holiday locations to choose from where there is plenty to do and your family are catered for. I could easily add Italy onto that list too.
And as long as your accommodation has everything that you need (check out our Essential Kit Guarantee) then you’ll find that life is very simple.
For day to day living, the supermarkets tend to be very well stocked with nappies and you may even recognise the same brands that you use here in the UK. Formula milk however is more of a challenge and we would advise you to bring your own formula milk or have it delivered to your destination in advance.
If you’re weaning your baby I’ve found that it is much simpler to stay somewhere that has cooking facilities, such as a villa, gite or a cottage, where you can prepare your own food. You’ll need to check that your accommodation has a hand blender so that you can puree food. If you want to use jarred food in Europe can be quite salty so do check the labelling.
Overall, whenever I have found myself fretting about taking my children abroad, I have always been reassured by the knowledge that babies are born every day in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal and survive perfectly well!
4) Go for self catering:
We’ve done the whole thing of having a baby in a hotel room with us and the reality is that it does not really make for a great holiday. First of all I’ve never been that keen on sharing a room with my kids. Not only are you super-sensitive to every noise they make through the night but they also have a tendency to wake up at the crack of dawn expecting to play.
One particularly memorable holiday in Greece had my husband and I taking it in turns to entertain our 1 year old from about 4am onwards. Believe me, there is a limit to what you can do with a baby for 4 hours before breakfast is served.
And then what do you and your partner do once you put your child to bed at say, 7pm? We’ve found ourselves sitting in the bathroom or in the corridor outside, waiting for them to go to sleep. That’s no way to spend a holiday!
Self-catering also sorts out allowing you to keep your baby in a routine and allows you to prepare and feed your baby, make formula, sterilise bottles and so on.
5) Safety First:
We started Tots To Travel because my two year old, Barnaby, fell into an unenclosed swimming pool on a holiday in France. We fished him out safely and he is now a strapping 10 year old but I will forever play that ‘what if’ question in my head.
And swimming pools are just one of the safety challenges which is why we simply do not take any chances with water. Our starting point is that every single villa must have a swimming pool with some sort of physical barrier – a fence or an electric cover that takes the weight of a child.
An alarm (as is sufficient under French law) is simply not enough. Not only are alarms a pain (the batteries run out and then people switch them off) but they are also triggered by the weight of a child falling into the water.
In our opinion it is simply too late, the horse has already bolted. Plus we believe that you should be able to relax, make a cup of tea or go to the loo without worrying that your child is half way down the garden to the pool. Tots To Travel is unique in making pool safety our number one selection criteria when we add a property to the site.
Whilst we are on the subject of pools, it is also worth considering a pool with heating as babies do not move around very much. I’d caveat this however by saying that pool heating is very dependent on the weather and the length of the day and night so do ask about how realistic it will be to use the pool when you book. If you are looking for a baby friendly holiday with all year round sunshine then do look at Villa Maria in Tenerife where the pools are heated and the weather is constant.
Further safety considerations include low windows, the width of banister and balcony railings, split levels and more. The Tots To Travel team visit and vet every single property to give you peace of mind and to ensure that they are as safe as possible. Where hazards cannot be completely ruled out we provide a Parent Point that makes sure you are aware of the challenge. You’ll see these on the individual property descriptions.
Safety issues are less relevant for tiny babies and become more important as babies begin to toddle. This is an important consideration if you are booking your holiday many months in advance. Your baby will change considerably and the initial stages of toddling can be a very wobbly time so issues like split levels in rooms will be more important to you now than any other.
And as soon as your baby starts moving you’ll need to make sure that your accommodation has stairgates, cupboards locks and many of the other items that you’ll find in our Essential Kit Guarantee.
6) All Kitted Out:
Another huge consideration for families with babies is all the baby-friendly kit that accompanies a baby on its travels. Sometimes it seems impossible to leave the house, let alone the country so making sure you go somewhere with all the kit will make your life much easier!
And the good news is that things are getting better, the days where villa owners provided a high chair and an antiquated cot and declaring that they are family friendly are, mercifully, in the past.
With this major shift in the quality and standard of baby friendly holidays means that villas are much better equipped these days. More often than not if there is additional equipment that you would like then it is worth asking for it. If you are a big group travelling together, for example, and you require additional cots, just ask!
Tots To Travel goes one step further and has drawn up a list of 20 items that we now consider the basics and guarantee in every property. This list includes hand blenders, black out blinds and more.
7) Just do it!
It is possible to over think and to make life more complicated than it need be. Of course, travelling with a baby needs thought and preparation but it’s all easily doable and the path has been well trodden before.
And if you have any problems there are plenty of people who are happy help and if necessary translate for you. And if the worst comes to the worst it is easy to hop on a plane to come home.
Be brave, just do it!