Despite having three children, the eldest of whom is six, and having been on holiday three times with our biggest two, we had never taken a baby abroad before May this year.
There are a few reasons why we hadn’t taken the plunge sooner but if I’m honest, the chief reason is that we had simply assumed that holidaying with a baby would be a nightmare. It just felt like there was so much potential for stress and disaster.
Firstly, there’s the packing. Babies come with all manner of kit and caboodle and we’d surely have to pack the kitchen sink. Then there were all the horror stories we’d heard about babies screaming for the duration of the flight, while all the other passengers stared and tutted.
At the other side, we’d no doubt spend all week worrying about sunburn and changes to nap routines – it wouldn’t feel like a holiday, would it?
We were pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find that almost all our travelling-with-baby fears were quashed when we headed to the Martinhal Sagres Family Resort with a five-month-old (and a three-year-old, and a six-year-old).
It was a lot easier than we had imagined and we have been kicking ourselves retrospectively for not taking our firstborn abroad as a baby, or our second-born, and waiting until we had triple the trouble to brave it.
In fact, at many points during the week it was our bigger boys, and their continuous demands for snacks, alongside their insistence on ‘wrestling’ each other at any given opportunity, that proved more stressful than the baby!
The airport security, which I had been dreading, particularly after I’d had a panic about how dodgy the white powder in our formula dispensers looked, went smoothly.
We’d read up online to find out what we could take through in our hand-luggage and knew there was a chance we might get asked to taste-test any readymade bottles we were carrying (we didn’t, in the end).
We knew we would be able to take the pushchair all the way to the steps of the plane, which meant that other than handing it over to go through the security scanner, we had the pram on hand if the baby got cross with us holding him (which he did, in departures!).
The advice we’d read, from both the airline and our local airport, was clear and it was easy to work out in advance what we would or wouldn’t be allowed to do or take.
It was zero hassle checking in a car seat with our luggage and we opted for a destination with a short flight time, of which he only screamed for around ten minutes in the end and our fellow passengers were lovely about it – all in all, a lot more painless than anticipated!
We did end up packing quite a lot of stuff, partly because our baby has reflux and gets through more outfit changes than Beyoncé, but as we had booked through Tots to Travel we’d been able to request a range of the bulkier items in advance – high chair, travel cot, steriliser, booster seat, bouncer chair – and were also provided with some of the smaller items, including books and toys, that made the apartment a home away from home and meant we didn’t have to pack our own.
As it turned out, even the reflux was less stressful on holiday because any baby clothes or bibs we washed would dry within minutes on the balcony.
The only fear we’d had which turned out to be at least partially true was our worry that the baby wouldn’t adapt to a new routine on holiday.
As adults, it almost feels like a switch is activated when you step off the plane on arrival – ‘holiday mode’ is triggered and for the week or two you are away, normal rules and routines go out of the window.
Babies don’t always get the holiday-mode memo and it wasn’t long before we realised there would be no break from our routine, particularly the bedtime one, simply because we were in Portugal.
Of course, there are many babies who are happy to stay up a bit later, or who will sleep anywhere, and if you have one of those you can make the most of evening strolls on the beach or meals in the restaurant with a baby in tow.
Our baby is simply not a pram-napper. Nor will he nap in the baby carrier if his body clock is shouting ‘IT’S BEDTIME!’ so we were a tiny bit restricted by having to get back to the apartment to put him down to bed at 6:30PM but it didn’t affect our overall enjoyment of the week.
It just meant we ended up shifting how our days were arranged, opting to have a main meal and a glass of something cold at lunchtime, rather than in the evenings.
Above all else, our original assertion that taking a baby abroad just ‘wouldn’t be worth it’ was proved wrong in the very special moments we had as a family together.
Dipping his toes in the pool, allowing him to taste some new foods (the restaurants at Martinhal have a special baby food menu which is top-notch!) and watching as he giggled in delight at his brothers’ splashing in the pool.
He won’t remember holidaying as a baby, of course, but we will. It was 100% worth it.