The secret to holidaying with a young one in tow.
Fear often reigns supreme, keeping parents of tiny tots at home until they feel confident to head abroad, with some not travelling until their little one has to stump up their own airfare. For us, that is a very long time to spend on a small island, even if it is as happening as Hong Kong!
Never one to linger too long, within three months of having my first child, wanderlust kicked in and we all headed to Oman. The holiday was such a success that with the impending arrival of number two, we booked a similar trip, heeding lessons learnt from the first. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that both of these trips, with a newborn of just three months, were the key to my post-natal sanity.
Whilst a trip at this stage may seem daunting, when planned well, it restores a sense of normality, relieves daily stresses and instils a sense of joy in the whole family. But I know nerves may dominate, so for those still dubious, here are my top tips for a successful trip with a new baby.
Destination — Follow the sun!
I cannot emphasise enough how important the right destination and hotel are. Essential requirements for us include guaranteed sunshine, airport proximity, luxury touches, quality medical options and family friendliness. We choose Dubai, well Ajman to be exact, a small Emirate that’s a 30-minute drive from Dubai airport. It has sunshine every day, perfect 28-degree temperatures in November and modern medical facilities on every corner.
Closer to Hong Kong, destinations like Da Nang, Phuket, Bali, Singapore or even Penang are all a direct flight away, have fantastic hotels and villas, as well as modern, western-standard hospitals, in case of emergencies.
Hotels And Resorts
Whilst there are so many luxury hotels out there, only one in the Middle East made my shortlist. The Oberoi Al Zorah resort. Not only did it have a kids’ club for our 3-year-old to let off steam (and allow us some downtime), but it also offered up stand-alone villas alongside normal hotel rooms. Yes, they push the budget to the max, but the luxury of space and solitude when it comes to nap times is priceless.
No matter where you choose to travel to, you want to look for fabulous rooms, a relaxing atmosphere and a variety of dining options (either at, or close to, your accommodation). Luckily, in Asia, we have some great family-friendly (and budget-friendly) luxury resorts and villas all just a short flight away.
You’re going to spend a lot of time in your room. So, if there was ever a time to splurge on space, a private pool, a balcony or view, this is it! I could write a whole feature piece just on the beautiful room at The Oberoi, but to summarise, it was bigger than most apartments and had everything we needed for our toddler and baby. There was a private pool and it truly felt like a home from home (if only our home was as luxurious)! And the bed. Every new mother should be forced to have a night’s sleep in that bed, just to restore a basic sense of balance in the world. Wherever you stay, make sure the rooms provide your new family with a perfect little sanctuary.
You’ll also need great food (and family-friendly restaurants). See if you can check out menus and facilities online before you travel. You’re looking for high-chairs and a kid’s menu (if you have older babies/toddlers), decent room service options — let’s face it you’ll likely find yourself eating in and watching bubs sleep at least one night of your trip (so you’ll preferably want a bit of menu variety if you are staying longer than a few days). Parking for a pushchair is an added bonus, as newborns are very portable and hotels often won’t provide babysitters for newborns meaning they will be coming to dinner with you.
A Place To Relax
You will also need a beautiful location to relax in. Whether it’s lying by the beach or pool, or staring at beautiful mountains, a stunning location (not too far from the comfort of your room) is vital.
What we particularly noticed as second-time parents is just how portable babies are. Toddlers need distracting, but babies just need milk and shade. So as long as a hotel can offer the latter and you provide the former, the baby is happy! We took our pram blackout blind, allowing our daughter to nap while we were out and about.
So, as I waffle on, you can see how choosing the right hotel is key. We didn’t leave the hotel once. There was no need! Avoid unnecessary thought, planning and effort and simply allow the hotel to pamper you.
Flying With A Newborn — Change your expectations and pack more than you think you could ever need!
Let’s not overlook one of the biggest fear factors in travelling with a newborn baby – flying. But the secret is simple, take milk in whatever form you are favouring, switch to the new country time as soon as you board to get your routine into a rhythm and just adjust your expectations. Our toddler was a TV zombie the whole flight there and back, while the baby snoozed or fed or needed walking up and down the aisle. So, I didn’t finish a meal, I didn’t watch a movie and I definitely didn’t get to go to the loo without balancing a baby on my hip, but we made it in one piece and you will too. The key secret is staying patient and while you may not sleep, you will get there and have a luxe hotel to take care of you at the other end.
To ensure smooth running here are some tips:
- Travel in a giant, dark coloured pashmina – it will double up as a feeding shawl, a blackout blind when they fail to dim cabin lights, and is also useful for hiding the multiple baby sick stains on your clothes as you disembark.
- Pack spare clothes for baby and you.
- Pack more nappies than you think you might need just in case (one for every hour of the flight is a good rule of thumb).
- If you’re bottle-feeding, pack twice as many bottles than you should need, in case of disasters or delays. Pack a dummy (or put baby on the boob) so their ears can pop on the descent.
- Finally, book a bulkhead seat. Call the airline and secure one straight after booking. You probably won’t actually use the bassinet for the baby – they’re annoyingly small, are right under the air-conditioning and are generally too bright if the baby needs to sleep. The baby inevitably slept on me, but the extra legroom with baby items spilling over is never going to go amiss!
- Consider booking a seat for your baby and taking an airline-approved car seat (like the Maxi-Cosi Pebble Plus). Your baby will be cosy and familiar with the sleeping arrangement and will be right next to you. Call the airline in advance to check your car seat is approved, show the check-in staff the “approved for airline use” label and make sure they communicate with cabin crew. While it is allowed on most flights, it is rarely used by passengers and so many cabin crew will be unfamiliar with the rules.
Packing For Baby’s First Trip
Don’t panic! Get the hotel to help and simplify what you think you need. I admit myself that I’m an OCD organised packer – I start weeks in advance and have multiple lists. But I have learnt the hard way it’s not actually that complicated. Anything you can get in a supermarket, ask the hotel to buy for you. Our hotels were always wonderfully accommodating when it came to sourcing formula, nappies and even oat milk for our dairy-allergic toddler (for a tiny surcharge that was totally worth it).
Check with your hotel, as it can often provide essentials like sterilisers, baby cots, and even baby baths and toiletries. It can also get the appropriate car seat for airport transfers. Get the hotel to source what you need or just make do. Do you really need that special hooded baby towel? Let’s face it, a towel is a towel! You will be fine, I promise!
Packing Essentials — Carry On: Milk or formula, muslins, change bag (overstocked), pushchair (with a travel bag to prevent damage).
Packing essentials — Checked Luggage: Baby clothing, nappy bags, washing up liquid, bottle brush, bottles, formula, sterilising tablets, baby sleeping paraphernalia (in our case swaddles, blanket, Sleepyhead and travel blackout blind), swim nappies, muslins, a monitor so you can enjoy the sun whilst baby naps during the day, medicine essentials.
Leave behind: Everything else! This includes bouncers (come on, it won’t really fit!), nursing pillows (you can definitely get by with regular pillows for a few days) and excessive toys.
Day To Day — Find your own routine.
The key is getting into the simplest, smoothest routine possible. Then you can just switch your brain off and enjoy being a family. For us, this meant not leaving the hotel and splitting parental duties. We didn’t actually see each other much until dinner time and I had to be realistic about how much sunbathing I would do, or how many books I would finish (less than one!).
This was our routine. I would wake with the baby at 7am and feed her. Then my husband took over and I would go to the gym for 30 minutes which felt like such a treat after 12 weeks post-C-Section bed rest. Our 3-year-old woke at 8am (we set his Gro-clock to give us a sleep-in!) and we’d all get ready for a leisurely breakfast. By this time bubs was ready for another nap, while we enjoyed a nice coffee and more than one visit to the indulgent buffet!
Then we would head to the beach and bag a cabana. The morning was spent keeping the baby in the shade, with one of us getting a bit of reading time in as she stared at her baby book, whilst the other played with the toddler. The toddler lunched on the beach whilst I took the baby to our villa for her nap and got to sit in the sun for an hour by our private pool (at moments like this you realise how wonderful having space around your room is).
In the afternoon, our toddler napped and one of us would head to the hotel pool for some independent chill time. Then it’s family time by the pool, splashing around and letting the baby have an afternoon nap in the pushchair whilst we watched the spectacular daily sunsets.
The evenings are when you’ll need to do a bit of juggling to get everyone showered, bathed and in bed! Dinners with young babies are easy, just get them to sleep in the pram, cover them up and they can come along with you. Toddlers, on the other hand, will need an early dinner, room service, or a babysitter — perfect for a well-earned date night (our first in over three months!).
Obviously daily variations occurred. Some days our toddler would go to kids’ club, others were raining and required movie days, but on the whole, our ten days followed very much the same pattern. Rather than being boring, it made the trip so easy. And easy is what every new mother wants.
That, along with no cooking, no cleaning, some sunshine, some (much-needed) sleep and a very blissful massage and you’ll start to feel some sort of normal again.
Essential Safety And Medical Information
There are some unavoidable things you have to consider when travelling with a baby.
Medical care is good to know about in case of emergencies. We did actually have to call the doctor one day as our baby got a hair tourniquet on her toe (look it up– good to know about!) but he was great and the hotel sorted it all for us. So, just make sure you stay somewhere either close to a hospital, or where the hotel can help you out. You probably won’t need it, but it’s essential for peace of mind.
If you’re making up formula, have a good supply of bottled water to use and a kettle to boil it with. Check these guidelines as not all bottled water is suitable.
Be especially careful when sterilising as you’re abroad. Either use a steam steriliser if the hotel has one, otherwise get sterilising tablets as they’re small and easily portable. They do leave a funny taste on the bottles, so you might need to rinse with some boiled or bottled water afterwards.
Get to the airport way ahead of when you used to. No one wants to rush when they have a baby with them.
Triple check your hotel-provided car seat is the right size (I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been given a toddler seat for a small baby!). Better still, bring your own (most airlines will let you check in a car seat and other baby items for free).
Don’t forget to take out travel insurance for the entire family. The peace of mind is priceless!
Finally, don’t expect a holiday like they used to be. But do expect, if you stick to the above tips, to have the most memorable, wonderful quality time with your new family unit.