We have just booked flights to New York this August; our first holiday as four, and our first long haul flight since either baby came along. Its easily one of our bigger adventures which will include not only a brilliant week in New york, but also a trek up a mountain hours outside of Manhatten to see two great friends get married. We are so excited! But mention this to anyone else and there is a slight look of terror on our behalf, at the prospect of flying 8+ hours with two babies (they’ll be two and half and almost six months when we go) as well as the drive, the trek, the idea of camping out (at what sounds like the most amazing wedding reception) and pretty much dealing with life with littles while also abroad. I get it, I do. It sounds daunting. But I can honestly say I’m not concerned at all. I’m not under some naive assumption that it will all go perfect smoothly and neither girl will have some sort of epic melt down at all during the trip, but I’m not anymore worried than I would be if we were having a two week break in Cornwall.
A lot of our friends have the notion that we are seasoned travelers (we aren’t by any means, but we have been lucky enough to travel a bit with Elin during her first two years) and will ask for any tips or tricks of holidaying with babies. Its made me want to write down my own advice, partly so when I inevitably do start freaking out at our latest adventure, I can calm myself down with my own words. Partly so I actually take heed all my advice and remember to the bring the bits we have talked about. And maybe because one of you guys might be interested too. Finally, it gave me a chance to look through all our holiday snaps from the last two years and that’s always good fun! Nothing like a bit of wanderlust on a rainy wednesday afternoon. So there are officially way too many pictures in this post but they each bring back such a happy memory I couldn’t filter them down! (sorry, not sorry!)
Flying. The first thing most people will be worried about is the flight itself. I really blame that on pressure in todays society to raise perfect little angels. But lets face it, babies and children aren’t just adults in miniature. I think the sooner we all just accept that sometimes, babies cry, the better. And I use this logic on flights. Worse that can happen? Baby cries permanently the entire time. Yes, you’ll be stressed, anxious and wanting the ground to swallow you up. But at least come the end of that dreaded flight you’ll be off on holiday (or back to your own bed) and will likely never see your fellow passengers again. I’m 100% positive that the world won’t end because of a screaming child on a plane. So if that’s your worry, just breath. Only a very small percentage of the population suck enough to complain and those people definately don’t deserve to take up any more of your head space. Besides, your ticket didn’t come with a policy to keep all other passengers happy, even if the other passenger is in fact your off spring. It’ll be fine.
We’ve flown with Elin at various ages and its always been manageable. The most universal advice would be to feed babe on take off and landing. It helps their little ears. After that though, any advice really just depends on the child. We’ve done lots- our flight to Santorini (beyond the take off) was spent in the emergency exit with Elin just laying down to kick and play. She’s waddled up and down isles on our trip to Jersey, and we’ve entertained and placated her with toys and snacks on our most recent trip to Italy. She’s also had flights shes just slept through. Now that shes older we’ll be going the toys route for our New york flight. Obviously this is just a plan and it could all be a disaster, but we’ll be estimating a toy an hour. We’ll be wrapping up each toy individually so the unwrapping is part of the game. (who doesn’t love presents?) and including a few tried and tested favorites of hers as well as new bits. We’ve already decided that part of our arsnel will be:
Cheerios to thread onto pipe cleaners (a craft and a snack all in one 😉 )
Sticky tape (to make letters and numbers on windows, train tracks on the little lap table etc)
The cbeebies app on the I-phone (no shame, what-so-ever)
Its just little things that can capture a toddler interest and be used different ways. Also, none of this takes up a huge amount of space and all would trigger her imagination. Each kid is different but this is what would work for her currently (could all change come August, who knows?) If anyone has any other nifty ideas I’d love to hear them!
Snacks is also pretty important. When we went to Italy we had an empty plastic bead box and filled the compartment with different snacks. She really enjoyed mixing all the bits so it had the novelty factor, a bit like a toddler graze box. You could include berries, nuts, seeds, pop corn, raisins, yoghurt coated treats, cereals. Anything thats small like that and your child enjoys. We’ll be doing it again as it kept her busy as well as fed.
We’ve yet to do a child specific holiday. I don’t think we’re really all inclusive type people and our trips are generally more centered around exploring a new culture and experiencing a brand new place. Just because we are parents we don’t automatically loose our interest in that, and its an interest we keenly want to pass along to our children too. So for us we really just go where our hearts tell us. Having the girls wouldn’t stop us going a certain place at all. That being said, especially as the babies get older, I think its important to factor their interests into you itinerary. I’m sure every parent will agree, that your happiest when your children are happy. So if that means we spend a half a day at a play park (theoretically something we could do back in England on a daily basis) then so be it. We try and find activities or sites of interest we know Elin would enjoy (and Etty too, but currently shes at a very ‘portable’ age). For example in Rome we found the most wonderful childrens museum that really was amazing. It made for a brilliant afternoon as Elin was in her absolute element. We’re always on the look out for parks, carosels, open spaces to get her wiggles out, indoor areas in case of rain where she can still play. They might not be cultural hot spots but seeing her happy and free more than makes up for that.
Realistically we keep our itinerary pretty loose. Maybe plan one thing for the morning and one for the afternoon, which allows plenty of time to mooch in between. If it were just us two, we would be cramming as much into each day as possible, checking off all the things on the bucket list. But that pace just isn’t as enjoyable or easy when you have littles in tow. In fact, travelling with Elin forces us to enjoy a slower place and get something so different from our break. I also think factoring in down time, just staying at the hotel for example, is really important too. Being a parent requires being pretty flexible on a daily basis, and applying that while travelling is all that really matters.
If there’s one thing you absolutely can’t miss though, do it. For me, most recently, that was the hot springs in Tuscany. It meant a 4 am start but I’m still a woman with her own dreams and I think i’m entitled to check those off from time to time. James wanted to do a zip wire outside of Rome. It meant a detour and longer drive than we would really have planned, but it was his holiday too. I think its an important balance, and it will only get harder as our children grow and foster their own unique interests, but its what makes for a happy holiday. And there’s always time to do what makes you feel ultimately happy and content.
We do try and respect Elin’s routine as much as possible, even while abroad. We still aim to keep naps and bed times mostly the same, but don’t stress when this doesn’t happen. Meal times too, her daily routines are important to her and make for a happier child than one whose seen every landmark in Paris, for example. Its not always do able, but keeping things as normal as possible helps them adapt a lot better, i believe.
So, any suggestions for things we absolutely should not miss in New york? For any one of us?
Where we stay?
We’ve booked all sorts of accommodation to suit our (low end) budget, but we almost always have most luck with anything that’s more like an apartment. Having children has changed what we look for in terms of where to stay. Anywhere that we plan to be for more than a few nights, I’d want an area that’s separate from the bedroom so we can have a bit of down time after the kids are in bed. A kitchen is also unbelievably helpful too (and ultimately keeps costs lower as you don’t eat out so much). We also need to start remembering to check a place has a bath. A sink bath for the girls and a shower for us just is not the same as a proper bath. Its the one luxury I really don’t want to for go on our holidays.
We love a good Air B and B as you can stay in some really unique spots. But if a hotel ticked all those boxes that would be great too. Although after singlehandedly checking out of a hotel in Napels with ALL our luggage, plus baby, in the smallest lift in the world, personally I’d want a ground floor room, or a very kind worker to help 😉 )
Also, once weaning, anywhere that offers a breakfast buffet is usually fab and well worth the money. We’d fill up our bag with fruit, pastries and snacks to keep us going or make up the most of a lunch box for the next meal.
Obviously its a good idea to double check that they can provide a high chair and travel cot as a minimum (although I’m kidding myself if I say I’d get my kids to sleep in it- mumma’s bed, all the way!). But most places this is pretty standard now a days, as family travel becomes the norm.
Baby gear or ‘kit’
When on holiday we rely massively on our carriers. Without meaning too, James and I have both become really into baby wearing and the convenience it brings you. You’ll see out Solly baby wrap in a lot of these images from when Elin was younger (Etty is using it daily now too!) and our Tula now Elin is bigger. Both allow for naps on the go, and are great when little legs get too tired. It also means if you really want to push bed time to experience a place at night, you can technically ‘get them down’ while in the carrier. Not quite a bed time routine but it works a treat for us. We definitely wouldn’t take on a holiday without them.
However its nice to have a pram too, especially now that the babies equal the parents in numbers 😉 Whether we take a pram or not will largely depend on the location. For example a pram would have been a complete nightmare in Santorini and a real pain in Venice, but other cities are very buggy friendly. Although, for us and our babies the carrier is far more important than the pram, so we would scratch that off first if we needed too.
We have flown with a car seat before, but actually we ditched it before boarding the return flight as we already had our hands more than full with luggage. Luckily it was a cheapy we’d picked up for the sole purpose of the trip so it didn’t matter. Otherwise renting them with the car rental is another reasonably cheap option. Though bare in mind car seat regulations vary from different countries so be very clear about the type of seat you expect. And also double check their laws- in Jersey its illegal to travel in a taxi without a car seat, something we only discovered when all taxis were turning us away. (For the record I wholeheartedly agree with this law, but it was just unexpected as its not that way in the UK)
For the most part I’d recommend travelling with as little baby gear as possible. In fact, I’d recommend travelling with as little as possible. Luggage is a real pain, and a lot of it really isn’t needed. Anything that you can buy or rent out there- nappies, food, travel cot, I would. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable focusing on baby during the air port run and flight, without the entire contents of a nursery.
Most importantly, I’d say just keep calm. It doesn’t need to be stressful, and actually for me, its less stressful than every day life as we have a daddy on call 24-7. That doesn’t happen at home with work and other commitments. It even means I can relax a little on holidays, too.
Even if we could happily leave our babies at home and take a holiday together, I don’t think we would. The experiences and memories we have gained by travelling as a family are completely priceless. Its a massive treat for James to spend uninterrupted time with the girls, day in, day out, and you get the bonus of being in a great place too. Its a wonderful time for us to reconnect as a couple and as a family and just a wonderful, albeit slightly stressful, bonding experience. I really hope as the girls get older they are just as keen and excited to see the world; its a gift I can only dream of giving them.
Any genuinely seasoned travelers have any thoughts or tips to add? We have a few months of planning before we fly again so I’d love to hear your thoughts, tricks, recomendations and anything else! I’ve kept the photos to ones specific to our trips with Elin in tow, but couldn’t resist this throw back to our first holiday together to New york itself, what feels like a life time ago.