Before Hazel was born, Rob and I travelled quite a lot. Not often to far-flung places – more like a weekend in London, or four days in Copenhagen. As we’re both self-employed, it was easy to pick a random date, book a couple of flights and find a nice Airbnb. Fling a few outfits in a cabin bag, arrange for our neighbours to feed the cats, and we were off.
Then Hazel arrived and travelling became an entirely different story. For the first three months we didn’t go anywhere, preferring the comfort of our own home and still attempting to get to grips with newborn life. When she turned four months, we drove up to Edinburgh for a couple of nights – the 3.5 hour car journey was slightly more stressful when listening to a screaming baby rather than a carefully curated playlist, but we had a lovely time all the same.
Then just before Hazel turned six months, I booked a trip to Madrid. Just two tickets – one for me, and one for her. Our first solo trip, and it involved crossing an ocean. BIG STEP.
I’ll be honest – I was absolutely shitting it. I loved travelling alone pre-baby, but having a wrangle a six-month old through two airports while also dragging a suitcase and juggling passports and boarding cards was very daunting. When would she nap? What if she cried on the plane? How would I get a taxi without a car seat? WHAT IF SHE CRIED ON THE PLANE?!
Hazel having a ball in El Retiro park, Madrid
In the end, though, it was absolutely fine and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I really stressed about the airport, particularly being on the plane with no escape if Hazel started crying, but it all went without a hitch and we had a fantastic time in Madrid. I got some great advice from fellow parents and found a few things were totally invaluable for a smooth transition from home to away, so I thought I’d put everything together in a handy checklist. Here we go!
Before you leave
– Check what baby baggage allowance your airline allows. I flew with Ryanair and on top of my own hand luggage and a smaller bag for Hazel, I was also allowed a pram/pushchair AND car seat OR travel cot. Some airlines don’t count your pushchair, so you could take a car seat AND cot AND pram.
– Try to take as few bulky items as possible. Just because you CAN take a pushchair, cot and car seat, doesn’t mean you really need to. Car seats can be hired at the airport when you land and travel cots can be included in hotel rooms or apartments. Airbnb is particularly useful for this, as you can filter your search for ‘family friendly’ apartments which often include a travel cot and high chair.
– Think carefully about what pram/pushchair/stroller you take. I agonised for ages over this – I have a Bugaboo and a Mamas & Papas Urbo2, but both are bulky travel systems that come in two parts. Your pram must be able to fit through the security scanners, and with the Bugaboo that’d mean removing the wheels… something I certainly didn’t want to be doing while in sole charge of a baby! In the end we bought a Babyzen Yoyo stroller and I literally can’t sing its praises enough. It folds down in one fluid movement that you can do while holding a baby. It’s super lightweight, easy to carry with a shoulder strap and can even be taken on the plane as cabin luggage due to its tiny size. It also comes in loads of colours. I bought mine from John Lewis and the Ginger colour pack from Natural Baby Shower.
– If you’re flying with a budget airline, pay for a checked bag and priority boarding. I did the former but not the latter as I thought the addition of a baby would bump me up to the front of the queue – I was wrong! Staff were helpful and I did manage to get on the plane quite speedily, but being able to board at the front of the queue would’ve been really helpful for getting myself settled and feeding Hazel before it got busy.
At the airport
– If you’re taking additional baby luggage like a car seat, cot or pushchair that needs to be checked into the hold, you might need to queue separately after checking in. I did not know this and didn’t leave enough time to drop off the Sleepyhead (my ‘travel cot’ allowance!) at the specialist luggage desk, and the queue was massive. So bear that in mind!
– Give yourself enough time, but not too much time. I didn’t quite get this right in Manchester as I arrived at the airport with only 45 mins to spare (!!!) and it was very stressful. But on the way home, I had an hour and 15 mins to clear check-in and security at Madrid, and that was a good amount of time for getting through everything without rushing but not having a long and boring (especially for a baby!) wait at the other side.
– Take a sling. Seriously! I had Hazel in my Connecta carrier throughout the airport and it made everything so much easier. Just be aware you’ll have to take it off to go through security.
– Use the ‘special assistance’ line at security – it means you don’t have to queue with everyone else but get taken straight through to the scanners. There’s a member of staff there to help you – a lovely man at Manchester held Hazel for me while I collapsed the buggy and put our stuff in the trays. It makes such a difference to have an extra pair of hands for this bit, so don’t just join the normal queue!
– When at your gate, make yourself known to staff so they can help you (and potentially allow you to board early, although this didn’t happen for me!). Even though I had my Babyzen Yoyo which can be taken on-board the plane as hand luggage, the flight was totally full so they took it off me and checked it. I did have it right up to the plane steps though, which was a real help.
– To keep Hazel occupied on the flight, I took a selection of toys as well as a big muslin to cover her with so she could nap. But the most useful thing by far was a baby sensory video I downloaded from YouTube and saved to my phone – whenever she got a bit cranky or bored, I stuck it in front of her face and she was mesmerised!
When you arrive
– Work out how you’ll get from your arrival airport to your accommodation. I spent ages looking into the different options – I could get the metro into the city, but I wasn’t sure I could physically do it with a pushchair, a travel bed, a suitcase AND a baby! I could’ve booked a car transfer complete with car seat, but that was pretty expensive. My final option was to take a taxi – when you travel in a taxi with a baby, they don’t legally need to be in a car seat. I felt a bit uncomfortable about Hazel being in a car without a proper seat, but in the end I had her strapped to me in the carrier with a seat belt around us both and it was fine.
– Once you’re settled in your accommodation, the holiday can really begin! I found trying to keep to Hazel’s routine as much as possible while staying flexible was the best way to transition her from everyday life to holiday time. She had her morning nap in the apartment (dark, white noise, in the Sleepyhead) but then her afternoon nap was on the go – in her pushchair or the sling. It was a bit hit and miss but overall it worked well and was much easier than trying to get back to the apartment for the afternoon nap.
– Don’t do too much. Sightseeing with a baby is hard work – for you and them! If you’re heading to a popular tourist spot this summer, it’ll most likely be hot, loud and busy, which can quickly become overwhelming for a baby. I found that doing things in short bursts was best – we’d go to a museum with Hazel in the sling and wander for an hour, then spend the next hour in the park where Hazel could have a wriggle on the grass. After lunch we’d walk around the city with Hazel in her pushchair and the SnoozeShade over her (highly recommend taking a SnoozeShade with you – not only to create a dark environment for napping, but also to keep the sun off your little one when they’re in the pram) so she could sleep.
Hazel napping while I enjoyed the Rose Garden in Parque del Oeste, Madrid
Before Hazel and I embarked on our Spanish adventure, I was very nervous about how I’d manage alone. When we were back at home and I had chance to think about the experience, I realised my nerves came from how I thought other people might react – if Hazel cried on the plane, if she got bored in a museum, if she wouldn’t nap and got overtired. I could handle all those things, but what if my fellow passengers/tourists couldn’t?
I soon realised, though, that to really enjoy travelling with a baby – especially when you’re doing it alone without moral support from a partner – you have to just get on with it and try not to worry about what everyone around you is doing. For the most part I found people were delighted to see a baby; they were super helpful and very accommodating. Next time Hazel and I head off somewhere, I won’t give it a second thought.
If you’re planning a solo trip with your baby this summer, I hope you found this post useful. And if you have more tips to add, I’d love to hear them – share away in the comments!