Have baby. Will travel.

16 May

Travelling light? Not exactly...

A week long holiday in Greece now involves 2 large suitcases, a rucksack, a huge buggy, a baby carrier and giant hand luggage packed with toys. We didn’t even know if we’d be able to fit it all in a normal sized car to get to the airport. It’s a lot of stuff.

It did just about fit in the car but that’s just the start of the logistical wrangling that is travelling with a baby. I used my trusted method of trial and error, coupled with my mantra: I’m sure it’ll all be fine. Lets start at the beginning.

We had travelled with the baby before. A week self catering in France when she was 12 weeks old involved packing every cubic centimetre of our car with stuff in a Jenga meets Crystal Maze kinda way. We took EVERYTHING. Buggy, bouncy chair, steriliser, nappies, clothes for any meteorological event imaginable, formula, bedding, spare everything. Again, it was a lot of stuff. Mainly because we were still new at being parents and had The Fear that a giant Carrefour might not stock the exact items we wanted for our tiny baby.

We survived. It was actually fun. I’m glad we went. Actually, I’m more glad we booked the trip while I was pregnant. If we’d left it till after the baby was born I doubt we’d have had the confidence/energy/organisation to sort it out. It was a lovely holiday. We had lunch out each day and cooked dinner at our rented cottage on the evening then drank wine, ate cheese and watched Game of Thrones on the laptop while the baby snoozed on the sofa beside us. She slept on a single bed in our bedroom after going postal in the cot on the first night. We just surrounded her with pillows. Happy days.

At 8 months we took her to Madrid for 4 days. Flying = Less stuff. We took a Maclaren stroller rather than our massive Bugaboo and 2 large cases. We rented an apartment through AirBnB. We took her to galleries, museums, tapas bars. She slept in a travel cot. We did the same as France. Lunch out, dinner in. Then beers and Homeland DVD for us. It was fine.

So, now she’s 14 months and the opportunity arose for an impromptu package holiday to Lindos in Rhodes. “It’ll be fine!” My trusty motto reassured me. It was fine. But it was not without challenges.

Some of the questions I asked myself were:

• What if she won’t drink Greek cows milk? She did.

• What if she won’t eat the food? She did. A lot.

• What if she gets bitten by mosquitoes? She didn’t. I did.

• What if she won’t sleep in a strange room/cot/climate? Again. All fine.

The baby was fine. She took it all in her wobbly stride.

The airport was easy. Gatwick had a designated Family Security channel. It was closed. We had to disassemble our big buggy for scanning and we had to sacrifice a 200ml bottle of toddler milk as it would’ve been useless had we opened it (it was for her last feed of the day). We bought more in Boots. You can pre-order formula powder and ready made milk then collect it at the airport. News to me. Handy.

We had a late lunch and boarded quickly. Thomson had seated a lot of the small kids in the same part of the plane which was good for us as there’s safety in shouty numbers, bad for the child-free travellers unlucky enough to be seated in close proximity.

Our flight was at 4pm and the baby was in good spirits, sitting or more often, standing on my lap, looking about, happy-slapping my face and laughing. It was a 4 hour flight and she snoozed a bit, ate a sandwich, drank some milk and stared at the little boy in the seat behind me. It was ok.

Collecting bags at Rhodes was ok, finding our coach was ok.

Then it was Really Not Ok.

Bedtime had long passed. It was hot. The baby went postal. She was the only infant on our coach and she was going crazy. Not ideal. A fellow passenger tried to calm her with a chocolate button. No. This seemed to offend her so much that she upped the rage to Purple. Sigh.

I stripped her down to her vest and when they turned the lights out she calmed but did not want to sit on my lap at all. She bucked and contorted like a fitting, psychotic octopus for 45 mins. Then peace. Then they stopped the coach to drop people off. They put the lights on. The beast was awoken.

After an hour we arrived at our hotel and the relief on the coach was audible as we disembarked. The baby was now happy as Larry in the reception area and worryingly Wide Awake.

Our apartment was lovely, the cot was already set up. We put her down. We drank cold beer outside. She slept. Thank fuck for that.

The week was great fun, but not a ‘holiday’ in the traditional sense. The baby wanted to crawl everywhere, pull up on anything, throw herself into the pool at any opportunity and generally exhibit no diligence at all in regard to personal safety. She seemed to actively pursue danger. We took it in shifts to herd her away from potentially life threatening activities. It was hard work, but she was delightful, funny and good value. She learned the word “goat” quite quickly, then unfortunately applied it thus:
Baby: (pointing) “Wassat? Goat?”
Me: “No, that’s a lady”

Bit embarrassing but hilarious.

The Greek people were amazingly accommodating of my beautiful blond girl. She was warmly welcomed in to tavernas, shopkeepers gave her (inappropriate) sweets and even nice restaurants were more than happy to have her.

Everywhere had high chairs. Everywhere had hummus. The baby was happy.

So, what did she eat? After a suspicious poke, she decided that Greek yoghurt, although different, was fine. Greek salad was also good. Pita bread, hummus and bananas provide a balanced diet, right?

I bought a bag of mini chocolate croissants, figuring, why not? It’s her holiday too. Why not have something a bit less healthy. She had chips too. A lot. I’d rather she had chips and pastries rather than nothing. Yes, she loves cucumber and tomato but she needed calories.

I did take some Ella’s Kitchen pouches just in case and these were useful. Easy to heat, no need to refrigerate.

We fed her dinner before we went out so she wouldn’t be hungry like the wolf (and therefore mardy as hell) when we arrived at a taverna. 3 nights out of 6 she fell asleep in the buggy in the walk into town and stayed asleep all evening, allowing us to drink cheap (but nice) Greek wine and eat our dinner in blissful peace. Thank you baby.

The 3 other nights she sat in a high chair, eating bits and pieces of our food, poking her fingers in tzatziki, chatting away merrily. It was mostly stress free. Several things made this possible.

1. Wifi. Greece has fully embraced free wifi, unlike some other countries, (I’m talking about you, France). If she got a bit stroppy I’d show her some In The Night Garden on my phone. Never underestimate the hypnotic soothing power of that weird shit.

2. Greek people genuinely love kids. They weren’t just tolerating her, they chatted, played and entertained her.

3. Chips.

It was a lot of fun. It also meant I got to eat some chips. Bonus.

We achieved Baby Sleepage both at nap time during the day, and in the evening by walking her around a bit, reclining the buggy right back (Bugaboo Cameleon, we love you) and covering her with a snooze shade. Ours is by KooDi and it was £15 in Boots. It’s the best £15 we spent with regard to holiday stuff. Get one. Seriously.

Other things to consider include packing stuff for yourself. I packed so much for the baby, when we unpacked in Rhodes I did think “Shit! Where’s all my stuff?” Answer: in my house in south London. Oh.

Take a washing up brush. Take more nappy sacks than you think you need. Take those clip things from Ikea to keep packets of food closed. You can buy nappies and wipes if you run out. Maybe not in deepest darkest Peru, but Europe is fine. People have babies there all the time, apparently. Use tripadvisor if you have questions. It’s a fantastic resource.

So, then we were homeward bound. We had a short but enthusiastic bout of Unexplained Baby Rage when we boarded our 11pm flight. Total back-bending, call an exorcist kind of rage. She screamed herself hoarse in 15 mins then stopped as soon as the plane engine noise increased for take-off. My husband was horrified at her tantrum. I think out of embarrassment more than anything. I can understand that. But, she was so knackered and annoyed, she couldn’t calm down or relax. She’s a baby. She doesn’t understand. It was a short-lived, high volume and unpleasant strop, but it wasn’t the end of the world. My view is that sometimes babies cry. Sometimes they cry really loud. If babies are welcomed/allowed into public places then people need to expect baby behaviour. I will not be offended if a pub or restaurant tells me they don’t allow children, but if they have high chairs and kids menus then they need to be tolerant of kids being kids. I’m not talking about bad behaviour. It’s just behaviour.

Anyway, nobody complained (to us) on our flight. Other babies yelled, yodelled and cried on and off. She slept for the entire flight apart from a glassy eyed wake up in the middle for 10 minutes, pointing at my face and whispering “Wassat?”. She even slept through a very bumpy landing. You can’t ask for more than that. Except for more leg room, not losing all feeling in one hand and not being able to get up to use the loo, but that’s just me being picky.

We have a trusty local taxi firm and my mum had dropped off our car seat to them on the day of our return. We taped our phone number and flight details to it and the cab driver met us with it. This saved us having to take our car and pay for parking or faff about with the train in the middle of the night.

To summarise, travel with kids is hard work but I really think it’s worth it. The ‘being there’ bit is a piece of piss, its the actual travel part that’s a PITA. My daughter was much harder work at 14 months, than she was at 8 months or 3 months as she needed more toys, books and general entertaining. She’s also too long to comfortably fit on my lap for a long flight. 4 hours was pushing my limit. But, she really enjoyed herself. We all enjoyed it. My husband and I really enjoyed her. That’s what’s important. I’m glad we went. I’ll always remember it.

Even though I’ve never been to Centre Parcs I have a strange aversion to it. It seems like posh Butlins, it’s really expensive in comparison to cheap international travel and I don’t know why people would go back time and time again when you can take your kids to France to do outdoor pursuits, visit European cities or beaches, let them experience something different, new food, sights, music, architecture. I was lucky, my parents travelled with me a lot when I was small. Yes, we went to Disney and on package holidays and Butlins, but I also remember experiencing the foreign-ness of Tunisian markets, Portuguese castles, different food, swimming in the warm sea.

My husband and I travelled a lot before the baby was born. I remember seeing a Canadian couple with their 2 year old in Sepilok in Borneo and thinking ‘I wanna do that when I have kids’. When I went to Angkor Wat I decided I wanted to return later in life, kids in tow.

Travelling with kids isn’t as complicated as people think. It’s all about planning and making sensible choices. If it all goes wrong then you can just go home. You won’t know how good it can be until you try it. I want my daughter to be scrambling all over the temples in Cambodia with all the local kids in a few years time. I want to show her the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Climb up to the Acropolis in Athens.

This trip was brilliant. I returned knackered, sans tan but happy. My love of travel hasn’t diminished since I became a mother. I just need to pack more stuff now.

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3 Responses to “Have baby. Will travel.”

  1. Pascale LeBrasseur May 21, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    I just love how blunt you are in your writing. We have a 14, soon to be 15 year old daughter and she travels with us. She was born with a really rare genetic syndrome (Cri du Chat syndrome) and regardless of the disability and the challenges, it is much more fun to have her discover new places with us than to leave her behind! I wish we were on your continent, it would make travels to other countries much easier than having to start from the East coast of Canada. Keep writing!

    • ingloriousmother May 21, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Thanks for your comment. You Canadians do seem to love to travel!

      • Pascale LeBrasseur May 23, 2013 at 2:35 am #

        It’s due to the fact that summer (the real nice summer that is) last for maybe 2 weeks and some times it is split over 3 months…. 🙂 I love our 4 seasons but could do with less winter 🙂 And that is why we love to travel!!!

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