This summer has been different. On some levels it’s been the same as most of our summers: we went for two European road trips, with next to no planning and no hotels pre-booked. But there was one detail that changed it all for us this year. We were now travelling with a baby under one year old.
When I was 7 months pregnant, together with my husband, we went across Europe and explored 10 different countries, feeling as though we suddenly needed to see everything, as when our daughter is here, we would be house bound for years. With this thought in mind, we travelled to Spain, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Hungary, Italy etc… we’ve seen a lot of gorgeous places, and even though I half resembled a globe, we managed to have a great time.
We still visited great restaurants, and still managed to use both hands to eat a meal, whilst wearing clean tops and not feeling stressed when ordering dessert, in case our baby decides she’s had enough. None of this mattered as it was just the two of us. I look at this time now as though it’s been at least a century between then and now. The amount of life’s little pleasures I simply took for granted is astonishing. We are not here to write about those. We are here to help you survive your first international road trip and make your travelling with a baby under one a bit more of a pleasure. A wise person once said: “Holidays with kids are not holidays, they are simple a change of scenery.” I am on a mission to prove this smart ass wrong.
As mentioned, we have survived two road trips so far. The first one took place when our little one was around 7 months old. We went away for three weeks to visit my folks in Poland, and to visit Ukraine.
The actual drive when done without breaks would take just over 20 hours one way. I don’t know many people crazy enough to do this drive with no breaks (except for my dad), but considering the fact one should never drive with a baby in a car seat for longer than two consecutive hours, breaks became a regular part of our adventure.
The second road trip was a spontaneous drive to the south of Spain for two weeks of casual sunbathing on the beach (which turned out is close to impossible, when one is looking after a small human capable of walking).
Both trips took around three days of driving one way.
Why drive? Why not just take the short flight there and back? Well.. here’s the thing.. For years I was THAT person, who complained about kids on the plane. I was that person who was giving you dirty looks, when you were boarding with your offsprings, if they were even marginally out of line. Kids always seemed to be placed directly behind my seat, kicking annoyingly for hours, and with me slowly boiling inside. Saying anything to parents of said kids was mostly fruitless, and after a few years of travelling, I could say “It’s only a baby..” in probably at least five different languages.
My husband still finds it funny that during our last flight, before I was aware of my pregnancy, I was placed in front of toddler, who decided kicking the back of my seat was the ultimate past time. After having my seat terrorised for about half and hour but the little sadist sitting behind me, I said to my husband: “I made up my mind. I don’t want kids.”
I found out about my pregnancy exactly 3 days later.
Having travelled with a baby under one and having the pleasure of experiencing various situations “on the road”, I thought I will share those few things I have learned along the way:
1. Ice cream cones are your friends
I dreaded coming back from Poland in a car with the little one. We barely survived it one way. It might have only been 3 days, but it certainly felt like a month. When getting in the car, my neighbour, who runs a ice cream and pastry shop in my hometown, presented me with a bag of ice cream cones “for the baby”. I thought at the time it’s the strangest thing she has received. He also sells amazing rolls and cheesecakes. Why not present us with those? His cheesecake is out of this world. but no, we got a bag of ice cream cones. No one will ever be able to comprehend how happy I was with those only hours into our journey.
Whilst driving to Poland, we packed tons of travelling snacks we bought from our local co-op: the usual finger food, like rice crackers and biscuits. We never considered the consequences of overfeeding baby with rice cakes. It’s easy to do when you are travelling and want to drive in peace: baby cries – give them a rice cake. Unfortunately rice cakes mixed with baby milk equal disaster. Rice swells up and eventually needs to come out. If you need a visual, here’s us, around 11pm, in a hotel room on the way to Poland.
So what’s so special about ice cream cones? They are easy to hold, and if you get the harder ones, they take ages for babies to go through them. Being fairly thin, you can get away with giving them more than one without your kids being full. The downside is their sugar content (usually 1/3 of the weight), but anyone who travelled with a screaming kid for longer than 10 minutes, will appreciate that pro’s outweigh the con(e)s in this situation. I am yet to meet a baby, who doesn’t like ice cream cones.
2. Hippie Chick hipseat if you are planning on sightseeing
We are mostly on the move and I have a slight Unesco fetish. Every time we are anywhere near a place deemed worthy of visiting by UNESCO, we are there. Some of them don’t allow prams, whether due to the size of corridors, long stairs and no lifts, cobbled or uneven floors etc. In those circumstances, Hippie Chick Hipseat is your best option. unless of course you have a newborn, in which case there are more suitable carriers, but for a baby around 7 months to a year, this is one of the best things I can recommend.
It’s an awkward age.. at around 1 year old, babies are not yet capable of keeping up with your pace of walking, if they can walk at all, but they are way too heavy for the standard carriers. This awesome invention takes the strain off your back and allows you to use it for ages before you experience any discomfort. We climbed tons of stairs and visited countless castles on otherwise inaccessible hills whilst wearing this simple carrier.
3. Rear facing car seat
I am pretty sure you are aware of all dangers associated with front facing car seats for kids, but if you are not, research the subject. The front facing car seats are meant to to banned in UK in the next couple of years all together, and for a reason.
When the child is rear facing, the head, neck and thorax are restrained together by the back of the seat in a frontal crash. If your child is facing forward, the harness would restrain the torso, but the head and neck could literally be ripped from the body if your car was to crash at very high speed.
If your child is over 6 months old and can occasionally free themselves from the restrain of your car seat, you should invest in a car seat clips, to aid safety and keep your little escapist locked and secure.
4. EHIC ( European Health Insurance Card ) or equivalent if travelling outside of Europe
This is pretty self explanatory. Don’t leave the house without it. The service is free of charge and will enable you to access state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. It’s not however an alternative to travel insurance.
5. Car trinket box
During a long car journey, kids get bored. They may sleep a lot, but when they are awake, they need their usual amount of stimulation. A good way of providing a baby with something to keep them occupied is a box full of random items they preferably haven’t seen before and they cannot swallow. Bottles filled with pebbles, dry lentils or rice; various textures and colours of trinkets such as keys, soft toys, small boxes. Get creative! Reflective things work great, anything with zips, as well as anything with constructed of many parts they cannot pull or eat.
6. Portable USB battery
Desperate times call for desperate measures. You may find some luck when playing cartoons to your little one. A good old iPad works wonders, especially for babies over 8 months of age. They do, however, run out of juice really fast. Solution if you don’t have a long enough charging cable to reach? A tiny, portable USB battery, which you can plug to the device, when its battery is almost dead, without disturbing your little watcher.
7. First aid kit with Tylenol
For kids and adults.
8. Spill-proof cups
Sippy cups are great, so are the squeezy bottles, but both of those can spill uncontrollably when travelling. Invest in a good spill-proof cup.
9. Car seat covers
Road snacks are the stickiest thing. Have you ever tried to remove a biscuit impregnated into a car seat? Car seat covers are extremely helpful and much easier to clean.
Especially if you are planning on spending a bit of time on the beach, in which case it’s also worth bringing a plain sheet, to put over car seats when you are off anywhere sandy. Even if you spend time washing the sand off your babies after a beach session, somehow they always manage to leave it all over the car seats. If you get your car seats covered with a sheet, all you’ve got to do is shake it well after getting back to the hotel, and you are ready to hit the road in a clean car. Well, you are travelling with kids, so maybe “cleanish” would be more appropriate.
10. Your favourite nappies
After testing a few different brands, we have settled on Pampers. It may sound cheesy, but they are the most popular brand for a reason. They rarely leak and absorb tons. I was convinced you can easily buy them everywhere, but as we have found out, there are countries, where it’s borderline impossible to get them. Let me expand on the subject and try to make this problem more.. visual. I don’t know anyone who travels with a spare car seat for their kids, and a new car seat is what you will need when your untested nappies (made by a company you’ve never heard of) fail.
11. Timing is everything
If you are planning on driving for a considerable amount of time each day, plan it around kids nap times. Pack the night before and leave as early as you can. Hopefully the kids will sleep through most of the morning! If you are able, drive though the late evening, during their usual sleep time. The least disturbance for their sleep schedule – the better for you. Why?
Kids are known for sleeping better in motion, and cars are great for that. We are driving happy, as our little one looks really peacefully napping in her car seat. If they do end up sleeping more than they normally would during the day, guess what they will be up to at night?.. We are guilty of this and made this mistake during the first two days of travelling with our daughter. After a long day of driving, the last thing you want, especially as a driver, is a long night of screaming. Time your driving accordingly.
12. Road snacks
A road trip with a baby under one survival guide would not be complete without an extensive list of road snacks you should consider. I have mentioned the ice cream cones, but the list of other useful foods is long.
The key is variety. Kids get bored, and there is nothing worse than discovering they’ve had enough of the apple rice cakes, when you happen to have bought a carrier bag full of them.
I would also strongly recommend not getting anything extensively coloured. We found tomato flavoured chips happen to be tomato coloured too, and this mistake is now proudly displayed on the side of our backseat.
13. Stainless steel flask
Getting hot water for bottles on the move can be a little tricky at times, you can hope to drop on a coffee shop etc. but sometimes it can be a bit sparse between hot water sources or making yourself understood that you want boiling water for baby food and not hot water from a tap can take too much effort and risk.
We found that a stainless steel flask is a great solution to hot water for your baby’s milk. Most hotels offer a kettle in their rooms, if not ask in reception, even in budget hotels we’ve managed to get a kettle from reception or at the worst case the flask filled from a kettle in their kitchen or staff room. You can can then go all day without needing more hot water from anywhere if you add hot water from your flask to cold water you have in the bottles already. (We sterilised bottles by using boiling water then let it cool to just add the flask water as needed to bring up to temperature) You could use a cheaper plastic flask but the all stainless ones are far more robust for travelling.
14. Bring your own toilet
If your one year old is potty trained (then you deserve a medal), put a disposable diaper into the bottom of your portable potty. This will save you from using gas station bathrooms if they happen to be of a questionable hygiene standards. The diaper in the potty will soak up the urine and limit spills till you can find a suitable place to dispose of the waste.
15. Have a break
It is recommended to avoid driving for more than 2 hours non stop, when travelling with a baby. Their little bum needs a break and a stretch too. It will slow you down, but road trip with a baby under one is not meant to be a race against time. You will have to allocate around three times longer than driving the same distance would normally take without the toddler.
Create great memories for yourself and for your family. Explore, experience, enjoy. Life as we know it ends, when we become parents, but a completely new world opens up in front of our tired eyes. If not right now, you will grow to love this world. It’s tiring, unexpected and sometimes scary, but most of all it’s fun.