Are you planning a trip away in the UK this summer? Whether you've booked a beach bolthole, a rural retreat or a couple of nights under canvas, for your little one, it is more than likely that staying somewhere that isn't their own home will be quite an alien concept after the last 15 months of you know what. To minimise the chances of them being totally overwhelmed on your holiday this year (and hopefully make your break as relaxing as possible), here are a few things to think about ...
Choosing where to go ...
How will you travel? Car? Train? Fly? Sail? - If you are not taking your car then obviously how much you can take with you will be limited so your choice of accommodation needs particular consideration in terms of what equipment will be there for you to use.
How long a journey do you want? Generally, young children and babies shouldn't be in their car seats for very long periods so consider the distance and how practical it will be to stop for breaks.
If your child sleeps well in the car you can probably go further with just one stop for nappy change/feed etc.
If your little one doesn't like the car, maybe go closer to home or find somewhere you can check into late so you can travel after bedtime.
If your child is at the stage where 'danger naps' are a thing, avoid a destination which means you will be in the car at the crucial time when you don't want them to sleep.
If your baby is over 12 months or so, and likes to be busy exploring new places, look for destinations which offer options for all weathers such as indoor pools, soft play etc as well as outdoor attractions and spaces.
Sounds obvious but pick somewhere YOU want to go - holidays should be fun for everyone and you definitely deserve to have some adult treats as well as making it fun for your little one.
What sort of accommodation?
Hotels and B&Bs will give you a complete break from boring stuff like cooking etc and, with a small baby who sleeps beside you, are a great option for a bit of a treat. However, with toddlers, you might struggle having them in a room with you the whole time, especially once bedtime arrives and you have to sit in darkness/silence! Some hotels offer adjoining rooms which may be a good compromise. It's also worth considering whether the hotel offers babysitting or a listening service if that's something you might use. If it's a small hotel you might also be able to use your baby monitor from home if you want to pop down to the restaurant once your little one is asleep. Mealtimes may also be restricted to specific times and it is worth also checking the menu to see if they offer a good range of foods your child will actually eat!
Self catering accommodation like cottages, apartments etc give you the freedom to follow a similar routine as at home and many will provide things like high chairs, cots, stair gates, child-friendly cups plates etc, even toys. Most places will state if they are suitable for young children but it's worth double checking on things like unfenced swimming pools, garden safety, open staircases etc - you don't want to spend your entire holiday whisking your child away from danger at every turn! Look out for accommodation with good food shops and places to eat out nearby and check if the area has a good range of takeaway deliveries if that is something you would like. Also think about what you are actually going to do in the evening now you have a little sleeping person in tow - so does the accommodation have good wifi/access to Netflix etc?
Camping/Glamping isn't as scary as it sounds with a little one! For non-mobile babies as long as they have somewhere to sleep and you have means to feed and wash them, you're laughing (hopefully!). If you are bottle feeding it might be a bit more complicated to prepare feeds, sterilise bottles etc so a caravan might give you a bit more reassurance than a tent. for older babies and toddlers, camping can be the greatest adventure ever! As their needs in terms of food and hygiene can be more flexible as they get older, all you really need to consider is where they will sleep, how secure is it if they wake up in the night and how adaptable you think they would be when it comes to eating. Most toddlers would love to eat their Weetabix on a picnic blanket in the morning!
House swaps are an option worth thinking about if you have friends with children a similar age who fancy swapping homes with you for a week or so (preferably friends who live in a luxury beachside house in Cornwall!!). It is definitely worth looking into as, apart from being very cheap, staying in a family home with all the toys, cots etc is just so much easier!
Before you go ...
If your little one is still tiny (under about 12 months) then you're in luck! A change of scene probably won't affect them too much - as long as they have you there they will be fine!
For older babies and toddlers you can prepare them for a change of scene in various ways - use your judgement as to what is appropriate ....
If your day to day routine is likely to change when you're away (eg bedtime, eating all together, lots of time in the car etc) then start to bring these changes into your little one's day a few weeks before you go. This could be as simple as introducing them to the experience of picnic lunches in the garden (so they understand eating doesn't always have to be in their high chair), taking them out to a cafe, using changing facilities in different places you visit etc.
For older toddlers try a few role play games with small world people/puppets/teddies - pretend to pack bags and take a trip to somewhere they like, make little beds out of blankets on the floor, have teddy bears picnics, pretend to go on journeys, use toy cars to 'drive' from 'A' to 'B .... always emphasise the fact that Mummy/Daddy is there too.
Show them photos of the place you are going, paying attention to the areas they are likely to find more worrying such as where they will sleep, where you will sleep, where they will eat, play etc
Allow them to become familiar with any new equipment you might take with you such as travel cot, travel booster seat/high chair, suitcases/bags, new clothes such as swimming costume, beach shoes etc
Read stories about people going on journeys, holidays etc and look at videos on YouTube (or similar) of places you might go to when you're away.
When it gets to the time to pack, let your child have their own bag to pack and ask them to choose what they want to take.
Even if your child has limited language, take time to explain what is going to happen, eg "After you've had a sleep, Mummy and Daddy and xxxx are going in the car to our holiday house".
Remember to also explain that you will be coming home again afterwards!
Start stocking up on nappies, formula, favourite foods/snacks to take with you in case you can't get them when you're away.
Research places you'd like to go when you're away and book ahead if required.
What to pack ...
You may not need everything on this list depending on your little one's age/stage, how you are feeding etc so pick and choose what's right for you. Lots of items are available as compact travel versions which is worth exploring if space is tight and you can also sometimes hire some larger items local to your accommodation.
Sleep aids - white noise, dummy, comforters etc
Travel black-out blind
Toothbrush & paste
Any prescribed medicines
First Aid kit
Portable high chair/booster
Cups, bowls, plates, spoons
Bags for used nappies etc when out & about
Changing bag incl. mat
Small selection of favourite toys/books
A couple of new toys
Bag of toys for journey
Beach shade/UV tent
Once you're there ...
Try to stick to a few aspects of your little one's routine but not to the extent that you're not having fun - they'll settle back into it once you're home again. For example, later bedtime is fine but still try to follow the steps your normally take to prepare them for sleep (such as bath, story, milk).
Remember to explain what you're doing each day before you go out, especially with new experiences. Photos, books and visual aids will help your little one's understanding.
Have something (however small) planned for each day to avoid the stress of having to think on the spot. Remember to include rainy day activities as well. However, your little one is likely to be super tired with all the changes so also allow some time for quiet playtimes where you're staying.
Go easy on yourself - we often have these huge expectations that every moment of a holiday has to be perfect but travelling with young children (like everything with young children!) may not always go to plan. If you find yourself feeling stressed about things, take a step back, breathe and focus on enjoying the fact that you are away from home, introducing your child to new experiences and teaching them about the fascinations of their ever expanding world.