When I found myself gripping the faded front car seat whilst clutching a sweaty, hot four-month-old in the oppressing Boracay, Philippines humidity, I knew something had to change. My husband meanwhile, in a massive-hangover-from-our-friends-epic-wedding-the-night-before, slurred, "driver, tranquillo, per favore" in a bid to quell the deafening beats of the bangin' yet, awful dance tunes.
Looking from husband to driver, to sleeping baby, to villages whizzing past I swore I would never, ever bring a Mountain Buggy Terrain and cover, hugely-oversized suitcase on wheels, baby change bag, two sets of carry-ons, a handbag and backpack anywhere ever again. Now, said baby is 28-months-old with close to 40 international and domestic flights clocked up. Baby number two has just completed a mere two flights (not being as ambitious with this one) and I've learnt through numerous trials and errors, some invaluable lessons.
Mountain Buggy Terrain
1. Get a formula for your formula. This one is for parents who formula feed. From formula leaking out (travel discs are like socks in the washing; where do they go? Is there a travel disc Bermuda triangle or something?), to going off in tropical weather, to being too hot, too cold and just super heavy when you are carrying pre-made stuff on board, it is ideal to get this one right for your travelling style.
In the early days we naively never dispensed formula into those little pots you can pour into bottles, nor bought pre-made or, just took cooled, boiled water along. When we started travelling domestically in Australia (where we lived) and then internationally, we diligently made bottles up and tried to calculate how much we would need. This, in theory, worked most of the time but proved to be a messy art.
TIPS Get containers that you can decant the formula powder into bottles from. Make sure they close tightly (I have a few with loose lids, they are now toddlers playthings). Always have at least one spare bottle, teat, lid and disc – cafes, restaurants, flight staff, hotels, food and drink businesses are generally more than happy to give you boiling hot water. Have a system where your bottles live. While we used and still love our Skip Hop bag, these days the PacaPod Feeder Bag (or any such insulated bag with compartments) works a treat.
2. It's a wheelie good idea. Strollers. Buggies. Pushchairs. Prams. Carrycots.
In Australia they are typically called strollers and prams, in the UK I've noticed it is more about the pushchair and buggy. However, you call it, one thing is for sure, you gotta roll with it. As mentioned, we were the proud owners of a Mountain Buggy Terrain for close to a year. It's fit for purpose for life in Australia (big footpaths, lots of space, great for off-roading etc), but, in the UK and especially when we started travelling through Asia – namely Hong Kong and the Philippines, it became cumbersome, and appeared to be ginormous compared to all the BabyZen Yoyo's zipping around. While Mountain Buggy as a brand is a firm favourite for its durability, we needed a better, more compact
• We've used numerous strollers and Maclaren's are the bomb. They are incredibly robust, easy to pack down, manoeuvre and hold their value. We got ours second-hand and still use it everyday. Perfect to jaunt a toddler around and the undercarriage holds a decent amount, as do the pockets and handles. Ours has traversed the muddy fields of Roskilde festival (Denmark), Perugia's (Italy) cobbled streets, the beaches of Jersey, the Berlin (Germany) U-Bahn and walkways and Reykjavik's (Iceland) rocky terrain. Not to mention countless airports. Reclines for napping and can also be fitted out with a footmuff/rain cover for colder weather.
• Mountain Buggy Nano is a great second option to the BabyZen Yoyo. The latter does have a higher price point attached and is brilliant for taking on board flights (folds up into overhead compartment). We road tested both and the Nano is also lightweight (weighs 6kg), folds up fairly easily, can be popped into its own coverbag for transportation and is super easy to clean. Holds baby or toddler up to 20kg and is lovely to push around.
• Do remember to check where the buggy will arrive at your destination. This can range from oversized luggage area, to carousel, to right by the gate when you get off the plane or in some cases, the ground crew have it when you disembark. Be prepared for either short or long wait times.
3. Whip it out and shake it all about.
No matter what style of nappy change bag you use, the one for carry-on or general day-to-day travelling, needs to have easy access to your items. Compartments for things like wet clothing, bottles, laptop or personal effects (purse, travel documents, keys, phone) and wipes, change mats etc are crucial when you are doing things one-handed (which you often are when travelling), going through customs, trying to change baby or toddler in confined spaces or, just want to preserve your sanity and have some semblance of order.
• The PacaPod range is stylish and a bit more high-end, however, the genius thing is: internal bags designed like mini-backpacks. One for changing and one for feeding.
• The Skip Hop range is a lower price point, practical and also travels well.
• You can replicate this system if you already have a favourite bag – by using old make up or cosmetic bags, mesh travelling bags and insulated baby bags.
• A great one for on-board scenarios (<4-5-hour flight) is a mesh bag with a few nappies, nappy bags, small sterilising gel and baby wipes. This way you can keep it in the seat pocket and have easy access when you need to change baby.
• Separate liquid and liquid food items into small 20x20cm resealable bags to make it easier when going through checks.
• Do the same with all your toiletries, that way you can get them all out at the same time to be checked. If they all 'live' in the same bag it minimises you having to faff around.
• Again, same thing with laptop and any technology you are carrying. We have a system where my on-board 'handbag' is the nappy-change-bag. So, all my personal effects, plus a change of clothes for toddler and baby go in there too. My husband takes a backpack which houses the technology we are taking. That way, one person does the 'baby' side of things and the other person can do the valuables (including travel documents in a folder of some sort; we have shoved these things everywhere and this one REALLY needs to live in the same spot. Otherwise, you will keep stressing that you've LOST THEM!), as well as the buggy if you are taking it to the gate. All of those enables you to wrangle toddler if necessary.
• A baby carrier is essential to transport bubs around while you are in the airport (I'm a Baby Bjorn fan). Where you can minimise carrying, sorting, lifting, finding, searching, swearing, stressing … I'd highly recommend it. A great friend once said to me "always put things back in the same spot." She's a digital nomad, minimalist type person and I've always tried to heed that advice. Alas, with a baby brain it waxes and wanes – but when travelling it becomes a big deal!
4. She who would travel happy, must travel light
Remember my Boracay scenario? Yes, I'll never forget it either. Did I tell you that we also had to lug all and sundry on a flight from Perth to Hong Kong, traipse around Hong Kong with it, fly to Caticlan, take a bus from Caticlan to the jetty, then a boat to Boracay, reverse the journey and do it all again? My arms and brain hurt from the memory. So, coupled with that and similar experiences domestically in Australia, Europe and the UK, we decided to get real. I also thankfully had a great mentor for a long time called Ryan Nicodemous from The Minimalists and that helped me on the journey to reduce the amount of 'stuff' in my home, luggage and life in general.
• It's out there, but just take the one suitcase. I know, I know, how are you going to fit it all in? Ages ago I learnt we only wear 20% of what we have hanging in the wardrobe and myself and many friends have found this to be true.
• Typically, wherever you go will have a washing machines, hand basin (can take travel wash), laundromat – somewhere to wash clothes, so packing numerous items is no longer necessary (also true for messy infant clothes).
• Once a toddler turns two, they are entitled to a carry-on. We recently purchased a Trunki second-hand and the volume it fits is substantial. All of baby toddler's clothes, nappies, etc fit and hubby and I just shared a bag.
• Stuff shoes with socks, smaller items and the like. Roll, roll, roll clothes. Shoes and nappies on bottom to line checked bag and clothes on top. Most toiletries and things can be purchased where you go, so it's not always necessary to stock up and take things in bulk.
• The Minimalists taught me a great 20/20 rule, if you find yourself needing something, majority of the time you can replace it for under £20 and within a 20-min-radius from your house (or where you are staying)
5. Thanks for the memories
And lastly, enjoy yourself!
• Take photos, small 5-20 second videos, and sync your phone up with Dropbox so you don't have to worry about losing your images and content.
• Later on, you can sort the files into travelling by baby's age or, locations or, themes and have them for when the kidlets get older.
• Google Drive also holds 15GB if you need to get them off your mobile device and into a temporary storage solution.
To this day, the impromptu places we have visited, the chaotic adventures we have been on and the times spent together as a family are the aspects of life I treasure. Wherever your family travel, I hope it's filled with wonder, hilarity and undiscovered learnings.