My husband and I always promised ourselves that having a baby wouldn’t stop us from travelling. And then we had our first baby and when we would routinely pack as much crap to go to the supermarket as we had to spend a month in Thailand pre-baby, we couldn’t ever imagine it being worth the hassle again. But as time went on we slowly came back around to the idea. These days, our holidays are different, slower and we pack less in (experientially, not physically), we’re still parents (so it’s not truly a holiday…!) and the broken sleep has travelled with us, but in many ways we know we’ll look back on these as being among the most memorable trips of all.
Like the week we spent in Barcelona and Montserrat, cycling around the city with our then 18 month-old taking in the sights. Or the long weekend we spent in Paris, where, alongside the Louvres, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower we also found secret playgrounds, city parks and even had pizza delivered to our picnic blanket by a bike carrying a pink balloon.
But perhaps the most memorable of all was the lazy month we spent in a gîte (an old converted farmhouse) in the southwest of France, waking up to fields of sunflowers in the mornings and walking to the local bakery for fresh baguettes. As relaxed and slow-paced as it was, life was made a lot easier by having certain essentials with us. My list of ‘essentials’ has grown exponentially since having kids, but I’d be lost without them.
So here is my ultimate packing list. This was for a one-month trip to a warm climate with a two-year-old and an 8 month-old. We were self-catering and had a hire car which had an impact on some of my choices. The four of us travelled with a 15kg suitcase (for the hubby and I), and a 20kg suitcase for the kids’ stuff.
- Buggy/Stroller - ours is the Uppababy Vista and we bring the Rumble seat for our two year old so both can sit if they get tired.
Buggy clips - attached to the buggy means the buggy carries a couple of extra bits and frees up my hands for chasing the toddler
- Blankets (small blue and pink cellular blanket to help them nap on flights or in the car on journeys – they’re smaller versions of what they sleep in so they get great comfort from them)
- Teddy each
- Portable changing mat – We use The Wriggler (obviously, since we created it!) and would be lost without it since it stops those wriggly wrestling matches wherever we go.
- Selection of distracting toys for the plane. The things I’ve found most useful for the toddler are:
Magic water books – colouring fun without the mess. If the water pen is too messy, my little one also loves colouring with a wipe!
- Large beads and string / laces – I picked these up at our local Flying Tiger shop and they keep him entertained for a good twenty minutes!
- New, small figures – I have found the Superwings transformer characters great on flights. The novelty of the new toy is great, they’re really small and neat in his little hands, and the transforming function keeps him busy for ages
- I’ve also used these colour boards, which again kill a lot of time as he tries out different shapes and patterns
- iPad (for when we both they tired of entertaining!)
- Snacks – apples, popcorn and lollipops are my favourite as they last the longest!
Clothes for the baby:
Vests x 6
Baby grows x 5
Leggings x 3
Sun dresses x 6
Tshirts x 6
Jumper/zippy x 1
Shorts x 3
Cardigan x 1
Socks x 7
Clothes for the toddler:
Vests x 3
Trousers x 3
Tshirts x 7
Jumper/hoody x 1
Shorts x 7
Cardigan x 1
Socks x 6
Stuff for the house:
Stuff for the bath:
- Bed sheet x 4
- Travel cot & mattress*
- *Tip: Most airlines allow you take two pieces of baby equipment with you for free. We take a stroller and a travel cot. I don't find the mattresses that come with travel cots comfortable enough for the kids; they are very thin and hard. We wrap a foam mattress around the mattress itself and then wrap it in plastic for the flight.
- Grobag 1.0 tog*
- *Tip: I have recently started using the Travel Gro bags and find them great. They have a small opening in the back and a two-way zip so you can strap the child into a car seat or stroller with the Gro-bag on and easily transfer them to a cot or vice versa if you are travelling. We used this when we were in Paris when our first child was 10 months. We didn't want to miss Paris by night so when our little one got tired, we'd get him ready for bed, put him in the Grobag and let him sleep in the stroller. It was easy to transfer him straight to the cot when we'd get back to the hotel each night.
- Baby Fork
- Ice cube tray (for weaning portions)
- A million zip lock bags*
- *From keeping spoons and bowls clean in your bag, to storing batch cooks if you do any on holidays, to using as bin bags for all the clutter that accumulates during a day out, I can never have enough of these at hand!
- Weaning book*
- *Self-disclosure: I am a batch cooker. There, I said it. I love a freezer full of healthy meals at home and regularly have to quell a sense of impending doom as shelves become empty. When we go away I tend to do one big shop on one of the first days and batch cook maybe three dinner options and a lunch option. That way, I get it all done and out of the way in 3 or 4 hours early in the trip and don't have to think about what to feed the baby after that. This may sound like a hateful waste of precious holiday time and maybe it is but for me, I'm happy to sacrifice a bit of time to keep the freezer monkey off my back for the whole holiday! My favourite recipe book for my 8-month old is Annabel Karmel's Weaning book.
- *See confession above to explain stowing this unlikely kitchen appliance in a suitcase bound for holidays! My little one also loves avocado and banana for lunch which is so quick and easy and doesn't need to be cooked or prepared in advance so the blender comes in useful for that too!
- Nappies x 10 (enough for one day)
- Nappy bags
- Wipes x 2
- *We didn’t have air-con in the gîte so we brought a little desktop fan. It did the trick and also doubled as a white noise machine!
- Blackout blind*
- *Another essential as far as I'm concerned. Both my kids sleep in blacked out rooms at home and yet everywhere we've travelled with the exception of one or two hotels have had flimsy curtains or light blinds. I use the Gro anywhere blackout blind. It's a bulky enough item in the suitcase, but for me it's worth it to be sure of a great night's sleep for the kids (well, me).
- Bottle brush
- Blanket to play on
- Bluetooth speaker – probably one of the only things on the list that would have been on my pre-baby packing list!
- Aptamil x 2 – I like to keep the same formula as the baby’s on at home and I couldn’t find an equivalent in France so I brought enough with me to last the month.
- Baby stock cubes*
- *note the theme emerging from the batch cooking disclosure. I haven't been able to find low salt baby friendly stock cubes consistently abroad so I just bring a few in a (you guessed it) zip lock bag to save me looking. I get mine in Boots.
- Towels x 2
- Cotton wool
Things for out and about:
- Swim towel
- Swim hat
- Swim nappies
- Sun hat
- Sun cream
- Beach shelter
- Fruit feeder*
- *Tip: this is one of my favourite weaning products. There are many similar products available but I used this one. For me, it's the ultimate restaurant accessory. Both of our little ones would happily sit in their highchairs from around 7 months munching on grapes, strawberries and other fruits in the fruit feeder. They got to experience new tastes and textures and we got to enjoy a meal without constantly wondering if we or anyone in the restaurant would know what to do if they started to choke.
- Travel highchair*
- *Before we took our first major trip with a baby (to France), I googled "travelling in France with a baby" and "best packing lists for travelling with a baby". I'm glad I did. It turns out many of the restaurants and cafes in France didn't have highchairs. I worked from a recommendation from one of the blogs I'd read and brought the Totseat travel highchair with me. It was perfect for my needs as it is made from fabric and squashes into a small pouch so didn't take much room in my 'every inch accounted for' case. It was also easy to throw in my backpack on days out, unlike many plastic or rigid travel highchairs I've come across.
- Baby backpack
- Buggy sunshade*
- *we went with the Snoozeshade sunshade for using with the buggy when we were out and about during the day. It was great for naps and the SPF meant we were never worried about her getting sun burnt while she slept. It also worked well as a blackout blind in the evenings if we ever wanted to bring her to a restaurant after bed time, but with the toddler in tow that wasn’t a regular occurrence on this trip!
- Picnic blanket
- *Whether to keep milk or dinners warm, or fruit cool, I'd be lost without my thermos. I know there are many on the market specifically for babies, but in my experience many of them get mixed reviews. I went with this one by Thermos and have been so impressed with it. It has also saved me from that awkward moment in restaurants where I ask the waitress to heat up the baby's dinner and realise it's a smelly fish dish.
- Cooler bag – we used one that plugs into the car to keep things extra cool which worked really well for day trips with our rental car
- Aptamil ready milk x 3 1litre plus 2x200ml – for the days we were travelling and didn’t have access to sterilised water.
So there you have it...the packing list that gave me (relative) peace on our trip! What are your travel essentials?