Special guest post by Claude Normandin-Banks offering travel advice learned on her recent trip to England with her 16 month old son Tommy and family!
We did it! We had a successful international trip with a 16 month old!!! It can be done!
Now, the above said, a fair amount of preparation, research, flexibility and forgiveness was involved! Let me tell you about our trip to England from Ottawa (Canada).
One of my very good lifelong friends got married to a man from England that she met while in University there, I was asked to be a bridesmaid and was thrilled, so off to England we went! We booked plane tickets to London from Ottawa direct, this was a little more expensive than other options, but with a toddler, we thought the direct option was worth the extra money (and boy were we right!). I suggest avoiding connections and layovers as much as possible. We spent a day and a half in London then rented a car to head to the wedding venue where we stayed for two days and then came back to London and spent four days exploring the city. We saw pretty much what we wanted to see and I think our toddler (Tommy) had just as much fun as we did!
So, here are our experiences and lessons learnt divided in nifty categories for your reading pleasure (and skipping pleasure if not relevant to you!!)
I am a strong believer that a child is just as important as an adult and therefore am totally against lap babies. I know that “legally” a child under two does not “need” his or her own seat and can be held by a parent on a plane, but really, this is not safe at all nor is it comfortable for either baby or parent on longer flights. Experts recommends infants to be in their car seats in planes, but big business does not want to lose business from new families who would choose other means of travel when faced with having to buy a ticket for their child. Pretzels and drinks are secured during take-off, landing and in turbulence and your child should be too; one, for the safety of your child, and two, for the safety for people around you in the plane. A baby hurtling through the cabin will not only injure him or herself, they will injure whoever they hit. Really, it’s important to have any child properly restrained in a plane, and that means using an aircraft approved car seat (almost all car seats are aircraft approved, you can check yours, either in the manual or on a sticker on the car seat.) Clear-Air Turbulence kills or injures a number of people each year, those injuries are preventable and the reason everyone is urged to use seat belts in aircraft regardless of whether the seatbelt sign is on or not. To install our car seat in the plane, a Britax Marathon 65, we had to use the belt extension to make sure the buckle wasn’t in the belt path of the seat (and under Tommy’s bum, which would not have been comfortable). It was a little tricky but not at all insurmountable!
When I booked our tickets I asked for bulkhead seats for the extra room. Turns out this was probably not necessary on the plane we were on but you never know, and having the extra room was very much appreciated! On a flight with meals, you can also order kids and infant meals at no extra cost! I also signed Tommy up for an Aeroplan card (we flew Air Canada) so he could start collecting miles! Why not??!
We had a few looks on the way to England from the flight attendants but coming back two of them commented about how a car seat was the smart thing to do when traveling with children, it seems like the more experienced attendants, the ones who have been through either a runway emergency or severe turbulence we very pro car seat! We had the manual for our car seat and the printout of the laws regarding the use of car seats in aircraft with us just in case, but we didn’t need them in the end, although I’ve heard some people having to actually show the flight attendants the actual law before being allowed to install their car seats.
Also, there is no way I could have kept Tommy on me for seven hours!! Neither one of us would have slept and he would have screamed the entire time! This way, he was in his own car seat, familiar with the rules when strapped in!
Airport Security and transportation of all the baby gear (and the baby!!)
Going to England, we had no problem with two bottles of milk and two icepacks. Coming back, Heathrow confiscated the icepacks. This seems to be rather random as the regulations seem to always be in flux and subject to interpretation by the individuals doing the screening. Suffice it to say, we had normal sized bottles of milk and no problems. I also had diaper cream and baby Advil and had no problems with either.
To get around in the airport, and then to our apartment in the London using the Underground, this is how we arranged all the gear!!
Stroller (umbrella kind); car seat on stroller with a bungee cord, diaper bag and daddy’s carry on in car seat. Tommy in child backpack (the hiking, rigid frame kind designed to carry children) on Daddy’s back. Mommy carrying a backpack as her carry on and dragging two rolling suit cases (tied together to make a baggage train). This allowed us to be able to carry everything we needed with no baggage cart and no help, this was very important as we are thrifty and knew we didn’t want to pay for a cab to get to our Hotel in London. We were able to take the Tube! In hindsight, when going to London I would recommend planning your Tube trips using the online tool and selecting a route that has platform accessibility in mind. Many of the older stations do not have elevators and are not wheelchair (i.e. stroller) accessible without the help of good Samaritans to help with the stairs. Luckily for us there were plenty of strangers willing to help, thank you random Londoners!
The two rolling suitcases were checked and the baby backpack and the stroller were gate checked so we could use them right up to the door of the airplane.
We were in a first world country so really, had no issues although I had to put my foot down when they tried to give me a badly broken play pen for Tommy to sleep in though. I just refused to take it and made the person call a manager and a non-broken playpen-cum-makeshift-crib showed up eventually, so if any problems arise, just keep emphasizing the safety aspects, no one in charge wants to take risks with children.
For us, we wanted a place with a kitchenette so that we could do breakfasts and certain meals in house. This is why we chose short rental apartments instead of a hotel (also much cheaper!!). This way we could grab something to heat up in the apartment for dinner on our way home and Tommy didn’t have to sit through too many restaurant meals.
Since we also cloth diaper, it was very nice to have a washer/dryer in the apartment as I could do laundry whenever needed, I did clothes and diapers on alternating days. This also means that when we came back, I didn’t have a huge pile of dirty clothes to wash! I brought detergent pods in my checked baggage so I wouldn’t have to buy some there and to make sure I knew what I was doing and not using unknown to me detergent. (Maybe not important for clothes, but for diapers, next to little bums, it’s important to not have residue or use something that is irritating!)
Going out day-to-day and daily schedules
Going with the flow and being flexible here proved essential, not only because of babies and jet lag but also because you never know what that toddler will suddenly find fascinating!!
For the first few days we let Tommy sleep in and went out mid-morning. We would have lunch out and then we would come back to the apartment mid-afternoon where Tommy would have a nap and then we would go out again for a short jaunt just around the neighbourhood to get food. We would eat in the apartment and go to bed whenever the sleep cues showed up. This routine mostly stayed the same except that Tommy started getting up earlier, closer to his normal wake-up time and we would go out earlier in the day after breakfast. Tommy would typically fall asleep in the stroller for about half an hour mid-morning.
On our explorations, we would inevitably get side tracked by a park, a fountain, some random thing like a tractor in Green Park! So not having to be anywhere at any particular time was a great way for us to explore London with no stress. I highly suggest not over-booking yourself, having a toddler mid-tantrum somewhere you paid to get into is not fun!