Welcome to my new family travel Q&A series, Real families on the road, where I’ll be speaking to parents about their recent family holidays – the good bits, the not-so-good bits, and their top tips for travelling with kids.
First up are my lovely (and very adventurous!) friends Nat and Rohan, who travelled to Spain, Portugal, Dubai and India with a baby (the gorgeous Isaiah). Pretty brave, huh? If you’ve ever pondered the logistics of travelling with a 10-month-old, read on for Nat’s fantastic tips…
Nat, Rohan and Isaiah (aged 10 – 11 months)
When and where did you travel?
We travelled for six weeks, from the end of August to early October 2014. We had three weeks in Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Granada and Seville), one week in Portugal (Lisbon and surrounds), two days in Dubai, and two weeks in India (Goa).
How did you prepare for the trip?
Being the planners that we are, we thoroughly researched the places we were visiting. We then:
– picked accommodation in recommended, central, safe areas to stay;
– grouped together tourist sights that were close to each other;
– prepared a plan of attack for the sight-seeing in Spain and Portugal, factoring a morning and afternoon nap for Isaiah or at least one nap at some stage that day. We didn’t plan sight-seeing in Dubai or Goa as we were staying with family and the main purpose of that part of the trip was to have time with family.
– We also pre-booked tickets to some tourist sights to avoid having to wait in queues – I highly recommend doing this.
We also researched:
– the medical system in Europe and India;
– the quality of nappies and other baby products in Europe and India;
– what you can and can’t carry for babies on planes on each airline;
– tips for travelling with a baby (unfortunately, Sal’s wonderful blog was not up and running then so it was Google, Pinterest and friends for ideas/tips);
– safe and natural mosquito repellents for Isaiah and me in India (because I was breast feeding and Isaiah was a baby and we both needed to have DEET-free repellent).
We created a ‘What to Pack’ list – for both the plane bags and our suitcases. This was a lengthy list created with the help of Google, Pinterest and friends!
I also arranged travel insurance, international roaming and smart traveller registration and notified our bank we were travelling.
In terms of preparing Isaiah, we spoke to him regularly – especially in the few weeks leading up to the trip – about our journey. We told him that we would be going on a plane (and showed him planes in the sky and in his books) and told him we would be travelling to some different countries to see some interesting things and meet family. We also sang songs about planes because Isaiah loves music.
Who did you fly with?
We had nine flights all up and flew with a range of airlines including Emirates, Qatar, TAP Portugal and Qantas. We also used the Renfe trains to travel within Spain. They were very easy to use and Isaiah loved them.
How were the flights?
We were very happy with Emirates (used on three legs of our journey) and Qatar (used on four legs of our journey). They both arranged for Rohan and I to sit together prior to us having to ask, gave us priority boarding and provided us with everything we needed for Isaiah shortly after we entered (bassinet, blanket, kids pack, seat belt, etc.). They were also attentive and warm during the flight – offering assistance, collecting rubbish, and even offering to play with Isaiah so we could eat. We were especially impressed with Qatar though – they took service to another level – checking in on us regularly, paying close attention to detail with what we requested/ordered so that they could accommodate us before we had to ask next time, etc.
We were a little disappointed with the Qantas flight especially after the exceptional service we’d experienced on the other airlines – we were still waiting on a baby seat belt as the plane started moving, there was no kids pack, there was very little interaction, and they were very slow to deliver meals (and in fact, they forgot a whole section of the plane!). I grew up flying Qantas and have fond childhood memories of Qantas, so I was really disappointed with the experience, as a parent.
As for TAP Portugal – we’d read the reviews but had no choice but to take this airline. The short story is we had a nine-hour delay, terrible communication, and it was poorly handled – see below.
Style of accommodation?
We used a mix of hotel rooms and apartments for the European leg of the journey. It was handy having an apartment so that we could do some meal prep from time to time. However, the hotels were fine too as we did want to eat out and experience the amazing food. In Dubai and Goa, we stayed with family.
How did Isaiah find the trip?
Isaiah was amazing! Out of nine plane trips, he only struggled on one and that was because of teething. He slept a lot – the soft hum of the plane and gentle movement knocked him out. When he was awake, he was pretty good, but he didn’t really care about the toys we gave him. He loved the books we brought along, which we read over and over and over again (I know Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and Where is the Green Sheep off by heart!). And he loved the bits and pieces we rummaged together on the plane: in-flight magazines, empty plastic/paper cups, plastic packets, etc. He did start to get a little fidgety/grizzly around 1 hour before landing – I’m sure he picked up on our vibes and keenness to land!
In terms of sightseeing, Isaiah loved being out and about in the European summer. He loved watching little kids, horses, dogs, birds, fountains, motorbikes and the European ladies (aged one to 60) in particular – and they loved him back! (His dad said he takes after him…)
While we took a stroller and baby carrier, we ended up using the carrier much more – he was forward facing and loved being close to us exploring the world. We did accommodate him with sleeps where we could and also made sure he had down time in the hotel/apartment to crawl, explore, burn energy, read, etc. I really think this helped him be more relaxed and accommodating on the trip.
Too many! One of the biggest highlights was experiencing things through Isaiah’s eyes – we were so present during the travel and enjoyed the simplest things that we might have missed if travelling by ourselves. We also loved connecting with people from all walks of life – we found that by having a baby, more people would stop to chat.
It was also special to share a series of firsts for Isaiah – travelling on a plane, train and bus, going to the beach, seeing horses, experiencing new foods including his first taste of sugar – a tiny bit of a churro and melted chocolate!
Some of the travel highlights included:
– Barcelona: wandering down laneways and making little discoveries, La Rambla, La Sagrada Familia, La Boqueria Market;
– Madrid: the Prado, just outside Madrid – Toledo (one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen with one of the most stunning cathedrals!), Parque del Buen Retiro;
– Granada: the Alhambra, wandering in the Albaycin and the San Nicolas Mirador;
– Seville: Plaza de Espana in Maria Luisa Park, Triana disrict and the Alcazar;
– Lisbon and surrounds: Christo Rei, wandering through Alfama, Belem, Cascais, Sintra, Castle of the Moors, the incredible gardens/tunnels/caves/well of Quinta da Regaleira, Obidos,
– Dubai: shopping and the Dubai Mall (and light show) and of course the Burj.
– Goa: we didn’t do too much sightseeing, but the beaches were amazing!
It was also very special to have time with my family in Goa – especially with my grandmother who got to meet her only great grandchild.
The seven-hour flight where Isaiah cried on and off for three quarters of the flight – that was really tough.
And the flight that was delayed in Seville. It was a one-hour flight from Seville to Lisbon. We were told that the flight was delayed by a few hours, so we went back into the city and wandered around and had lunch. Upon arriving back, we were told that the flight was delayed for another three hours. That ‘three hours’ turned into ‘we are not sure when the flight will leave, and in fact whether it will leave at all today’. The worst part was the lack of communication by TAP throughout the process.
Favourite meals and restaurants?
Where do I begin?! We did end up going to a number of touristy places for the convenience factor with Isaiah (they were often open earlier for lunch or in the evening).
Barcelona – Bar Pinotxo (in La Boqueria Market) – over 70 years old and incredible, authentic food. And Quimet & Quimet.
Madrid – Estado Puro and Txirimiri
Granada – Bar Kiki (outdoor setting near Mirador San Nicolas overlooking the Alhambra at sunset, eating fresh seafood and listening to a Spanish duo playing music); El Quinteto (fantastic tapas and food and service, Moorish influences).
Seville – Tabernas Coloniales (get there early!); Las Golondrinas II (for a very simple but authentic, traditional meal where locals hang out too).
Lisbon – Restaurant 151 and Chique de Belem (don’t waste your time at touristy Pasteis de Belem – this place has THE BEST pasteis de nata!). My cousin, who lives there, also took us to some terrific local cafes that served beautiful, authentic food.
Tips for travelling with a baby?
– Find a good photographer for passport photo.
– Google ‘travelling with a X month old’, search for tips/ideas on Pinterest, and catch up with friends who’ve travelled before.
– Carry a baby carrier and cheap stroller.
Tips for the plane are:
– carry a few changes of clothing for bub – just in case your luggage gets lots or delayed.
– dress bub in something light and long sleeve, but something you can layer – and carry a few layers as planes can get cold
– use a baby carrier – so much easier to wear your bub than push them in a pram (I highly recommend the Ergo Baby 360)
– when checking in, ask the stewards if they have seats for you with a spare seat next to it – just in case your arms want a break and bub can sit there
– ask stewards about priority boarding especially for when you change planes for a transfer – it’s good to get on board first and get settled in
– use a bassinet, even if to give your arms a break.
– pack a plastic bag with three nappies, a few nappy plastic bags, change mat, one change of clothes, wipes, hand sanitiser wipes etc. and keep this in an easy to reach spot.
– we introduced Isaiah to the people around us and gave them chocolates. Passengers said it was great PR and got a laugh out of it – they were also a lot warmer to Isaiah and us throughout the flight.
– be nice to stewards – they are your allies and helpers!
– feed bub (milk/water) on take off and landing – they should be sucking so their ears won’t pop. Also, apparently having a short sniff of eucalyptus oil helps.
– feed bub on landing (milk/water)
– take bub for walks up and down the plane
– get creative with activities – Isaiah loved plastic cups, tearing the in flight magazine (oooops!), plastic cutlery, but not so much his toys!
What did you pack for the plane?
– food: we put bread, cheese, and quiche in a cooler bag, than had a pear and 2 bananas and peanut butter plus some baby rice cakes;
– water and sippy cup
– plastic bib, spoon
– a few new toys, a few favourite toys/books [I’ve heard puppets are good]
– a few changes of clothes for bub
– a muslin and small towel
– a few more nappies than you’ll think you need – just in case
– a change of clothes for you – in case bub vomits on you/makes a mess on you
– spare plastic bags – you can collect your rubbish on the plane in one of these
– large snaplock bags – for messy clothes
– medical pack – panadol, nurofen, coloxyl, suppositories, teething gel, thermometer, a few baby bandaids, bepanthan (for cuts/scrapes), saline drops (for blocked nose)
Anything you’d do differently?
Not really. Perhaps set expectations lower though. While we planned thoroughly, there were things we had to miss out on simply because Isaiah was too tired or things took longer than expected.