One of the things that everyone tells you when you talk about having babies is “no more travelling!”. I’ve always challenged this assumption and thought (and said) “Why? It must be slightly more challenging, but some people do it”. “Oh, you have no idea”.
I would then kind of give up and wouldn’t challenge it too much as I didn’t have babies, so if this was true, I would only understand it once I had them.
And then I had a baby. As we are Portuguese we had to plan our first holidays to visit the family in Portugal, and that meant travelling.
So we planned our first trip to Portugal. By car. From London to Lisbon. With a 3 months old.
Our friends with babies said “You’re crazy! You have no idea what you’re getting into!”. And once again we thought “What’s the big deal?”. But we had never travelled with Dinis so if it was that hard, we would only understand it once we travelled. And so we did.
A car trip with a 3 months old
Our first and most difficult trip was on August 2018 when Dinis was 3 months old. Because we wanted to spend a month in Portugal and we have Mia (our black Labrador) we decided to drive, so she could come with us (I know #crazy).
Was it cheaper than flights and leaving Mia with a dogsitter? Not really. But it was more about having her with us for all that time to be honest. A month is a long time to leave her behind. Was it easy? Nop. Did we survive? Yes. Both on the way to Lisbon and back.
Driving to Portugal from London nonstop takes 21h26 min (according to Google Maps).
We had already done it when we went to Portugal to get married and we took two days (about 12h drive each day). But with Dinis we left London, drove down to France, through to Spain and arrived in Portugal 5 days later (one of the days was a stay-over at my brother’s in France). So a 4 day drive. Double the time we had done before. And why? Well, let me explain.
Challenges when travelling with a baby in a car
There’s a few challenges when travelling with a baby in a car.
First, you need to stop every two hours. Babies shouldn’t stay in the car seat for longer than that until they’re 6 months due to risks of suffocation. So João planned a 6 hour of drive per day, with a stop every two hours. So ideally, we would spend about 8 hours a day travelling to a new destination with minimum stops included.
But our drives took about 12 hours each day. And why? Because you should only stop every 2 hours for safety purposes, but a baby has a mind of their own. They’re hungry, they pee, they poop and most of all they get bored and cry about it. Especially when they’re not used to being in a car that often (which is our case, we don’t own a car in London).
So that’s the hardest bit, you need to stop often and irregularly. You also need to be patient and either teach your baby to self soothe to sleep before you travel, during your travel or stop every single time your baby is upset or needs to sleep.
I’m not going to lie, he did get very upset a few times during our travels and at times where we couldn’t stop straight away as we’d miss the exit for a resting area. But the truth is they are not hurting, so you just need to try and calm them down with other distractions until you’re able to make the stop.
With the following travels (by plane), one thing I’ve noticed, is that breastfeeding is great for airplanes but not that great for cars. In a moving car, it’s not safe to take the baby out of the seat and hold them in the car. Should an accident happen (as we all know, these are unpredictable) and the chances of survival drop drastically.
For breastfeeding to work we, we need to feed the babies on demand. So sometimes they might sleep for 2 hours nonstop and have to be waken up, sometimes they feed every 30 min.
That’s when formula (or expressing if you’re good at it and have the patience for it) is a great help. You just need fresh boiled water in a flask, some prepared formula doses, bottles and you’re good to go!
This depends on the babies. Some babies are extremely sensitive to dirty nappies in the first months and will complain about it straight away. Dinis was like that. I understand! It must be just slightly uncomfortable to be sitting in your own pee or poop. Most rest stops will have toilets with changing tables for you to change your baby.
But when they don’t you quickly learn to improvise. I changed Dinis on grass, on a table and a lot of times on my lap whilst sitting in the car. It’s not very easy, and it depends on the size of your baby (I struggled more on the way back to London as he had grown during that month), but it’s doable.
Naps are a bliss. When they happen. I’m sooo glad decided to try and fix Dinis’ sleep before we travelled.
I believe a baby that doesn’t know how to, needs to be taught to sleep. Is it easier said than done? Hell yeah! Can it be done? Hell yeah.
From week 3, Dinis stopped sleeping properly during the day, giving me good nights, but terrible days. I couldn’t do anything. He wouldn’t even like being in the sling for too long as it was a very hot summer in London last year. So, two weeks before travelling and after 2 months of sleep struggle, we had enough and had to do something about it.
I don’t like the Ferber method (leaving your kid to cry on his own), I find it too harsh and I honestly think it wouldn’t work on Dinis (he’s a stubborn one), so I used the Tracy Hogg method (her book is on my Approved tab under the “Mum Books tab”) and we fixed Dinis’ naps during the day whilst his sleep pattern remained unchanged. From barely any sleep during the day, only sleeping on my chest we got to 3 naps a day (one of them a 2 hours nap). And him being able to get to sleep with no “boob aid” was what helped soooo much during our trip. Not that I didn’t breastfed him to sleep a few times. But at least half the time he would go to sleep on his own whilst we were on route with minimal fuss.
Top tip for travelling with a baby
Should you have no time to read anything else past this (I know how motherhood works) my top tip for travelling with a baby is the following: Just go.
As with a lot of things in life, the thought of travelling with our baby is scarier and way more difficult than actually travelling with our baby. Because once you’re on route, it’s actually fine. So just grab your baby, and go. Well, prepare a little of course. But don’t let the thought of it stop you from going.
Because we’re two Portuguese living in London, if we want to see our family we need to travel. And since Dinis was born, we made 3 trips to Portugal and went to Prague on holidays. So that “impossible to travel once you have a baby” is nonsense to me. You’re a bit more limited money wise, you need to plan a bit more, but otherwise it’s all good. You just need to be a bit more flexible about your normal routine and not worry about how that will permanently affect your baby: it will not. Babies are sponges, they absorb what’s around them and they will change quickly and more effectively than we adults do. They just go with the flow.
Was this an easy trip? Not really. But would we do this again? Yes, we would. If anything it made us feel brave and made us not fear any other trip we will do with him.
So that’s it. Do it. You and your baby will be fine. And he might not remember much of it, but he will love it and you will have the best memories of it.