When restrictions were eased, I knew the first thing I wanted to do was to see my family. I hadn’t seen a soul since I was 34 weeks pregnant, and River was now 16 weeks old. Having a baby is possibly the biggest life altering event a human being can go through, and I hadn’t even been able to hug my mum. The distance between my family and friends and I is always a little greater now that I’m in Kent and they’re all in London, and neither I nor Robert drive, but lockdown really highlighted just how far away everyone is. There’s no nipping in for a coffee, or just dropping off a bag of hand me downs for River without a three hour round trip- and when you can’t even invite them inside, it just becomes easier to wait it out.
Since my grandmother moved into a care home last summer, we were able to arrange a time when her house would be entirely empty, and move our lockdown there. That way we wouldn’t be bringing our mountain of baby crap into my mums already full to the brim home (they’re awaiting an extension, postponed due to COVID, and my 20 year old sister Daisy was home from uni for the summer), and we’d be able to replicate our routine as seamlessly as possible.
The trip was a dream come true. I got to spend time with my sisters, who I had missed so much, and watch them all bond with my son (who fell instantly in love with all four of them). Both sets of my parents got a chance to hold their grandchild, we met wider family units for netball games and swimming in the garden, one great-grandparent was visited for a very socially distanced smile outside the care home, the other came bearing handmade kaftans to protect his chubby little arms from the sun, and we laughed around the table over a bowl of her cottage pie. I felt so at ease for the entire stay- I’ve handled lockdown well, but being around so many people who bring me so much joy was invigorating and exactly what I needed.
Travelling with a baby is always a daunting task, from the bags and bags full of supplies to the constant dread that they’ll be so disrupted that they behave like a prick for the stay. Travelling with a lockdown baby is all of that, but heightened. Will my baby freak his nut out at new people? He’s not even been inside Morrisons, how will he manage sleeping in an entirely new house? He’s not been in a car since we brought him home from the hospital- will we have to listen to 2 hours of screaming?
I’m a typical Type B personality- relatively easy going, verging on slightly lazy, but I had to really flex my Type A muscles and over prepare for this 5 day stint. And it went off without a hitch. So I’ve compiled a list of what worked for us!
1. You cannot over-prepare for your first time away with baby.
I wrote a list of everything I could think of. Then, I walked around the house and added anything I had missed. Then as the day went on and I realised I used something but hadn’t written it down, I added it. Then I wrote another list, in categories of Feeding, Changing, Travel, Play, and Bedtime. Then as I packed, I checked things off of those lists, and wrote a new and final set of lists, which outlined which bag everything was in. And while that seems absolutely fucking insane, I had everything I needed. I had too much in some cases, but the most important thing is that I wasn’t missing anything crucial. There was no having to improvise with whatever we could find in the house, no mad dash to a supermarket to grab a forgotten item. And now that I’ve done it once, I know what I can eliminate from the kit the next time around. We’ve never been away from our house for more than a couple of hours, so I’d even do the same packing for a day out somewhere. Lockdown has been perfect for letting baby explore and grow, but our parenting styles have to adapt to being away from our four walls. We can’t always plonk baby down to have a wriggle, or change a nappy the second it’s filled- so while we can’t control our kid or our new surroundings, we can try and control how easy it will be to handle whatever they throw at us.
2. Practise makes perfect
The kit changes slightly when you’re on the move. Your changing mat folds up now, and slots into a bag. You’re not going to have your jumperoo, or your bouncy chair, or any of your other giant contraptions. What you’d normally bung in a cupboard, you now need to work out how to fit into the tiny fucking travel bag it came in originally. I got Robert to grab the travel cot out of the loft a few days before we left, and I practised putting it up and dismantling it a couple of times. This turned out to be a lifesaver, because a couple of poles had fallen out in the loft, and had I not seen this ahead of time, sleeping would have been utter chaos. It also meant that when we left at 5am to return home, I wasn’t wasting time faffing about with it while trying to keep River asleep on the bed. If you’re using a new piece of kit that hasn’t even left its packaging, get it out and learn it. If it’s something that doesn’t get a lot of use, give yourself a refresher course.
3. Ease the transition
Babies like routine and structure; they crave it. They have their little quirks that we pander to, in an effort to keep them (and us) happy. So changing their environment has the potential to really upset that positive energy you’ve spent weeks cultivating. We started using our travel kit at home, and living as though we would be while we were away.
-Upstairs nappy changes were done in the travel cot, and we let him kick around in there after for a few minutes, so any smell/space difference wouldn’t be throwing him, and he’d be used to the surroundings, and not overstimulated while we wanted him to sleep. We also washed the sheet ahead of time, and I slept with it the night before we left home. -Started relying more on the toys that we knew we were taking with us, and less on the stuff that was staying here. While babies do get bored of using the same toys over and over, I still wanted to make sure that we were taking a selection that River actually enjoyed. So we eased up on the jumperoo, and put a little more energy into some smaller, portable toys, and making positive associations with them, creating new fun games. -Tried out the inflatable travel bath, and while it was great and as close to the real thing as we could find, he was maybe 60% happy, rather than his full 100%. So, in that instance, we chose to keep the Shnuggle bath with us, even though it couldn’t be packed smaller. Once he can sit up unaided, it’ll be perfect. -We use YouTube and Amazon Alexa as the third and fourth parents in our family, but no internet at my grandmothers house meant improvising. I downloaded my ‘River Relax’ playlist on Spotify to my iPad, and added a looping hair dryer sound to it. Since they’re all slightly different pitches, I used it during day time naps so he would be used to the new sound and associate it with sleep. We also downloaded some videos that we know will entertain him when he’s bored, or help him to calm down when he’s fussy and overtired, and put them on a hard drive. We then had the choice of using Robert’s laptop, or plugging into the TV at my mums house when we were there. -The routine wasn’t interrupted. Wherever possible, it was still bath between 6.30 and 7, followed by disco lights and a massage, into bottle and bed.
4. Make life as easy as possible for yourself
Sometimes the simple thing at home isn’t the easiest while you’re away. For example, I am heavily reliant on my MAM 6 in 1 steriliser for bottles, pump parts, dummies, the lot- I use it a minimum of 5 times a day. But you can bet your arse I’m not carting that around left right and centre. So, I changed my method. I had a Munchkin Latch Microwave Sterilising bag for while we were spending the day at my mums, and a smaller brush and little bottle of Nimble Milk Buster (£5 off voucher in that link!). Or if it was just one bottle, and I couldn’t wait to sterilise with a bigger load, the MAM bottles also self sterilise in the microwave. But later at my grandmothers, where the load would be bigger, I switched to using a Cold Water Steriliser. I’ll also be using this in August when we spend a weekend at the seaside- no electricity in a beach hut! So, while at home this would be way faffier, away, it was a load off.
And don’t underestimate the power of a sleep suit or bodysuit. While a gorgeous dress/bloomers/socks/headband affair is super cute, sometimes there’s nothing easier than just a one part outfit. They pack small, they’re easily changed in a leakage situation. Extra handy since we weren’t planning on doing any washing; this also meant we used disposables for our entire stay, and switched back to combining cloth once we were back with our own facilities at home.
If you drive, oh my fucking god do that. We were lucky to catch lifts to and from off of my stepdad, god bless him, and there is no way we’d have managed this kit on the train. If you can’t avoid public transport or you‘re travelling abroad, you’ll need to pack lighter, so really condensing that kit will be essential.
5. Pack like a pro
Not taking the travel bath made our kit much bigger. We also needed to take the bassinet pram attachment AND car seat, as naps at my mums would be in the pram, and while a buggy frame does fold down, it’s hardly pocket sized. The cold water steriliser is still a 5L+ capacity plastic container, and I do wonder sometimes if even a folded travel cot is really ‘travel’ at all. Basically, babies need a lot of crap, and often that crap is just really, really massive. So, you need to get creative. We packed into the pram and the baby bath, to maximise space in the car, and minimise trips from boot to house. The cold water steriliser has a handle and lid, so all feeding related paraphernalia went in there. I packed my breast pump small enough to fit into one section of a cool bag, with ice blocks and bottles in the bottom half. A changing bag with a tiny selection of a little bit of everything lived in the back with Robert, should River need anything while we were on the move. Pack for space, pack for access, and pack for ease.
6. Be adaptable
Try as we might, sometimes the best laid plans go to shit. Poor Daisy spent the better part of 30 minutes being a human jumperoo, before I went and bought a door bouncer for £5 through Facebook Marketplace, from a lady down the road. Interchangeable weather meant that layers were coming on and going off quicker than I could almost keep up with- and once they were drooled on, they were out of the rotation, with no second option. Whatever gets thrown at you, just remember; it’s temporary, and the calmer you are, the easier you’ll get through it.
It can be incredibly stressful, but I found a lot of the panic was actually all before we even stepped foot out of our front door. Sometimes a little bit of stress is actually a great thing- in this case, it manifested itself by forcing me to prepare and plan well in advance, and as a result, our trip was a success. I can’t wait for the next one now!
OH, AND PACK A FUCKING BLACKOUT BLIND! We could have done with two, but even having one was potentially the greatest choice I’ve ever made in my entire life.