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Travelling with your baby

When you and your baby travel by car, train or plane, there are things you can do and take with you to make it as comfortable as possible. Here are some tips for travelling with your baby.

While getting out and about with your little ones can be fun and exciting, some parents may also feel nervous about the prospect of travelling with their baby - especially the first time. Many parents prefer to stay put while they get used to life with a newborn but when you're ready to get out and about, here are some tips on what to consider. 

What to take with you

Thinking about all the things you may need, particularly if the journey might take longer than planned, can be really helpful. For instance, have you got enough drinks, snacks and favourite toys, as well as other essentials like nappies, wipes and a change of clothes for any potential accidents?

If you're going on holiday, find out whether you can buy your usual formula and nappies at your final destination to save space. The sort of items you might like to consider taking are a lightweight buggy, baby carrier or sling and travel cot. You should also pack an easily accessible bag containing a few of your child's favourite toys, plus a couple of new ones for novelty value. For easy nappy changing en route pre-prepare several nappy sacks with a single nappy, small packet of wipes and cream.

Slings can be especially useful if you’re on foot, or travelling to places where you’re unsure about buggy access. A top tip from most parents is not to rush or put yourself under pressure as this will help make journeys less stressful. We’ve all had that moment as we’re just about to leave home and realise there’s a dirty nappy to change, so factor in some extra time.

When to travel

There are many good reasons for travelling while your baby is young. Unlike older babies and toddlers, who can be fussy eaters and a challenge in many other ways, small babies are portable, and usually don’t mind being trundled about in their pram, baby carrier or sling, or sleeping in a baby travel cot.

Book outside the school holidays, if you can, as it will be cheaper and less crowded. And if you're travelling by public transport, avoid rush hour whenever possible.

Car travel with a baby

If you’re travelling by car, your baby might be entertained by simply looking out of the window, but it may help to think about other ways to keep them occupied. Toys attached to the overhead bar of the car seat can be a good idea, or a book that can be clipped to the seat. A crying baby
on a long car journey can be stressful and upsetting, so you could try to time your journey around your baby’s nap times and stop for breaks if you feel the need.

Some families find that one parent sitting in the back can provide comfort or distraction. It’s important that little ones stay hydrated, especially in hot months, so think about drinks for all of you for the journey, as well as window blinds. You may want to talk to your GP or pharmacist
about suggestions for travel sickness, like anti-sickness wrist bands, and think about whether it’s best to avoid setting off when your little one is too full of food or milk.

Many retailers will make sure your car seat is properly fitted when you buy it and it is important to follow all the safety instructions with your model. Current guidance is to keep babies rear facing for as long as possible. At a certain weight (from 22 to 29 pounds depending on the car seat) babies will need to change up to the next stage car seat. Your child’s straps should be pulled tight so you can only fit one finger’s width between the strap and your child’s body.

The safest way for children to travel in cars is in a baby seat or child seat that is suitable for their weight and size and that has been installed properly. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions.

You may also find the following helpful: 

  • Removable window shades for your car to shield your baby's skin and eyes from the sun.
  • Easily accessible bag with nappies, drinks and snacks for roadside stops.
  • Plenty of music to help entertain your child (or be prepared to sing!).

Try and resist the temptation to stuff the car to the gills and overload it in such a way it compromises comfort or safety.

Train or bus travel with a baby

When travelling by train, try to avoid rush hour and think about which stations have lifts for pushchairs (you can usually find this information online). Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. It may be best to avoid sitting in quiet zones as other passengers may not be sympathetic to a chatty toddler or crying baby.

Many parents find it’s best to sit near the toilets where there’s often more space and flip-up seats to accommodate pushchairs. Apply the brake and, when exiting, be mindful of gaps and try to get off backwards as it’s often safer than tipping your baby forwards.

Train travel can provide a relaxing alternative to flying or driving long distances. It can be even easier if you:

  • Plan the most direct route to your destination and avoid awkward train changes. Book ahead if possible and reserve a seat to avoid a last-minute scramble.
  • Choose a window seat for older babies and children to look out of.
  • Pack a light bag with nappies, snacks and toys so you can stow your cases, buggy and baby travel cot if you have one, in the luggage rack. 
  • Plan how you get from the train station to your final destination and whether, for example, you need to book a taxi with a baby seat. 

Much of the same advice applies when using buses – getting on at the back may be easier and think about travelling light as you may have to fold your buggy up for wheelchair users or if there are already two pushchairs onboard. Alternatively, depending on how frequent your buses are, it might be easier to wait for the next one if you can’t get on.

Plane travel with a baby

The thought of flying with a little one – especially long haul – can fill some parents with dread. Luckily, many airports have dedicated areas to entertain children, as well as buggies you can use. Some airlines also let you keep your own pushchair with you right up to the boarding gate. As with other modes of transport, it can be really helpful to think about everything you might need in your hand luggage, such as books, toys and changes of clothes for both baby and yourself in case of accidents.

It makes sense to check the weight limit for your airline before departure too. Children under two don’t usually have their own seat and may have to sit on your lap, so taking a cushion or blanket can help. When travelling long haul with a baby, you can request a bassinet for them to sleep in (these go up to 23 pounds) and travelling at night can reduce stress as it allows baby to stick to their usual routines.

You’ll be allowed to take as much formula as you need and staff can provide boiling water, as well as warming baby food for you. It can be helpful to make sure you have plenty of milk, as the aeroplane environment may mean your child wants more milk. Cartons are convenient but a made-up bottle in an insulated bag is easier if you are required to drink a bit of the milk at security. Plan a back up if your baby doesn’t want a bottle at take-off and landing, such as offering a dummy or clean fingertip to suck.

If you're breastfeeding you don’t have to worry about security regulations for taking fluids in your cabin baggage and, as long as the airline doesn’t require your baby to be in an air baby travel cot or bassinet, you can breastfeed while you take off and land. In fact, feeding babies on take-off and landing can help alleviate ear popping. 

On board, a baby carrier or sling can help if you need to walk your child up and down, especially if you're travelling alone and can’t share the burden.

Trips abroad with a baby

  • Organise your baby's passport in plenty of time.
  • Apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for each member of your family.
  • Take out adequate travel and health insurance. Family and annual policies are often the best value.
  • Find out about required travel vaccinations.
  • Ask the airport and your airline about fluids allowed through security and in cabin baggage.
  • Find out whether your baby is required to stay in a bassinet during take-off and landing and whether airline staff will warm up your child's food.
  • Stock up with sun protection, including sun hats and shades.
  • If you are planning any car travel such as transfers from the airport to your final destination, ask your airline or check on the website for rules about taking your baby car seat, or arrange to hire one abroad.

Whichever mode of transport you choose, taking your time and thinking ahead will all help. And most of all, remember that travelling with a little one can be great fun as you explore and have new adventures together.  

Last updated: November 2016

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

For trips by car in the UK or abroad and information about car safety, click here.