‘I'm driving home for Christmas
Oh, I can't wait to see those faces...’
….burbles Chris Rea annually, in what is, to be fair, still a pretty catchy festive choon. But the reality of Christmas travel with kids in tow isn't always so harmonious. Whether you're doing it for the first time, or it's not your first rodeo, we've compiled some helpful advice for less stressy travel with babies and kids at Christmas. (Cue sleigh bells...)
Tricks in Transit
If the travelling bit itself seems the most daunting, with a little extra planning you can still arrive in warm and fuzzy spirits:
1. Comfy Clothing
Have you ever regretted wearing your smart (i.e. tight) jeans half an hour into a marathon drive? So imagine how kids feel in fussy outfits. Instead, have them travel in slouchy joggers and sweaters that won't feel tight around their legs and bellies. Or PJs - so if you're delayed and they're going straight to bed on arrival - job done. Clothing that's accessible (think poppers at the crotch) also means easier emergency nappy changes. If you want to dress them to impress, do it at your destination.
2. Art of Distraction
Miles and miles of motorway scenery isn't fun for adults, so it's not going to stimulate babies or small kids either. Have snacks at hand, make sure they have their fave playthings with them and create a playlist of their preferred songs. Even Humpty Dumpty for a few hours is better than a symphony of sorrow for 200 miles.
3. Rigorous Route Planning
Sounds obvious, but you’ll need more pit-stops than you would with adults-only on board. Find routes that have a nicer options for stop offs or service stations with playgrounds where you can give them a breather / feed / change / chance to run around for 10 minutes. Even a longer drive is worth it when you have happier travellers as a result.
4. Fly Through Security
If you’re going on a plane, as well as having a bag of distractions, try to book priority security passes. Yes, they're extra, but worth their weight in gold when you're sailing through the barriers, rather than waiting in line with increasingly stroppy kids.
Banish Dinner Dramas
Feeding when you’re visiting is all well and good when they’re tiny. Just whip out a bottle or boob and Bob’s your uncle. But once you’re at the weaning stage or beyond, all bets are off. If you’re worried that mealtimes might become battlegrounds, here’s some stuff that might help:
5. Pack a Perch
A portable booster seat or highchair will be worth its weight in gold, especially if you'll also be dining out as part of the festive schedule. Restaurant highchairs can be fiddly or worryingly grubby, meaning you’re left holding the baby - literally - which is a recipe for messy jeans and cold Christmas dinner. Nice.
6. Stay One Step Ahead
If you know where you’re eating out, check out the menu before you arrive, so you can order the kids’ food as soon as you sit down. It comes quicker and you’ve more chance of keeping hangriness at bay.
8. Table Top Toys
Toys at the table might not be allowed at home, but cut yourself some slack when you’re on unfamiliar turf - especially if it’s the difference between harmony and bedlam. For babies, a crinkly book or small toy is ideal, for older kids we love these pocket-sized roll-out activity boxes from Scrollino or an easy-to-pack memory game or set of dominoes. And if all else fails, we whip out the phone. Not ideal, but when the Christmas pud is calling, what you gonna do?
9. Keep Calm & Carry On
Hosts or fellow diners in restaurants might not be used to small and noisy companions at the table. But hey, it won’t kill them. Meet the odd frosty look or well-meaning but unhelpful intervention with an apologetic smile and carry on. Because - guess what? - babies and young kids can be demanding. It’s part of the deal.
Sleeping Like Angels
Visiting family can be stressful at the best of times… throw in a sleep thief who’s not in familiar surroundings and, before you know it, you’re tied to the bed upstairs whilst everyone continues the merriment without you. Not ideal. This checklist can help:
10. Trouble-Free Travel Cot
The key to a decent travel cot is one that's a breeze to set up so you can have their crib sorted in seconds and won't be totally stressed out before you've even tried putting them to bed.
11. Maybe a Monitor?
Absolutely not essential, but having a monitor with a good range means that you get to spend time with actual adults, safe in the knowledge that your mini human is fine.
12. Defend Naptime
It’s all too easy with family around to let the baby be handed around like Pass The Parcel. Seems a good deal in the short term (your hands are free to hold a Baileys!) until you realise it’s been a full day with no naps and they’re more wired than if they’d had 5 espressos. Remember that studies show babies sleep better at night the more naps they have during the day, so try and set aside some quiet time.
13. Ditto Wind Down Time
By the same token, try to spend the last hour before bedtime winding down to help them relax and then switch into sleep mode.
14. BYO Bubble Bath
Sticking to your usual routine as much as possible with your kids’ toiletries, bathing products and bath toys will help relax them in time for bed.
15. Home-from-home Bedding
Whilst it might save space in your case to use the sheets your hosts have laid on, bringing your own that smell and feel familiar will guarantee you more zeds. And always pack an extra blanket too, in case you're staying with the bullet-proof great-grandparent who survived the war and therefore refuses to turn on their heating… 🙄
16. Natty Nightlights
A nightlight is great for giving an unfamiliar room a familiar glow that’ll help put your little person at ease. We stock loads of great nightlights that are USB rechargeable so they don’t need access to a power supply and are safe to take into bed too.
17. A Nicely Noisy Room
Yes, you read it right. If you’re city slickers and you’re going somewhere that’s silent as the grave, your kid might not settle because it’s actually too quiet. Bringing a shusher or sound projector that makes white noise to fill the airspace with a comforting hubbub can make the world of difference. There are apps for that too, as you'd expect.
18. When Darkness Falls
Conversely, if you’re used to somewhere nice and dark and you’re pitching up in a spare room with flimsy curtains facing a main road plus street lighting, a blackout blind is going to be a very worthwhile investment. Comes in helpful in the longer summer evenings at home too.
19. Double Up on Comforters
Another obvious one, maybe, but if you'd be lost without their fave comforter or sucky blanket at home, make sure you bring two, in case one's dropped in something grim or (worse still) ends up left in that service station 100 miles back down the M6. It happens, people.
20. Don't Clockwatch
And finally, even if you're a routine ninja, try not to get totally hung up on your regular schedule down to the last minute. Babies and kids can sense when you’re stressed and if things don’t go quite to plan for a couple of days, it won’t be the end of the world. If anything, the kids'll be pleased to get back to their familiar surroundings when they get home and will sleep like angels. Or that’s the theory!
We hope there's some stuff in here that might smooth your travels this Yuletide. If you want to get well-armed with boredom-busters for both the travelling and the staying away, we've an article on Best Space & Sanity-Saving Travel Toys.
And remember, if you need any more guidance, our Live Chat Team is here to help, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Just hit that purple button, bottom right....
Oh, and Merry Christmas!