Best accessories for travelling with babies
Rhiannon Batten features her favourite travel accessories for travelling with babies.
Wander into John Lewis’ baby department and it’s a rare day when you don’t find a heavily pregnant woman in there, tossing up the merits of the latest Bugaboo or cashmere cot blanket. But, although it’s possible to pass your pre-birth countdown spending money with the zeal of a lottery winner on Christmas Eve, most of the products touted as new baby “must-haves” simply aren’t. Especially when you realise that babies 1) grow very quickly 2) aren’t likely to treat that cashmere blanket with quite the same care that you are and c) generally need only to be kept warm, clean and fed - and certainly don’t care whether their car seat co-ordinates with their booties.
Having a child later than many of our friends meant we were lucky in the cast-offs department. Our pram, cot and Moses basket were all gratefully received hand-me-downs. Other bulky items, like high chairs and baby bouncers can often be sourced at low prices and in reasonably good condition in charity shops or on sites like ebay and freecycle. And NCT sales are great for loading up on bundles of (rapidly outgrown) baby clothes at 50p a pop.
So when I was asked to write an article for The Independent about the ’50 Best Baby Buys’ a few months ago my first reaction was to pass on it, believing the whole idea of a shopping list full of expensive gimmicks and gadgets targeted at new parents to be unnecessary. But as we had grown more confident in our parenting and had started travelling with our son, there were items I’d come across along the way that had made trips away from home a bit easier. The more I thought about it, the more those items started forming themselves into a list in my head, joined by other products that had made a difference at bathtime or with weaning. Eventually I agreed to write the article, with a personal proviso that I wouldn’t describe anything as a “must-have” and would only include items I had tried out myself and believed to be genuinely helpful, and worth the (sometimes hefty) price.
Go Go Bag: and it’s easy to see why if your baby is a wriggler. Various brands and tog ratings are available but these merino wool and organic cotton ones are the business. Their natural temperature regulating properties mean they can be used year-round and, though they are more expensive than those of some other brands, they are designed to adapt from birth up to two years so you don’t have to keep buying more as your baby rockets up the growth charts. They also help to save space in your luggage, compared to traditional sheets and blankets, and, as they come with a flap at the front and back, you can use them strapped into a car seat if you’re planning a long journey beyond bedtime. £59.95, merinokids.co.uk
Angelcare AC401 Monitor: This monitor comes with a pad that slips under a cot mattress to detect both movement and sound. Its features range from a room temperature alert to a nightlight but its main selling point is an alarm, which will sound if it detects no movement (ie breathing) for 20 seconds. It’s brilliant for peace of mind, especially when you start putting your baby to sleep in a separate room, or when you’re away from home and want to have dinner more than a few feet away from your baby. The one downside is that the pad needs to be balanced on a solid, flat surface (we ended up packing a chessboard with us). £99.99, mothercare.com
Dreamland CV: This collection of lullabies from around the world is one in a series by Putumayo, and makes a soothing alternative if you think your brain might burst with another playing of Twinkle Twinkle. It’s also a very gentle way to encourage your child to take their first steps towards exploring other cultures. £15, hmw.com
Denim Totseat: This cloth contraption can go over any chair to make a baby seat so you can take it round to friends who don’t have kids, or to restaurants, and you never need a high chair. Available in a range of colours and fabrics, the denim one, in 100% cotton, is especially smart. All are small enough to fit inside a shoulder bag. £24, totseat.com
Muslins: For mopping up dribbles and protecting your clothes from milk spills a pack of John Lewis’ white muslin squares is essential but it’s also useful to have some larger muslins. These brightly coloured ones, part of a wide range from Aden + Anais, can be used for everything from swaddling and burping to covering a pram in bright sunshine, using as a cot sheet, covering a cold plastic changing mat or covering up when breastfeeding. They’re also good for shielding your baby from the sun when they’re in a car seat. £44.95, adenandanais.co.uk
Jahgoo Bath Support: These moulded bath recliners are probably one of the first things you would think about leaving at home if you were embarking on a long journey but, if you have the space to pack a few non-essentials, they’re brilliant. Marketed at new parents with back problems they’re popular with many other parents because they support your baby in the bath leaving you hands-free for washing and playing. Suitable for babies up to around six months old, they help them to feel more secure in the water and are much smaller and lighter than a traditional baby bath. If you’re staying with grandparents it also means they can enjoy getting involved in bathtime without worrying about holding your slippery baby safely upright in the water. £12.99, cheekyrascals.co.uk
Britax B-Agile: This sturdy forward-facing number is the Transformer of pushchairs. With a carrycot or car seat (bought separately) attached it’s suitable for younger babies but it’s the pushchair mode, for older babies and toddlers, that really sets it apart. Swivel wheels make it a doddle to manoeuvre around town and, when you want to travel by bus or train or take it in the boot of a car, just push a button and fold it down, single-handed, in one swift movement . £229.99, mothercare.com
Nomad Travel Bed: Ironically most standard travel cots are too bulky and heavy to travel with unless you have a car. But these Dutch ones make light work of travelling by public transport, or abroad, as they collapse small enough to fit in a rucksack and only weigh just over 2.5kg. Suitable from birth to around four years, they work like a tent, threaded through with aluminium poles and equipped with a self-inflating mattress. £119, pushchairs.co.uk
Kiddy Guardian Pro 2: One of the frustrating things about budgeting with children is how quickly they grow out of everything. Even with car seats, most newborn ones only last up until your baby is around nine months. Happily this one, which holds the child in with a cushion rather than a harness, is more long lasting. Though it doesn’t cover those early months it will take you from roughly nine months to age 12, or until your child is big enough to legally wear a standard seat belt. £225, johnlewis.com
My Buggy Buddy: Unless your pram has a big basket you’ll probably end up juggling shopping bags with one hand and steering with the other. A rucksack is one solution but this clip is great for hanging smaller items off your pram leaving you hands-free (it can take quite a weight but beware of your pram tipping over if you attach too much). It’s also available in a lock version – useful for parking the pram outside restaurants, shops or other narrow places. £5.99, kiddisave.co.uk
Ivory Longwool Pram Liner: Sheepskin helps keep babies cosy in winter and cool in summer and Little Green Sheep’s range of lambskin liners are excellent. Like its organic mattresses and baby pouches (sleeping bags for newborns), these high quality fleeces are free of harmful chemicals and heavy metals. Choose from a shorter piled natural liner or this extra cosy longwool version and use them both for comfort and warmth and to retain a sense of reassurance when you’re moving your baby between unfamiliar borrowed cots, car seats or playmats. £64.95, thelittlegreensheep.co.uk
Oban changing bag: Pacapod changing bags don’t scream “nappy bag” so you can keep using them for years after you’ve finished wiping small bottoms; most will hold a laptop or gym gear. Many (including this lightweight version, in black) are unisex, so both parents can use them, and they include “changer” and “feeder” pods for carrying all the essentials plus myriad other features, from a key fob to a changing mat. £75, pacapod.com
Family Beach Shelter: LittleLife does two sizes of shelter. Both are light, portable, easy to put up and give sun protection of UPF50. The smaller one is ideal if you’re looking for a comfortable spot to keep your baby out of the sun while you’re at the beach or in the garden (you can just about climb inside it with your baby if you want to breastfeed), but this one is better if the whole family fancies a snooze out of the sun. £49.99, littlelife.co.uk
Organic Ergobaby Carrier: Ultra comfortable to wear and easy to put on (though it helps to have someone else on hand to do up the clip between your shoulders), with a seated baby position and an inbuilt sunshade, Ergobaby carriers are secure and sturdy. We switched to one of these when our baby could hold his head up but, for young babies, you’ll need to buy a special insert. £94.90, peppermint.co.uk
Fleece overall: The Swedish brand Lindex sells affordable, stylish, good quality clothes. Their baby range features plenty of unisex designs in bright colours and patterns, including some nice organic cotton options. This foxy fleece overall is ideal for winter; wear it as an all-in-one cover-up or unfold extra flaps on its sleeves and ankles to add instant mittens and socks that your baby can’t lose however hard they try to kick them off. €24.95, lindex.com
One brief word of warning. All children are different. In the full Independent article I included a recommendation for Tippitoes’ doorway bouncer. Our son loved his so much that his legs would start kicking with excitement as soon as his eyes caught sight of it, and there were times when I had to ration its use, worried that he’d been bouncing for too long on increasingly strong but still little legs. Yet soon after my article was published a friend emailed me joking about how much his sons had hated their doorway bouncer, and the extreme reaction they had had to it.
So please don’t rush out and buy everything on this list. Borrow or beg one to try first and then make your decision. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bruised wallet and a house that looks more like a John Lewis baby department than a home.