How to survive a long overseas trip with a baby

Flying over Sydney

I’ve just come back from a mammoth 7-week trip to Dubai and the UK with my wife and 9-month-old son, Zack. Quite a trip! I thought I’d offer some hints and tips for those of you expats making the trip over to the mother country to introduce your kid to their grandparents:

  • Book your flights online. You can save a fortune compared with high street travel agents by booking directly with the airline on their website. We flew with Emirates and saved ourselves AUD $800 in total. Note that most airlines charge a 10% fare for under-twos.
  • Book bulkhead seats. (Assuming you’re flying economy.) These are seats that sit directly behind the bulkheads (dividers) on the plane, usually just behind business class. They offer a lot more legroom, and you usually get the option of booking a bassinet (see below). Plus your little one can crawl around a bit on the floor in front of you.
  • Book a bassinet. These attach to the bulkhead in front of the seat. They’re usually fairly small but your baby can lie with their legs over the end if necessary. Even if the baby doesn’t sleep in it, it provides a great place to stash the 3 tons of stuff you end up with (books, magazines, blankets, pillows, food trays, water, toys, …)
  • Be aware of liquid restrictions for air travel. There are exceptions for baby food and so on, but you still need to stick within certain limits. Find out more information on this Australian site.
  • Take your own baby food on the flight. Your baby will prefer familiar food. Although many airlines offer baby food in-flight, your baby may not like what’s available, and the food often has additives such as sugar and salt, too. Bananas are always a good standby when flying.
  • Give your baby something to drink after take-off and before landing. This will help with their ear pain as the pressure changes. Breastfeeding is great and has the added benefit of comforting. Water does the job too.
  • Have a stopover. If you’re flying from Australia to the UK, a stopover does help to break up the journey, but make sure it’s at least 2 nights or it’s not worth the hassle.
  • Be prepared for jet-lag. It’s worse when you have a baby! You can forget about having those blissful few hours’ sleep as soon as you arrive, as the little darling will have different ideas. You’ll be spending those first few hours trying to stop him or her bawling their head off. Also your baby will be waking up at 3am for the first few nights, thinking it’s the middle of the day. Very entertaining. The best strategy I can offer is: be prepared for this emotionally, and know that it will be OK after a few days.
  • Don’t leave packing till the last minute. This applies to the flight, and also when moving between places in the destination country. It takes a lot longer to pack with a baby running around!
  • Hire a car. It’s much easier than using UK public transport if you have a baby. Pick up and drop off the car at the airport. Double-check that it comes with a baby seat that is the right size for your kid (ours was too big but, luckily, not by much). We got a good deal with Europcar; we even got a free upgrade to a Vauxhall Zafira, an enormous people-carrier capable of ferrying a small army.
  • Take a travel cot with you. We were dubious about carting our heavy Aussie travel cot across to the UK, but actually it was fine, and meant that Zack slept in a familiar bed each night. You could also hire a cot in the destination country as an option.
  • Consider a sling for transport when you’re out and about. A stroller is hard work in a busy city such as London, which isn’t very baby-friendly. We found a sling to be very handy when moving through crowds and on the Tube. (Don’t travel on the Tube during rush-hour though. I did it once – never again!) Make sure you and your baby are used to the sling before you head off, though. Again, you can usually hire a sling or other form of baby carrier in the destination country.
  • Don’t move around too much. Try to spend at least a week in each place. It can take a couple of nights for your baby to settle into a new environment.
  • Take plenty of toys. We took some familiar ones, and also bought some especially for the trip.
  • Leave space in your luggage for presents. If you’re visiting family, expect to be inundated with gifts for the baby, which you’ll need to cram into your bags for the trip home.
  • Get family and friends to do a lot of babysitting. That way you can go out together and have some time off – which you’ll really need after travelling on a long-haul flight with a baby! Plus it gives the grandparents a chance to get to know their grandchild.

Phew! That’s the lot. I hope you find these tips useful. Do please let me know if you have any more advice to add to the list.

7 Responses to “How to survive a long overseas trip with a baby”

  1. Anna Says:

    Awesome advice. Another twist when you are not traveling to visit grandparents but still want your own time -> you go to vacation with grandparents, who would hopefully offer to take the baby while you go out too.

  2. Diana Says:

    How did you help your little one adjust to the time change? You mentioned that it took a few days. Any tips you can share?

  3. Matt Says:

    Hi Diana,

    We had a 2-day stopover which helped him a bit, although it was difficult for us during the stopover because we wanted to sleep while he was bouncing around! I think the best advice is the same advice for getting newborns into a night-time sleeping pattern: make his sleeping environment (relatively) light and noisy during the day, and dark and quiet at night, and get a good bedtime routine going.

    It’s hard though. Personally it takes me 2-3 days to get over jet-lag, so it’s no surprise that my little’un takes a while too!


  4. sam Says:

    I am from Australia and travelled to Canada over 2mths ago. I have a 22mth old and an 8mth old. They were always such good sleepers at night, going to bed at 7:30pm and sleeping through til 7:30am. Now i am lucky to get them to bed at 11pm, and when i do they still wake in the middle of the night and will not stop crying until i take them out for an hours play at least. I am tired and worn out and i do not know how i am going to make another month like this.

    I did not realise travelling this far would have such problems. Both babies are also pretty much clingy and very very whiny in the day because they want to sleep all day, STILL, but i won’t let them. This only results in them being overtired, therefore makes it all that much harder to put them to sleep as they cry for an hour.

    If there is ANYONE that reads this, and has experienced this and has a solution, please help me, i will do ANYHING.

  5. Matt Says:

    @sam: Sounds like you’re having a hard time of it. 🙁 We also found that our little one was more unsettled with his sleep after the two times he’s been to the UK. (He went once at 9 months and once at 20 months.) Clingy (separation anxiety), hard to get off to sleep at night, and a lot of night wakings where he wants to come into our bed.

    It’s tricky – I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. The best advice I can give (not being much of an expert!) is lots of love & attention during the day so they feel reassured and not so anxious at night. Also lots of physical exercise in the daytime to tire them out, and a regular bedtime routine filled with quiet activities like reading, cuddling and singing gentle songs.

    Babies’ sleep patterns can change drastically from month to month anyway, so the travelling might be a bit of a red herring. It could just be a phase that your kids are going through.

    This is a pretty good book which helps you formulate a “sleep plan” for getting your child to sleep peacefully through the night:

    Hope that helps! Let us know how you get on. 🙂


  6. Chantal Says:

    Thanks for the good advice! I am leaving to go to South Africa for a 4 week holiday / introduce the little one / getting married!

    Sooooo… I was just wondering… what did you pack for your little one? Did you take bottles, dummies, formula (if your little one was on it)… what about a bottle steriliser etc….

    Am I over thinking things? LOL

    Looking forward to what you have in mind!


  7. Matt Says:

    @Chantal: Congrats on getting married! Um, I can’t think of much else to add to the list. Also it was over a year since we went (seems like a decade ago now!) so my memory has faded somewhat. I would take lots of toys appropriate for your baby’s age to keep them amused, and try not to worry too much if the baby doesn’t sleep/is sick/screams the entire trip. One friend of mine gave us 30 packets of earplugs to give out to the people sitting near us, which I thought was a nice touch! 🙂

Leave a Reply