7 May 2017
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation…
A life of travel and adventure does not end just because you now have a tiny human (or a few tiny humans) to consider. However, a definite shift in mindset is required. Every child is different, and while some take to travelling without a moment’s hesitation, others require a bit more coaxing and careful management to understand what’s expected of them and what the whole point of the exercise actually is. Being out of routine, sore ears on airplanes, and jetlag are all tough as an adult, so bear in mind how tough they can be on a baby or child. Luckily, if you’re strategic from the very moment you start planning your trip, you can pre-empt the majority of possible meltdowns. Of course, gin will very often take care of any meltdowns you haven’t planned for (as this is not the 1940s, the gin is for you, not the tiny human).
In this post, I have covered the pre-flight portion of a trip, and I will get into the nitty gritty of what to pack in your hand luggage (for both babies and bigger kids), as well the actual airport/flight experience, in my next post. I tried combining them, but this is already a bit of an essay, and there’s just not enough coffee in the world to entice someone to read a 2,400-word blog post on bassinet booking and the versatility of giant muslin cloths.
Before you even start Googling holiday destinations:
Consider the appropriateness of the destination, in terms of journey time, temperature and time difference. Obviously there are times when family commitments dictate that you just can’t avoid, say, three weeks in Australia in December, but if you’re trying to plan a relaxing family holiday, starting with a nine-hour day flight that plonks everyone in a different time zone is possibly not the best start. If it’s also 35 degrees, so your baby or child can’t sleep, then you’re into ‘have you lost your mind?’ territory.
We often fly to South Africa with the children to see family, but we always opt for a night flight. Yes, you may not get the best sleep, but the fact that it’s dark and your child’s natural sleep time may just mean you skip at least a large part of 11 hours of trying your best to entertain them. If you’re going to attempt a day flight to somewhere less remote, try to stay under four hours with really young children – anything more and you’re going to be completely frazzled on both the flight there and back. We did London to New York just before our eldest turned two, but we managed to time it so it coincided with his normal nap and bed times.
Things to consider when booking:
What sort of visas/vaccinations are required for the place you’re travelling to? This may seem obvious, but you’re now organising this with kids in mind – you can’t get it wrong. As well as ensuring everyone’s passports are up to date, bear in mind that you may need additional paperwork if you’re a single parent, or you and your partner don’t have the same surname. South Africa has new rules which mean I have to get a signed affidavit from my husband each time I travel there alone with the boys. It’s a faff to organise, but much less of a faff than being sent home at border control in Johannesburg!
If you’re travelling with a baby or toddler under two, they don’t need their own seat (unless you’re desperate enough to pay for one – but they’ll generally need to sit on your lap for take-off, landing and turbulence anyway, unless they’re in an approved car seat on some airplanes). However, you definitely want the option of putting them in a bassinet or reclining toddler seat in the bulkhead for long-haul flights. This needs to be booked at the time of purchasing your tickets, as it’s first come, first served. As a serious sanity-saver, if you are travelling with a budget airline, pay whatever you have to pay to get seats together as a family – being stuck on your own with the baby while your other half kicks back for a snooze 15 rows away might not make for the most relaxing start to your holiday…
Also, how are you planning to get to the airport? If you’re going to need a pram and car seats on the other end, it might be easiest to book airport parking for your car instead of taking a cab. If you are booking a cab for any leg of your journey, make sure it’s big enough for all your luggage plus the pram!
Finally, get that travel insurance sorted the same day as your pay for your trip. Kids have real comedic skills when it comes to things like chickenpox. Even if you don’t end up having to cancel your trip last minute because your child suddenly looks like a Damien Hirst painting, you may end up having to see a rather expensive foreign doctor upon discovering a torso covered in pox when your three-year-old changes out of his pyjamas on your very first day in Havana… Or appearing on your ten-month-old’s face a week into your visit to South Africa… My kids have the BEST timing.
The dreaded packing mission:
Try not to get carried away. Unless you’re headed to somewhere really remote, there will be nappies/wipes available, and even formula/baby food pouches (do some research if you’re fussy about the kind you use). Pack just enough to get you through the first day or two (although if you do pack a bit more, it does mean you’ll have space to fill with holiday purchases on the way back!), and don’t forget the bottles and bottle-cleaning brush if applicable. You can also buy really compact travel sterilisers and tablets for one bottle/dummy at a time, instead of hunting for a sterilising bucket on the other end.
A well-stocked first aid box or bag is always a good idea, no matter where you’re going. Apart from the usual (plasters, antiseptic, painkillers, anti-nausea tablets, Imodium, rehydrating sachets, etc) make sure you have some good cream for stings/rashes and an anti-allergy syrup for babies over one (i.e. Piriton). Also, don’t forget the sun cream and after-sun (even for skiing holidays!) Fun fact, after-sun makes a soothing alternative to calamine lotion on chickenpox. You’re welcome.
When it comes to the larger bits of baby kit, try to keep it as streamlined as possible. Don’t take your beautiful new Bugaboo (it’s fiddly to dismantle and will get bashed about by the baggage handlers). Instead, pick up a light umbrella fold number (second-hand even). Our McLaren Techno XT has done the job magnificently for many trips, even for a very tall child, but there are even lighter and more compact models out there. Some even fit in the overhead bin! Remember to bring the rain cover and a good, breathable shade cover too. I have been through a few inexpensive stroller travel bags that fit in the basket underneath. and can then be unrolled to put the stroller in when you get to the door of the plane. Make sure your stroller is labelled too, but then put the check-in luggage tags on the bag. The fact that we’ve had to replace ours from time to time shows just how much abuse your stroller would get without one.
This same principle goes for your car seats. If you can’t avoid taking them with you (they can be very pricy to include with your car hire on the other end), you can either buy special car seat bags, or make sure you take one heavy-duty clear plastic bag per flight (like these Waitrose Clear Storage Bags), tucked into an outer pocket of your suitcase with a pre-filled luggage label. You can use the car seats on the way to the airport, then easily stick them in a bag securely tied with a luggage label at bag drop. If you have an older child who’s now in a booster seat, consider the Trunki Boostapak (great for schlepping their own hand luggage essentials too!), or the mifold Grab and Go Booster seat for ultimate space-saving!
One last bit of baby kit, if you really have no option of organising one on the other end, is a travel cot. Save yourself the mare of paying for an extra piece of luggage, and go for a really compact pop-up version (Koo-di Bubble Cot) that can actually fit inside a suitcase, along with a waterproof sheet and two cot-sized sheets. We used one for our youngest up until he was 18 months.
Preparing the kids too:
If you start travelling with your kids when they’re really tiny, chances are they’ll get the hang of things pretty quickly and know what to expect when you’re off on another adventure. However, most kids do really well in situations they have a bit of preparation for, and they’re less likely to get overwhelmed and uncooperative if they know what to expect. Talk them through the plan every time (even if they’re really small), and involve them as much as possible in packing their own toys and snacks for the plane.
Help them label their favourite stuffed toy with your phone number (including international dialling code!), and let them choose what sort of programs and games they want on the iPad (more on the digital nanny in the next post). Finally, details like their very own kids-sized neck pillow for the plane will make them feel like a super-grown-up jetsetter (and hopefully they’ll behave like it too!)
Now that you’ve got the big stuff sorted, stay tuned for my next blog post for all my top hand luggage, airport and in-flight tips!
23 April 2017
I have a secret. Not a particularly well-concealed secret, what with the significant height and the significant nose, both of which lend themselves so effectively to peering down when the situation requires it. However, it’s one of those secrets that, especially in today’s society, in which tolerance and acceptance are so desperately needed, probably isn’t something to be proud of (for the record, I’m not). But, there’s no point in denying it.
I am a honking great snob.
As with all sweeping declarations about anything, this one may require a little clarification. Much as it may be regarded as the ultimate social suicide, I can’t say that the way someone holds their knife is of any concern to me. I’m rather more concerned with whether the person holding that knife has at any point uttered the words ‘I’m not racist, but…’ The same goes for the way you address your envelopes – if you’re thanking me for a gift, or inviting me to your wedding, whether you’ve used the correct form seems a bit irrelevant. And, who exactly would I be to judge this anyway?
As a bloody forriner, with the accent to match, I have found my viewpoint as an outsider to the British class system really rather fascinating. In my 15 years in London and Wiltshire, I have concluded that the English way across the board (with obvious exceptions, which the Daily Mail then use to prove the rule) is actually far from one of insularity and hostility to those who are different, or of a different (perceived) social standing. In fact, the only ones who do give you a hard time are those who are anxious about their own position in the pecking order, wherever that may be. I’m always intrigued by people at cocktail parties who open with the line ‘Where did you go to school?’ As the Johannesburg school I was at the longest happens to be an offshoot of a desperately posh public school here in England, I always sail through that question. My husband, on the other hand, relishes adopting his deepest Afrikaans accent to announce the name of his small, strict Afrikaans school in a tiny town in South Africa, finished off with a wide-eyed ‘And you?’ The person who’s asked him this most tedious question then tends to adopt that bewildered look of a big game hunter who’s suddenly found himself smothered in BBQ sauce.
The bottom line is that some of the kindest, most relaxed people I’ve met have either been so titled up to the hilt, they don’t have the slightest inclination to worry about whether or not someone eats their asparagus with a fork; or rightly proud of what they’ve achieved on their own merit, however modest it may seem to anyone else, that they likewise have more interesting things to think about. They may well notice the small details that Debrett’s would have something to say about, but they don’t use it as a measure of someone’s entire worth. My inner snob starts hoiking up her judgy pants when people think that either money, or the fact they are 476th in line to the throne, makes them immune to the most basic elements of manners and human decency. If your only claim to importance is that 475 other people have to pop their clogs to make you king or queen (and, let’s face it, that would suggest a far graver situation of either plague or nuclear apocalypse to worry about), then you need to evaluate how much more important you are than the barista who brews your morning flat white, or the cab driver who deposits you safely outside Chiltern Fire House.
I will never forget one kitchen supper I attended in my first year in London. It was at the home of a girl my age that I hadn’t met before, but she’d kindly invited me after an introduction by a mutual friend. She was still living in her parents’ enormous house in Kensington, and we sat down to a lovely meal with some of her friends. It became clear pretty quickly that my role was that of audience member, as they reminisced about drunken adventures and planned for their upcoming ski trip. It was all rather entertaining, so I was happy to sit back and listen. However, talk then turned to their favourite game to play when away on country house weekends – and I cringe while I type this – Hide and Seek, but with a ‘number two’ twist. This game pretty much does what it says on the tin, and the ‘like, most classic hide’ was so utterly revolting I can’t actually bring myself to share it (I live in a house with two small boys, so you can imagine how grim it really was). Much as I tried to compose my features, I have a face of glass, and they all seemed delighted with the reaction they’d gotten.
The purpose of their sharing this anecdote, whether even true or not, was as transparent as my face. While these 22-year-olds obviously derived no end of Freudian glee from the nature of this game (let’s file this under ‘Lifelong Scatological Fascination When Potty Training Goes Horribly Wrong’, shall we?), they took great delight in shocking this particular, ahem, prole from the colonies. The clarification that this game only ever took place in the grandest country houses, along with the absolute hilarity of imagining their friends’ housekeepers dealing with the resultant mess, was all designed to cement their status as daddy’s-credit-card-carrying members of the Trust Fund Club. As soon as my role as shocked observer to this story was over, I was shuffled out the door pretty much mid-pudding, the door quite literally hitting me in the backside.
The take-away for me from this experience was not ‘all rich/posh/rich-and-posh people are arseholes’ (sorry, Jeremy Corbyn), but rather validation of the fact that birth, breeding, and boarding school are truly no guarantees of class. There is a strong argument to be made for manners being a way for us to all navigate our way confidently and considerately through our daily interactions with the people we encounter, ensuring that no-one ever need feel uncomfortable. Manners are subjective, and cultural, but as long as you’re trying your bloody best, you’re showing respect for those around you and should expect the same in return. Believing that being born into a certain name or tax bracket bestows you with the right to be dismissive or even downright rude to people around you suggests that you’ve missed the point of what being ‘one of us’ really means.
My mother roared with laughter when I told her about my proposed topic for this blog post, asking whether I was going to say I learnt to be a raging snob from her. And, yes, I will lay this particular brand of snobbery squarely at her feet. My mother knows all the correct ‘form’ like the back of her hand, but I have witnessed how her base level of genuine friendliness and openness never changes, whether she’s interacting with the security guards in her office parking lot or royalty at a boat race (clarification: my parents are neither titled nor obscenely wealthy, but they do an enviable amount of interesting travelling and are bloody good fun – that gets you invited places). But, woe be-fucking-tide anyone who gets their kicks from being rude or condescending, to her or anyone else. For such a petite woman, she has a hard stare that would make Paddington Bear crap his duffle coat, and her use of it is terrifying to behold. Watching her take down a misogynist CEO at a dinner party is pure poetry, like a cashmere-clad cheetah tearing the throat out of a large impala in a David Attenborough documentary. Queen of the classy smackdown, that’s my mother.
We all have our moments of being a bit of a dick, whether intentionally or not (no? just me then?), but assuming you’ve ever earned the right to be patronising or unkind to anyone because of a supposed superiority is really not what it’s about. Whether your version of a bad day is when the butler calls in sick, or you work two jobs to keep your kids in school shoes, if you treat everyone you come across with genuine respect for their humanity and their own value in the world, you’re a class act.
9 April 2017
I make no claim to a particularly enviable sense of style, and if you’ve come here for an endless stream of drool-worthy goodies, then you will find yourself sadly disappointed. However, I love products that deliver – on quality; on value for money (that sweet spot between ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive’ when the amount of dosh spent, whether big or small, is absolutely worth it); and on practicality, beauty, or ideally, both.
As three is the magic number, I will stick with that as a general rule for my ‘Hero Products’, and there’ll be a unifying theme, not always related to the raising of small children. Promise. Also, I will always make it clear if I’ve been gifted something to review, with an honest opinion guaranteed – otherwise, what’s the point?
All three of the brands below were started by parents here in the UK who spotted a gap in the market when shopping for their own kids, and went about filling it with quality design and attention to detail.
Full disclosure: the founder of Moccis, Anna Wetterlin, is a friend and fellow mum from my son’s school. However, I have been buying Moccis for my son for three years now, full-price, and without an incentive to either buy or review them. If you know exactly how much a queen of the sale/discount code I am, that alone speaks volumes about the quality of these fantastic slippers.
Hand-sewn in Sweden, these traditional Scandi moccasins have a supple, non-slip leather sole, and a breathable 85% cotton upper (with a bit of elastic to keep them on little feet). They are so soft and cosy, and come in a range of great designs – chic neutrals to wonderfully bonkers brights. From tiny babies to grown-ups (women up to size 8, and men up to size 12), they are the ideal indoor shoe, and a brilliant gift too.
On the practical side, they are seriously durable. My son’s school has an indoor shoes policy, and each pair of Moccis has lasted him a full year (they grip well and provide room for growing feet). They’ve been laundered repeatedly (40 degrees), and still look good enough to pass on to his little brother. Skellies is really tough on his shoes, so the Moccis’ claim to hard-wearing fame is justified.
Starting at £19, these are not a cheap option, but the cost per wear means they work out to exceptionally good value. Even more so when you consider their eco-friendly materials and ethical manufacturing practices. Unlike other, mass-produced versions of these slippers, they won’t need frequent replacing - no detaching soles or holey toes here!
When I mentioned practicality earlier, I wasn’t kidding. As much as it’s not the most glamorous side of shopping for kids’ clothes and shoes, labelling every item that could possibly find itself left at school or dropped in the playground is an unavoidable reality. When I think back on the hours (and I mean HOURS) my mother spent painstakingly stitching name labels into all my school uniforms, I cringe inwardly at the thought of every time I whined about going shopping for said uniforms. Luckily, times have moved on, and we have many more options on the label front. Admittedly, I do have a few friends who still sew labels onto their children’s school uniforms. These friends are masochists. And I disagree wholeheartedly with their life choices.
As my son doesn’t actually have a school uniform, I need a fast and easy way of labelling jumpers/hats/gloves that he suddenly needs when the British weather or his preference dictates. Stikins are just that. You simply order the number you require (packs start from 30 and go up to 120), and specify the name you want printed on them. They then easily stick onto clothes labels (they’re a good size for clear text, but discreet enough to not take up too much space – 30mm x 15mm), the insides of hats/gloves/shoes, or even on lunchboxes/water bottles/pencil cases. They have been tested to last 40 washes at 40 degrees, and in the dishwasher. If they do eventually fall off, it’s the work of mere seconds to stick on a new one.
But, here comes my top tip (blatantly stolen from an immensely practical friend, who is a mother of four, and therefore hugely familiar with the nightmare of lost clothing items) – you can include your phone number on them. The labels fit two lines of text, so I include both my son’s name and my number, which means there’s a much better chance of them actually being returned if found. My heart breaks when I see all the lost stuffed animals on local Facebook groups, because I know just how much trauma that loss will cause for a tiny human and their frantic parents. Skellies was given a massive Jellycat bunny before he was born, and seven years later, that increasingly tatty rabbit has been all over the world. I made sure he had a label with my number on him the first time he left the house (in his case, with international dialling code to allow for his globetrotting ways), and now every time Flea suddenly decides he’d like to bring a particular stuffed animal in his pram, I have a pack of these labels in my wallet ready to go.
This also works well if your child is too little to remember your phone number and you’re headed out to a crowded place. I simply remind Skellies to stay exactly where he is the moment he realises he’s lost us, and then show a passing mother with children his hat/jacket so she can ring my mobile. Stikins also suggests using the labels to highlight if a child has an allergy or is diabetic – genius.
At prices starting from £6.50 for 30 labels, this is a product worth its weight in gold. Whether sparing you the cost of replacing expensive clothing items, or the all-night screaming of a toddler who’s lost her favourite stuffy, they are a proper hero product.
Toby Tiger Pyjamas
The speed at which my eldest grows out of and destroys his clothes (those bony knees go through anything, whether top-quality or not), you will not find me spending millions on kids’ clothes. I love to have a few really gorgeous pieces (eBay is a winner for Polo goodies in great condition), and I’m not keen on mass-market brands with really exploitative manufacturing practices, but I tend to tread a middle ground for the everyday items rather than spending my life stressing over grass stains and ripped knees.
However, finding a great UK brand that ticks all the boxes for comfortable, breathable (100% cotton), hard-wearing and beautifully-designed clothes is always cause for shopping joy. And, in this case, the purchase of what can only be described as the world’s cutest pyjamas.
Toby Tiger was started by mother-of-two Zoe Mellow in Brighton almost 20 years ago, and is well-established as a fabulous collection of organic, colourful, UK-produced clothes for kids up to age six. The designs are bright and fun, without being twee.
I first saw Toby Tiger’s designs at the Mary Howard Christmas Fair last year, and my mother very quickly purchased these pyjamas for her two-year-old grandson. They are unbelievably soft, even after repeated washing, and they are generously-sized without being absurdly large - Flea is in a 2-3, and will get at least a year’s comfortable wear out of them. While they are super-cosy, they are also light and breathable, which is especially important for little humans at night. And, of course, the design couldn’t be dreamier.
As with many smaller manufacturers, they aren’t ‘cheap’ (can you tell how much I dislike that word?), but I would say they compare favourably to clothes of similar, if not quite as high, quality from larger UK brands. They were £28.99, and in terms of cost-per-wear, they have already earned their keep in the four months that Flea has been wearing them (they are his favourites!) While he has quite a comprehensive selection of hand-me-downs from his brother, I’ll certainly be back to Toby Tiger’s website for any gorgeous yet practical items missing from his summer wardrobe.