Keeping babies happy is a whole different thing than keeping toddlers happy. I was quite nervous about traveling with a baby, but looking back, it was the easiest time! Why? Babies sleep a lot, are easy to move around in a carrier, need simple foods only and are still in the ‘all I need is mum’ phase. And when you know your baby’s signals and have the gear to meet your baby’s needs, you’re ready to go. Also as a single mum!
Still, you can get into very unpredictable situations, and being responsible for a small, helpless, precious baby may cause you to panic and feel guilty for putting this innocent being through this! At these moments I try to think: stress happens at home as well.
I will tell you the story that increased my confidence. I always thought I had to protect my son from crazy experiences and in the first three months of his life, I almost locked myself in the house. It was winter, I had had a very tough delivery, I was sleep deprived and felt misinformed about what babies really need. So I was in shock and still adjusting to being a mum.
When my son was 8 months old, I took him to England. I had decided car travel was the best, as we could visit several friends that way and we wouldn’t be dependant on others. Plus we could bring ALL the (useless) baby stuff I naively thought we needed 🙂
We needed slow travel. Driving was to be done only while my son slept. He hated being in the car awake and I believe (and still believe) it would be selfish of me to put him through that, just because I wanted to visit friends in the UK, and was too stubborn to go by plane. Actually, planes scared me at that time. No exit, being stuck inside with all those people… (maybe some leftover hormones in my system?)
After hearing horror stories about 7 hour drives with screaming babies, I immediately started my slow travel rule and have been following it ever since.
So we started our 3 hour drive to France, to the ferry port. At least that was the plan… but that day exactly, the French ferry employees decided to go on strike. The police blocked the road at the border and there we were: stuck between other cars and no way to exit as the sides of the road were filled with stranded Polish trucks. It was 36 degrees Celcius. I cried.
I cried and I felt stuck. The exact feeling I thought I would have on a plane, I now had on the road. There was no escape left or right. I thought we would be sleeping in the car that night! I was convinced I had put my baby in a very stressful situation.
Luckily we got given the chance to exit the highway, into a Belgium village. I won’t go into detail, but I broke my flipflop in an attempt to find a place to pee in the fields and I cried again.
Meanwhile my son was absolutely fine! Lots of things to see, playing in the car, in the grass, having a little picnic between parked trucks. He was like a little happy buddha.
In the end we stayed the night with a lovely family in Belgium, at the sea (there are worse places to get stranded!) through a last minute airbnb request I made. We ate our food from the car in their kitchen, had a stroll on the beach and a great sleep.
What could be a nightmare for you, is not viewed equally by kids. They have different glasses on. So I decided not to push my thoughts about whatever I regarded as stressful, onto him. He was happy because his needs were being met: he was close to his mum, had entertainment and plenty of snacks.
I found two important points that are key to keeping single mum travel stress free:
1. Know baby’s signals and have the gear to be able to immediately respond.
2. Keep your stress levels low, as baby responds to your vibes.
About number 1: read your baby, know his signals, so that you can react to tiredness, hunger, etc. immediately. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you can satisfy your baby’s needs, he will be OK. Do not try to push a schedule on him.
A big need is being close to mum and being able to shut off from impressions. Babywearing (and breastfeeding) comes in very handy here. Basically you can wear a baby in a sling almost anywhere and baby can choose to look around, have a sip of breastmilk, sleep or just snuggle. He is not forced to take in all the impressions that he cannot process, because he can turn his head and snuggle into your chest, which he can’t do in a pram/stroller. He is close to mum, so new environments won’t frighten him. By having the right gear I mean ditch the stroller and get an ergonomic baby carrier. Read all about the advantages of babywearing during travel here: ___
Number 2: make sure you are stress free as baby is a mirror and you will 100% get back all the stress that you transmit. This doesn’t always involve a lot of planning, but a mindful attitude and the ability to laugh and taking things lightly (even when your flip-flop breaks in a peeing attempt!). Trying to control things may make things worse. Make a plan but leave room for plan b, c and d.
Here are a few practical lifesavers that really worked for us:
- plenty of food and drink
- a mobile phone with 3g/4g (I paid my regular provider 5 euros for 100mb, which I could use for a week)
THIS IS ESSENTIAL! don’t go and think you’ll access wifi points on the way, not with a baby!
- Car charger for the phone
- starring essential locations on Google maps before you leave (read here how to)
- creating an Airbnb account before you leave and have the app on your phone (read Airbnb tips here)
- have road side assistance that covers Europe (I used Routemobiel)
- ask for help. Nobody refuses help to a mother with baby.
- be blunt. I went into the ferry office on the way back and complained because they were still having problems and wouldn’t let us on the ferry, while I was in the priority lane. Long story, but they let us on. Be blunt and fight for your rights! Pull the ‘I am traveling alone with a baby’ card like I have done many times. It’s your right, you are a mother, there is no harder job in the world!