Recently, my husband had to go to London, England for a week of work meetings. I had two choices: stay at home alone with DK, keeping our schedule and routines,or join him in London and throw the schedule and routines out the window. DK is now 8 months old, sits up well, sleeps well and shows all the signs of becoming mobile within a month. So, it was the perfect seize-the-day opportunity to take him on a global adventure. We spent 10 days in London, and 4 days outside of London with a rental car in the Cotswolds. DK impressed me with how adaptable he was – he continued to sleep well, eat well and learned how to pull up to stand while on our trip!
Here are some things I’m glad we did, and things I wish I had thought of.
Best things we did:
- Direct flight. Flying SFO to London Heathrow is a long 10 hour flight with a baby. 5 hours in, we were just passing over New York. I think I would have cried if we had to land in New York and catch a connecting flight. Yes, flying direct is more expensive but there is a much lower chance you will lose your luggage, miss a connection, and end up stranded.
- Showing up 3 hours early to check in to make sure we got a bassinet-ready bulkhead seat. Yes, I love snuggling my 8 month old in my reclining laz-y-boy. Plane seats are not that. Holding DK for more than a few hours is back and shoulder torture in those seats! We flew with Virgin Atlantic and booked through a customer service rep on the phone instead of online to make sure we got the bulkhead seats, had DK’s infant reservation all figured out and got tips on when to show up to check in, what kind of luggage we could take etc.
- Night-flight. This wasn’t really planned, our direct flight left at 8 pm out of SFO and it was great timing. DK usually goes to sleep around 6:30 pm, so he was awake a little later than normal, but we did his bedtime routine as close as possible in the airport bathroom and waiting lounge and when we got on the plane, he nursed and fell asleep. We transferred him to the waiting bassinet, ate our meal provided by Virgin Atlantic, and attempted to sleep. DK slept better than he has in months on the plane, waking only once in an 8 hour stretch to eat.
- Airport Hotel. We weren’t sure if DK would sleep on the plane, but I knew that I for sure would not – as I have never slept on a plane in my life unless heavily sedated and unfortunately sedation and breastfeeding aren’t compatible. Our flight arrived at 2:30 pm London time, or 7:30 am SF time, so I knew when we landed I probably wouldn’t have slept since the night before, getting up with DK at 6:30 am the day of our flight. Therefore, upon landing priority #1 was a bed, any bed. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn at Heathrow airport, which was fine and had a great bed, but see my next section on things I would change for more on this hotel experience. Of course, DK had had a full-nights sleep on landing so he was really only ready for a few short naps – but we powered through, napped in shifts and attempted to put him to sleep for the night at 9 pm, a time he normally takes his afternoon nap. Bedtime routine worked wonders and he fell asleep for 6 amazing hours, woke to eat and then shockingly fell back to sleep for another 6 hours. It was the best sleep I’ve had since he’s been born.
- Brought his playpen. We have a travel mini Graco pack n play that he is almost too big for. If we had waited another month to do this trip I’m convinced he would be too big for this bed and would be crawling around hotel rooms. This was a handy for a sleep space for him.
- Got an Airbnb with kitchen and living room. You know what sucks? Eating your room service dinner in the bathroom of your hotel room. Having an extra room to hang in while baby sleeps is the key to a fun vacation when travelling with a baby. Hotel suites in London were so expensive! So we got a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, kitchen and living room Airbnb apartment instead for a similar price AND my wonderful in-laws came to London too and stayed in the second bedroom. What a difference a living room and stove makes! The place we stayed in was family friendly and even came with a high chair!
- Packed light. You’re probably laughing. Travel light with a baby?! Yeah right! No, I’m serious. We could carry everything we packed multiple blocks. We took two big suitcases: one half a suitcase for each person, and one half of one suitcase held the car seat base. We borrowed a stroller that works with our car seat. We both carried a backpack. I pushed the stroller and rolled a suitcase, my husband rolled a suitcase and carried DK’s bed. It helped that I only brought 8 days worth of clothes for each person and we did laundry at our Airbnb. It also helped that I am nursing and DK eats very little in terms of solid foods or milk from a bottle, which eliminated the need for a breastpump or baby food lugged from home.
- Travelled with grandparents! Aside from DK getting to spend quality time with his grandparents, grandparents are also super helpful travel companions. Need to carry a stroller up or down a flight of stairs? No problem with 3 people! Need someone to watch the baby while I go to the bathroom? No problem! I am so lucky and grateful that my husband’s parents came along with us to sight see. We had a great time together.
- We went to London. Yes, there are so many places to see in the world, and I’m sure many of them are family friendly – but man, London was top. Change tables in every public bathroom. Free museums. Amazing, creative and totally dangerous looking playgrounds. Pampers diapers and organic baby foods. Did I mention the abundance of diaper change tables?!
- Brought a mesh bag with small toys. We carted this bag with a few toys per day on all of our outings. The bag is small, collapsible, see-through and breathable for all the slobber covered tethers. Toy dropped on the floor of the subway? No problem, put it in the diaper bag (don’t put it back in the mesh bag of clean toys) and wash when you get back to the hotel every day.
What I would do differently:
- Stay at a closer airport hotel the first night. I mistakenly assumed that an airport hotel would be near the airport. When we landed and got our bags, the shuttle bus to our hotel was a 40 minute wait and we were exhausted. We opted to take a taxi just to get to a bed faster. It cost £20. And the next morning, we took a taxi from the airport hotel to the airport rental car company…£15. I picked the hotel because of its proximity to the airport and the price – but factoring the extra £35 in taxi fare, we could have stayed at the hotel right at the airport instead of near the airport for the same price and my post-plane bed would have been that much closer.
- Rented a car seat with our rental car. We opted to bring our car seat and base because we were more comfortable with installing it, DK was comfortable sleeping in it, we were concerned about taking taxis in London without it, if the bassinet on the plane wasn’t available, maybe an extra seat for the car seat would be, and we needed it to get to the airport anyways. In hindsight, we didn’t really need it – you don’t have to ride with a baby in a car seat in London taxis or transit. We could have rented it with the car and gotten a friend to drive us to the airport in our car. Our entire time in London the car seat and base sat unused in our Airbnb.
All in all it was a great trip! DK is still on London time upon returning home, so is waking up to play between 1 am and 3 am. But a small price to pay for how well he adjusted to travel!