I am currently writing this at 5am because jet lag is in full force after having returned from our first holiday with a toddler a few days ago. So what better time to share all my insights with you, whilst it’s still fresh in my brain!
I was so keen to get away before the second baby comes along, and also whilst Alfie is still under two and free to fly!!! I am 31 weeks pregnant and Alfie is 18 months so we knew it wasn’t going to be a holiday like we have been used to, but so excited to just get away.
We booked to go to Dubai, with it being February we didn’t want to chance it any closer to the UK as we wanted the guarantee of warm, sunny days and somewhere that is family-friendly. Using a travel agent for the first time turned out to be the best idea to reduce stress. We booked our trip with independent travel agent Lauren Povey who was an invaluable help to us, being a specialist in family holidays but also a mum herself, she was able to answer so many questions that we couldn’t find answers to on google.
We booked to stay in the JA Palm Tree Court Hotel. It’s a little out of Dubai city but only a 40-minute drive from the airport – without having the city to look at from the beach it really did feel quite tropical. We confirmed a taxi transfer with a car seat from the airport on arrival and asked for an early check-in as our flight got in at 8am.
The only thing that we now needed to do was get there. On an 8 hour night flight. With a toddler. Help!
I lost sleep over the idea of flying long haul with a toddler – I really did. So here’s my list of what we packed and how it worked so that you can sleep peacefully before your holiday.
Even though Alfie didn’t have his own seat, British Airways still allowed him his own luggage, a buggy, a carseat and hand luggage so we didn’t have to squeeze all his stuff into our bags. It is worth checking with your airline about their rules way in advance of packing, just to make sure.
Hand Luggage for the plane – one bag each. All filled with stuff for him!
- Snacks – one of the most essential things for any length of flight but especially for long haul. Do not underestimate the importance of snacks! We packed organix bars, melty sticks, fruity pouches, breadsticks, you name it we had it!
- Dummy – this helped his ears on takeoff and landing but if they don’t use a dummy you can use a pouch or anything that encourages them to swallow, even sucking their thumb.
- Water Beaker – this can also help with ears popping. Alfie drank so much water on the flight and the crew were so helpful at filling it up for us.
- Milk Bottle – if needed. I didn’t realise until we got there but you are actually allowed to take liquids for babies through security. You can also get Starbucks to fill up the bottle with warm milk free of charge, which was great.
- ipad/tablet – fully charged, with pre downloaded shows on it. Lots of them. Alfie likes to chop and change his mind every 5 minutes so having a big selection was great. He didn’t sit and watch whole movies but it was a good distraction and a way to keep him still (sometimes) if we needed to. I’d also recommend a childproof case for it as many many times it was thrown on the floor!!
- Headphones – again, it was hit and miss whether Alfie would wear them for very long but it was definitely worth having them. I would recommend practicing at home or in the car a bit before you travel so they can get used to them and understand what they do. We used these.
- Sleeping bag – for us we found this really helpful as it signalled to him that it was sleep time, and also prevented him from running away too fast!!
- Pillow – we brought a thin pillow that we could bunch up in various positions to make sleep a little more comfortable. Definitely not essential as the plane do have pillows but we found this helpful to have our own one that is a little more familiar to him.
- Change of clothes – hopefully you don’t have any reason to change their whole outfit on the plane but you never know and you wouldn’t want to get caught short with a poonami without any backup clothes. Also worth packing a change of top for you in case!!
- Fully stocked nappy bag – its a tight squeeze in those airplane toilets to change a nappy so I would advise taking the nappy and wipes into the cubicle rather than the whole bag as there just isn’t the space.
- Selection of toys – we didn’t bring loads but I separated out little paw patrol figures, farm animals and cars into bags so he could get them out and play with them, a few at a time. I made sure he hadn’t seen them before the flight so they were all new and that definitely kept him quiet for a while. I used these mesh bags to separate the toys in which he loved to get out each day in the hotel but also on the plane.
- Books – not many but a few to keep them focused on something when they need to be strapped to you during take off and landing and various points on the flight. Books with flaps to lift and things to do are definitely a good idea.
Our flight out to Dubai was a night flight departing at 8.40pm. Of course we didn’t actually take off until 9.30pm, and I definitely hadn’t even thought there might be delays but thankfully it wasn’t too long. I naively thought that because Alfie was exhausted he would fall asleep pretty quickly on the flight but oh no! He was absolutely wired and over stimulated for the first two hours and I completely panicked thinking this would be it all night! Having a baby Zen Yo YO, we were able to take our buggy right to our seats as it folds up small enough to be counted as hand luggage. We booked a bassinet seat at the back of the plane in the hope that they would fill the plane from the front first and there might be a spare seat lurking in the back, and it worked in our favour. We had a row of 3 which was amazing. He obviously didn’t go in the bassinet, or the toddler seat that BA kindly put up for us – but it was great having the extra space. I recommend booking that seat even if you know they won’t sleep in the cot.
After two hours of pulling our hair out trying to get him to sit still and not run off down the aisle, he started to calm down and we put the sleeping bag on him and encouraged him to watch some peppa pig on the ipad. His eyes started drooping and we crossed everything. He fell asleep in his own seat with the pillow propped up against the arm rest so he looked semi comfortable and thankfully he stayed asleep from 11.30pm for the duration of the flight. He would stir occasionally so went from sleeping in the chair, to on my lap which was not terribly comfortable with a bump but as long as he stayed asleep I wasn’t complaining!
The flight on the way back was a daytime flight. I was terrified because I knew we wouldn’t be so lucky to get him to sleep most of the way but we had to get home somehow so we packed all the same things back in our hand luggage and again got super lucky with a spare seat at the back of the plane by the bassinet section. We had to get up pretty early to leave the hotel so he was already overdue a nap by the time we boarded the plane at 10.30am. Of course he wanted to run round and go crazy when we got to our seats. We had learned by that point that the airline crew just don’t mind and there was apparently 22 babies/toddlers booked on the flight so we knew we weren’t the only ones to be causing chaos which felt oddly reassuring.
We didn’t strap him onto our laps until the very last minute and got out some books and toys for him to play with by our feet beforehand. This seemed to calm him a lot which was great. The iPad was used to keep him on our laps and once we put the sleeping bag on him he actually started to get sleepy which we were thrilled about. We transferred him to his own seat and he slept for a dreamy hour and a half … but that was it. We weren’t going to get any more from him so the rest of the 5 hours of the flight were pretty hectic I’m not going to lie.
Every snack was offered, every toy was played with, every book was read over and over again and we just had to take it in turns to follow him up and down the aisle. No one minded, or at least not outwardly so we just let him do his thing and occasionally he would sit down and watch ten minutes of paw patrol to allow us to chill for a second but we were so grateful to hear the “cabin prepare for landing” eventually! Everyone was so nice, the airline staff didn’t mind about the mess we had caused or the chaos at every toddler row so we didn’t feel any pressure to keep him in his seat (although that would have been nice!!) and we made friends with other parents in the same position as us! Nothing like bonding over the chaos of parenting hey?!
We were very grateful to have the Yo Yo buggy so we didn’t have to wait for ages at the other end for the buggies to be collected from the plane, we felt pretty smug pushing ours past all the parents waiting I have to say and with some stroke of luck our suitcases all appeared within minutes of arrival at baggage collection. It all ended well but blimey flying with a toddler is a workout and a half!! Totally worth it of course, but we just didn’t quite anticipate the lack of rest or even just sitting still!!
Of course it was a family-friendly hotel, we made absolutely sure of that. There were plenty of shady places and even a kids pool that was covered but there was never any guarantee that Alfie would stay playing in the shade, or keep his hat on so it was the factor 50 police over here. I am proud to say that there was no sunburn for the entire holiday!
We used Childs Farm suncream which worked very well, his skin can be quite sensitive sometime but it didn’t cause any flair ups.
Being in a hotel is always such a luxury, not having to cook or clean. This is one the main reasons that I was so excited to stay where we stayed. We booked the all-inclusive package and I am so glad that we did. Alfie eating in restaurants for every meal, when he is a pretty fussy kid, did fill me with dread but I was so pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. He ate amazingly! We were able to give him a selection of foods without worrying about wasting food or money and it meant that he tried so many new things. He also loves people watching, and waving, so eating out was such fun for him and it kept him happy in his highchair for much longer than usual.
Once one child was spotted having an ice lolly by the pool it was pretty impossible to stop them all wanting one so we didn’t stress over that, we just made sure to try and stay away from them before lunch and before his nap as the sugar kick really did make a difference.
We obviously tried to keep his diet as balanced as possible offering lots of fruit and veggies at every meal but the reality is that sometimes his meal was chips and pasta and that’s ok. It’s your holiday too so don’t spend your time worrying about him not eating his broccoli. The nice thing was that we ate every meal together so he would try what we were eating and copy us which is something that just isn’t easy to do at home everyday.
We always carried those beloved snacks around with us as a backup in case a meal went totally pear-shaped and they were great to have by the pool as all that swimming is hungry work and he seemed to want a lot more.
Every evening we would take two milk bottles to the restaurant and ask them to fill them up with cows milk, we would then put one in the sink filled with hot water to warm it up for before bed and then other in the fridge to do the same in the morning when he woke. We used boiling water from the kettle to wash them but also the restaurants were more than happy to wash them out for us too.
One of the most asked things has been about his sleep, and I was the same before we went too. What on earth do you do with their sleep? Well, Dubai was 4 hours ahead which actually worked in our favour for the first day or two when he was still jet-lagged. He fell asleep in the buggy whilst we were having dinner and then slept in a little bit for us which is unheard of with this kid!! The other nights he stayed awake for dinner with us and we learnt not to dilly dally as we only had a limited time before he had had enough of sitting in his highchair and wanted to go to sleep, often overtired so not keen on the buggy either!! His bedtime was later than at home but he would then sleep in a little later in the morning so it evened out in the end and meant that we could enjoy our evening dinner as well. He slept in what he would wear at home as the air conditioning meant that it wasn’t hot in the room.
We used the buggy for all daytime naps and because that meant they weren’t quite as long as they would be in the cot, we made sure to give him two naps a day to help him get through.
This was a typical day on holiday for us …
7:00 – wake up and milk in the room
7:30 – head to breakfast
8:30 – all sun creamed up and at the pool playing and exploring
10:00 – into the buggy for a walk around the hotel to help him drop off to sleep. He would usually have about 30/40 minutes and then naturally wake.
11:00 – more playing, swimming, snacks by the pool
12.30 – lunch at one of the restaurants in the hotel
13:30 – more playing to let him burn off some energy and let his food settle
14:30/15:00 – Back in the buggy for an afternoon nap, he would often do a little longer for this nap so maybe around an hour.
16:00 – ice lolly by the pool, swimming, playing on the beach
17:00 – back to the room for bath time and another snack to help him make it to dinner
18:30 – as soon as the restaurant opens we were there, and ordered his food immediately!
20:00 – Ask the waiters to fill up his bottle with milk and take it back to the room for PJs and milk
20:30 – Bedtime for Alfie and we would watch a film or series with earphones in
I can hand on heart say that the Snoozeshade saved the holiday for us as it made sleep possible both in the room and in the buggy. We used to snooze shade for the travel cot so that it meant we could still move around the room with the bedside lights on and not disturb him which was great, and in the day the snooze shade for the buggy helped keep the sun off him and also the wind.
If you use CHARLIEBARKER you can get 10% off your snoozeshade.
We also took our white noise machine and plugged it in right next to the cot so it would drown out any other noise in the room whilst we were getting ready for bed etc.
Whilst we weren’t strict with timings, we did enforce those two naps sometime in the morning and sometimes after lunch as we realised quickly that it was the only way to ensure that he would make it to dinner in one piece. We adjusted the times depending on how he was in the day but those two naps were essential for him.
We chose not to bring a car seat with us, although you are entitled to on most flights. Having discovered an app called ‘Careem’ in Dubai where you can specifically order “Kids cars” that all come with car seats fitted. We used that if we left the hotel (which wasn’t often!!) and then booked our airport transfers through the hotel.
It was handy to have to Yo Yo buggy for getting in and out of taxis too as it is so easy to fold up and pop in the boot or even by our feet if needs be.
We made sure that the hotel had a creche that would take children under 2 years old. Many hotels in Dubai only take children into creche from 4 years and above. The creche facilities were incredible, brand new and super clean with the kindest staff. We booked Alfie into the creche for a few hours on two afternoons and he had a great time, whilst we enjoyed a bit of time to just chat to each other without having to have eyes in the back of our head and one of us running after a toddler who was heading towards the pool! They had babysitting on offer too but we didn’t make use of that. My overriding advice on childcare is to do your research on the options, and if you do decide to use it make sure you don’t spend the entire time feeling guilty about it. It’s your holiday too and you totally deserve some time to relax so if you feel happy to make use of the childcare facilities then that is great!
I hope that this has been helpful for you, and hasn’t scared you off booking your trip. Going on holiday with a baby or toddler is a whole different experience but the good bits really outweigh the challenges I promise. We made some amazing memories and Alfie had the time of his life which was just wonderful to see! Our first and last holiday as a family of three, so now the next challenge is doing it with two kids!!! Not anytime soon but watch this space.