I think we can all agree that this event is a real milestone for any family. I admit that I felt a little daunted by the prospect and speaking to other Mum’s I think we all do if we’re honest. I must say, our first holiday together with Siena at 10 months old was truly amazing – watching our little girl experience new things every day really helped her grow and put us as parents on a steep learning curve. However, it was also hard work! I have spent quite some time trying to create a new word for ‘holiday’ as with a baby, it’s not quite the holiday you have been used to. Internal alarm clocks still work; bottles still need sterilizing and so on. I hope to provide some useful tips for those considering their holiday soon, and will also summarise what worked and what we would do differently. As for those who have already ventured…well you may find this quite amusing and full of very knowing head nods and wise smiles….
As a well travelled and an anti – package holiday couple, our location and holiday style was never going to be straight forward. Our destination had to be warm, so that just left the question of ‘do we fly or drive somewhere?’ The thought of flying with Siena did not concern me too much as we still have a 2:1 parent/baby ratio, but I really didn’t want the restraints that I felt a hotel brings for our first holiday. I thought about renting a villa with a shared pool and the idea of having all your own home comforts, own space, own time scales, became more and more appealing. We had to think about drinking water, sterilising bottles for milk, washing clothes etc, and so with the suggestion from a good friend we decided Corsica was the place for us and with our Italian/French backgrounds we could introduce Siena to a culture we both grew up with. As we love driving and have enjoyed European driving holidays before we decided to take our convertible – this would also fulfil a dream we had when we bought the car a year ago. So yes, you heard right; we were taking a 2 1/2 week holiday with our baby, packed into a convertible and were driving 2,500 miles around Europe. I did say this wouldn’t be straight forward.
After we made our decision I spent weeks researching the route we would take, and places we would stay on our way to Corsica, and I must say it was all worth it when we were on the trip. I planned for around 4 hours driving per day, which meant we could stop as often as we wanted, or just motor to the next destination to have time there if we wished. Obviously we planned to stop every 2 hours for Siena anyway, and so I picked some beautiful places like Montreux, Lake Como and the Rhine Alps to punctuate the miles we planned to cover. Experience has taught me that the art of packing should never be underestimated – especially on a touring holiday and as a consequence I carefully calculated how many nappies to take, how many wipes, food pouches etc. Although we could buy all of this where we were going, it would be expensive, not the brands Siena was used to and to be honest we didn’t want to spend our time constantly stopping at supermarkets for our essentials. I’m pleased to say that my calculations served us well as did our own travel cot sheet (bringing the smell and cleanliness of home) and a selection of new toys which had been saved for the holiday and brought out gradually over time to ensure baby’s interest (the ELC has a great selection of small toys perfect for this). We also took our camera monitors, and sun tent – which I believe had a great time in the boot of our car, as they did not even see daylight (!)– and finally our fabulous travel kettle which we took for sterilising, water and milk, which also has the correct plug for Europe. This item was just critical – I’m not actually sure how we would have managed without it. It also brings an element of camping – even to the most posh hotels!
As I’m a bit of a ‘cooking mama’ I really wanted Siena to continue eating fresh foods wherever possible. Since starting the weaning process I had prepared every meal she had eaten ensuring she was getting her vitamins, fresh foods, and variety. So I decided that I would give her food from our plates as much a possible and take some organic food pouches as back up. I also introduced Siena to the food pouches before the holiday so that she got used to the taste and texture. Overall this method worked, although as expected her eating habits did change, which we simply adapted to. As we were now eating all our meals together (previously I would simply feed Siena and eat later – obviously it’s not practical to eat as a family at 5:30!), Siena decided she wanted to eat our food, and feed herself wherever possible. I felt this was a very positive development and certainly heading in the right direction. She ate pieces of bread, meat, avocado, egg – basically anything we were eating. She even refused eating food from a spoon and insisted on feeding herself. Fortunately, when we were not in the villa and she was hungry or tired, she still ate the food pouches. So the combination was perfect and I still felt she was getting a healthy balanced diet and experimenting with new foods. Strangely though she did refuse her usual favourites like yoghurt and cheese and I feel overall she ate less, but it was a much warmer climate than she is used to and she was happy, so I would expect changes in eating habits and so long as baby is eating and drinking of course, then don’t worry that it’s different to the routine at home.
So – how did our travelling go? What is it like staying in a different hotel each night? How do you have the roof down with a baby??? Well, it was planned that we would pack up each morning, have breakfast, give Siena her milk as normal at 9:30 and be on the road in time for her nap so we could get a good part of the journey done whilst she was asleep at her usual time. Sorry, I just fell off my chair laughing at myself! The reality is this: up at 6:30/7am, get ready and prepare water and bottles for the day: 1.5 hours, breakfast (and coffee!) at the hotel: 1 hour, finish getting ready (include sun cream) and pack up everything and load the car and give Siena milk: 1.5 hours: check the time: we were lucky to leave at 11:30 in fact it was more like 12:30 – and that was rushing all morning. What you have just read was the most negative part of the holiday for me – right there – 4 hours to leave the hotel! I like routine, my plan was failing, not just once, but every day. I actually had to work out why and break it down to figure out where this time was going to, but it is real. Plus – you are doing all this with a tired, hot, and confined to a cot baby, so the described 4 hours is not that much fun. It also meant that stopping for lunch somewhere on our route basically never happened. We weren’t even leaving until lunch time. The truth is that each morning you have to prepare for the day from scratch, because baby sleeps in the same room as you at night you can’t do any prep the night before as you will wake her. A travel kettle, as fantastic as it was, had to be boiled around six times each morning (it’s never worked so hard!!!), bags have to be packed and carried and re-loaded into the car and then ensure that we have enough water inside the car, the roof still operates, the boot closes, the baby bag is packed etc. Our system was that we would have a ‘stock’ bag, which was placed far into the boot which would contain nappies, wipes; food, formula etc and we re-stocked the baby changing bag with the essentials for that day each morning.
I think it took the first half of our holiday to accept that we were taking much longer than we had planned to start our journey each morning, and once we had, it became easier. All this said, we took in some amazing sights, reaching 1400 metres above sea level through the Swiss Alps, arriving at Belaggio late at night during a viscous rain storm and waking up to see glorious sunshine over Lake Como the next morning. In fact, one of my most treasured memories of our tour was setting sight on Lake Como for the first time, already knowing we had missed our scheduled ferry by about 2 hours, which meant an additional 1 ½ our drive around the lake. At this point we just took in the views as the sun went down and enjoyed a beautiful Italian pizza, whilst giving Siena her bed time bottle to the sound of a group of local friends and family. I have many wonderful childhood memories of falling asleep at what seemed to be a meal that never actually ended, and the voices of my family, so expressive, so excited drifted around my head until eventually sleep took over. As I held Siena, watching her eyes become heavy it felt almost magical to be experiencing this with my own baby. I have wondered: if we left on time and caught our ferry, would I have had this experience?
Our holiday with Siena needed to be flexible – we needed to adapt to situations, just as Siena did. Babies are surprisingly adaptable, it’s us adults that need to learn not to worry when things don’t go to plan! She coped with the heat, the driving, the moving – in fact she more than coped – she really enjoyed it all. She examined each cot she was in – just as I did!! She clapped when the roof went down, she ‘ooohed’ and flapped at every dog we saw – and we saw many! She waved at everyone we saw and even raised a smile from those who looked like their frown was cast in stone. As she learned from the experiences of our holiday, we learned from her too.