My long-haul experience with a toddler…and tips!

What was it like travelling to Mauritius with my 22-month old daughter Lucy?

This Easter, we took our three children to the other side of the world, to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. My husband works out there, he travels there three times a year, and we were fortunate to stay in a house belonging to his business partner. This was an amazing opportunity for us, we felt very lucky indeed. It would be our first big adventure since having our first baby eight years ago. Sure, we’d holidayed in France and Spain, but we hadn’t braved (or afforded!) long-haul. This was unknown and exotic, and for me, it came with huge expectations of bonding, exploring, photographing and writing. It was my dream holiday, and if I had any little niggles prior to setting off, they were all to do with my youngest child. Would she sleep on the 14 hour flight? What if she didn’t? Did we have enough Night Garden on the iPad? Could we keep her asleep during the transit? I barely gave a thought to the other two, 8 and 6, because they’re straightforward and self-sufficient. They don’t need a bottle of milk, squeezy fruit tubes, nappies, wetwipes, multiple changes of clothes, CBeebies, a buggy, a sling… They carry their own bag, they watch and they eat what’s given to them, they go to the toilet when they need to, they sleep if I tell them. Easy.

So, yes admittedly, there was an underlying dread of having to contend with an exhausted, muddled, bad tempered toddler in queues and confined spaces whilst being exhausted, muddled and bad tempered myself. And then, when we finally got there, 24 hours later, to the great unknown, there were other considerations; would she cope with the heat and the time difference? Do Mauritius supermarkets sell her staple diet of cheddar cheese and hummus?

So…how was it? Did we manage? Yes, of course we did, although I’m not going to lie, I found the flight there, via Dubai, a hard slog. The flight took off at 5.30pm but Lucy only nodded off a couple of hours before landing in Dubai whereby we had to carry her off the plane, in a fairly disgruntled state, to race through an airport to catch the next flight. (Don’t forget about the other two weary children trailing along, and the 6 bags of hand luggage we were lumbered with.) Again, on the second flight, not much sleeping was done. When we landed in Mauritius, needless to say, we were broken (and bickering!) It couldn’t be helped, sleep deprivation does that to you.

Arriving in Mauritius, well and truly shattered

Still, we were there, we had made it, and then the magic unfolded and we realised it had all been worth it. Lucy proved herself adaptable to all the changes thrown at her – the long journey, the broken sleep, the time zone, the temperature, the food, the milk, the routine. There was a beautiful moment when she awoke and saw Mauritius for the first time. Her brother and sister had wasted no time in jumping in the swimming pool, and she, in her sweaty, crinkled, groggy state, was keen to do the same. I remember the smile on her face. She had arrived.

The moment she woke up to her holiday

The journey and the late nights, which come with any holiday, meant that she was permanently shattered, bless her, and we marvelled at her insane ability to fall asleep just anywhere; on the back of a golf buggy, lying on the beach, even doing 50mph on the ocean in a power boat.

It didn’t take long for her to master arm bands and the art of buoyancy in the water, and just like that, she became a water baby in the swimming pool and sea, so much braver and contented than my other two children had been as babies. It was very rewarding to watch.

Bobbing around in the Indian ocean

Overall, I really bonded with my baby girl on our holiday. I spent some incredible moments with her, splashing around with her in the swimming pool and being, quite literally, a cushion for her to lie on when she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. In fact, these occasions where I cradled her, stroked her, gazed at her while she slept, and just appreciated her, were so precious, something I wouldn’t usually get the opportunity to do at home where it’s all routine and the norm. Soon she’ll be too big to fall asleep on my lap and be carried down to the beach and I’ll miss it. With this in mind, I made the most of the flight home and instead of grumbling that my arm had gone to sleep with the weight of her head, I just enjoyed it for what it was. Something that will never happen again.

Enjoying the great outdoors that is Mauritius

On reflection, one month after the trip, how do I feel? Proud that we managed to take our three young children (the little one especially!) all that way. Inspired, hopefully we can do it again. I’m not painting a rosy glow, honest! There was, after all, a monster tantrum on the floor in Heathrow Duty Free which raised a few eyebrows. There was also an all-night party she had in her cot on Day 2 when jetlag caught up with her. The thing is, I barely remember these little hiccups, they’ve faded into the background. Seeing her out of her usual surroundings, watching her try new things and develop overnight was so rewarding. She was cheeky and curious and a real asset to our holiday. She surprised and amazed us every day. We made some wonderful memories, and isn’t that what life is all about?

Tips for travelling with a toddler:

  1. Manage your expectations on the aeroplane. If you prepare for no sleep at all, you won’t be disappointed. If you manage to get a couple of hours, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There, those are my words of wisdom!
  2. Pack lightly! There is nothing worse than having too much hand luggage to lug around airports. It becomes a real burden. It’s also annoying having to rummage through endless paraphenalia just to find a pair of socks. On the way home, I learned from my mistakes and trimmed a couple of books and toys, the cosy sleepsuit she never wore, and the blanket that you don’t really need because they give you one on the plane.
  3. Take a baby carrier. I used the Manduca sling, a soft structured carrier, when we were in transit in Dubai without a buggy. She protested about getting into it, but soon settled. I don’t know what I would have done without it.
  4. Bring a portable charger for the iPad. Trust me,you don’t want to run out of battery. I found that songs and lullabies like Little Baby Bum (available to download from Netflix) really helped to calm her and also distracted her when she had to put on her seatbelt and sit still during takeoff and landing.
  5. Choose to sit in the bulkhead. This is front row of each section of the plane where there are no passengers sitting in front of you. This is where they install the baby cot which, unfortunately, your toddler will be too big for but the bonus is the extra leg room and general pottering space which I found useful with a toddler on my knee.
  6. Prepare yourself, you ain’t going anywhere. She’s on your knee for the whole journey and she’s only just fallen asleep after four long hours of being in the air. Trust me, you don’t want to go to the loo right now. Get yourself comfy for the night and make sure your husband is on hand to look after YOU. He can retrieve your book from the overhead locker, sort out your blanket and pillows, find your headphones which have fallen under the seat… Just don’t wake that baby!
  7. Have a glass of wine…just the one. I was reluctant to get myself all groggy and dehydrated on a long-haul flight, but it was a lovely, relaxing treat which I really deserved.