Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Travelling with a baby - Baby Friendly Boltholes

I'm a big fan of holidaying (who isn't?) so when Bobble arrived we were determined that we were still going to be able to travel as much as we did in the pre baby days. I think it can be easy to lose your confidence a bit after having a baby, in so many ways, including travelling. Aside from perhaps not having quite a many spare pennies as before, the thought of packing up all of the new equipment that you need for a baby can often make you think that it's easier to stay at home.

But fear not, there are several companies out there specialising in this niche market, who can help you enjoy a stress-free first holiday with your little one. I've had a great experience with Baby Friendly Boltholes, so I'm going to tell you about how they can help.

What is Baby Friendly Boltholes?

Baby Friendly Boltholes provides a one stop shop for parents of pre-schoolers wanting to travel. Covering destinations as near as the UK and far flung as Thailand and the Caribbean, it lists hotels, b&bs, farm stays and self catering accommodation carefully selected with parents in mind. It errs towards the more luxury end of the scale, but does also feature plenty of places that are also wallet friendly.

We used Baby Friendly Boltholes when we took Bobble on his first trip abroad to Italy when he was 7 months old. I came across the website using good ole Google as I searched for baby friendly self-catering accommodation. I was looking for somewhere that could provide a lot of the equipment that we used at home, but didn't want to transport with us, particularly on a flight. Lots of places provide a cot and a highchair, but for young babies and even older toddlers, it takes more than just these two things to care for and entertain your child. At 7 months, we needed things like a hand blender, steriliser, toys, bouncy chair, baby bath etc. All of this was provided at the accommodation. And what's more, as the owners are usually parents themselves, they can also offer lots of helpful advice on family friendly restaurants, activities and days out when you're there.

The lowdown... 

Is it going to cost more?
You don't pay any booking fees to Baby Friendly Boltholes as you book directly with the owner. As I said above, a lot of the properties are quite luxurious so can seem more expensive. But as always, if you're parents to a pre-schooler, you can save a lot of money by travelling outside of the school holidays.

There are so many properties to choose from, how do I choose?
My one criticism of BFB, is that I don't find the search function on their website particularly easy to use. There are a lot of filters (which is great) but you can still often end up with pages and pages of potential properties to look through. However, what I think is fantastic is their online chat facility. I have used this several times and love the fact that within a minute or 2 you are talking to a real life person who is very happy to suggest properties based on whatever vague or specific requirements you have.

How do I know if the properties are any good?
Each property has a tab showing reviews and feedback from previous guests, so you can get a very good idea of what you can expect when you get there - no surprises.

Our experience

We used BFB in October 2012. We were looking to travel to somewhere that might offer us a last glimpse of sunshine before a (what turned out to be a ridiculously) long winter. I used the online chat facility and spoke to a real life person. She suggested a few properties in France and Italy based on my requirements for equipment, number of bedrooms and budget. I shared the shortlist with my husband and we ended up choosing an apartment based in the same location as one of the suggestions. It was slightly more expensive than the one that had been suggested. I think this is actually a great point, the rep from BFB didn't try to up-sell me at all.

Where we went

We spent a week at the Pantano apartment at Santa Chiara, which is in Umbria. We flew in and out of Rome, which was a little over a 2 hour drive away, but there are nearer airports. There's no getting around the fact that the apartment is a little off the beaten track. It's literally down an unpaved road, and is a good 10 minutes drive from the nearest supermarket. However, the location is so peaceful and idyllic, that we didn't mind.

The view from our balcony

The view in the other direction
Pantano apartment is on the top floor
Looking across the olive groves
Surrounded by olive trees, the sun drenched balcony offers up great views of the valley, and as this apartment is on the top floor, those views are uninterrupted. The owners are English and live on the ground floor. They're perfect hosts in that they're there if you need them, but not always there and watching your every move! Equipment-wise, it was spot-on. As well as a cot and a highchair, a baby monitor and steriliser were provided along with a hand blender. Admittedly there weren't any baby toys as such, but the swing in the garden more than made up for this. It was Bobble's absolute highlight of his first holiday abroad! For older children, there were some toys provided and the (shared) garden also included a slide and other toddler-friendly toys.

King of the swingers!

What we did we our week

During our week we enjoyed several trips out. We visited the beautiful city of Assisi and the ancient town of Spello. We saw a lot of the town of Gubbio from underneath an umbrella, and found Lake Tresimeno to be pretty, but rather quiet out of season. We crossed the border to Tuscany and visited Cortona, a place that we had holidayed in 10 years previously. We pottered around the quiet city of Città di Castello and enjoyed some amazing gelato while Bobble snoozed. Under umbrellas once again, we saw the impressive man-made waterfalls at Cascata delle Marmore. And finally, we did a whistle-stop tour of Rome before flying home.


Travelling in Italy with a baby

For a first holiday abroad with a baby, we felt that we couldn't have done better than travel to Italy. The Italians LOVE babies, and everywhere we visited/ate/drank we were treated like royalty. I think this is actually true of a lot of countries in Europe, based on our experiences in France this year. In the supermarkets you can buy nappies, formula and wipes - so you can save space in your luggage. We were still fairly early on in Bobble's weaning journey so I just took a selection of Ella's kitchen pouches to make mealtimes easy, but supplemented these with fresh fruit, which was plentiful.

The one thing that I didn't enjoy on this holiday, in fact I'd probably go as far as saying that I hated it, was the driving. Driving in Italy was very stressful. It didn't help that Bobble spent a lot of time crying in the back of the car, which we had to use almost everyday due to the fairly remote location of the apartment. What made matters worse, was the other drivers on the road. Yes there may well be a lot of Italian drivers who are courteous, considerate and safe...  but it felt like the majority were dangerous, unpredictable and scary. Some drove incredibly slowly, which can be very unsafe on a motorway, some insisted on driving right up your rear end, and many others relied on the fact that you could read their minds and anticipate the fact that they were going to pull out, overtake or turn off. Ok, rant over. I'm never that great a passenger in a car, so maybe it's just me.

The last word

My top tips for travelling abroad with a young baby:
  1. Don't panic about the flight, it won't be nearly as bad as you think it will be. You might actually enjoy it!.
  2. Tiny babies are so portable! If you travel before you begin weaning, you have so little to worry about. And if you're breast feeding, it couldn't be easier!
  3. It really is worth staying somewhere that is baby or child friendly. With packing space at a premium, it will really help if some of the essential equipment you need is provided.
  4. Think about what you can buy when you get there, rather than trying to cram everything in. Nappies and wipes take up a lot of space and nearly all of the brands you can buy in the  UK are sold abroad.
  5. Remember that you're on holiday, so try to relax! A stressed out mummy and daddy will more than likely make your baby stressed too! Accept that you won't be having the same sort of holiday as your pre-baby days and instead, just enjoy showing your little one the sights, smells and sounds of new and exciting places!


No comments:

Post a Comment