Dads report from the frontline of travelling with babies and toddlers in tow

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Steve Tooze
Lifestyle journalist Steve Tooze is Dad to Scarlett (born 2004) and Finlay (born 2007), and partner to Jane Anderson, a travel writer. Together they've travelled the length and breadth of the world with their kids in tow.

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    Babasac 2-in-1 baby sleeping bag

    It’ s never easy to transform our Northern European dress habits when we jump on the plane & head for hotter Southern climes. I always arrive at the airport in chilly March, clad in puffer jacket and gloves, totally unable to imagine that I’ll be comfortable in shorts and t-shirts in a few hours time.

    When Scarlett & Fin were tiny, it was even tougher as we tried to gauge the best blankets and sleeping gear to manage a small baby’s notoriously cranky temperature controls. We’d always arrive to find all their favourite warm stuff was way too warm for life in the sun.

    The new 2-in-1 multi-tog Babasac sleeping bag is a perfect way to cope with the sudden climate change. It was designed by mum Keira O’Mara, as a result of her frustration at having to buy a new, cooler baby sleeping gear to take on hols.

    The Babasace comes with removeable inner panels that easily zip out and allow you to magically switch from a toasty 2.5 tog rating in the shivery UK to comfortable 1.0 tog at your destination.

    It’s 100% cotton and available in two designs, pink hearts and navy stars. Available from May in 3 sizes (0-6, 6-18 and 18-36 months) from www.mamascarf.co.uk, it costs from £39.99.


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    Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Tooze @ 16:13

    Indoor camping

    It’s early Spring & the thoughts of Scarlett, 8, and Fin, 5, are turning to camping trips. But it’s raining stair rods outside & any possibility of setting up camp in the great outdoors is looking slim if the pitch-black sky outside is anything to go by.  It’s only half way through Saturday morning & promising to be a loooong weekend.

    ‘Build us a tent, dad,’ Scarlett pleads. ‘Yes!,’ Fin chimes in. ‘A big one with two rooms, and sleeping bit, and….’

    Thirty minutes later, and I’ve man-handled half the chairs in the house, two large blankets and a couple of beach towels into something that looks like it might belong on a particularly down-at-heel refugee camp. My two couldn’t be happier, but I’m thinking that there has to be a better way.

    Turns out there is. Insect Lore’s Campfire Kids set includes an easy-to-assemble & realistic indoor tent, authentic-looking campfire kits for cooking up pretend fish and sausages, log seats. lanterns and canteens. All you need to conjure up the joys of life of under canvas inside your own until our uncertain climate comes up with something that resembles summer!

    For more info, or to order, take a look at sales@insectlore.eu


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    Filed under: Travel Dad, useful gear — Steve Tooze @ 11:31

    Martinhal, Portugal

    Trampolining and lunch don’t leap to the mind as a natural partnership. Unless of course you are a holidaying parent of two small, hyper-active children who is longing to linger over a some decent seafood and a crisp white wine – just for once!

    On the alfresco deck of As Dunal Restaurant, Jane & I kicked back over delicious calamari & salads as Scarlett, 8, and Fin, 5, bounced wildly to their hearts content on a trampoline just a few feet away. A cunningly-constructed kid compound, fenced and gated to stop escape bids, with a soft sand floor to avoid bouncy bumps proving too serious, was close enough to allow easy supervision (the inevitable cries of  ’Mum, Dad, look!’ can be fended off with a smile and a wave without leaving your seat) but not so close as to ruin your laidback lunchtime ambience.

    It’s typical of the family-friendly thinking behind the rest of Martinhal, a fab new resort on the beautiful, less-developed west end of the Algarve. Effectively, a custom-built village sitting on a long white sand beach, Martinhal gazes toward the pretty fishing village of Sagres and then out across the startling blue of the Atlantic.

    Smart, minimalist two-storey rooms, with self-catering kitchens, avoid the danger of being too grown-up with touches like scatterings of giant bean bags for the kids to flop. The Village Square (with a high-class deli for you) has a great helicopter themed playground and the Raposinhos (Fox) Club for 5-8 year olds is one of the best kids’ clubs we’ve come across anywhere. My usually-hesitant kids demanded daily sessions with strapping, smiling Hugo who was as willing to bake heart cookies with them as to play rough-and-tumble ball games. Even the elegant Finisterra Spa had a family friendly option – offering dad-and-son, or mum-and-daughter massage sessions which Scarlett and Jane loved.

    A wonderful half-indoor, half-outdoor swimming pool was the scene of Fin’s triumphant entry into the world of the swimmer. He started the week still clinging to his armbands and ended it, Pro-style goggles firmly in place, confidently swimming entire widths underwater.

    This was my first trip to Portugal. A week at Martinhal convinced me that it won’t be my last.

    For more information or to book, take a look at: http://www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk/martinhal_resort_hotel__terrace_room-child-friendly-accommodation-31049.htm

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    Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Tooze @ 14:26

    Content and Calm Tray Kit

    Any parent soon learns to perfect the Reverse Shoulder Dislocation Toy Grab. You know the one – junior drops favourite plaything A into the back seat footwell and begins howling for it as you’re hurtling along the M4. You reach backward with your left hand and begin fumbling around blindly for the offending item, eyes fixed wildly on the road ahead.
    No more – the Content&Calm Traykit Traveller Collection has come to all of our rescues.It’s an all-in-one carry-on backpack and play-tray that attaches to the back of your driving seat or sits in your child’s lap. Voila! An extendable play surface with raised sides that reduces the opportunities for the old dropped toy trick. It’s great for trains and planes too because you can strap it firmly onto a tray table.
    The TrayKit contains coloured pencils, stickers and a handy journal including travel games, a photo library and a fold-out world map. So, no jumping up every two minutes to get something new and entertaining from the overhead lockers. Matching Traveller Passport Holder and set of Luggage Tags will give your junior traveller that sense of grown-up ownership that will stop them wandering off and abandoning it on a seat in Departures. For more information, take a look at www.contentandcalm.com.
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    Filed under: Travel Dad, useful gear — Steve Tooze @ 13:46

    JORVIK Viking Centre, York

    Horrible Histories has a hideous hold on my two. Scarlett, 8, and Fin, 5, can’t get enough of the BBC series that dwells on the blood, guts, and general nastiness of times gone by that we adults usually prefer to skate over.

    If your kids are similarly fascinated by the down’n'dirty details of the everyday life of our distant ancestors, then a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre at York might be the half-term trip they are hankering after.

    It’s part of an archaeological site where a 1,000-year-old Viking settlement is still being excavated by the experts. The remains of the Norseman’s homes are unveiled, household objects explored and the sights, sounds – and even smells! – of day-to-day Dark Age living are recreated.

    Nifty audio and video displays will get your kids up close and personal with all the blood and barbarity they could ever want as they investigate they investigate oodles of information from the 5-year long dig at Coppergate and piece together the jigsaw of where the Vikings came from, why they came here and how they lived and died.

    Pre-book (recommended during busy school holidays) by calling 01904 615505 or booking online at https://www.jorvikbookings.com/index.php

    Baby-Friendly Boltholes nearby:

    Yew Tree Cottage, Westow, Yorkshire

    http://www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk/luxury_stays__yew_tree_cottage__yew_tree_cottage-child-friendly-accommodation-38790.htm

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    Filed under: Travel Dad — Steve Tooze @ 13:38

    Bambino Mio swim nappies

    Here’s a way to make sure that budding baby swimmers stay trendy and accident-free in one cute package. Award-winning Bambino Mio have a new range of funky swim nappy prints for 2012.

    No need for bulky disposable nappies as the little person begins to discover the joys of paddling in the swimming pool or the sea.

    Elasticated waist and leak proof leg cuffs stop the sort of nasty leaks that tend to make you and the baby unpopular poolside. An adjustable waist band ensures a flexible, secure and comfortable fit, a lightweight cotton lining is soft on the skin, and super-stretchy swim fabric will allow even the most active tot to splash about without problems.

    Completely reuseable and available in brown stripe, pink stripe, orange stripe, blue shark and pink daisy, the Bambino Mio swim nappy is available from stores and online for a RRP of £8.75.

    For more info, take a look at www.bambinomio.com

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    Filed under: Travel Dad, useful gear — Steve Tooze @ 09:35

    baby.go travel changing kit

    We all know that new parenthood turns a walk in the park with baby into a military-style operation requiring roughly the same amount of kit as a marine takes into battle. It’s a shock at first, but we all get used to it on our home ground.
    I don’t know about you, but I like a trip away to bear absolutely no resemblance to that everyday life. I want to be able to spontaneously set off for a seafront stroll with junior without taking my own bodyweight in nappies, wet wipes and changing mats along for the ride.
    Baby.Go by Koo-Di is the answer to that particular dilemma. It’s an all-in-one emergency baby changing kit that you can shove into your back pocket.
    It contains a disposable nappy, three large wet wipes and an antiseptic hand wipe for mum or dad, all wrapped up in a disposable changing mat. Once you’ve handled the inevitable messy moment, everything wraps up in the mat and the original cover becomes a disposable bag.
    Available in four sizes, for babies from 3-18 kgs, baby.go comes in packs of five. For more info, take a look at www.koo-di.co.uk
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    Filed under: Travel Dad, useful gear — Steve Tooze @ 10:14

    Bundl baby blanket

    It’s one of those ‘Doh! Why didn’t I think of that!’ moments. A neat little invention that’s so simple you can’t believe you didn’t think of it yourself.

    Remember when yours were tiny and they’d (finally, mercifully) fall asleep on a blanket? I’d tip-toe over and try to bundle them into my arms and off to bed – and of course I’d wake them up in the clumsy process.

    So, why not invent a blanket with handles? Too late – David Solomons has beaten every other travel dad in the world to the punch.

    He dreamt up the Bundl to help his wife lift and carry their baby daughter when birth complications made bending down a no-no, and his own dodgy back put him out of the frame too.

    It fits into car seats, pushchairs, cots and cribs and is ideal for the supermarket trolley baby seats. No more having to lay a blanket down before you lay your baby down. Now you lay blanket and baby down at the same time.

    The Bundl has already picked up a business innovations award from Barclays Bank. Really wish I’d thought of it first….

    For more information, take a look at www.snugglebundl.co.uk/

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    Filed under: Travel Dad, useful gear — Steve Tooze @ 22:08

    Cantina Del Ponte

    There’s a lunch-time secret lurking amidst the sleek multi-million pound penthouses that overlook the River Thames next to London’s world-famous Tower Bridge. In an area that is usually the haunt of extremely well-paid City and media types, you and the kids can get a brilliant (and entertaining) weekend lunch for a total of £22.50.

    Cantina Del Ponte is a smart, grown-up eaterie with great views over the river, thronging with well-heeled professional networkers on a week day. But on relatively-quiet Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes, they have launched a 3 course family sharing menu that Jane, Scarlett, Fin and I decided to give a try.

    It’s a symphony of gleaming cutlery and sparkling glasses. But the mainly Italian and Sardinian staff were all smiles and friendliness, happy to have an excited 7 and 5-old crashing around the place. There was none of the tense-making stuffiness that often mars any meeting of small people and fine dining places.

    Scarlett & Fin couldn’t have been happier when they were allowed to prepare their own upmarket thin-crust pizzas at the table and then send it off to be cooked and returned to them to scoff. Jane & I loved the delicious bruschetta with garlic, tomato and basil, the fab (and huge) selection of regional charcuterie, and a tasty baked salmon with capers, produced with a flourish from a foil parcel at the table. Servings were all generous, and half a bottle of prosecco (£10 extra but well worth it) helped things along nicely.

    It’s a great spot for a post-lunch stroll too. There’s a wide riverside path, strewn with giant ship’s anchors, where Scarlett and Fin ran (and climbed) off their food, the gadget and book-filled shop at the Design Museum 100 metres in one direction, and Tower Bridge itself 100 metres in the other.

    All in all, a million times better than shelling out for some limp and disappointing fast food in one of the many over-priced tourist traps in that part of central London

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    Filed under: Travel Dad — Steve Tooze @ 12:37

    Seven Stories, Newcastle

    There are book shops for kids. Then there’s Seven Stories. I love this place – it’s one of the hidden literary gems of Northern England, the whole country is fact. It’s like a reading wonderland for children and parents alike, an old warehouse building, chock full of books, exhibitions, creative activity sessions and readings by top authors.

    It’s hidden away in a kind of urban dell, tucked behind an unprepossessing trading estate in Newcastle’s Byker area. Inside, it’s an inviting combination of play centre, book shop and reading museum that will entrance children from 2 – 14. They can read & browse, paint & play, tog themselves out from a selection of wacky dressing up boxes.

    My two Scarlett, 7, and Fin, 5, never turn down an opportunity to go. On our last visit, they sat, open-mouthed, as Lost & Found author Oliver Jeffers read his book and then screened the wonderful, gentle animated film of it in the cosy, atmospheric attic. Then we trotted off to the basement to make fairy tale shoes in one of the many inspirational creative workshops. On another occasion, they sat on cushions and watched a film of the brilliant Michael Rosen reading his perennial favourite, Going on a Bear Hunt. Oh, and if they get peckish, there’s a fab cafe overlooking the canal.

    We usually stay for at least a morning. You can even more of a day of it by visiting the city riding stables up the road.

    For more info, take a look at http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/

    Baby-Friendly Bolthole nearby:

    Fourstones Cottage, Northumbria

    http://www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk/fourstones_cottages__coast_cottage-child-friendly-accommodation-4007.htm#property_main

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    Filed under: Travel Dad — Steve Tooze @ 12:37