As any parent will agree, staying away from home with a baby or toddler can be incredibly stressful. Whether you’re visiting friends for an evening catch-up and overnight stay, or off on a fortnight’s family holiday, a good travel cot can make or break your time away from home with your baby or toddler. Many hotels, B&Bs, caravans and chalets are not properly prepared for the arrival of young children, and so parents are faced with the dilemma of organising their child’s sleeping arrangements, resulting in increased stress levels and a feeling of dread as you envisage all too clearly the sleepless nights you have ahead of you whilst your baby struggles to settle. Even accommodations which promote themselves as child-friendly and claim to have your baby’s sleeping arrangements taken care of, often struggle in providing a sleeping environment for your baby which doesn’t fall short of your expectations in terms of hygiene, cleanliness and condition, and that all-important peace of mind a parent has when using the familiar. The solution is the travel cot. Babies are most settled when in familiar surroundings and are more likely to sleep soundly when they feel comfortable and safe. A well-designed travel cot has been known to work just as well as the baby’s own cot at home as it successfully mirrors the baby’s familiar ‘home’ cot – both in design and comfort – and consequently, you, as a parent, don’t have to lose any sleep worrying about your baby.
Do I really need a travel cot?
If you’re ever away from home with your baby visiting family or friends, holidaying on the coast, or having a mini-break, or just having a change of scenery, then ultimately, the answer is YES: purchasing a travel cot is a safe and wise idea. Ask any parent who needs to spend time away from home and they’ll tell you this multi-functional piece of baby kit is a must-have addition to any parent’s repertoire. Contrary to what the name suggests, travel cots can prove extremely useful at home too – for example, being used for your baby’s lunchtime nap; time in the garden; or when fitting in a much-needed visit to the hairdressers. Sturdy travel cots can also be used as playpens; they’re a safe and secure place to pop your toddler whilst you stack the dishwasher, send a quick email, or change baby number 2!
What are the different types of travel cot?
Conventional travel cots are of a similar shape to regular cots but different in that they are foldable and compact. The frames are normally constructed from metal or plastic poles and the sides are usually mesh, which allows your baby to see out. With a few exceptions, these travel cots can be heavy when compared to the less-robust alternatives but many are multifunctional and double-up as safe and secure playpens.
Pop-up travel cots literally do as the name suggests and ‘pop’ straight out of their carry bags, meaning assembly time is minimal. They are usually very compact, making them ultra-portable, and easy to store at home between uses. They tend to be lightweight too – perfect for parents who travel by public transport – but, as they’re so light, they don’t always feel as sturdy as the conventional travel cots. It is also worth checking that the cot can be packed away without too much trouble – sometimes this isn’t as straightforward as the initial “pop-up” assembly.
Similar to the pop-up style travel cots, the tent-style versions also tend to be lightweight and pack down compactly. Unlike the pop-up cot, they aren’t instantly ready to use but are still relatively easy to assemble – just as you would with a tent, the poles are clicked together and threaded through the loops; fit the mattress and it’s ready to use. It is worth noting that although the assembly time is marginally more than the pop-up style, the tent-style version is often more sturdy and robust than the pop-up alternative, providing a more secure space for your baby to sleep safely in peace and comfort.
What do I need to consider when buying a travel cot?
The first concern for any parent when buying any new product for their baby is safety. It is reassuring to know that all cots sold in the UK are required to meet the British safety standard BS EN 716 – this should be clearly listed in the product specification and don’t be afraid to ask the retailer for more information if you’re unsure.
For added peace of mind, use the following points as a safety checklist when considering which travel cot gives you the greatest peace of mind:
The base and the mattress are an integral part of the travel cot, helping to give it structure and keep it stable. Changing the mattress from that supplied by the manufacturer could affect how well your travel cot holds up, and increase the risk of the travel cot tipping over. Travel cots are designed to be used with the original manufacturer’s mattress and so, although it may be tempting to replace the what-appears-to-be firm, flat, less-appealing mattress for a thicker, more luxurious version, avoid doing so. It is likely to alter the distance between the mattress and the top of the cot, making it easier for adventurous toddlers to attempt an escape or even tip the cot over. Use the mattress supplied with the cot at the time of purchase.
Beware of corners
It is possible for a baby’s clothes to get caught on the corners of a travel cot, especially if your curious toddler is attempting to scale the sides in the night, or attempts an escape whilst your back is turned. Padded or rounded corners minimise the risk of this happening.
The downfall of flexible sides
Conventional travel cots tend to have a plastic or metal frames however the increasingly popular pop-up or tent-style travel cots do not. They are favoured due to their easy assembly, however, the lack of rigid sides means the sleeping baby is potentially more exposed to an outside force, for example, the weight of someone accidentally falling onto the cot. If you’re planning on using this style of a travel cot, be extra vigilant.
Keep an eye on zips
Although sometimes used by manufacturers to enable the mattress cover to be removed and washed, zips need watching and if possible avoiding on travel cots as they can detach easily from the mattress. If a zip finds its way into your baby’s mouth, it’s a potential choking hazard.
Travel cot wheels
Many travel cots have wheels to make them portable and easier to move around – unarguably a useful feature, however, in the interests of safety, you should check that the wheels either lock effectively or that there are two wheels and two legs, so the cot doesn’t roll inadvertently.
A good travel cot should make your time away from home with your baby easier and ultimately more enjoyable. A good travel cot can reduce your stress-levels providing it is: compact, lightweight, portable and easy to assemble. Time away from home inevitably involves travel and therefore, having a travel cot you can carry easily and store away in the boot of your car with the rest of your luggage, or check-in to the cargo hold of a plane, coach or boat without having to pay a hefty additional luggage charge, are important factors to consider. Once at your destination, you want to be able to assemble the travel cot quickly and easily so your baby can immediately begin to feel settled in their new environment. When considering which model to buy, ask to see the travel cot being assembled – whether in person or by video if buying online – and if possible, try carrying the packed cot around to check you are able to comfortably carry the weight.
Travel cots range in price from around £25 to around £200. The cheaper models will be fairly basic, normally consisting of a cot, a mattress and a carry bag. More expensive models will come with more luxurious fabrics and finishing and offer extra features. How much you decide to spend is likely to come down to how often you intend to use the travel cot and if you or your baby would benefit from any of the additional features.
What additional features are available when buying a travel cot?
The majority of travel cots follow a similar design however there are some variations/additional extras you may wish to consider depending on: your baby’s needs; how often you travel; and your budget. Think carefully about whether you’ll use these – if not, you may be paying more unnecessarily, and any additional extras will subsequently add to the weight and bulk of the travel cot.
This fits across the top of the travel cot, providing a crib for your newborn to sleep in. This will suit your baby until they are around three months old, or around 6kg in weight. A bassinet is higher up in the cot, making it easier to keep an eye on your baby. It’s also easier on your back, as you don’t have to bend so far when lifting your baby in and out of the cot.
Some cots come with a flip-over changing unit for easy nappy changing, often fitted over the top of the cot.
Fabric covers that are removable and machine-washable can make keeping the travel cot clean much easier. If you intend to use the cot a lot, then this could be a high priority for you.
If at least one side is made from mesh, it will enable you to see in, and your baby to see out. A roll-down black-out blind to cover the mesh is useful too for those light summer evenings, or if you are going to share a room with your baby whilst you are away.
Some travel cots are specifically designed to double up as playpens. They have to be extra sturdy to fulfil this second role. A travel cot playpen sometimes comes with a toy tidy, storage pockets or detachable toy flaps, included in the price. However, it is important to remember that many health experts recommend any toys or loose bedding is removed from the cot before your baby goes to sleep.
These can include the option to play lullabies; a light attachment; optional vibrate mode; sound show; and baby bouncer chair/attachment, meaning your travel cot is basically a nursery all in one package! It is worth remembering though that all those extra parts will increase the overall weight.
Integrated insect net and sunshade
Perfect for summer holidays abroad or the warmer British months, these features mean your baby can take a nap with you knowing they’re protected from the harmful rays of the sun and safely tucked away from the bother of flies and biting insects.
Travel cots shouldn’t be used as permanent beds for extended periods of time. They’re great for holidays and short trips away, but they are not designed for use over long periods.
Travel cots come in a variety of sizes and styles, with different upper age and weight limits. However, once a toddler, particularly a curious and adventurous one (aren’t they all!) shows interest in climbing out of the travel cot, normally at around 2 ½ to 3 years of age, the safer option would be for the toddler to begin sleeping in their own bed.
Check regularly that the travel cot frame shows no sign of deterioration and ensure the mattress retains its shape and continues to fit the cot well. As with any cot mattress, it should be kept well-aired, clean and dry. Most travel cot mattresses have a wipe-clean surface, which makes cleaning easy, quick and hassle-free in case of illness, spillages or leaky nappies. A removable frame and/or mattress cover can also make cleaning and washing easier.