Although they’re most obviously used for holidays, many people use travel cots for the odd night staying with the grandparents, or even just napping in your front room during the day.
Do you need a travel cot?
Before diving into the world of travel cots, check whether you actually need one. Travel cots can be expensive, so if you’ll only use it for two weeks of the year, it’s worth checking for alternatives.
Many hotels, B&Bs and holiday cottages will be able to provide a cot if you let them know in advance. Newborns have even more options; a pod, Moses basket or the carrycot attachment of a travel system could all double as a travel sleeping solution. As well as saving you money, this option has the added bonus of providing a familiar environment for your child, encouraging them to settle more easily.
However, if you and your little one will be away from home often, a travel cot can be a handy solution that will feel and smell familiar wherever they rest their head. Travel cots are also useful when staying with family or friends, as you’ll have everything you need without them having to worry about bedding.
If you’re brave enough to go camping with a baby or toddler, you won’t necessarily need a travel cot. Many brands offer children’s camping gear, such as Littlelife, whose Snuggle Pod would be ideal for a small child sleeping in a tent. Babies could sleep in a carrycot or sleep pod, as both are quite small and would fit inside a tent easily. However, if you know you’d get the use out of one, there are a number of models designed specifically for camping (for example, Littlelife’s Arc 2 or Koo-di’s Pop Up Bubble).
What should you look for?
The main point of a travel cot is clearly to know you can travel with it easily. If you usually go away by car, you’ll have a wide range of options, as you’ll be able to take heavier or bulkier cots with you (though do check they can fit in the boot first!). If you tend to use public transport, or if you’re flying, you’ll want a cot that’s lightweight, easy to carry, and possibly fits into an overhead locker. For camping or hiking, a lightweight, compact travel cot is a must.
If you have a newborn and you’re looking for a compact option, pop-up cots are the way to go. Pop-up travel cots are extremely light and fold down small enough to pop in a decent-sized shoulder bag. They typically weigh between two and three kilos and, as the name suggests, they ‘pop up’ by themselves, saving you the faff of having to assemble it once you arrive. Pop-up cots usually cost between £70 and £100. Brands that make pop-up cots include Koo-di and Deryan. Littlelife’s Arc 2 isn’t strictly speaking a pop-up cot, but it is extremely lightweight and folds down into a backpack.
However, pop-up cots can only be used for children up to 18 months. If you want your travel cot to have longevity, you might decide instead to go for a traditional travel cot.
Traditional-style travel cots fold out into a sizable cot and playpen suitable for up to three years. Typically, this style weighs between six and 12 kg. Although far more transportable than a standard cot, they’re generally too big for hand luggage and will take up a fair amount of space in the car boot. However, there are a few exceptions: the Phil & Teds travel cot, for example, weighs 3.2 kg and folds down into a shoulder bag.
If portability isn’t a priority – for example, if the cot is going to be a semi-permanent fixture at the grandparents’ house – you could consider a heavier and more sturdy option, such as the Graco Contour Electra or Baby Dan. As they’re closer to actual beds, these are the most sturdy, and often come with extra features such as a changing table or lights and sounds. These travel cots are usually a great option for longevity as they can be bigger, and come with a removable bassinet, meaning the cot lasts from birth up to three years. The downside is that they are more difficult to transport – we wouldn’t recommend travelling with these unless you’re driving.
It’s also worth considering how easy the cot is to put up and down. Many travel cots use a standard fold, where each side is pulled into place before pushing the base down flat. This is a fairly easy fold, and the knack can quickly be picked up. Pop-up cots spring into shape by themselves and easily fold down in one movement. Some cots may require something different, such as the Littlelife Arc 2, which uses poles like a tent, or the Phil & Teds Traveller, which comes in separate pieces.
Travel cots are meant for sleep, so comfort is crucial. If travelling is a rare occurence, your child may find it unsettling to be in a new cot, so the comfier they are the better. When buying a travel cot, check what the mattress is like and whether it would be safe to buy a separate one. Generally, travel cot mattresses are a lot firmer than regular mattresses but, for short stays, this is fine for your baby. If they're going to be sleeping in it for more than a few nights, it’s worth finding a more padded alternative, although with newborns you should make sure any mattress is a perfect fit to minimise the risk of SIDS.
Some travel cots come with built-in mosquito nets for camping and hot climates, but you can also buy them separately. Some pop-up cots also act as a UV-protective sunshade, which could save you having to buy a sun tent if your child wants to nap at the beach or in the garden.
Most traditional travel cots are designed to double up as a playpen, which can be great if you’re visiting somewhere that isn’t childproof. The lightweight ones that have this feature are usually just as effective as the heavier models (although check the dimensions if you want a playpen that’s on the large side).
You can also buy travel cots that come with bassinets, change tables and even bouncers. These tend to be on the heavier side, and it’s worth noting that you’ll have to carry these extras separately once the cot is folded down. Brands that offer these kinds of attachments include Graco, Joie and BabyBjorn.
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