Whether it's an overnight stay at the grandparents' or your first proper holiday as a family, sooner or later, if you're venturing away from home, you'll probably need a travel cot.
We say 'probably' because of course many child-friendly hotels and self catering properties can provide cots, but whether you'll be happy to use theirs depends on personal preference and how confident you'll feel that it will be clean and in good condition.
As well as making a safe and familiar place for your little one to rest her weary head, a travel cot can also double up as a playpen back home, so you should be able to eek a little more value out of it, even if you don't go away often.
When shopping for a travel cot, you'll encounter a few different types:
These are a similar shape to normal cots (oblong and open at the top), but obviously they fold down. They're usually made from metal or plastic poles with mesh sides to allow your baby to see out. With a few exceptions, these travel cots can be heavy (less of a problem if you travel by car) and bulky but many make robust playpens.
These 'pop' straight out of their carrybags, making assembly incredibly easy. Check that the cot can be packed away without too much trouble too though – sometimes this isn't so straightforward. They usually pack down very small, making them ultra-portable but also easy to store at home between uses. They tend to be lightweight too - ideal for those who travel by public transport or fly - but as they're so light, they don't always feel sturdy.
As with pop-up cots these also tend to be very light and pack down compactly. They aren't always easy to assemble until you get used to them but on the other hand they can seem a little sturdier than pop-ups.
Things to consider when shopping:
1. Size and weight
Some travel cots are more portable than others – there's a huge variation in weights, from as little as a few kilos up to 10kg plus. A lighter, more compact travel cot is a must if you'll be flying to your destination or taking trains, buses or coaches. If you'll mainly go by car or keep the cot in one place, eg, the grandparents, a heavier, sturdier model might be manageable and should also make a good playpen. If you do go for a heavier model, a wheeled carry bag will help with moving it around.
2. Ease of assembly and packing away
If you're going to require a degree in engineering to get the travel cot up and ready, steer clear – you won't want to be fiddling around with it for an hour when you've just arrived somewhere late at night, with an over-tired, screaming baby. At the end of your trip, most are easy to get back in their carrybags but not all, so check how this works too. Ask shop staff for a demo before you buy.
You might notice that a lot of travel cot mattresses are quite thin – this shouldn't be a problem as babies normally sleep on a fairly firm surface anyway. If you do find it's an issue, you can buy thicker travel cot mattresses separately but of course these will be an additional item to transport and an extra cost. Some travel cot mattresses are inflatable - these tend to be more comfortable.
Particularly if you'd like to use the travel cot as a playpen, you'll want to have confidence in its ability to keep your baby or toddler safe. Sturdy, rigid sides will help prevent it toppling over.
Your travel cot needs to be large enough to last until your toddler is able to sleep in a proper bed – at around two-and-a-half to three years of age.
Check recommended maximum ages in product literature but also look at the dimensions yourself – ideally you want it to be as close to 120cm x 60cm (the size of a normal cot) as possible, or older ones will be squashed up. The only exception is if you buy a scaled-down moses basket-sized option for the first few months.
6. Ease of cleaning
Surfaces need to be wipe-clean in case of illness/ spillages/ leaky nappies.
Some travel cots have additional features, such as integral toys, a changing surface or a raised mattress area for newborns (this makes getting your baby in and out of the cot easier).
Such features are rarely necessities (because you can always change your baby on a mat on the bed or floor and take separate toys) and can add weight and expense. That said they can be useful, particularly if the cot will stay in one place more than being carted around.
Five best buys:
1.NS Associates Deluxe Travel Centre, around £80
An excellent buy for parents who want a truly portable travel cot – this packs down very compactly and weighs just over 3kg. Toddlers seem to love crawling in and out of the side, so they make great play ents for use at home or in the garden. And it won't break the bank either.
Good for: Anyone who wants a light, compact and easy to assemble travel cot.
Not so good for: Getting it back in the carry bag isn't quite as straightforward (but follow the instructions and you should get used to it).
Note that this travel cot used to be branded 'Nscessity' and is still sold under that branding by some retailers at the time of writing.
Also worth a look: LittleLife's Twin Arc 2 is a super-light and portable tent-style travel cot.
2. Graco Contour Storage £129.99
So much more than a place for your baby to sleep, with a nappy changing tray, detachable toy arch (although you might prefer to remove this temporarily when it's bed time not play time!), and a raised bassinet, with soothing vibration function, nightlight and lullabies, to help younger ones drift off.
We love the clever storage shelves underneath which let you keep your baby's bits and pieces close to hand and your hotel room a little tidier!
As you can see from the official UK price, this is not the cheapest but shop around and you should be able to get one for under £100.
Good for: Being 'base camp' for your baby when you're away from home.
Not so good for: At over 10kg, you'll need muscles as sturdy as the cot itself to carry it – you wouldn't particularly want to lug it on and off trains and coaches.
3. BabyDan Travel Cot, £59.99
If you'll only go away from home occasionally, you probably don't want to shell out too much on a travel cot.
This well-priced conventional model does its job just fine and is large enough to last (at 120cm x 60cm, it's the same size as a standard cot).
It weighs about 11kg but at least there are wheels on the travel bag so you can drag it along behind you.
Good for: Not costing half your holiday budget. Easy to use too.
Not so good for: Even heftier than the Graco.
4. Koo-di Pop-Up Travel Bassinette, £33.99
Akin to an ultra-portable moses basket, this dinky little baby bed from Koo-di weighs practically nothing at under 1kg and can be used until your baby hits six months.
You probably wouldn't get much value out of it if you're buying a carrycot or moses basket and travel by car, as you could just take that with you.
Otherwise though, this could be handy for taking to friends' and relatives houses, if you feel your baby will be overwhelmed by a larger travel cot. It could also be used instead of a moses basket for his daytime naps downstairs at home.
Good for: Younger babies who might feel lost in a larger travel cot.
Not so good for: You need to think about how much use you'll get from it over such a short period – most parents don't travel that much in the first few months as they're too knackered!
5. Phil&Teds Traveller, £149
If you're lucky enough to travel to swanky hotels, this smart cot could be for you. Available in red or black - it would also look nice and work well if left up in a living room as a playpen.
Good for: Style-conscious parents who want a robust travel cot which doesn't weigh a ton (it's 3.2kg).
Not so good for: Budget-conscious parents who don't want to pay a ton.
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