29 January 2009

To buy... or not to buy? The Travel Cot

Amanda Jephtha writes.

From nature calls to vibrating mattresses, light shows to side curtains, travel cots have more features than a cinema. But do you actually need one?

Also known as portable cots or portacots, travel cots are useful for the frequent traveler. Whilst many are loaded with features that you most likely won’t use, the most basic models serve their purpose well.

Features include removable change tables (which sit atop the cot), toy mobiles, full-sized bassinettes and voice activated night lights. Generally, the more features, the heavier the cot. Carefully consider which features you can get by without; the median weight is 9-11kg.

The most comfortable travel cots have bases which can be elevated; similar to a regular cot, this is great if you have a bad back and will travel often with a newborn. Look for side panels made from mesh rather than regular fabric for good ventilation, and a mesh cover if you’re going to use the cot outdoors or camping.

Mattresses are not usually included with the more basic models. Rather than using towels to soften the base or buying an expensive (and cumbersome) mattress, you can buy a ‘fitted’ mattress. The Sleepover is a padded, fitted sheet which cannot be removed by the babe, can be fully laundered and can be squished easily into the travel cot bag.

So is it worth buying a travel cot if you don’t travel often?

Most hotels and guest houses provide travel cots for a small charge (and often for free). Simply take your own cot linen. Alternatively, baby hire businesses hire out travel cots for as little as $5 per day, and most organise a courier to deliver and collect. If you only plan to travel a handful of times, this may be the best value option.

Another significant benefit of hiring the cot (and any other equipment) is that you won’t need to lug it on the plane, and it won’t take up valuable space in the car. The majority are bulky and cumbersome to transport, and with some weighing up to 14kg, you could end up paying more in freight than the cost of the cot.

If you’re going to travel mostly during the newborn period, then consider a pram with a bassinette. This may be a more economical option, and if you are going to take the pram traveling with you anyway, it will mean less equipment to lug!

So is there a smaller alternative?

Relatively new on the market are tent-like travel cots. Phil&Ted’s Traveller weights 2.5kg and is small enough to fit into the pram’s basket when folded – and it won’t tip you over your weight allowance when flying. The downside is that the baby lies at floor level (on an inflatable mattress) so it can be uncomfortable to lower down and pick up your baby.

Remember, every baby (and parent) is different, and will have their own hidden agenda. To buy… or not to buy? You be the judge!