How to buy the best travel cot
Heading away on holiday with your baby and need a travel cot? Whether you’re away for the weekend or a bit longer you’ll want the best travel cot to take with you.
Babies and toddlers tend to sleep best in familiar surroundings, and a well-designed travel cot can work almost as well as their own bed on holiday or when you’re staying with family or friends.
The best travel cots will be easy to put up and down, and provide a comfortable space to sleep in, so you don’t have to lose any sleep worrying about your baby.
How much do I need to spend on a travel cot?
Travel cots range in price from around £25 to £200 brand new, but you can find ones costing even more. You may also spot some even cheaper as part of baby events in some retailers, such as Aldi or Asda.
Generally, the cheaper models will be fairly basic. You won’t get much more than a cot frame, a basic mattress and a carry bag to store it in.
More expensive models can come with more luxurious fabrics and coverings and extra features, such as a removable bassinet level for younger babies, a bouncer chair, sounds and lights or lullabies, and even a thicker, more comfortable mattress.
How much you decide to spend may be down to how often you intend to use the travel cot.
Most travel cots have a plastic or metal frame, woven fabric and mesh sides, and a hard segmented bottom with a lightly padded folding mattress. The base and the mattress are an integral part of the travel cot, helping to give it structure and keep it stable.
Pros Many parents get a lot of use out of travel cots. 41% of parents in our latest baby survey found a travel cot useful*. They can give you the freedom of staying almost anywhere you want without having to worry about where your baby will sleep. You’ll already have his or her comfy sleeping space in your car boot. A travel cot can also provide a handy extra sleeping place for babies who come to stay at your home. The playpen-sized models have even more potential for regular use. Do check the instructions first, though.
Cons Countless baby travel cots are only ever used a handful of times, so you may spot a fair few on second-hand selling sites. Some travel cots can take up a fair amount of storage space even when folded, and although they’re portable they can be heavy to lug around. So don’t buy one unless you’re sure you'll get some use out of it.
You really only need a baby travel cot if you’ll be making regular overnight trips to places that may be cot-free. If your baby is likely to stay somewhere overnight on a regular basis, such as their grandparents’ home, it could be worth buying a standard cot to keep at their house. But, if the grandparents don’t have much space, or aren’t too keen on having a cot taking up space in a spare room, a travel cot is a good alternative.
If you plan to stay at a hotel or holiday home, many will provide a cot or will be able to arrange hiring one for you. But, it could be worth investing in a travel cot if you prefer to know exactly where your baby will be sleeping.
Travel cot folding and storage
Putting a travel cot up and taking it back down again shouldn’t be a chore. A decent travel cot should be easy to put up and ready to use without you needing a degree in engineering.
Travel cots generally fold and unfold using a central locking system – you pull up a ring or handle in the middle of the travel cot base, click the sides into place, then push the handle back down to keep the locked sides rigid.
Many models have a similar folding mechanism, where the mattress wraps around the legs to create an oblong which should fit nicely back into its travel bag. Some models fold flat, and sometimes don’t come with a travel bag. These may not fold down small enough to fit into a car boot, which can make them less suitable for travel, although they are fine as an extra cot for guests.
Some models can double up as playpens, although they won’t provide as much space as a conventional playpen.
Some travel cots have a bassinet level. This is a useful addition if you have a young baby. It fits over the top of the cot and means you don’t have to reach down so far to pick up your baby. It also means you can see your baby a bit more easily. This level isn’t suitable for older babies, though, or those who can already sit up.
Size and weight
Some baby travel cots are more spacious than others. Look at the measurements – you may want to choose a larger size if you plan to use the cot as a playpen. Cot weights can vary a lot. You’ll probably appreciate a lighter one if you plan to travel by public transport or plane, rather than by car. However, lighter ones are also likely to be smaller. The weight should be stated in the cot’s instructions or specifications, but this isn't always the case.
Safety tips: what to check when buying a new travel cot
If you’re buying a new travel cot from a high street shop, ask to see it being assembled, and try carrying the packed cot around for a few minutes to see if it's too heavy.
Watch out for flexible sides
Pop-up, tent-style travel cots may be super easy to put up and take down again, and look pretty cool, but their sides aren’t rigid, which means they may not take your weight if you fall against them (if you accidentally stumble in the night, for example). If you’re using this type of travel cot, be extra vigilant.
Test the cot folding mechanism
Folding mechanisms can be fiddly – although practice is often all that’s needed. Try unfolding, folding and lifting a few cots in the shop before you buy. If this isn’t possible, or you're buying online, find out whether you can return the cot if you’re not happy with the folding mechanism once you’ve practised at home.
Easy-cleaning travel cots
Look for a removable frame cover, if possible, and a removable mattress cover to make cleaning and washing much easier.
Some models have a range of extra features, such as a changing mat that fits over the top of the cot, toy storage pockets, lullabies, a light show, or even a baby bouncer attachment. Think about whether you’ll use these – if not, you may be paying extra unnecessarily, and they'll add to the weight and bulk overall.
Can a travel cot double as a playpen?
If you want the cot to double as a playpen, then four, rather than two, mesh sides will give you and your baby a better view.
Buying a second-hand travel cot
*2018 baby survey, March 2018, 3,445 parents asked.