I’m by no means an expert on travelling with kids BUT I had a LOT of people say how impressed I was for taking them by myself to France when Beatrice was about 4 1/2 months old, and then doing a long haul flight fairly soon after that, so I thought I’d share the things that made it doable. Some of these tips have been sourced via doing a lot of internet reading (including this, which I love), some have been sourced from my awesome mum friends, and of course some of them are from experience.
I’ve restricted these tips purely to the actual travelling itself. I think there could be a whole other post about when you’re actually away, but I don’t think I’m the best person to write it.. In many ways, I found that more challenging that the trip itself! But the plane journeys themselves weren’t too bad. And these are the tips I came away with…
- Take a buggy and a carrier.
Probably one of the most important tips, and of course I totally forgot them both when I travelled by myself with them. I learned first hand WHY it’s so important to have them both. Because let me tell you, carrying a chunky baby in your arms while holding your toddler’s hand and attempting to get him to stay in a line at passport control is HARD WORK. It’s doable, but when we took our next flight, I had them both and man alive, it was so much easier.
2. Use technology to your advantage
Download some good games (these are favourites in this house: Robot Party, Peekaboo Barn, Music Box) load up the iPad with Cbeebies programmes, and when in need, pull it out. We actually didn’t need it at all on the flight to France, and only used it for about 15 minutes on the way back, but it was very reassuring to know that it was there. Long haul flights will generally have built in TVs with child friendly programmes pre-loaded, and we definitely used those, but the iPad came out a couple of times as well. For some reason, the child sized headphones that we own didn’t work in the British Airways headphone socket, so top tip: use the grown up sized headphones as small as they will go, with a pair of rolled up socks underneath them to make them fit. Worked a treat!
3. Get some brand new treats
As well as a brand new game or programme, Theo got a couple of cheapo Thomas trains, which came free with the Thomas & Friends Magazine, and a triceratops, which came with an Andy’s Adventures magazine. Whenever we get those kid magazines, we always remove the treat before he sees it, so that it can be doled out in this kind of situation. He currently doesn’t know that the magazines come with toys, so we’re using that to our advantage.
For the trip to Trinidad, I also got a couple of new books, as did my mum. Search and Find Vehicles was a particular hit – Theo can read this book for about thirty minutes, which must be some kind of a record. My mum also had a big success with some vehicle fuzzy felt. I can’t find the exact one she bought online, which is a shame, because it was super cool, but this one looks like a similar one we have at home, which he also loves playing with.
4. Stop seeing it as a holiday. Reframe it as an adventure.
Gone are the days of watching films for the duration of the flight or reading book after book on holiday. The journey really is the destination while kids are young. They don’t see being on a plane as a boring thing they have to do in order to arrive somewhere more exciting. Being on a plane or train or even a long bus ride is FULL of things to look at and talk about when you’re a kid. It helps to think of things this way, too, when things go wrong. So when I forgot the buggy and carrier, I went a bit hysterical, laughing, trying to make it a fun challenge for all of us. Theo thought it was hilarious too, and it ended up being not nearly as bad as it would have been had I expected a relaxing airport visit…
5. Be real about timings.
We tried to plan our flights around naptimes and bedtimes. So, on the way to France, we took an early flight, leaving the house at 5:30am (Theo’s usually up then anyway!), so that we could be there, at my friend’s house, by around 12, to have some food and then have some rest (even if it was too exciting to sleep, at least he could lie down in a dark room and rest for a bit). Then on the way to Trinidad, I knew he wouldn’t nap at the usual time, but actually, having a really late nap would be better in the long run as it would mean he could stay awake later once we got there and adjust a bit easier to the time difference. Obviously this could have totally backfired in both situations, but at least we were setting things up as well as we could. And it didn’t backfire. Theo slept (on the floor) both there and back. Beatrice was not as helpful. She did sleep, but not for long, and wouldn’t sleep at all in the plane bassinet. Oh well, there you go.
6. Embrace the bum bag.
Life changing for travel. Keep all your bits in a comfortable back pack, apart from the essential papers, dummies etc, which are right there when you need them. My dad got this one for me, and I will now use it every single time I travel from now on. I actually used it a whole bunch when I got home as well, because I was so happy with it.
7. Accept help when it’s offered and ASK FOR IT if you need it.
Literally this is the MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL. Did you read this post on The Pool the other day about the woman’s Facebook post that went viral? Some poor mum was travelling by herself with three kids and no one stepped in to help her. People were tsking, one woman actually grabbed her toddler’s legs to stop her kicking her chair (!). She was the only person who actually went to help out. And while those people tut-tutting deserve to have a colicky baby crying next to them on every flight they ever take from now on, I bet most of them would have helped out if they’d been asked. It’s pretty hard to say no if a harried looking mum asks you to hold their bag or hold their baby for a minute.
When I travelled to France, I asked EVERYONE for help. Random woman in the toilet when Theo needed a pee? Check. Security guard when I could not for the life of me get the passports back into the bumbag while holding a heavy baby (don’t forget the buggy and carrier, friends!). When I sat down on the plane, I turned to the person next to me and mentioned that I was travelling alone and Theo had only recently been potty trained, so if I needed to leap to the toilet with him, would they might holding Beatrice? Both people said yes, of course, although the second swapped seats with his wife. If they’d said no, I would have asked the flight attendants. Just ask.
8. Feed the baby on take off and landing OR have something else on hand for them.
Air pressure changes can be an issue for babies, particularly on take off and landing. The best way to soothe it for them is for them to be sucking on something during those times – either a boob or a bottle or a dummy. If you go for a bottle, I’d suggest getting everything ready way before take off. On our flight to Trinidad, there was another mum travelling who wanted to warm her bottle up, but when she asked for some hot water, the flight attendants were all preparing for take off and she didn’t get it until the plane was in the air.
9. If you’ve just recently potty trained, don’t flush the toilet on the plane.
This is kind of a silly tip, but seriously – Theo used the loo on the way to France and the noise of the flush freaked him out so much that he refused to do it again. I think I managed to force him to use it once on the way to Trinidad (it’s a TEN HOUR FLIGHT), but he was super reluctant. On the way home, I put him in a nappy because he was just so dead set against using the airplane toilet.
10. Don’t do it alone!
I mean, this is clearly tongue in cheek. But it was SO MUCH BETTER when I was travelling with my mum. If you can, rope someone in to come with you. But if you can’t, don’t worry, it’s 100% possible. Just remember, it’s an adventure. You can do it!
So – those are my tips. What are yours? Any great/awful stories from your travels with your kids?