As a mother of two, I am all too aware of the stresses that travel can bring, particularly when you have little ones. My husband and I have always seen it as a real privilege to be able to travel with our children and have holidayed as much as we can physically get away with! Whilst my two are now 18 and 15 and very much used to travelling, it only seems like yesterday since I was heading onboard flights armed with numerous carry on bags stuffed with nappies, formula, toys… anything that may distract a little one and hopefully stop the onboard screaming that filled me with dread! I remember praying to be surrounded by kind and sympathetic passengers and not the type that seemed to have forgotten that he or she was once a child themselves!
With my eldest having recently turned 18, I seem to be reminiscing quite a lot at the moment…. I still can’t understand quite where the past 18 years have gone?!! So today, as I look back, I thought I’d share some of those practical travel tips that stick out based on our own personal experience….
At the airport terminal
Try and think about how your child may react to the airport environment. Whilst you may be a seasoned traveller, your little one may well find the experience rather daunting. Airports can be busy, hectic places, especially when you are less than half the size of the average traveller! Even going through the security process can be stressful for them so it’s worth talking to them before hand about what the experience will be like. And don’t forget to explain that their favourite teddy bear may need to go through the security scanner! There are some great books available to read with them ahead of your trip. Just search online and there are a host of excellent options to choose from. And the good news is that airports are improving. Many now have dedicated security lanes for families. And stay calm and confident yourself in the airport… children pick up on parental anxieties.
First and foremost, make sure you know how much you can take on board with you. The worst thing that could happen is you reach the gate to be told that you have one bag too many and you’re suddenly trying to prioritise what to take with you and what to check in to the hold! Usually babies up to 2 years, even when seated in your lap, can still have their own bag to take on board and children over 2 qualify for the full baggage allowance but all airlines are different so do double check before heading to the airport.
Then, once you know how much you can take on board, make sure you’ve got the right things in those bags. It’s a fine line between under and over packing! We think a practical guide is to take 1 nappy per hour of travelling. It may seem excessive but, trust me, I was caught out with too few nappies on one occasion and that doesn’t make for fun travelling! Also think about taking formula with you…. You can take formula through security although you may be asked to taste it as a precaution. You can also buy pre-sterilised bottles which are fantastic and makes feeding time so much easier. Also think about taking some extra blankets on board in case it’s cold, some books or small toys, spare clothes and disposable changing mats. For older ones whose attention span lasts longer than 2 minutes, download some of their favourite TV programmes or cartoons on to your iPad to keep them entertained.
Keeping well during the flight
Whilst adults are all too aware of the impact of pressure on the body, your little ones may be experiencing this for the first time. Be aware that these symptoms are exacerbated if they have a cold. Take some sweets or lollipops with you for them to suck on during both take off and landing. This will help alleviate any uncomfortable ear pressure. For those too young to suck on a sweet, I always found it worked well to give them a bottle or breast feed them during take off and landing. Again, it means that they are sucking on something! With older ones, you can show them before hand how to clear blocked ears by holding their nose and encouraging them to blow gently to clear them.
Also be aware that some children can also experience motion sickness. You may well not know whether your child suffers or not so it may be best to be prepared in case. You can now buy wristbands to alleviate the symptoms and tablets are also available. Just ask your local pharmacist for advice on the best option for your child.
Finally, make sure your child drinks plenty during the flight too. It’s easy to get dehydrated on flights and it’s important that they keep up their fluid intake. Don’t forget to keep hydrated yourself as well!
Just as not all adults like aeroplane food, not all children will take kindly to what is served up on their meal tray either. That’s if the airline are even offering a complimentary meal. Many short haul flights now require travellers to purchase food on board. As a result, make sure you take plenty of healthy snacks and meals with you. For a number of years now, we have tended to purchase some sandwiches from one of the better quality food options at the terminal before boarding the flight. That way, the quality and choice is better and we’re not dependent on the trolley reaching our aisle before we get to eat.
If your children are younger, make sure you take plenty of toddler-friendly snacks for the flight. I recommend you opt for low-sugar options to avoid creating a hyped-up toddler, and remember to pack an empty beaker if your child hasn’t yet mastered drinking from glasses. Mini sandwiches, crudités, breadsticks and crisps will help keep any hunger-induced tantrums at bay. Incidentally, crunchy snacks are also useful to ease any ear pain if your toddler isn’t ready for lollipops but past the stage of using beakers or bottles.
As your children get older, they’ll be able to entertain themselves on flights. However, keeping a young child amused whilst stuck in the same seat for a number of hours can fill parents with dread! If you’re travelling long haul, there will usually be a selection of in-flight entertainment which will occupy them for at least some of the journey. However, instead of relying on a potentially dubious selection of TV shows and films, we recommend you also pack your own in-flight entertainment as well.
Some ideas include loading a tablet with your child’s favourite TV shows or child friendly apps and games to play. Sticker books and activity books also work well, although anything involving crayons can create as many issues as it solves when your little one decides he / she wants to doodle on the drop down table or when the crayons get spilled on the floor and you have to scramble under the seat to retrieve them!
Many of you will be planning to hire a car once arriving at your destination. When my children were little, I sometimes took a car seat with us and sometimes looked to hire one from the car hire company. However, after one occasion when there was no car seat available despite pre-booking it and with a 12 month old in tow, I vowed always to take one with me and I would advise people to do the same. Most airlines don’t count a car seat as one of your bags and both this and a travel cot can go into the hold without needing to pay for extra luggage. For older children, definitely invest in a Trunki BoostApak, a portable car booster seat that doubles as a back pack. It’s an absolutely genius invention and worth every penny!
And, remember, if your little one doesn’t enjoy the experience and spends the whole time screaming on the aeroplane or gets impatient queuing for car hire, most of the other travellers around you will have been through it themselves at some point. Don’t worry about what others will think. Just try and stay calm (as difficult as I can appreciate this may be!) The screaming will always seem worse to you as it’s your child and there are always occasions when some wise guy decides to spend his time tutting and looking at you as if you’re an unfit parent, but they are just not worrying about! And if all else fails, just remember, it will be worth it in the end once you reach your holiday destination!