Toddlers and travel are not the happiest combination. Thank goodness we’re past that tricky stage. Past it, unlike the couple in front of us on a flight earlier this week juggling a restless toddler who had just pinched her already howling baby brother. Pickle said (i.e. shouted): “That baby is really annoying. Why won’t it be quiet?” All of those “precious” travel-with-tots-memories came flooding back. Here are 10 tips for those of you still in the zone.
- Pack Spare Clothes in your hand luggage.
Obvious? I actually mean for YOU rather than the child/ren. Disembarking from a long haul flight decorated with regurgitation or spillage (or pee) is deeply unpleasant. Pack a clean T-shirt for yourself. You might thank me.
- BYO Snacks.
Ticking the child meal box when you make your booking doesn’t always translate to actually receiving a child meal on the flight. Even when a child meal is provided, do not assume your child will eat it. I’ve found asking nicely is the best way to winkle an illicit banana or yoghurt from the cabin crew, but this depends very much on the airline and the disposition of the individual steward or stewardess. If it’s a long journey, bring snacks.
- Be prepared for medical matters.
Should your child develop a temperature or other ailment on board, the airline might not be carrying any child friendly medicine…or even if they do, they might not give it to a small child e.g. antihistamine to an under-two (click here to read about discovering this the hard way).
- However many nappies you calculate you will need – double it.
Don’t underestimate the effect that a flight can have on a small child’s bowels. 30000 ft. up in the air is not the time to have a nappy shortage. You also need to be well stocked in case you encounter any travel delays. Ditto formula.
- Sensible Shoes are your Friends.
Before boarding, march your little ones up and down the terminal to burn off as much energy as possible. They are more likely to sleep on the flight. Even if your child isn’t toddling yet the visual stimulation will help tire them out. Walking up and down the terminal is preferable to walking up and down the aisle on the plane, although of course, you could end up doing both. …You’ll probably end up doing both.
- Teach your child to stand up for nappy changes.
Any frequent flying parent will tell you that the upright-nappy-change can be a complete life-saver in the confines of an airplane toilet cubicle and any place where there isn’t a satisfactory or sanitary place to lie your child down to change them. You may well find that once your child grows a bit the fold out changing table may not be sufficiently wide to accommodate your child lying down! So, if your child is able to stand, practise this technique!
- Beware of the Bassinet
Note of caution – once your baby can sit up – DON’T rely on the safety of the inflight bassinet even if you have used all the safety straps, belts and whistles provided. At 7 months old, Sweetpea almost came to grief under the wheels of the drinks trolley as she somehow wriggled out of the straps, levered herself up and tried to nose-dive out headfirst. Luckily, since having children, I don’t sleep much on planes and I caught her just in time.
- Your hand luggage is not YOUR hand luggage.
Apart from passports and your spare t-shirt (see tip 1). The remainder of your hand luggage should be bursting at the seams with child paraphernalia (see tips 2-4). I haven’t mentioned “entertainment”, but any cuddly toys, books etc will also need to fit in here. Mr Men books are ideal travel entertainment.
Like a good Boy Scout or Girl Guide you are now pretty well prepared. Bonne voyage and safe and happy travels!
- It’s gets easier
Just a few short years down the line your children will (almost) be a pleasure to travel with and once they are older and have sufficiently developed their concentration span to watch the films and can manage to keep the headsets on, you can reclaim YOUR hand luggage and also shamelessly annexe theirs. Instead of traipsing up and down the aisle with a fractious baby or toddler while everybody else is asleep, you can have a tot of wine and let the next batch of newish parents have a bash.
What are your top tips for travelling with babies and toddlers?
..and p.s. To that couple with the two children on the 8.15am flight Heathrow to Manchester last Sunday morning – you guys did a great job with your kids. Pickle minded a bit, but I don’t think anybody else did.
An airplane ride with small children is one thing – pregnancy and parenthood on foreign shores is an even bigger challenge (you do the airplane trips, plus you have to contend with the everyday everything of different cultures, languages, parenting styles and prenatal care). Knocked up Abroad Again is an anthology of 26 heartwarming, heartbreaking and hilarious tales of global parenthood, I’ve contributed a chapter about our experience in Nigeria.