I cannot count the number of flights I have undertaken heroically or stupidly with babies and toddlers.
Five years ago, I left the sunny skies of South Africa, for the grey skies of London. Flying around Europe was a breeze. I travelled with my husband and baby around the UK, to Paris, Rome and to Switzerland. The hour and a half flight, drive or train drive was a breeze.
I even found the overnight flight to South Africa easy.
Then we moved to Australia.
Living on the very far end of the southern world, I soon realised how horrific and long flights were. Day flights are often a necessity. If possible, I try to avoid them at all costs.
My husband is from the UK and I am from South Africa. Any holidays that we go on usually include at least one day flight, thousands of dollars and an unnerving amount of time in a very small area with two wired up little people.
So here are a few of my tips for flying with kids under five:
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON BAG:
- Nappies, wipes and nappy bags – it’s much better to have too much than to be caught short! Prepare for illness or any delays by ensuring that you have supplies for at least two days.
- Changes of clothes – two changes per child and one for yourself. I have been vomited on twice on a 14-hour flight. I was also pregnant at the time. It was not a pleasant experience.
- A warm sleeping bag or blanket – the cabin gets really cool at night on most planes. Make sure that your baby is dressed warmly.
- Baby Carrier – they can be a life saver for mums travelling alone or for families with more than one child.
- Medicine – ensure that you have a thermometer, Children’s Panadol, Nurofen and antihistamine.
- Snacks – pack enough baby food for delays. Pack interesting and healthy snacks that you know your child takes a while to eat. My kids love sultanas in a little box, veggie crisps, crackers, fruit or yoghurt squeezies or rusks.
- Toys – depending on the age of your child, pack stickers, crayons, a portable DVD player or iPad, play dough or a few wrapped new toys from your local dollar store. Most airlines will give out a kid’s pack to toddlers. My daughter took her own bag on board. She was very proud to be able to travel with her own suitcase.
AT THE AIRPORT
- Arrive Early – take the stress out of travelling by giving yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, check in and settle down before your flight. Let your kids run around in any open spaces to tire them out. If you have access to the lounges, take a shower so you feel fresh on board the plane.
- Bring the pram – some airlines will allow you to take your pram all the way to the plane door, whilst others prefer you to check in with your main luggage. Check with your airline beforehand so that you are well prepared. When you arrive, you will either collect your pram at the door of the plane or at the oversize baggage counter.
ON THE PLANE
- Prepare for take off and landing – the change in cabin pressure during take-off and landing hurts children’s ears. Swallowing eases the pressure, so you can give your baby/toddler a breastfeed, bottle, water, juice, dummy or a lollypop.
- Don’t rely on the in-flight entertainment – my three-year-old was happy to watch in flight entertainment. My one-year-old just wanted to bolt!
- Expect to walk up and down the aisle of the plane – my one-year-old wanted to walk up and down the plane. Once we had finished walking up and down, we walked up and down again.
- Ask for help – if you are travelling on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you check in ask for special assistance or pay a porter if there is one available to assist you.
- Look at the bigger picture – even if the flight turns out to be the longest endurance test of your life, it always helps me to think that in the greater scheme of things, 14 hours is not the end of the world.
And finally, once you get to your destination, try to get into the new time zone as soon as you can. If you arrive at 1pm in the afternoon, try to keep them awake as long as you can… even if it’s an ‘early night’ of 6pm, then the next night push it to 6:30pm, and the third night to 7:00pm. Feed them at the local destinations meal times, and get lots of fresh air and plenty of sunlight.
What’s your best tip for travelling with young kids?