Most people agree that travelling with kids is hard.
Actually, most people except me.
I don’t find it hard travelling with kids per se. Yes, there are things you have to consider that you don’t when going it alone or with other grown ups. But, it always puzzles me when people use this as an excuse not to travel – especially abroad. Even when ours were young babies I never felt we shouldn’t get on that plane. In fact, I maintain that travelling with certain grown ups is WAY harder (ahem Mr 5gomad)!
Before you all start yelling at me, yes there’s a lot to think about. When you have toddlers, I agree, it is not the easiest thing to sit an airport for hours, confine them in a chair for even more hours and insist they keep the noise level to minimum. But honestly, it’s not unachievable. My motto is – what’s the worst that can happen? So they scream for 10 hours solid and you have a nervous breakdown. One cocktail around the pool and a few hours in a kids club later you’ll soon forget the toruture.
I remember a nanny friend of mine saying once that it’s not really much different to spending a day indoors in front of the TV on one of those ‘not in the mood’ days or when under the weather. Also, let’s face it, how many children would object to being given permission to spend hours watching cool films or playing games?
So, with that in mind here are my tips for travelling with children – young or old. Bear in mind, these are from personal experience, I haven’t googled this list and I’m sure there are plenty more practical ones like take loads of games, etc. But it’s not my style to copy and paste.
Before you go
Get them used to the idea of travelling. Show them where you’re going, let them get excited about what you are going to see, do and where you are staying. This is often overlooked as we forget that unless it’s Disney Land really, kids aren’t that interested in the sound of visiting Ang Kor Wat or relaxing in the Maldives. So show them stuff that you know they’ll be interested in – for my three it’s a decent looking pool and a nice hotel with maybe a local show thrown in and they’re sold.
As soon as their little legs can walk they can carry a bag. Even if all it holds is a comfy/baggy/soft toy type thing. Yes, you’ll curse the number of bags you have and you’ll curse me for suggesting this, but bear with me. When you’ve run out of room for the extras you’ve acquired along the way (mini knife and fork anyone?) and have a handy bag to put them in, you’ll be grateful. Also, when those little legs become the big strapping legs of a 18 year old you’ll be thankful for that extra bag carrier let me tell you.
Also, if it’s a special bag that always goes on holiday with you it’s a way of letting them know what’s coming up. Great if you have kids with special needs as it’s a way to help them feel more comfortable with the whole travelling issue.
Talking of special needs. If you have a child that has any kind of SN then don’t be backwards in coming forwards. Even with my Son who is now 15 I still board when the ‘those travelling with young children’ announcement is made (if I feel he has had enough). I don’t care if everyone tutts or sniffs around me. I explain our situation politely to the land crew and they are more often than not happy to accommodate.
Depending how far in advance you have booked the trip, if you can, avoid going to the cinema or watching newly released films in the run up to the holiday. That way you won’t get on the flight and hear cries of ‘Oh, I’ve seen that’. Having said that, what kid doesn’t like to watch the same film more than once?
Short haul flights
Load up the iPad with a couple of films, a couple of episodes of their favourite TV show and some games that they haven’t played before. Make it clear that the iPad cannot come out before the ‘magic light’ goes off overhead (the seatbelt sign) – maybe even say that the pilot him or herself has asked for this.
Take some snacks – this is a no brainer, but one I’ve often got caught out on as I’ve assume the children’s meal will be appealing enough. No! Nuts, bread rolls, easy to eat fruit (no peel to fiddle with), crackers and so on are all easy to carry, don’t need to be kept cool and travel ok. Obviously some countries restrict what you take in so watch out for that.
Don’t worry about everyone else around you. Oh yes, you will have seen the raised eyebrows and despairing looks of the guy behind/in front as you cajole little Johnny in to his seat whilst trying to strap tiny Johnny to your lap. So what? He should just think himself lucky he hasn’t got to do anything but listen to them – and maybe put up with some thrown food or a kick in the back every now and then. Don’t assume that your fellow passengers are berating you for having the audacity to bring children on a flight. Most of the time you’ll see sympathetic nods, grateful sighs and knowing smiles. Also, don’t assume it’s the people not travelling with kids who are the worst. I was once on a flight when another mum turned round and told me to tell my son to be quiet – she was travelling with her older daughter. I was shocked, how dare she break the code of motherhood? I asked him to be quiet whilst passing him a tambourine. That’s Karma that is.
Take along an extra pillow/soft toy/head prop if you can. The more comfortable you can make yourself and the kids, the better. You could also get one of those foot pillows if you can find one, I’ve never used them but they look pretty cool.
Make deals before you leave (if able to understand this). If they want to watch 5 films, they have to have a nap in between each one.You might get lucky and one of those naps will turn in to a longer sleep. If not, let them watch another film and they can make up for it whilst you’re sitting round the pool tomorrow. If they want to play some game for an hour, they have to sit still whilst you eat your (awful but always seem to eat it anyway) meal. Whatever works for you. Find your currency with them and barter!
All of the above and then some!
Face the fact that they will moan a bit. Or even a lot. Once you get your head around this it really is a matter of getting on with it. I moan on a plane, my husband moans on a plane. Why shouldn’t the kids? Just keep distracting them with another film, game, promise of ice cream when you get there. Honestly, lower your expectations 50% and you’ll be good to go.
Let them wander up and down at some point if they want to. Try to avoid the time when most people are sleeping, but don’t feel you have to pin them down the whole time. Unless, of course, you’ve got one of those children who charge up and down like a train – then strap them in and don’t let them move! (I’m kidding) Take them to the area near the emergency exits (resist all urges to open the door, no matter how bad it’s been up until then! Think of the cocktails woman, stop!) There you can let them see out the window without clambering over anyone. Maybe play eye spy? If you happen to be over an ocean it’ll be short game.
Wear comfy clothes. I know this sounds obvious but really, wear something you can lay in, be laid on in, that isn’t tight or irritating in any way. Something that when you have to stretch to the overhead locker for the millionth time you’re not self conscious of showing a part of you not normally on view.
Carry headache tablets. Just do.
If your child suffers from that hideous ear issue when flying there are a few ways to help this – all have varying results depending on the child. The usual sucking on a bottle (mine ALWAYS seemed to finish the whole thing just before we actually got up), sucking sweets, chewing on a teether. But I’ve also heard wearing ear plugs helps too. Google it – there’ll be other ideas out there. Try them and see what works for your child.
If you have a pukey child carry wipes and forage for all the sick bags you can before you take off. In my recent experience the cabin crew take a bit longer nowadays to come to the aid of a travel sick child and also cannot touch you or them. So they will throw lots of paper at you and then rather handily ask you to fill out a form in between catching puke. So just be prepared. Oh, and secret tip, the blanket they give you catches A LOT of sick if necessary!
One final piece of advice – start early. If you are a couple who like to travel why not travel with your kids? We started fairly easily with short haul flights to France from the UK and before we knew it we were heading to Oz with two young boys. Maybe it wasn’t a stroll in the park but whatever the flight was like I can’t remember so it couldn’t have been too bad. What I do remember – as do the boys – is seeing an amazing country and having a fantastic holiday though.
In my humble opinion, travel is the best gift we can give our children in terms of experiences. Without getting on with it, here’s just some of the things we would have missed…
Money aside, why wouldn’t you want your kids to see and experience all of this?
Do you have any tips for parents? Please share them in comments below. If you’ve got a funny story about travelling with kids, even better!