With the main travel season of the year approaching, I thought I’d share some of the tricks and tips we used the last time we took a trip home. Each direction of travel was composed of a car ride, 2 short-haul flights, and a Trans-Atlantic flight which took us between 19 & 24 hours each way! It was all four of us the first direction, but I was on my own with a toddler and preschooler on the way home. Planning ahead made things much easier for us!
Prepare ahead for flying with kids
Talk to your children about where you’re going, who you’ll see, etc.
Watch planes up in the sky and discuss with your kids where you think the people in them are going. What will they do when they get there? It’s fun to make up stories in this way!
Borrow books from the library about the place you will visit, and about the forms of transportation you will use.
Let the children know what will happen in the airport so they know what to expect.
Make a cardboard airplane to have fun with before you go and learn the main parts of the plane.
Count down the days before you’ll leave so your children won’t be taken by surprise when the day suddenly arrives.
Be aware that not all flights provide meals for children under the age of 2. A 22-month-old certainly won’t be satisfied with a small jar of baby food. Ask ahead if a meal will be available, or if you are responsible for it. The crew are usually quite accommodating, but there aren’t always any extra meals.
Be sure that all of your paperwork, passports, visas, etc., are all in order. This includes not just your destination country, but also anywhere that you may have a stop or change of planes.
Pack ahead of time
Bring extra diapers in case of delays or if they are needed. Put these in your carry-on luggage. We buy diapers for the vacation once we’ve arrived to save us luggage space.
Bring along a new toy or book to surprise your child with part way through the journey. Or bring a well-loved toy with you from home (but maybe not their favourite in case something happens to it).
Travel is a good time to do some learning to pass the time. Bring along some worksheets, apps for your phone, kindle books, etc. A deck of cards is perfect.
Take lots of snacks for your children as they will inevitably get hungry at the most inconvenient of times. Healthy food is always best, but keep in mind that fruit, veggies and meat won’t be able to go through customs so they’ll either have to be consumed during the flight or thrown away before you leave the plane. Don’t take the risk of a huge fine for walking off the plane with these items in your baggage and being stopped by a security dog (personal experience speaking here!)
During the Trip
Keep in mind that the sights and sounds may be overwhelming to your children. Point out the equipment around you and explain to your children how it works. This will keep them interested and take some of the fear out of things such as the x-ray machines.
Take a sling with you if your child is still small. I found this made life so much easier when going through the airports on our first trip. Tristan had fallen asleep and they let me walk through the metal detector without taking it off and waking him up (That was a wrap sling so it didn’t have any metal parts).
If you need to take a stroller, make sure it’s a foldable umbrella-type so that you can use it right to the cabin entrance. If you have an older stroller, or even a second-hand one, that would be great in case something happens to it along the way (ours broke during the last flight home, but we had Phil picking us up, so it was okay. You may not be so lucky and you don’t want to be out the cost of a new stroller, or the hassle of dealing with claims.
Once you’ve passed security into the airport, buy some water to take with you on the plane as it isn’t always convenient to ask the flight attendants every time someone is a little thirsty.
Dress in layers as the temperatures in airports, train stations, and in transport can vary alot. It can also be handy to have an extra layer in case of spills, accidents, etc.
If your children are old enough, let them carry their own backpacks so they feel included. Kallista wanted to carry the little backpack, but it was a little heavy for her and she kept falling over!
Breastfeeding during take off and landings will comfort your baby as well as help them with the pressure changes that can hurt little ears. Unfortunately, not all airlines will allow breastfeeding during these times for safety reasons. If you’re unsure, ask the flight crew. If this is the case, carry some paracetamol/Tylenol for your children to use in case they are in real pain.
Playing I Spy is a great way to pass some time in different locations. You can also bring in new vocabulary in these new environments.
Walk around lots between flights to help burn energy. It’s good for everyone!
Once you’re on your way, set your watch to the landing time to try to get you and your child adjusted before landing, and to try to prevent jet-lag.
Reward good behaviour as you go. There’s nothing like some good positive reinforcement! It also keeps the folks around you happy to have a content child instead of a screaming child disturbing their flying experience.
Be considerate of those around you.
Accept help when it’s offered. Someone helping to put your bag into the overhead compartment or being offered a lift between terminals on one of the flashing-light buggies (the kids will love this if they get the experience).
Don’t let yourself get stressed as your child will pick up on it and the situation will only become worse.
Treat the trip as if it is an adventure. You don’t know what could happen, so go with the flow and don’t get upset.
Extra travel information
Take a photocopy of any medications your doctor has prescribed in case it is needed at customs or in case you find yourself in the position of needing more while away.
We take national flights instead of lower-priced charter airlines. The connections are generally better, and if one flight is delayed you won’t have to worry about missing your next flight. The national airlines will generally be able to then get you on another flight without further charges. If you miss a charter flight, you’ll lose your ticket and also have to pay for the onward flight.
Make sure your travel insurance will extend beyond the date of your return flight. If someone needs care during the trip, you don’t want the insurance to expire before you can make it home.
Relax and have fun! Even if you have a head cold and feel miserable, enjoy the adventure with your children!