Travelling with kids can be glorious. A girlfriend actually recently said to me “Travelling with kids adds such a different dimension to it all doesn’t it? It’s tiring but I think it’s better than ever. We spent so much time on our recent trip enjoying the simple things about the places we were rather than hitting up all the sights and we were happier for it”.
That about sums it up. Yes, it often means that holidays are not as relaxing as they used to be. But seeing destinations and experiencing things with young ones can be such an enriching and bonding time.
However, getting to any destination requires some form of travel, and of course, flying is one of the more common (yet dreaded) forms. I even wonder how many families simply don’t go, because of the ‘hassle’ of flying with kids, particularly toddlers.
I know I was scared. As a seasoned traveller myself, I felt extraordinarily stressed on my first domestic and international flights with my little girl. It was a whole new ball game. I changed from the traveller who narrowed my eyes at other kids boarding the plane, hoping they wouldn’t be seated near me, to the poor parent who looked like they were about to enter a lions den.
It’s not that we can’t handle the noise, tantrums, requests, or discomfort. We do it every day at home. But being in public, in a confined space, is another matter. We are quite simply scared about annoying others and feeling judged.
And I’ve had my fair share of horror trips, don’t get me wrong.
So I have learned a thing or two along the way. Our two year old has now travelled on many long and short haul flights and though things change as they get older, I now have a stockpile of tips for flying with a toddler. Many I have learned through trial and error, others through the advice of fellow mums, and I’d love to share them.
Dress the kids in comfortable, casual clothes in breathable fabrics, preferably in layers. Planes can vary dramatically in temperature and its best to be able to add or subtract layers accordingly.
Two spare changes of clothes are a must. When my 2 year old and I flew on a red eye to New Zealand once, she started vomiting all over herself as we went through customs, and didn’t stop until we exited Wellington Airport. Not only did we go through the clothes I had brought with me, I also had to buy more at the airport souvenir shop. All I can say is on most occasions we have flown, I have had to use our spares for one reason or another.
Bring little tubes and bottles (under 100ml) of any creams or medications that you might need on board, particularly on a long haul flight. Halfway over the Pacific, my daughter started itching at her wrist (she is prone to eczema). Luckily I had a tube of her medicated cream to relieve it. Panadol or Nurofen needs to be on standby in case they suddenly develop a fever or similar as well as any medications they regularly or sometimes take. Be prepared for these things even if your child seem healthy and well prior to travel (trust me, things can change in the blink of an eye and none of it will help you if it is in the cargo hold).
Also have plenty of travel wipes ready and accessible and sippy cups ready to fill with water.
Activities, activities, activities.
Bring some old favourites plus some new ones that will keep them busy and entertained. Colouring books, sticker books, reading books, puzzles etc. But don’t hand them all out at the start of the journey. Give them one thing at a time until their attention wanes.
Another idea to try is to ‘gift wrap’ all the new activities individually and tie them with plenty of string. Just unwrapping these ‘surprises’ can waste plenty of time. I also sometimes buy packets of figurines such as African animals, dinosaurs or their favourite TV characters, they can spend hours playing with them.
Yes, most flights will offer a child’s meal but this is simply not enough. Bring a good amount of their favourite, healthy snacks that you can whip out at a moments notice (please don’t take nuts on board though) plus something a bit more substantial in case the airline meal is not to their liking. For babies and toddlers, you are allowed to take more than the 100ml of liquid on board for their favourite milk drink. My daughter has a milk allergy, so I take 1 litre tetra packs of rice milk on board which keeps her happy. Just declare it when going through security.
Think about their transport.
If they still fit into a carrier, then this can be the easiest way of getting them around an airport and onto a plane. Otherwise, a travel stroller is ideal. We have the Babyzen Yoyo and it is quite simply the best item we ever bought our daughter. It folds up to fit cabin baggage dimensions so you can take it on board and use it right up to the gate.
Travelling internationally, many airlines will gate check it for you, but if not, you can just stow it in the overhead locker. They are becoming more popular these days so you will probably be able to borrow one. And they are the easiest and most convenient strollers to use at your destination, I promise you.
Consider a flight harness
After the age of 2 you must buy your toddler their own seat. Whilst this of course means an added cost, it does have benefits in that they are not wriggling around on your lap the whole flight. But airline seatbelts are no match for a determined toddler. Some airlines will allow a car seat on board but your particular one has to be pre-approved and can be quite cumbersome to lug around the airport and onto the plane.
I totally recommend using the Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) which is a flight harness that is CASA approved and straps the little one in just like a car seat. It attaches to the seat and existing seat belt, is easy to use and has an incredible effect on containing your toddler and keeping them safe. My daughter is like a can of worms without one.
Electronic devices can be a godsend
It’s a personal choice but for me, I am more than happy to load an iPad with toddler friendly apps and her favourite cartoons and bring it on board with me. The novelty lasts a long time, and they are kept entertained for hours.
I also bought some toddler headphones which also have a novelty factor and cancel out the noise for other passengers around us. Make sure you bring the USB charger along too.
If your toddler is still in nappies, have everything you need in one easy pouch you can grab and go. Or divide up nappies, wipes and disposable change mats into individual nappy sacks so you can just take one each time. Always take more nappies than you think you will need!
Comforts of home
A favourite soft toy can do wonders to calm and comfort an unsettled little one. And your toddlers own blanket or sleeping bag will be familiar and comfortable to them, and act as a sleep cue. Those airplane blankets are dubious anyway….
Don’t let them spit the dummy
If your toddler has a dummy, bring spares and also consider a dummy clip that attaches it to their clothing. Reaching down to find and pick up dummies all flight isn’t fun (plus the hygiene ewww) and you will be able to supervise them at all times while they are wearing it.
Make airport check in and arrival easier
Try to travel with suitcases that don’t look like everyone else’s. Plenty of quality luggage comes in fun colours these days that make it easy to spot them on the baggage carousel. If you are taking a car seat as check in luggage, don’t always rely on airlines to put it into a protective plastic bag (which can tear anyway).
I got a $20 Childress Air Travel bag which is a red drawstring case that you can immediately identify at baggage collection and protects your often expensive car seat. Each time you travel, grab some spare departure cards so you have them completed before you even go to the airport next time.
Finally, keep calm and fly.
Forget about other people, only concentrate on making yourselves and your little ones comfortable. You will most likely never see any of your fellow passengers ever again, so stay calm and relaxed because your toddler will feed off your energy. I find that as long as other passengers can see you are ‘trying’, that’s all that matters. And just remember, at the other end is either an amazing holiday or all the comforts of home, so keep smiling, it is all worth it.
What are your experiences like flying with a toddler? I would love you to share your own top tips in the comments!