I used to travel a lot. Once upon a time it was easy for my husband and I to just leap on a train or a plane and be halfway across Europe before you could say “two gin and tonics and a packet of crisps, please”. Then we acquired excess baggage in the form of our daughter, Eve, who was born in May 2009.
Like all former globetrotters, we swore having a child wouldn’t change us. So, when Eve was 10 weeks old we headed to the middle of France for a holiday by train. With my in-laws. Sounds idyllic, right? Au contraire. It was hell, with multiple train changes, dashes across Paris with all manner of baby paraphernalia and a few tense hours at a doctor’s in the middle of nowhere adding to the stress.
But I learnt enough on that trip to make me feel confident about our next – a 26-hour plane journey to New Zealand when Eve was 4 four months old. A piece of cake. Well, almost.
Once you accept that travelling with kids is going to be different to your child-free days, the rest becomes a lot easier. Here’s how to get through it.
Before you travel
When planning the trip, and this doesn’t just go for long haul but for a car drive or train trip too – think about what’s going to fit best with your child’s routine. You don’t have to go overboard and change everything to suit your baby or toddler, but anything you can do to help the whole process to go as smoothly as possible will pay off later.
Whatever you do, do not forget to book a bassinette (also sometimes called a ‘Skycot’) if you are travelling with a baby. Friends of mine had a hellish time flying from London to Sydney via Los Angeles with their 6 month old on their laps the whole way because they didn’t realise they had to book one. It’s better to be a pain to the airline before you turn up at the airport than dissolving into tears and tantrums at check-in.
- DON’T opt for a middle-of-the-night departure thinking your kids will sleep through. They invariably won’t and you’ll be doubly exhausted.
- DO try to plan a flight to fit in between meal times or naps. When we flew to New Zealand the flight left at 9pm. We got to the airport really early, then I fed Eve and put her in her pyjamas and sleeping bag so she had a nice cozy snooze in the buggy before we boarded. That gave us a chance to relax too – and happy parents equal a happy child.
When in the air
The great thing about travelling long haul with kids is that you finally get to be those people who get to board the plane before everyone else. Unfortunately, you also get to be those people who no one wants to sit next to. If you’re travelling with a baby and you’ve booked a bassinette (see above), you’re likely to get bulkhead seats – a real boon for long-legged travellers.
If you’re banished to the very back of the plane with toddlers, do some PR before take off. A few smiles and good cheer now might see you rewarded with the nice lady in seat 43F reading your darling child a story or two later on.
The excitement of getting onboard will wear off eventually and with any luck you’ll be rewarded by your child falling asleep. We were so thrilled when Eve slept most of the way from Hong Kong to Auckland that we watched two movies together. It felt like a date!
- DO breastfeed or bottlefeed your baby on take-off if allowed – sucking will soothe them and prevent their ears from being sore. Sugar-free lollipops are good for older toddlers.
- DON’T let your child kick the seat in front of them or hang over the back of your seat and throw things at the people behind them. Please.
- Long haul travel with a baby and toddler – essential packing list
- Short haul travel with a baby or toddler – essential packing lists
- Instant family guide to airlines
Hand luggage – and packing in general
My cousin Heidi Patmore, who has just done an epic amount of travelling on her own with 21-month-old daughter Rachel, gave me a brilliant tip. She bought extra large ziplock bags and packed her toddler’s outfits in one by one. This meant when she was at her destination and living out of a suitcase, she just had to pick a ‘warm-clothes’ ziplock or a ‘beach-weather’ ziplock and her toddler’s outfits were quick and easy to pick out. This saves the hassle of rummaging through a suitcase desperately searching for a missing sock.
Ziplock bags are great for your hand luggage too, and you often need to have your liquids in a clear one for airport security anyway. Put painkillers for grown-ups as well as baby paracetemol/ibuprofen in one, along with a packet of wipes. My personal favourite to pop in the ziplock bag is Antipodes Natural Saviour Skin Balm – it’s solid, so it doesn’t leak, and it works for everything from sunburn to nappy rash.
- DON’T think you have to take the big stuff – can you hire buggies, travel cots and other baby kit at your destination?
- DO make sure you include a change of clothes for yourself in your hand luggage. It’s amazing what a clean t-shirt can do for your state of mind after traveling all night on a plane. It also allows for any accidents your baby or toddler may have.
No matter how old your child is, you should never underestimate the power of a new toy. You don’t have to go nuts, but a new distraction presented at the right moment can work wonders. The same goes for the adults too – perhaps a new download on your or your partner’s iPod/MP3 player will help keep you both in a good frame of mind.
- DON’T bring or buy toys with dozens of tiny pieces that have the potential to get lost down the back of the seat. Lots of travel toys are designed for being on the move and have ribbons or magnets to keep everything together.
- DO remember that old favourites play a role in helping your child feel safe and in control. Eve’s teddy and her blanket, which we put in her cot the night she was born, are an essential part of any journey for us.