So the first thing to remember before you set off on a plane with kids in tow, is that the air travel you remember as a single or childless couple, is a thing of the past. The game is now different. Your days of reading a book cover to cover and watching hours of movies is over, for a few years at least.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love travelling with my kids and will always try to do lots of it, but from the ages of 0-5, it’s hard.
I have a 9, 6 and almost 2 year old and have travelled with 1,2 & 3 at a time, all at different ages so the experiences have varied. I’ll try to summarise the strategies we’ve used for the different age ranges in the hope that this info might help you on your travels.
Preparation is everything. I’ve always had a big backpack that fits most of the essentials into it and have always made a travel pack to suit their ages. This can take a bit of running around to collect but can be very handy and also memorable for the kids of their trips. I remember a train journey as a child and the special book my mum revealed for my sisters and I, and my boys talk about some of the special things in their packs now too.
I’ve always bought a big pencil case and loaded it up with craft supplies, paper, games, small toys and on our last trip I put a couple of cute dress-up toys in as well which we’re a hit. My son wore a fun bow-tie on the plane and we have cute photos to remember it. As they’ve gotten older, I’ll usually reveal good book and I have read that people wrap all their goodies so it gives the kids something else to do and makes it extra special.
The other essentials that I always travel with in the carry-on is food/snacks, 2 change of clothes at least, nappies/diapers, tissues & wet wipes (that I dot around the bags so they’re quick to grab when you need them).
Here’s a breakdown of a few things to anticipate and tips for various ages:
Babies are fairly easy to travel with as they keep to their routine pretty closely, eat & sleep more easily and if they can’t move around too much, are pretty easy to deal with on your lap. Don’t forget lots of nappies/diapers, wipes, change mat, soothes/dummies (and a clip to attach to their clothes), extra clothes as they always choose do have explosion poos at 35000 feet. If you have a black-out cover or similar this can help when in the bassinet (make sure they are certified and not a danger to use). The Fly Babee apparently works well but I’ve used a black out stroller cover. A baby carrier is essential at this age as they won’t just nod off in the bassinet and you’ll likely need to walk/bounce around with them until they fall asleep. I’ve used the carrier for up to a 2 year old to get them asleep.
Probably the hardest time to travel with a child as they are more mobile, can’t be bribed, get frustrated and can scream/flail when over tired. I still bring lots of things to keep them busy and spend a lot of time walking around the plane. I spent almost 10 hours on my recent flight with my 1 yr old just wandering around, playing short games and with toys at our seat to get through the flight. Everything as listed above with more snacks, water bottle and more energy. You’ll need it. If there are 2 of you, swap each hour or so (or more to give the other person some rest or sleep). Sleep when your baby does, even if you’re not tired.
As kids get older their attention span gets better and their ability to sit in one spot improves. You’ll still need lots of games, crafts and if you allow them, a tablet to play movies & games is a god-send. Forget your screen time limits and let them watch what they want. If they’ll sit still then it’s a bonus. They’ll also think it’s super special to watch their favourite movie over and over again. The airlines who do the long haul flights are also usually geared up with individual screens for movies and games which the older kids love.
My older boys have travelled a lot and as a result love to travel. They carry their own bags, pack favourite toys & books and the unveiling of the travel picks is more fun when they dig in to see what they’ve got. It’s hard to enforce sleep but if you can get them to switch off when it’s time to sleep, they’ll benefit at the other end. Having said that my 8 year old didn’t sleep at all on a 12 hour flight and was fine, the adrenaline and excitement of the trip usually put them in good form and wanting to help & please. Usually!
We have had more great experiences than horrific ones and the horrific ones have helped us the next time. Major tantrums on take off with a 2 year old made us realise we needed little bribes just to sit him down. We quickly leaned to travel with smarties or tic tacs to coax him and keep the peace for a bit. Our kids get car sick so we travel with extra face clothes and small towels. We’ve done an entire wardrobe change before we left our home airport once after a spew in the taxi. Not pretty but we now go prepared for possible spews.
We’ve learned so much from travelling with our kids and they’ve equally learned to appreciate the size of world but also now think the world is quite small. I love that they speak of ‘that time in Singapore’ or ‘those kids we met in Italy’ and ask often ‘where are we going next?’. It might sound spoiled but they’re view that they can go anywhere and do anything is an invaluable lesson to learn in life and one they’ll carry with them for ever.