If you have ever flown anywhere with children you know it’s a whole new ball game. Gone are the days of a small carry on bag (if any at all) and swanky drinks in the airport bar. I longingly stare these people now when I see them effortlessly gliding through the airport without a care in the world. To the leisurely solo traveller in business class…you have no idea how much I would love to be sitting in your place for the entire duration of the flight.
Instead I am madly rushing to catch the red eye with a babe in one arm, handbag and overfilled nappy bag in the other and our plane tickets firmly clenched between my teeth. The Fournado is running ahead bumping into strangers having a wow of a time with his new found freedom, while I’m left wondering if I have remembered to activate the house security system, what time the flight was, fumbling through my bag to check I got my sunnies and lip balm, hoping I have my wallet and praying that I packed all the important things we require for the trip…did I mention it doesn’t matter if you are travelling for a few days or a few months – babies need the same amount of ridiculously oversized cargo either way! It is exhausting just getting off the ground!
We have flown to various destinations around the world with children in tow from a 50 minute flight to our closest capital city to the mother of all flights…22 hours to Europe and I have learnt a few hot tips along the way. So if you are planning a long haul flight with kids you might want to read on.
My best all round tip would absolutely be…don’t travel with children! Just kidding… If you plan it well it can actually be surprisingly pleasant for all onboard.
1) Think ahead! I did lots of research about where we were going, the foods that would/wouldn’t available when we got there, was the water safe for drinking, the countries basic laws, the best nappy brand to buy when you arrive because lets face it… when you are in the middle of a busy Asian supermarket all the nappies are going to look the same and unless you can read hieroglyphics you do not want to get caught out by unknowingly buying a shit brand and have, well, shit, bursting out the sides of a dodgy nappy. Particularly on a plane. Those plane toilets are gross enough without having to deal with a poo explosion mid air on a minuscule sized change table that folds down from thin air threatening to snap off while baby is thrashing around and has crap from A to Z. No thanks. Do your research! On that note…take plenty of spare clothes, (that includes you!) baby wipes and sealable bags. And get that sick bag in close proximity to you arms reach…you just never know. Be prepared for the unexpected!
2) Take your child’s usual medicine and everything else you can think of that they might need for an emergency in your carry on luggage. When we arrived in Singapore enroute to Croatia my son looked flushed. Luckily I had brought his thermometer because without it we wouldn’t have known he had a scorching temperature of 40 degrees and may have got on our next (14 hour!) flight. We were able to immediately give him his usual Dymadon and Nurofen which was a lifesaver because of the time it took to cancel flights, get out of the airport, locate the closest hospital and get there. It was such a scary time made much less stressful because we could administer familiar medicine immediately. We were grounded from flying for a week until we got the all clear and spent lots of time going to and from hotels to hospital. I can’t thank our local family doctor enough during that time as she conversed with us and explained what medicines and procedures they would most likely or should use/do. It was so calming being able to talk with her as you can imagine it was a very worrying time being in a foreign country with a sick child. Because everything is different overseas. Don’t assume. Also…make sure you have travellers insurance! This saved us some big headaches and big money.
3) Entertainment. You don’t want to pack big clumsy toys for inflight entertainment. Instead think small. Find the balance between enough to keep them occupied yet not so much it’s wasting precious souvenir space! I found individually wrapping matchbox cars ‘pass the parcel’ style in 100 little layers was a great time waster and also such a fun game for the little ones. I had quite a few small different toys like this up my crafty sleeve. Even wrapping up mini packs of sultanas is great as they take awhile to eat. Lots of brightly coloured little memo sticky notes are a big hit as well. They can draw on each page, rip it off and stick it all over the seat in front of them and it’s not going to hurt anyone or cause too much mess. Show them how to make a flip book by drawing little pictures in each corner and then flipping the pages. Sticker/activity books are great too and these days you can get small versions that don’t take up heaps of room. Don’t forget to jam pack the iPad or even just your phone with as many games and all time favourite movies as will possibly fit. And of course bring the beloved bed time toy and lots of dudas!
4) Get smart. If taking a pram (don’t take your Sunday best…it may get trashed!) ask that it be tagged so that it is there at the foot of the plane door every time you disembark. This makes life so much easier. Pack your baby carrier. Every time you check in request that any spare seats be allocated next to you. For O/S flights ask for the exit row where there is extra room in front and the bassinets for your baby. These are usually behind the cabin crew stations so you have one less passenger to worry about upsetting too. I always make an effort to say hi to the passengers in my immediate vicinity when settling in before take off – in front, behind and to the sides. And apologise in advance for anything that may happen later on…it sweetens them up and gets them on them onside to begin with. Confined spaces make the best of people crazy! Remember to pre order a child’s meal if flying O/S. They are served first, come in cute little keepsake lunch boxes and are filled with yummy little snacks and drinks and you can really stretch it out. Stretch everything out! If need be you can also order for special dietary requirements. If in doubt ask for more food…they have heaps of items they can offer you like crisps, ice creams, fresh fruit, cheese and biscuits etc so just keep feeding them. It works with mine! Also ask for pillows and blankets if you didn’t bring you own.
5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The cabin crew are there to help you so take advantage of it. Dress your kids up outrageously gorgeous (comfortable) outfits so they won’t be able to resist! This also helps with the immediate passengers around you…for a while at least. At the same time setting boundaries with the children if they are old enough to understand helps too. Just by explaining what is going to happen, how long it will be and the behaviour you expect for the duration gives them some sort boundary guideline and the idea that this is not some sort of Contiki Kids party plane. During stop overs locate that play ground and let them run their little hearts out. Over and over. Tire them out! Then douse them in antibacterial sanitiser; have you seen the state of those places?! Black hands and feet is guaranteed.
6) Taking off and landing can hurt little ears. Worst case scenario; because of the change of pressure building up in the middle ear and babies not being able to equalise them it can force any mucus with bacteria into the Eustachian tubes and that might lead to an infection. Talk to your doctor beforehand. For older children give them something to chew or drink. If you are breastfeeding it’s an excellent idea to feed during both of these times, every time. This will help with equalising their ears. But…It can be likened to the breastfeeding Olympics; contorting your body into the required position for feeding with your knees in your chest and the seat in front of you about to smack you in the face and a baby in amongst all that somewhere…it’s awkward! Ask for a pillow and it will be much easier. And hope to heaven that your boobs don’t fall out and become public viewing. Thanks Juju, for the warning and all.
7) Know that this will all be over relatively soon! Embrace it, expect chaos and then anything less will be a bonus. If all else fails and it is a hellish trip take comfort in the knowledge that you may not likely ever see these people again! Before you know it you will be at your destination, deciphering a foreign language on the supermarket shelves, trying to convert money in your head, checking in to swanky hotels, ordering room service, enjoying the most amazing buffet breakfasts followed by lazy family diamond-days spent frolicking around the resort pool sipping fruity cocktails. Ahh European summer!