When your children are young the idea of traveling with them for the first time can seem daunting. The excitement of the trip can be overshadowed by the small details of how to feed/change/settle a baby or how to keep an active toddler entertained without them getting into the cockpit and taking control of the plane. So I asked around, and remembered a few of my sanity saving tips for traveling with a toddler from when I had to traverse hemispheres with toddlers in tow. Hopefully some of these tips will come in handy when embarking on an overseas adventure!
If you are planning your first trip with a baby, check out this super concise list of travel tips by Flying with a Baby, a site dedicated to family travel.
1. Wear your oldest clothes
A Swiss friend of mine always sets off on her overseas journey in really old clothes. Clothes that you don’t mind if they don’t return home, and always with a spare set in a plastic bag. For her the idea of carrying that vomit stained t-shirt or those poo-laden pants to her destination was really unappealing, so her solution was pop them in the bin – then have a fresh set ready to start again. And, that wasn’t just a change for the children, it included her as well. So, make sure to pack a full set of outerwear for yourself, and the essential change for the kids.
And remember: if there is any vomiting to be done or food to be spilled, it will probably land on you as well as your child – but will hopefully miss the stranger you are sitting next to.
2. Dress your child in bright clothing
This top tip comes from something I read online when first traveling internationally with my toddlers. Without being able to offer a reference I will borrow it and share with you as it was a fabulous piece of advice: dress your child in something bright and distinctive. Airports, train stations and ferry terminals can be busy and hectic places – with luggage, tickets and gates to think about it is easy to be distracted for a second. If your child is dressed in a bright t-shirt, jumper, coat or hat they are easy to spot in what will probably be a comparably tall crowd. It also means that some gaudy bright garment that was gifted to you may make it out of the wardrobe for this special occasion.
3. A backpack, and dare I say it – a lead
Get a small cheery backpack for your child to carry and let them fill it (not too full) with a game, colouring in, bits and bob, and a favourite toy – however make sure you are the one in charge of the extra special favourite toy they need for sleep. Pack a couple of snacks so your child gets the whole thrill of the adventure – plus it may help later when they are hungry and refuse to eat the inflight food.
The pack back may be the saving grace for airport waiting areas. And, I know this may be a controversial subject, but a lead to hang on to might be just enough for your child not to wander, but feel autonomous enough to not throw a tantrum over sitting in a buggy or holding a hand.
4. Choose a night flight
Research has it (well, the mums I’ve asked) that if you have small kids and you are flying long-haul then booking a night flight makes things a little easier. Take some comfortable pajamas, a book, their cuddly toy or blanket, whatever it is they need to sleep, and snuggle them down for the night. A few hours sleep might be the difference between a screaming heap and an easy transit.
If you are traveling a really long flight and have a stopover, you can either extend it for 24 hours, or if you don’t have that much time, maybe book six hours in an airport hotel – that way you can all get some rest before the next leg of the journey. We did this when my youngest was two but she was such a monkey when everyone was trying to sleep in one room that we made a bed for her in the bath tub with blankets and pillows. It was the best sleep she had – only if you try that, make sure your wee one can’t reach the taps to turn them on.
5. Be sneaky with seat selection
Now this is a sneaky trick that I have never thought of but apparently it’s been tried and tested with success. If you are traveling as a family of two adults and two children then book the window and aisle in two separate rows – one behind the other. If the flight isn’t full you then have a whole row to yourselves, but if it is you still have one adult and one child together and in the words of this mum “no one in their right mind would prefer a middle seat between parent and child” so will gladly swap for either a window or an aisle seat.
6. No rules on airplanes
This doesn’t mean that you can say its ok for your little person to hand out duty free or fly the plane, but it does mean that snacks, toys, the dreaded iPad – you name it – are without limits. How you manage that is up to your family, but sometimes a bit of rule relaxation may equal inflight relaxation.
7. Bring a lightweight travel buggy
When we traveled with toddlers we packed the lightest, most dispensable buggy we could find. Lucky it was dispensable as we left it in a hire car, an airport and, I think, on a bus. We managed to retrieve or have it returned to us each time. We didn’t need it for all terrain so it was easy to buy an inexpensive version, but depending on your needs while traveling it can save you a lot of tears. It also bought us a few quiet moments in cafés while our oldest child slept and our youngest was happy to be out of the buggy and moving about.
Check out some great options for compact strollers here.
8. Scout your surroundings
Upon arrival check out parks and kid friendly restaurants, and see if you can plan a route which will cover your sight-seeing and places of fun, interest and food for them. If you need to be in the hotel for nap times, make sure it’s a nice one especially if going on a beach holiday with a baby. Also a room with a balcony will give you a chance to sit outside into the evening if your children go to bed early.
And, if you are traveling in the tropics: as much as a home stay without all the mod cons will seem much more authentic and often much cheaper – think about the kids and the heat. A place with a pool has always made for happy holidays with my toddlers. They get hot, tired and over sights quite quickly so relaxing beside the pool for an afternoon or even a day can be enough to refresh them and keep them moving.
All these suggestions are from mums who have traveled with little ones. They are just that, suggestions which may work well, or may not. Each child and family have different needs and work to different rhythms so what works for one family may not work for another. But sometimes a new tip is all you need for an even better experience.