Ask around and you’ll hear from many who believe that travel and kids just don’t mix. All you have to do is ask parents how their last holiday was and out pour horror stories of endlessly crying babies, toddlers who refuse to sleep on that long haul flight to Europe, and sick, jetlagged parents who vow never again to fly with their kids.
For travel enthusiasts such as my husband and myself; having children did not mean we stopped traveling. In fact with grandparents to visit in both Asia and Europe, our travel only increased with the arrival of our little ones. And so it was no surprise that by the time our son was 18 months old, he had flown on 25 international flights while our 4 year old daughter has more stamps on her passport than I sure did at her age!
Amongst the many flights, some were a breeze, some were awful, and some were so memorable that we are still talking about them (maybe so are the other passengers!).
I wish I could say that after all those flights, I have a magic formula to share but the truth is when travelling with little ones, there is no one-strategy-fits-all-ages and it’s best to be prepared for any and every eventuality. There are some useful tips though that I’ve learned along the way that I’d like to share, which could help make your next flight a little easier – whether you’re dealing with a crawling baby or a demanding toddler!
0-6 months: Do a Short Trip before attempting a Long Trip!
For our first flight with our 5 month old baby, we decided to do a “test run”; a short trip before taking her on a long haul trip. The hour and a half flight from Singapore to Langkawi in Malaysia meant we could get a quick handle on the travel basics with a baby: which baby items were on the essential packing list? Which were the best seats to breastfeed in? Should you take the car seat and the stroller or just the stroller and a baby carrier, and will she sleep during a day time flight? Perhaps it was beginners luck, but our first flight with baby was a resounding success and the friendly flight crew were only too happy to make funny faces much to the little ones amusement.
Top Travel Tips:
- Choose a window seat and take a swaddle cloth along for easy privacy for nursing
- Pack an extra outfit for not just the baby but yourself too! And don’t wear white.
- When doing a short trip, choose a flight time which corresponds with nap time.
- Be ready to breastfeed or bottle-feed during both take-off and landing.
- Take the baby carrier with you, in case a squirmy baby would prefer a walk or two down the aisle.
- Keep familiar toys such as that favorite teddy within reach.
- Take the car seat and stroller for ease of comfort and familiarity while traveling.
6-12 months: Doesn’t matter where baby sleeps, as long as everyone sleeps!
We were dreading our long haul flight with the little one, who had just started walking at 12 months, meaning it was all he wanted to do. After a few instances of where he walked up to peoples seats and cheekily stole some grapes from their trays, he finally settled in for the night and slept, only however to keep waking up periodically. Each time he re-settled and we tried to put him back in the bassinet, he would wake up again. We gave up eventually and took turns letting little one sleep on us; our arms were sore towards the end but at least we all got a good 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep!
Top Travel Tips:
- When flying long haul, choose a night flight that corresponds with bedtime
- Dress baby in his/her night suit and pyjamas and replicate bedtime routine as much as possible
- Choose a window, bulk head seat which provides ample space to crawl and privacy to breastfeed.
- Bring your own baby food. Most airplanes serve baby food but chances are your little one will prefer something familiar. Ella Pouches are especially great for traveling!
- Ask for the baby bassinet after take-off but exercise judgement as to where baby will sleep best and longest; in the bassinet or in your arms!
Traveling Alone with Baby?
Don’t be afraid to ask for extra assistance. Most airline crews will be happy to help you stow your luggage, provide baby snacks and also look after your little one while you take a bathroom break!
12-18 months: Walking, running and playing at the airport = sleeping on the plane!
When our daughter was 15 months old, we flew from Singapore to New Zealand for a holiday. We choose a night time flight and then kept little one up all through security, immigration and in the waiting lounge before boarding. As a result by the time we boarded, she settled in with her milk and fell asleep during take-off and slept 8 out of the 10 hour flight to Auckland in her bassinet and my husband and I could actually watch a movie and enjoy our dinner.
Top Travel Tips:
- If you’re flying long haul, choose a direct flight. If you need to have a stopover, it helps if you keep your toddler up during the stopover and let them run around, before re-settling them on the connecting flight.
- Gift wrap a new toy or two which will help keep your little one occupied. Opening gifts is always fun and usually the paper provides enough entertainment!
- Pack fun snacks such as raisins in the box or a big bun which takes time to eat, preferably earning you some quiet time of 15-20 minutes!
- Be prepared to give up your seat for a while as the little one will be rather eager to sit like the grown-ups.
- Choose an aisle seat at this stage – it provides easier access to the nappy bag and you can go for walks without disturbing the person sitting next to you.
- When all else fails, keep little one busy, using the in-flight entertainment, menu card, headphones, safety brochures, duty free catalogues and pillows and blankets.
When flying with kids, choose an airline that a) has a generous baggage allowance allowing you extra space and b) has bassinets to accommodate babies weighing up to 11 or 12 Kg. Some of my favorite kid-friendly airlines include: Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airlines and Lufthansa.
18 – 24 months: Don’t be afraid to bend your strict rules regarding watching TV!
While you may not allow your toddler unlimited or any access to watching TV, special circumstances require exceptions. Watching TV and playing games on the iPad were the only things that allowed us to keep our sanity when we flew with our demanding 20 month old. In this day and age, the in-flight entertainment offers a wide variety of cartoons and they are meant to be used! It’s true that TV turns active, curious toddlers into passive creatures, but what part of this would you not appreciate on a 7 hour flight?
Top Travel Tips:
- Download favorite cartoons and movies on the iPad
- In case creative urges cannot be suppressed, have drawing material, stickers and colouring supplies on hand.
- Pack simple toys like glow in the dark sticks and doodle pads to give to toddler when he/she starts fussing.
- Most airlines allow families traveling with children to board first. While this may have been helpful when travelling with a newborn or a young baby in allowing you more time to settle, when it comes to flying with an active toddler, you really don’t want to unnecessarily increase the time spent on board. So rest assured that it’s okay if you do not avail the early boarding!
- Depending on how big your toddler is, you might want to consider getting their own seat already.
Popular Shows to Download:
Episodes of Peppa Pig, Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer.
Popular iPad Apps to Download:
Nighty Night, SoundTouch, Knock Knock Family
In the end I’ve realized of course that when it comes to traveling with your kids, planning and organization is key. But nonetheless, most important is your attitude: don’t stress and go with the flow.
How to Help Your Child Deal with Jetlag:
Try to fall into your normal routine as soon as possible, even it involves waking up the little one to manage naps and bedtime.
For a less drastic approach, try to ease your little one into the new time zone, by waking them progressively closer to their usual wake up time, one day at a time.
I found once I let go of my expectations of how the flight should be, I was able to relax and so were my children. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and happy traveling!