Holiday season is in full swing and most of us, despite how wonderful SW19 is, will be looking forward to getting out of town to spend some quality time somewhere else!
Whether it’s a trip of a lifetime to a faraway land or simply a journey down the motorway to find a change of scenery, decamping for some downtime is valuable, if not vital, for keeping us sane in this hectic world we live in. You may be chasing sun, sea and sand or seeking thrills on a high-octane adventure. You may just hanker after a quiet spot to read a book. However, for those with kids – particularly of the baby, toddler, under-5 variety – the mere idea of transporting offspring from the safe-haven of home to the destination of dreams is so daunting, so potentially perilous that they would rather stick to a staycation in their garden.
Your kids screaming on a flight; your baby not sleeping; annoying fellow passengers; your little one refusing to eat for a long period of time. These are just a few worries that panic parents. But it need not be that way! Even if you’ve had a scarring experience of travelling with small people (I know, bad things do happen #ExplodingNappies) don’t let that put you off – you just need t0 think outside the box and create a mindset that cannot be crushed.
I certainly don’t have a magic wand to turn monsters into angels but with very basic tactics, techniques and tricks my wife and I have managed a fair few long-haul and several 3-4-hour flights with a baby and toddler in tow, without too many hitches. Of course there have been bursts of crying, serious nappy-change situations and moments of despair at not understanding why clumsy air stewards insist on ramming their trolley into a sleeping baby’s foot. But in general (touching all the wood) I think we have found a formula that works. That is, we get from home to holiday with everyone in a pretty happy mood, most of the time.
Here’s some quick tips for flying with babies and toddlers:
1. Have a Methodically Packed Change Bag
Whatever you call the thing (changing bag, nappy holder etc) this is your keystone. Get it right and you’ll solve many problems. Miss one item and you could be in trouble, at 10,000 feet. The bag needs to be easily carried with items easily accessible, so only pack essentials, but make sure you keep a few handy extras too. I’m talking more nappies than you think, a few packs of wet wipes (or your equivalent cloths), rash cream, medicine sachets and anything else you know you might need. Snacks, yoghurt pouches, fruit pouches and a vessel of water are excellent for calming your hero down or at least distracting them. Also pack numerous changes of clothes for your little people because, well, S?!t happens.
It’s also smart to pack a fresh set of clothes for yourself, the adult. My wife learnt that lesson when our 14-month-old vomited on the descent into Sydney – baby was fine and all cleaned up while Mummy was stuck stinking of sick, fresh for the Passport Control queue. Being super-slick with your bag of essentials will reduce the time it takes to placate a sad baby.
2. Have New Toys And Books To Reveal On The Flight
The element of surprise is amazing for gaining the interest of our protagonists. Nothing elaborate and certainly not something with sounds or flashing lights, but an item that excites your child and is easy to pack. We found the Buckle Toy available on Amazon to be a revelation for our 20-month-old, which in turn meant her older sister was occupied by it. By all means pack old trusty books and toys but they may not hold the attention for long stints. I would advise against toys with lots of bits or pieces because you’ll spend the whole journey clambering to pick up items.
3. Learn to Ignore Impatient Fellow Passengers
Every single plane, train or bus will have a grown adult who is incapable of tolerating a noisy or unhappy child. The problem is theirs, not yours. Obviously you need to make every effort to keep your team as calm and quiet as possible and you will need to stop your people repeatedly kicking the chair in front. BUT, kids cry and like making impromptu loud sounds – that’s not your fault. Ignore any huffs and puffs, in the knowledge that every child in history has cried and been noisy at some point. In the unlikely scenario that the “grown up” engages with you to complain, make your apologies, explain that you’re doing your best (and that you’d wish it would stop too…) and beyond that… simply laugh and highlight that he/she was once a child and that their intolerance is unfortunate but also laughable.
Nobody wants their kid to be sad or loud in the confines of a flying vessel. If an adult can’t understand that then that is a matter for themselves. I appreciate that keeping calm and collected in this situation is easier said than done, but try to see the funny side of it – the “opposition” is a comedy character.
4. Try to Stick to Your Usual Timings
Whether you are a slave to militant sleep and feeding times or just have a vague idea of when you put your kid to bed, it’s well worth trying to stick to the routine, even if it’s inconvenient or seems counterintuitive. The youngsters are creatures of habit and if you can keep any changes to a minimum they will repay you by sleeping on the plane and adjusting very quickly to any time differences.
For example, if your flight is at 7am meaning a super early wake up for your child, keep them in pyjamas and go through the bedtime process again to get them back asleep (if possible) ahead of the flight. On a long haul flight, however insane it might look, go through whatever your bedtime rituals are at the times they would be expected to sleep.
5. Give Toddlers Ownership of the Journey – Make Everything Fun
Kids can smell fear. If you give off signals that the trip is not going to be enjoyable, then it certainly won’t be – the offspring will join in with the trepidation, sadness and anger. However, if you’ve got a toddler or older, giving them a bit of responsibility could buy you some respite. For example, putting them in charge of listening to the Flight Safety Brief and then looking after the Flight Safety Card “to make sure everyone is safe” is a winner (has been for me). Try asking your son/daughter if they can push the button to make the plane take off and land – the button also serves to release the arm rest… Also, if you are taking toys/games on board, try putting them in a small rucksack that your child can carry, making it their job at the airport and on the plane – this has now become non-negotiable on our trips, by which I mean I’m not allowed to carry toys, because “you can’t do it properly” – both kids are focussed on their jobs.
Ultimately, being carried onto a large flying vehicle that you can’t escape from for a long time is not something under-5s want to happen. They do not understand the concept of “it’s a means to an end” so it is our job to get them through it in as painless fashion as possible. If the kids are content then everyone, including the miserable fellow passenger, wins. Go into the transportation phase with a chilled out attitude, looking for humour at every opportunity. If you can crack the sleeping, eating and keeping clean you’re almost there. Then just bring in the fun. Easy!
Joe Clapson is the author of The Diary of daddyshortlegs: Experiences of a dad at home with his baby – available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.
Contributor: Joe Clapson | daddyshortlegs.co.uk