01 September 2011

10 Tips for Surviving Travel with Kids

One of the benefits of being married to a foreigner is that Travel comes with the deal - and I love to Travel.
Of course, traveling with kids is very different to traveling without them.

Firstly, there's not a chance in Hades you'll ever get upgraded to Business Class no matter how nattily you dress.
Secondly, there's the prospect of enduring hours and hours trapped in a flying metal tube with screaming kids, while the rest of the Cattle Class population glares, mutters and comments on your poor parenting skills.

But there are ways to endure.
Ways to survive travelling with kids, long haul, even.
Ways to ensure you receive compliments from your fellow passengers as you disembark. People who cringed when they saw you arrive with kids in tow; people who were wishing they'd booked the earlier flight or the other seats are now are truly impressed by the behaviour and stamina of your travel-savvy offspring.

"Dearie, your children were wonderful! Really, they were no bother - no bother at all. Full credit to you, dear..."
Oh yes. Wouldn't that be nice??

In fact there are some things you can do that might actually allow you to enjoy the journey.

Here are my Top Ten Tips on...

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Every time I travel, whether long or short-haul, I prepare a carry-on bag for each of my children.
I make a mental list of all the things that could go wrong on the flight - drinks spilled, vomit, boredom, sore ears, "accidents"... and I make sure that I cover all my bases. That child's carry-on bag is your survival kit.

Into each child's bag I put...
  • non-messy activities {new books, coloured pencils, notepads etc}
  • yummy snacks {for between meals, nothing worse than a hungry whiner}
  • an empty water bottle {fill it up after you get through security}
  • a change of clothes and underwear* {need I explain why}
  • favourite small toys {and maybe a new one}
  • Pyjamas {if traveling long haul}
  • Toothbrush
  • Mini tissues
  • Lollipops {for sucking during takeoff and landing}

Into my carry-on bag I put:
  • treats a.k.a. bribes {essential items for ensuring peace & cooperation}
  • wet wipes 
  • extra tissues
  • extra spare children's clothes* 
  • clean top for me*
  • a book {just in case I actually get some peace}
  • and all the other things you usually put in your travel bag {toothbrush, hand cream, breath mints - aerosols, liquids & gels in a clear zip-lock bag, no more than 100ml each of course!}
*If you're travelling with a baby or toddler, be assured that accidents with food, water, and all kinds of bodily fluids will happen and if you want to arrive at your destination not smelling of puke or worse - and with the kids looking nice for Grandma - then spare clothes are essential.

2. Realistic Expectations
Don't expect to eat your meals in peace. Expect to be juggling five meals on four trays. Expect spillages. Don't expect to watch a whole movie in peace. Don't expect to finish your book. Don't expect to read the paper as if you are young, free and single. Chances are you won't.
Don't expect to sleep.
And you might not want to indulge too freely on the complimentary alcohol - you'll need your wits about you.
Expect to spend the next 30 hours simply surviving - anything else is a bonus.

You never know - all your hard work preparing could pay off and you may be pleasantly surprised. But if not... at least you're prepared for the worst!

3. The Bag Itself
Choice of carry-on bags is very important and can make the difference between transit nightmares or dreams come true. We learnt this the hard way.
The last time we traveled long-haul with the kids {two years ago} I bought the older two new backpacks and filled them with everything I thought they might need. Dash was fine carrying his backpack. A strong independent traveler since babyhood, he was proud to do his bit. 

But Miss Fab got tired carrying hers. She offloaded her bag to poor daddy, who was also carrying Scrag, his own bag and ended up resembling a packhorse. But that's not the worst of it. We got onto the plane in Dubai, and began to stow the bags.
Miss Fab's hands were empty. 
"Where's your bag???" we demanded.
"Oh I got tired of carrying it and left it in the {departure} lounge..."

Luckily they hadn't closed the aircraft doors yet, Mr G was able to elicit the assistance of some helpful cabin crew who ran back and found Miss Fab's pink backpack right where she left it.
Luckily no-one saw the abandoned bag and called the Bomb Squad. Luckily.

So guess what? On the way home we bought a new bag for Miss Fab. A Trunki.
One you pull along, like a puppy on a lead, and if your legs get tired, you can sit on it and your daddy can pull you. Fab.

So this trip, we'll be taking Trunki. And Scrag has his special Toy Story bag on wheels that he can trundle along. And hopefully we will get through with no more Bag Drama.

{Note: Trunki meets all the in-flight luggage specs and has won lots of design awards}

4. Beware Tired Legs
Airports are often huge and we end up having to walk long distances between terminals, or to Gate Lounges. Also, there's the queuing. Check-in, Passport Control, Security, Boarding.

The smartest thing we ever did was get a MacPac baby carrier, when Dash was a baby and we first took him to the UK. We got one that had a built in stand and extra storage. He was up high riding on daddy's back, seeing the world; we could feed him sitting in it and when he was being carried, it left our hands free.

Best of all we could take it with us right onto the plane and stow it in the overhead lockers. If you take a stroller, they will take it off you at the door to the aircraft and stow it with the baggage. You won't get it back until Baggage Claim.
So go the backpack route, OK? Its worth the investment.

For the older kids seriously consider investing in a Trunki, or similar. They are sturdy, and can be sat on and ridden when legs get tired. Our kids take turns sitting on Trunki and pulling Trunki is a novelty.
Nothing worse than tired legs and moaning kids when your hands are full and you're running for the plane.
And if worst comes to worst... there's always the baggage trolleys...

5. Service With a Smile
Not all airlines are created equal when it comes to kids. We have travelled with a number of different airlines, long and short-haul, and here's our ranking...
1. Emirates
2. Thai
3. Air New Zealand
4. British Airways
What a difference when you travel with an airline where the cabin crew like kids. Where they don't act as if you are imposing when you ring for assistance. When the kids meals are fantastic.  When the movie selection and personal entertainment centres are awesome and engaging. When crew go the extra mile to help your kids have a great flight.
Like bringing them toys and kids packs before takeoff. Like coming around with a Polaroid camera to take photos of them for you to keep. That's why when we go long haul, we fly Emirates. They go the extra mile.

{**Singapore Airlines are meant to be very good too, but we have yet to fly with them} 

6. Use Bribery
Keep your supply of treats handy. Once the seat belt sign comes off, move your bag close to you for easy access. If the kids get twitchy or start bouncing on the seat and pulling faces at the passengers behind you, bribe them. If they start running up and down the aisles or singing at the top of their lungs, crying, whingeing, wrestling, fighting... bribery will help.

"Sit down quietly for the next fifteen minutes and you can have a treat..."

{Beware too much sugar... you might want to get a few $2 shop toys to hide away and pull out when needed as well as some savory treats}

7. Sedate, Medicate, Celebrate
Seriously. When planning a long haul flight with kids it is worth visiting your doctor and asking for a prescription for something to help the kids sleep.
Phenergan is the most common one, but that particular medicine makes my kids hyper. You might just want to test it before the flight...?
{We found out the hard way, but thankfully it wasn't on a flight}

Vallergan is the one my Doc gave me last time.
I tested it on Scrag and within 40 minutes he was walking like a drunken sailor and then conked out and slept for 4 hours. Bingo!

I used the weight guide to figure out doses for the older two, and after our first 3-hour leg to Melbourne, I got them in their PJ's, and gave them their medicine before we got back on the plane for our 17-hour leg to Dubai. Yes. You heard me. A 17-hour leg.
After the meals had been around, the kids all fell asleep. And slept for 11 hours. Wahoo!!!
By that stage there was only  four hours left. Four hours playing video games and watching movies on demand. So do-able.
I got so many compliments getting off that plane at Dubai....

**Warning. Make sure the children take the medicine after food i.e. on a full stomach. Dash didn't eat his plane dinner and when he woke up after his 11-hour sleep, he vomited some strawberry milk all over the seat in front. Not really recommended, but at least he mostly missed the passenger.... So this time, we'll be making sure dash eats his tea before we give him the medicine!**

8. Time Zone Tricks
When I travel long haul with the kids, I leave my watch on New Zealand time. Why? Because then i know what time my kids body-clocks think it is. There's no point expecting them sleep when its lunch time in New Zealand.

But as our flight to England leaves Auckland at 5pm, I know that by the time we get to Melbourne Airport it will be 8pm NZ Time. Bedtime. Time to get PJs on and complete the bedtime routine. Time to give them medicine to help them sleep deeply.

When we arrive at the destination {thirty hours later} I change to local time. And then we stay awake until its bedtime at the new time. This really helps with reducing jet-lag. No sleeping before 6pm local time.

9. Seating Arrangements
How uncomfortable is it sleeping on a plane? Some people can't do it at all. I can but Mr G can't.
When you're travelling with kids you have an advantage of a little bit of extra elbow room if you are smart.
So how you configure your seats can really help with comfort... and reduce the annoyance factor of: "Muuuum, can you put this game on for meeee...??"
"Muuuuum, I can't get the movie to go...."

Sit adult-kid-adult-kid.
Extra room for you, extra help for them and their Entertainment console.
No fighting and shoving.
Yep, a winner all round.

Sometimes this doesn't work.
Like the last time we went to the UK, Scrag was under two, so traveled free, but didn't get his own seat.
He was too big for the bassinet and they go first-come, first-served, youngest babies first.
So we had five people (including wriggly toddler Scrag) on four seats. For 30 hours.
Oh yes. 
And we survived!
We finally figured out the best arrangement on the way back.
Adults on the ends, kids in the middle.
Three little bottoms fit very nicely into two seats if you put the arm rests up.
Oh yeah, that's the key to comfort: Arm rests up.

10. Move It
Kids find it hard to keep still for such a long time. They need to move.
So when you are in the transit lounges, let them move. Let them sprawl on the (grubby) floor (which is why you bring spare clothes); let them ride the escalators and elevators.
Wait until the last minute before you get on board. The plane's not going anywhere without you... let the kids run around while they can. They'll be in those seats for a long time - plus it'll save on all that queuing!

When you're on board, find other kids.
My kids made friends in flight. they did some seat swapping for a bit. Dash found a buddy and his sister visited Miss Fab. And Daddy took Scrag walking the aisles. Hero daddy.
They found another toddler. They played peekaboo.
There was plenty of visiting the bathroom and entertaining the people behind us with cheeky grins.
We were lucky. Apparently they found Scrag charming.

So. That's my list for surviving long haul travel with a bunch of wriggly kidlets.
I was pleasantly surprised at how the trip went last time we flew long haul. I was expecting thirty hours of living hell. But it was OK. The kids were great and completely surpassed our expectations - to the delight of our fellow passengers.
If we can do it with our crazy bunch, five of us crammed into four seats for thirty hours... you can too!

Some airports are more kid-friendly than others. Some ground staff will kindly usher you to the express queue or allow you to board first if they see you travelling with little ones. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 

For the Lucky Ones travelling Kid-Free...
If you are travelling without kids and see someone struggling with theirs...?
Please offer assistance. Take a bag. Carry a child. Smile and play peekaboo.
Your kindness will make all the difference to harried and stressed parents.
Because after all, you have the luxury of putting on your earphones and turning up the volume to drown out their crying... the exhausted parents are the ones who have to figure out how to calm their little ones down, when their ears hurt from cabin pressure, when they're overtired from lack of sleep or frustrated from having to sit still.
So dear childless travelers... go easy on those of travelling with little ones and don't judge us too harshly.

Travel with Kids: Its not easy... but it is do-able (and worth it).

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remaliah said...

Thanks for the tips Simoney!! We're travelling back from Auckland to Geneva, so your tips are a good reminder for me to make sure I've remembered the essentials :) We're also going Emirates! Hope you all have a wonderful time over in the UK with family...SOON!

remaliah said...

*I forgot to say...we're travelling back in 4 hours! So gotta go and get finished packing :)

Sophie said...

Great tips Simoney, do you mind if I repost it on Have Kids Will Travel?? BTW, some of those photos look really recent - Scragadoodle looks the same age as he is now, have you been recently?

Mika said...

These tips are fantastic and practical. You have covered everything! I flew to Akld from Wgtn, with 4 kids by myself. I didn't pack any extra clothes in my carry-on...thankfully, I didn't need it, but I see now, that I was lucky. I now have a comprehensive list to use when packing, so thanks!

(I loved flying Emirates too, not just because they had "real" silverware or the starry night sky in the cabin.)

By the way, do those trunkis qualify as carry on luggage in domestic and international flights?

jacksta said...

Lots of great tips...but now you have completely scared me, I may never travel with kids! I think I can wait until they have grown up and then go see the world!

EileenWithAnE said...

Fabulous! I'm going to have to refer to this when we go to visit my husband's family in South Africa!

Dominique Goh said...

We just came back from an overseas trip to HK..having a carry with all the kids tidbits and stuff is really essential to ensure a smooth flight.

Bits of Bee said...

Thanks for sharing your fantastic tips! I've been too nervous to travel with my little ones, but I think I should print out your list and store it somewhere safe for when I'm brave enough to try it!

Shelly said...

Awesome post! Just came back yesterday from the States and was thinking of doing a similar post. I can second just about everything you've said. I had the pleasure of flying solo with my 3 year old and 18 month old 'lap' child. 33 hours of traveling...on my own. Holy hell, was that a trip. Expect the worst, and hope for the best!

Alison said...

Simone, excellent tips, thank you. We only have one right now, and when he was 7 months, we made the trip to Auckland which took 11 hours (direct flight, straight through). It was NOT easy. He was too big for the bassinet, he was still breastfeeding, he did not enjoy being changed in and out of his pajamas, or his diaper, he cried and cried and cried as he was too tired but couldn't sleep. And when he did sleep for 4 hours straight, the cabin lights turned on for meal time & woke him!

The return flight was no better. He slept intermittently for up to an hour each time, and I entertained him for 9 hours straight.

We hope he'll be easier to travel with next year when he'll be 2 going on 3.

Angela said...

Those ride-on suitcases, AMAZING! Wishlisted!

Barbara said...

Such great tips! We've been flying with our son since he was four months old and some of these have worked like magic. I was even brave (stupid) enough to try and fly with a 12 month old overseas alone! Thank God for the kindness of strangers and cheerios!

mamamash said...

This needs to be printed into a pamphlet! I will now stop complaining about our 3-hour flight next month.

30 hours. WOW.

Tiffany said...

I hope other family travelers get a chance to read this, as a former Flight Attendant I can't tell you how many times I've seen new parents flail about when flying for the first time with their children.


Rebecca said...

Man you're awesome! How exciting, looking forward to reading about your travels!!

championm2000 said...

The travel gods must be smiling on me today because I saw your post amid the hub-bub of getting ready for our big vacation! Great tips!

I love the Trunki and hope we can find one in a local store since we don't have time to order online.


The South African Kiwis said...

LOVE this post! Love the Vallergan tip! Completely agree with the Emirates assessment!

Anonymous said...

I agree that preparing for anything that can happen is key to making sure you have a successful trip. One thing I recommend is bringing your iPad if you have one. The kids have so much to do on there and it keeps them busy for hours. I have the DISH Remote Access app through my provider/employer DISH Network, so I have access to all my subscription channels right from my iPad. I have the Sling Adapter hooked up to my receiver and the kids can watch all their favorite shows live from anywhere we are at, and DVR recordings on the road. Check out this promotion for the Sling Adapter http://bit.ly/kzrNRf. On top of being able to watch TV they can play games, and watch movies.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post!

The thought of travelling with our children makes me feel physically ill.

We did not try out the Phenergan before the flight and apparently also have children who get hyper on it. Next time I will ask for Vallergan!

We've had a few trips with our kids. The first we had a hyperactive toddler thanks to the Phenergan and I am impressed we all made it through alive! On the last we had a 4 year old who threw up from take-off to landing and a 1 year old who was very upset about having to sit on Mommy for hours.

One day I hope we can travel again!

Unknown said...

Hi Simone, I'm revisiting this post as we are making the trip from mel to Akl next week. Nothing like your trip, but very helpful hints when traveling with 3, 4 and under. Thanks!

CECILIA said...

Hi there, I was just wondering what dose of Vallergan you give to your youngest? We have the prescription but I'm still confused as to how much to give as I want it to calm her down but not completely knock her out...

M said...

Thanks for this we have 6 sleeps before our departure we are flying with a 22 month old on emirates and I was starting to get nervous. Saw the doctor this week and have been prescribed vallergan as the phenergan wasn't working for our little one. Your post has put my mind at ease about using the medication to get us through the 16 hour flight!

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