Over the last 6 years I have accumulated a number of tips for travelling with children. Some are from friends and family, and others from experience! I am fortunate enough that we get to travel fairly frequently. To visit family and friends in other states and also for holidays or work. A lot of the time I take the kids on my own and have accumulated a few hints and tips that have worked for us to help make it a smoother journey. I often share these with people when they’re travelling but thought it would be easier to have them all in one place. Plus there’ll be a few stories of things that have happened on our trips which might help you feel a bit better about travelling with your kids!
Number 1 – What to Pack in Your Carry-On Bags
Now that Squirt is old enough to help carry a backpack, I take two. Both fit under the seat in front of us so it’s easy to grab whatever we need whether the seatbelt sign is on or not.
In the carry-ons I usually pack:
- Clothes for the kids and nappies. I pack everything required for a full change in a snap-lock bag so it’s easy for me (or anyone else) to just grab out of the carry-on. In this bag I pack: a disposable change mat, wipes, 2 nappies (more go in the rest of the carry-on), a plastic bag for wet or soiled clothes and a full outfit change. I also usually have a backup outfit, something quick and easy like a jumpsuit in case they go through more clothes. Obviously it depends how long the flight is and what your child is like, but for an average 4 hour flight, I found 6 nappies and 2 changes of clothes sufficient. When your child is toilet training or newly toilet trained, it pays to take a couple of nappies along just in case. You never know how long you might get stuck with the seatbelt sign on and while I never advocate changing a nappy in your seat, if it’s the difference between an accident and quickly whipping a nappy on them, then I know which one I’m going to choose every time.
You can use snap lock bags for snacks, toys and anything else you want to keep together and easy to grab.
- Snacks and non spill water bottles – even if there is food provided on the flight, you can guarantee the kids will be hungry before the food arrives. The chewing can also help them equalise their ears for takeoff and landing. If your child is still breastfeeding or using bottles take your boobs or a bottle and whatever milk or formula they drink. The airline will not have enough milk to make up a bottle for you but they can provide hot water. Again – feeding during take off and landing I highly recommend.
- Medication – while we don’t need regular medication, I always travel with children’s nurofen and something for me,
Xanax, Valium,Panadol – just in case.
- Headphones for the kids – we bought them some cheap but colourful and comfy headsets and let them practice wearing them before the flight. Again this way you don’t have to wait for crew to deliver them or deal with complaints about headphones that don’t fit properly. I’m still waiting for my own decent set! Edit: I have since bought my own pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones and I LOVE them! (even if I did have to already replace the cord after the puppy munched on it!!).
- Alternative entertainment options – while the kids are now pretty happy to watch inflight entertainment for most of theflight (Moo will watch Peppa Pig on repeat for 5 hours!) I tend to take one or two other things to entertain them just in case. The
water paint books are good with an aqua brush like the ones available from Riot Art and Craft or you can buy some online here. You fill the handle with water and the kids squeeze out a little bit at a time or you can buy an all in one set like the Melissa and Doug ones. I took Uno once but that was a bit of a fail. So I now avoid anything with too many pieces.
- Chargers – for whatever electronics you have with you and an adaptor if you are travelling overseas. Lots of planes have USB ports now and airports have charging stations. Don’t assume that the plane you are on will have inflight entertainment. You may wish to check with the airline in advance or take a tablet or similar just in case. Keep in mind planes can be switched at the last minute so they may have planned to have you on one with entertainment systems but that could still change. You may also want to check if you need to download any apps to enable you to access inflight entertainment on your own devices.
- I always take an Intimo Long Styling Wrap. It a lightweight, jacket which can be converted a few different ways. It rolls up easily in my carry-on, is great to use as a blanket for the kids or a bonus top if it’s colder than expected.
- I also pack my jewellery and other small valuables in my handbag. This was a tip my mum drummed into me. It’s much more likely your suitcase will go missing than your hand luggage, so better safe than sorry.
- If your child has a favourite teddy, toy or comforter, don’t forget to pop that in too.
I have occasionally taken neck cushions but usually find they’re more of a pain than they are useful. For long haul flights they’re probably worth considering if your chosen airline doesn’t already provide pillows and blankets.
Number 2 – Spare Clothes For You!
I know I’ve mentioned packing spare clothes for the kids but you may want to consider packing some for you as well. On a trip we took a couple of years ago when Moo was still a baby, I had her asleep in the bassinet (we were lucky enough to get a bulkhead seat) and Squirt and I were eating our meals. I had a can of coke wedged beside me in my seat so he couldn’t knock it off the tray table.
Without warning he suddenly jumped out of his seat, scooted under the tray tables and announced “I’m going to the toilet”. I manoeuvred meal trays out of the way and stowed the tray table, stood up to put something out of the way and then sat back down to get out around the bassinet. I hadn’t factored in the can of coke falling into the seat which was leather and had a nice butt divot in it. I essentially sat in a swimming pool of coke. Eek!
I helped Squirt with his toilet needs then asked the crew for some wipes to clean up the seat and myself. With all the walking around cleaning Squirt, me, the seat etc. I realised that my pants were almost dry, but my undies were another story. I retreated to the bathroom and removed the offending wet undies and returned, commando, to my seat! Those pants have since become my flying uniform, if you will. They dry quickly and the pattern hides lots of offending spills and stains.
If you want to find out what happens if you decide to ignore this tip – have a read of what happened on the very next trip after I wrote this post!
Number 3 – Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help When You’re Travelling With Your Children
I read another post about travelling with kids which said – expect to do everything yourself. While that’s a good attitude to have, because people won’t always offer, it’s not always realistic (think, 2 sleeping children, 2 carry-ons and a handbag just as an example).
Some people will offer to help before anything is even going pear shaped. Remember what these people look like. Things might be all peachy right now, but you might need them later on. I have had wonderful people both on the plane and off help out with lots of things. You don’t have to do it alone and some people really want to help make things a little easier for you.
If no one has offered their services and you’re finding yourself needing a hand, look for someone who looks empathetic, a crew or staff member or anyone at all in a crisis! Sometimes people are reluctant to offer their assistance but will happily help out if asked. I have heard stories of people who have had a bad experience when offering. Please also remember even if you don’t need or want help, decline politely so you don’t spoil those kindly souls for the rest of us!
Number 4 – Delays Happen
As hubby always says “time to spare, travel by air”. Airlines hate being delayed and so do the crew. Trust me, they want to get home just as much as you do. Sometimes this is their second, third or even fourth trip for the day. They are not delaying the plane just to annoy you (as some people seem to think at times!) but things happen and it’s outside their control. They will be doing their very best to get you going ASAP but please be kind to them in the meantime. Yelling at them will not get you moving any quicker. If there really is something critical you need to let them know (e.g. you’re traveling to a funeral and time is tight) have a quiet word to them and you may find they can do something to make the wait more bearable or organise assistance on arrival to help you out.
If you are travelling for something super important, please allow as much of a time buffer as you can. Friends of mine once booked flights from Sydney to Perth to attend a family wedding. Their children were in the bridal party and they were due to arrive only 6 hours before the wedding which was to be held at a location an hour away from the airport. I recommended that they consider changing their flights as you just cannot afford to be late for something like that. They did, but at quite a cost, so factor that in when planning. Same with connecting flights – especially when you have children with you, don’t book the tightest possible connection time. Even if it might mean a longer wait at the airport, it’s worth it not to have to run through the airport juggling bags and kids. I guarantee you they will need to stop to go to the toilet, their legs will be tired or they will be so hungry they can’t possibly wait one minute longer for food.
Along the same lines, don’t pack the bare minimum of formula, medication, nappies etc. factor in extra supplies. That way if there is a delay, you have one less thing to worry about.
Number 5 – Food and Drinks
When in the air, I have found asking the crew if the children can have their meals first makes a huge difference. If you order a child meal, these are usually delivered early. If not, I usually ask the crew when they’re doing the first drink service so as not to disturb them when they’re trying to get ready for take off. Be super polite and just mention that you find it easier to juggle everything if the kids can have their meals before yours arrives if that’s at all possible please. It allows me to get them all sorted without my tray table in the way and means that once my meal arrives I usually get to eat it in peace.
I also have different rules in the plane than at home. Squirt always wants to eat his dessert first and Moo (for some bizarre reason) likes to eat the butter straight from the container. Gross, but I just go with the flow. If the kids have drinks other than their water bottle, I always ask the crew to pour them only about a quarter of a cup. I have lost count of how many drinks we have spilled on planes and this at least minimises the damage.
Same for my own drinks – I will usually try and secure the can or bottle in the seat pocket and only pour a couple of sips into the glass at a time. I still remember the flight where I had a small amount of white wine in my cup and ducked to the toilet with Moo. I returned to my seat and Squirt, I think he was about 4 at the time, said to me “Mummy, your water tastes funny”. Oops.
Number 6 – Crying (not you…the kids!)
This point may be a little controversial, but bear with me. It happens, kids cry and as any parent knows, sometimes, there’s not a whole heap you can do about it. There are a few different way you can handle it. My main recommendation – and it probably goes against your instincts – is to relax. Like I said, there’s not much you can do about it and if you’re getting stressed and agitated, your little one will pick up on that. Unless it’s some full blown screaming, you would be surprised how well the sound of the engines drowns out a crying child. Lots of people also wear noise cancelling headphones these days so you’re probably not upsetting as many people as you might feel you are. Obviously try food, drinks or other distraction techniques, but otherwise just calm and cuddle your little one as best you can.
The other reason kids tend to cry is because they need to sleep. I made the mistake of trying to jolly Squirt out of his crying on a 13 hour flight once. I spent hours playing with him in the galley, walking up and down, entertaining and distracting him, only to have him fall asleep about 3 hours out from landing. I have also sat in front of a child on a red eye who would be calm and then just as I nodded off to sleep, he would start crying and screaming again. When we finally landed, I chatted to him as he popped his head over the seat. “Don’t you like flying little man?” I asked. “It’s not that”, his mum said, “I just kept trying to get him to go to sleep and he wasn’t happy about it”.
I realise now that sometimes you just have to push through that initial crying stage so your child will sleep like…well…a baby. When mine were very little and did sleep, I liked to use a Bubba Moe sling to hold them safe and close to me, while still leaving my hands free to read/eat etc. Any sling that you can easily slip over bub to hold them in place without disturbing them should work. For transporting them through airports, I preferred the Hug-A-Bub. It kept them secure and again, my hands free to clear security, hand over boarding passes and whatever else was required. Keep in mind that security will often ask you to take bub out of the sling to clear screening so I learnt to take them out well before security saw me so I didn’t also have to remove the sling and then retie it while juggling bub at the screening point.
Number 7 – Be Mindful What You Teach Your Children When You’re Travelling
Do not teach your kids (or let anyone else show them) how the retractable handset or the crew call button works. One lovely crew member thought he was doing the right thing by showing Squirt these things a little while ago. I spent the rest of the flight trying to stop him from pulling the handset out as far as it could go and then snapping it back up. I have also spent every flight since then persuading him that the really important thing he absolutely needs to hit the crew call button for is not as urgent as he thinks it is. On a related note – learn how to cancel the crew call button. It varies from plane to plane.
We have also told Squirt that each seat has a camera so the Captain can check on his behaviour. Not sure if this accounts for the time a passenger found him in the galley attempting to call the cockpit on the crew handset (in my defence Moo was asleep on my lap and I thought he was going to the toilet!) but it can help to keep him in check at times.
Number 8 – Packing Your Checked Bags
If you are travelling with more than one suitcase, you may want to pack some of your clothes in each suitcase and same for the kids. I know those of you with OCD will be having trouble with this tip, but if one suitcase goes missing, this will ensure you have at least one outfit to get you through until the other suitcase turns up or you can buy more clothes. On that note, tag your suitcase with your name and contact details (concealed from plain sight) and maybe a big ribbon to make it obvious which case is yours. This can help prevent confusion at the luggage carousel. I have had a suitcase picked up by someone else when they thought it theirs, even though they weren’t identical. It took about 24 hours to get it back!
Number 9 – Help On Arrival
If you can arrange for someone to meet you at the gate or baggage carousel, it’s definitely beneficial to have an extra pair of eyes and hands when collecting your bags and juggling all your luggage, children and related kid paraphernalia.
Number 10 – Relax!
If you’ve planned ahead, then unexpected events should only be a minor blip on your radar and you should be well equipped to handle them. There’s often not a lot you can do about them anyway so try and go with the flow.
You being stressed only makes the whole trip more unpleasant, so breathe, relax and enjoy the journey!
If you found some good tips here and you have a friend who’s also travelling with children, please don’t forget to share this post with them.