Call me crazy, but I love to travel with my young family. I want my boys to see as much of the world as they can. All my favourite memories are from our family holidays hence why I’m always looking for the next adventure.
When Cole, our 9-year-old, was younger we waited until he was nearly 3 before attempting a long-haul flight but this time around I’m much more relaxed and in the YOLO stage of life so I decided to start travelling long haul when Carter – now 23 months – was 10 months old.
With 3 long haul holidays under our belt in the last 11 months, each time we are a little more organised and arrive a little bit saner (well almost).
Here are our top 10 tips to travelling with a baby or toddler and arriving with your sanity intact:
1. Pre-book your seats as soon as possible.
Upon booking ask your travel agent how soon you can pre-select your seating. Never assume you’re going to be sat together, especially if your baby is under 2 years old. Airlines have no obligation to sit your partner next to you and the baby if you haven’t pre-booked your seat. Some airlines and travel agencies include seat selection for free, some have a small charge to do so. It really isn’t worth risking being sat on your own with your baby on your knee, whilst sitting next to a stranger.
Another consideration is your position on the plane. For me being closer to the front is easier, as it’s less waiting when you arrive and also means you have the advantage of being closer to the front of security and immigration queues. Some airports (including Cancun) have introduced an immigration line for families with children under 5, which was a godsend after a 9-hour flight. The only downside to being seated at the front of the plane? You’ll likely be close to a toilet, which means there can be a lot of traffic going past your seats with people going back and forth to the bathroom – which can get noisy at times. But on this one the pros may outweigh the cons, especially considering that will also make it easier in case of any spills, sickness or accidents, being able to whisk the little one straight into the bathroom, without having to get them down the aisle in a mess. Just remember, there will only be a limited number of front seats available, so pre-booking early on is really important here.
As well as pre-booking seats, it is also well worth purchasing an extra seat for your little ones. The costs can be off-putting, but when you look at the big picture, and consider how much sanity it may save you… suddenly £550 for an infant seat really doesn’t seem that bad. Our return trip from Cancun went a lot smoother with that extra space, freedom and movement, and it really was worth every penny.
Plan with precision.
This is something I’ve gotten better at over the years… if only I can master the skill of not overpacking! I think by the time my kids have flown the nest and I no longer have to pack spares of absolutely everything, plus snacks, and entertainment for every waking minute… I think packing will suddenly become a lot simpler! But that’s a long way off, so until then, thank goodness for excess baggage payments.
Planning is key when it comes to travelling with a toddler – starting with streamlining your travel bags. We always split them into functional bags: One bag for comforters and sleep essentials, one bag for snacks, and one bag for technology (i-pads, headphones etc). Splitting them means that in a meltdown moment we can locate something instantly and hopefully avoid a full-scale nuclear explosion. Being away from home, nothing is where it should be, and everything is unfamiliar territory. So, by keeping your bags organised and categorised you can at least keep some semblance of order and make it that much easier in a crisis!
Prioritising your bags will also make it easier on board to figure out what you need and when, and saves lots of trips up and down in the overhead storage throughout the flight. Because when they say “items may shift in the overhead compartments during flight” they don’t actually mean by mum and dad getting up 6,432 times to find something their little one just has to have.
My pro packing tip is to pre-order your nappies and formula (if needed) from Boots at the airport. Once you clear security, you can collect it straight away – saving time spent in the store – and the bonus is it isn’t weighed as part of your hand luggage.
If it can be lost, pack a spare. Pack extra comforters, because those things just walk away by themselves! We always pack an extra packet of Dummies and the extra Bunny that Carter loves was packed in one of the cases as a backup.
Let’s face it, travelling can be stressful for the best of us – the pressure of trying to remember everything, making a list (and checking it twice… is it too early for Christmas jokes?) of things you need to do before the big day, plus a couple of excited kids, more luggage than you can fit in your baggage allowance, and soon that to do list is as long as your arm, which is almost enough to put off even the most experienced of travellers forever!
This is going to be my most important piece of advice: You can pack all the fancy gadgets, and write yourself one million lists, but having the right attitude is going to shape everyone’s experience and make travelling a heck of a lot easier. You may not think it, but kids really feed off your energy, keeping calm and collected will set the tone for the trip.
Things may not go to plan, they rarely do, your flight might get delayed, you are likely to leave something at home, but it’s important to remember that more often than not, these things either won’t be needed or can be replaced once you arrive, and so the very best thing you can do is relax, and not let the little ones feed off of your stress! All that you need to have a wonderful holiday is your own little family and a new destination to explore. Everything else simply adds colour to the journey.
I used to worry about people sitting next to us on the plane, especially that unlucky person who was sat next to us in the row of 4! What we have learned over the years is that people are a lot more understanding and considerate than you may think. On our most recent trip, a lovely gentleman behind us offered to carry off a piece of our hand luggage as he could see our hands were full. On the return flight another couple offered to help us to our seat, and held Carter’s hand up the aisle. There really are lots of lovely, helpful people out there, so don’t be afraid to take them up on the offers of help. I know when we are older and start to travel on our own again (gosh that seems a long way off) I will be offering young families help, as I know how much of a difference it can make. Even if they say no, it never hurts to offer, and you may end up making someone’s journey so much easier.
Choose your luggage carefully.
Function over fashion all the way! Most often you’ll find that you’ll have a few large cases to transport as well as hand luggage, and a buggy too. It’s really important to plan ahead with your luggage, as crazy as it sounds. It will just help make your journey that much easier.
We now travel with Tripp 4 wheel (www.tripp.co.uk) These cases are well made, and look nice too, but they also glide so well in the airport and can be pushed with one hand. Which really is perfect, because if you’ve ever travelled with little ones, you know that you actually need about 7 hands, so this got me one hand closer to the goal!
Backpacks are also a great option for hand luggage as they free up your hands too. For the mamas out there, they are usually big enough to squeeze a normal sized handbag into too, meaning you can get two pieces of hand luggage for the price of one!
One complaint we’ve had in recent years is not having the little one’s buggy until you get to the luggage belts. This has caused many stressful hours waiting in Immigration and security lines with a tired and grouchy baby on our hips. Not the start you want to your holiday at all.
So, you can imagine our delight when we found that Mountain Buggy have designed a hand luggage case ‘Bagrider’. With the turn of a switch it transforms into a ride-on case for toddlers, and with a 5-point harness and padded seat, it was the best thing we have ever used in the airport. Our buggy was packed safely into the hold and Carter enjoyed cruising through the airport in style, leaving our hands and our hips infant-free. (Full blog to follow)
Plan activities for the flight.
I would say this is the most important part of your planning. Keeping the kids as busy as possible throughout the flight is key to a stress-free flight. I have compiled a list of our best tips for keeping the kids amused on board.
- Pre-load cartoons onto a tablet or I-pad. If you have a Netflix account you can download as many Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol episodes as your heart desires. Your little one can then watch the episodes without needing Wi-Fi. They also have a great selection of films on there for older children (and for adults who need entertaining during long flights too!)
- Buy child-friendly headphones. The headphones provided by airlines often aren’t a great fit for little ears. We usually take our own set for the kids to ensure they can hear the I-pad properly and are comfortable for the flight.
- Pack a variety of activities to keep switching up experiences – Netflix is great, but it will only keep them busy for so long! We decided to try out the Keep Em Quiet activity pack for the boys this time, and they were a lifesaver for keeping them engaged throughout the flight. They arrived in a great drawstring bag and they’re packed with activity and colouring books, stickers, jigsaws and little toys. As soon as Carter started to get frustrated we would pull out a new activity, which worked a treat! His favourite was the Thomas and Friends sticker scene!
- You can find Keep Em Quiet’s full range here: https://www.keepemquiet.com
- Invest in a few new toys that can be introduced throughout the flight. You could pop to your local pound shop and purchase a new toy for every hour of the flight, introducing each one every hour to keep things interesting. After hearing lots of amazing reviews, we purchased Bucky Bucky Toy from Amazon. It comes with lots of little buckle belts and zips to play with, and Carter loved how soft and cuddly it was too. He decided to sleep with Bucky the whole trip (so sweet) https://www.buckletoy.com
Snacks, snacks and more snacks.
I think the title says it all, but snacks will be one of your biggest assets to ensuring the kids are happy and satisfied throughout the journey! Although there should be food available on most flights, either free or to buy, in most cases the food on offer is less than appealing to little ones (and let’s face it, us adults are often less than impressed!) So, a bag of goodies will go a long way to preventing any hangry toddler moments on the journey, and save you from feeling like you’re suddenly in a Snickers ad (you’re not you when you’re hungry!)
It’s also worth remembering that if your child is under two, then they won’t be entitled to the meal anyway, so get that bag stocked! Just remember not to stock it until after you’ve gone through security – unless you want all those lovely snacks to go straight in the bin!
Even if your child is entitled to a meal, most airlines don’t automatically order them a kid’s meal, so it’s important to arrange this before you go with your travel agent, or the airline itself
I always take a variety of snacks that I can unleash throughout the flights. My favourites are mini cheddars, crisps, raisins and of course a little bit of chocolate for those melt down moments.
Remember it’s not just the kids who need to stay fuelled throughout the flight – parents need to be in tip-top shape to tackle all the travelling fun that remains before the real holidaying begins. It’s important to drink lots of water and keep hydrated, your body will thank you for it once you’re off the plane!
Clothing Comfort Vs. Style.
We all want to look our best and feel good when we go on holiday, and we often feel the same when it comes to how the kids look. But it’s always wise to consider comfort over fashion, especially for a long-haul flight.
Planning my travel outfit is the only time of year I plan for myself before choosing clothes for the kids. If your little one is on your lap for the journey, what clothes will enable you to feel good as well as endure them stomping, sweating, and most likely smearing food on you? I usually opt for a maxi dress, nothing too fancy but it’s enough to make me feel good and loose enough to feel comfortable with the little one on my knee for a considerable time.
For the kids I usually opt for soft cotton slim fit joggers and a cute T-Shirt. They are soft and comfortable but not too hot, which is great when going to a completely different climate. For Carter I usually pack a change of clothes, which I change him into before we arrive.
To try and minimise meal time mess throughout the flight we love the Funky Giraffe bibs. They are made with 2 layers; one layer is a super soft brushed cotton and the other layer locks in any moisture which means nothing leaks through to the little one’s clothing. We also used the wipeable, long sleeved version at all meal times, we loved how it could be washed down afterwards. They are really practical and we love that they come in so many cool patterns. https://funkygiraffebibs.co.uk
Tire them out!
The airport can be a really exciting and stimulating place for little ones! It’s unfamiliar territory, and therefore is a playground just waiting to be discovered. Use this as an opportunity to tire them out ahead of the flight. Let them explore the airport by looking for airplanes taking off and landing, look for little soft play areas that will let them burn off some energy, and perhaps allow them to choose a new toy from duty-free to start off the adventure.
It’s important to remember that they will be confined to a seat for the next few hours, and possibly a lot longer, so allowing your little one to walk and run as much as possible will let them use up all that excess energy, and hopefully have them nap-ready by take-off!
Help your little one sleep like a baby.
Sleep, what’s that you say? Okay, so we might be ever so hopeful but the excitement of travel will eventually wear off, and along with an earlier rise, or change in sleep schedule you would hopefully see your little one nap at least once or more depending on the length of your flight.
Most long-haul flights are in the morning, so we always try and keep Carter awake until we get on the flight. We buy a little carton of milk from the shop before boarding and pour it into his favourite cup as we take off.
One of the best things we have invested in for flying is the Jet Kids Bed Box. It comes in a cool ride-along case, which is super fun for the airport. You can also pack your little one’s favourite blanket and comforter inside. But the best part of this product, is that it rolls out to extend the seat and makes a little bed meaning your little one can have a proper rest. This was our second journey using the bed box and again it was a total lifesaver. Carter slept for 4 hours of the 9-hour flight, which meant hubby and I could indulge in a movie and relax. https://jet-kids.com
Taking comforters and a little blanket on the flight will make your little one feel at ease in a new environment, by bringing a piece of the familiar to this strange new world they’re seeing.
Above all else enjoy this experience from start to finish. Your holiday starts when you enter that airport. Soak up every bit of excitement and help your children to embrace the experience with you.
I recently read that we only have 18 summers with our children, and it really struck home how important it is to make the most of each and every trip we take. Sure, we may yearn for the days when they’re bigger and there’s less to pack, and they can do more for themselves while we’re away… but I don’t want to waste any of those summers yearning for the future. I just want to make living (and travelling) in the now as easy as I can.
Travelling opens up so many new experiences for your children, so make the most of every second, as life is way too short to regret not getting out there and really seeing the world.
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read over my Top 10 Travelling Tips, I really hope you find them useful.
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