We’ve been lucky enough to take the kids on a number of holidays – in fact they’ve been to more places in their combined five years of life than I ever did (‘youth of today, they don’t know how lucky they are’) and we absolutely love being away. When we arrive. It’s just the dreaded getting there bit that often fills me with the sweaty dread.
I’ve put together a few of my hints and tips for flying with babies to pre-schoolers.
Planning your flight
It’s so hard finding the balance between having a nicely tired out child who will sleep most of the flight away to an over tired, super grumpy restless child who isn’t happy to be asleep or awake. It’s definitely worth considering the time of your flight and the journey to the airport – what you don’t want to happen is that they use their valuable naptime up on the car journey to the airport.
If possible, and dependent on flight time, book a room at an airport hotel – we did this on our recent Cyprus holiday and it was heaven and completely zero stress. Definitely worth the extra money and it included car parking for the week too.
Splurge on seats
If you’re feeling fancy, it’s worth considering buying a seat for your under two year old (baby to two travel free, but they have to be strapped to you with a baby seatbelt); they won’t be allowed to sit in it while the seatbelt sign is on, unless you take your carseat or special approved harness, but you can use the space for the rest of the flight and not have to worry about that solo flyer tutting, ducking the flying baby fists or stealing the armrest.
If you do decide to book an extra seat, do check the seat configurations first; there’s no point booking an extra seat if there are four of you and they only do rows of 2 and 3 for example. Do also bear in mind that meals never seem to be provided for under two’s, even if you do book them a seat, so be prepared with the snacks!
Some airports have children’s play areas so it’s worth asking at the information desk to see if your airport has one. It’ll probably be simple but at least there might be some other children there to play with…and you might get time for a hot cup of coffee!
When Sofia and Arlo have been small enough, a baby carrier/sling has been a godsend – one less thing to carry/push! It makes it a lot easier to get around the airport and can come in handy on the plane for all of that aisle pacing! They fold up pretty small too and can roll up into a bag. I really rate this one
We’ve always taken a stroller with us, on our most recent holiday this summer we took two – one each, because no matter how independent your four year old may be at home, mix it with heat, lots of walking and late nights and they’ll be craving a comfy seat to fall asleep in. We’ve got this one and this one. They fold super small and are not overly expensive so we don’t mind too much if they get bashed about.
Most airlines will let you board first, but unless you have heaps of large hand luggage and are concerned about it fitting in the overhead lockers I’d wait until last. There is absolutely no need to extend the flight by 30 minutes or so unnecessarily.
If there are two of you, one adult could always board earlier to secure the luggage spot while the kids are having a last-minute run around letting off steam before they’re cooped up in the sky.
Ditch the trunky
When Sofia was old enough to be able to pull something along, what was the first thing we did when we knew we were going on holiday? Yep, we ran to go and buy a trunky, all excited at how cute she’d be pulling it along, riding on it and carrying it on her shoulder. Reality? The overflowing plastic case spent the whole time hitting against my bum, giving me shoulder burn and knocking into everyone within a 5m radius of me.
Trust me when I say, lugging heavy bags with small children in tow is no fun. I’ve learnt my lesson and I now take a rucksack instead. And yes, I double strap.
It sounds a bit silly, but if you’re children aren’t model children, it helps to dress them a little bit smarter. People can tolerate a cute looking kid kicking their chair a bit longer than a scruffy one in a stained tracksuit! Best to pack one or two spare sets of clothes in your carry on too, in case of disasters.
If you’re doing a night flight then I usually take them in a comfy sleepsuit and then pack a couple of spare clothes for when they wake up – remember, if you’re travelling somewhere hot then lightweight is the way forward. You might be leaving rainy old Blighty but you’re probably jetting to 25degrees plus, you’ll be sweaty in a hoody!
Pack a feast…and some wet wipes
Even if I’m just going out for the day, I’m always well equipped with snacks and goodies. Pick something that everyone in the family can eat and that will survive a long journey. We usually stop at Pret or Boots and grab a sandwich for us, because we know a grumpy hungry dad is just as much trouble as a grumpy hungry two year old, but for the kids we pack the picnic bag filled with their favourite treats.
Raisins, fruit yo-yo’s, dry cereal such as Cheerios in little tubs are firm favourites for us. It’s wise to take a cup/bottle with a lid to transfer the airplane drinks in to – noone wants to be drink holder or spend half their flight with the tray down.
Make sure you take a few more nappies than you think you could possibly need too, a full packet of wet wipes and plenty of nappy bags (these double up as bin bags/toy carrying bags/wet clothes) and I always take some Milton wipes just to give the armrest and trays a quick once over – noone wants to be picking up germs ahead of their week (or two) in the sun!
Don’t be shy about taking your child for walks around the plane. Everyone prefers a happy baby to a screaming baby, even if it means you’ve bumped past them a few times.
You may find that for the majority of the flight you’re pacing the aisles, loitering around the toilet area (sorry but while I’m on the subject, who designed the smallest toilets on the planet? I always think of those who must weight more than 12 stone and be taller than 5ft 3 trying to shimmy their way into those ridiculous doors) at the back/middle of the plane and getting those sympathetic looks and/or the same questions ‘Ah, how old are they?’, ‘First flight?’ – repeating the same answer to those questions is a lot easier than batting a childs arms and legs away from hitting out at the poor single rider who got put next to you in your seat row.
What toys should I take for my pre-walker?
You may strike it lucky and get away with a sleeping baby for the duration of the journey. We have definitely found the 0-6months stage a lot easier when travelling as they still (generally) love sleeping a lot and they can’t really move!
For any age group don’t take anything on the plane unless you are OK with losing it (or at least bits of it!), something is bound to roll under the seats, however hard you try to keep things together.
I wouldn’t bother with weighing down your bag with lots of big toys for this age group. They’ll probably be just as happy stacking up empty cups, hiding wrappers under things and playing peekaboo. Best thing to keep these guys happy is taking them on walks around the plane so they can see people’s faces….if you’re lucky you’ll find some bored people who’ll help with the entertainment too!
If you are looking to bring some toys along for the ride, these squeaky eggs and pop up people are amazing and are real firm favourites in our house – as well as on travels. We actually lost a couple of the eggs on one of our previous holidays but Sofia loved them so much we re-ordered!
What toys should I take for my 12-18 month old; ie – they’re moving around!
I found this the trickiest age with both of the kids; they’re too young to sit and concentrate on anything yet too old to keep still.
When doing my own ‘what should I take for my 12 month old on a flight’ research, I read about having a bag of little things wrapped up; it can be anything, little bits and bobs gathered from pound shops will work fine if they haven’t seen them before – and if you’re like mine, things that they haven’t played with in so long they think they’re new!
Good things to wrap are little characters which can form new items in a ‘make believe story’, with half the fun being the unwrapping – you could even throw in a few empty boxes Don’t forget to save some bits for the return journey!
What toys should I take for my 18 month-preschooler?
Just like the ‘easy’ baby stage, once your child is interested in a screen… things get much easier. Download plenty of new children’s games on a device that you can play together, along with plenty of episodes of their favourite TV shows – try to find some new episodes that they haven’t seen if possible.
Make sure you’ve got some children’s headphones, they’ll be useful when you’re away and need little ones to sit still in the last minutes of the restaurant. We have these ones but if you’re wanting wireless then these ones are also great.
Other things that we’ve found work well are a magazine, sticker activity book, a new book and plenty of fuss and attention from us!
What are your top travelling tips?
This post comes with a little help from a very, very old school friend who got in touch with me to see if I’d be interested in hearing her ‘must have travel tips with children’. A travelling with kids blog has been sat in my drafts for months just awaiting a bit more content so it was like fate that Sue got in touch to get my backside in to gear, add a bit and hit publish!