I’ve learnt a few things flying with small kiddos lately, and I know I’ll keep on learning as we continue to raise little jet setters who are happy flyers. We are by no means experts, but we’ve made enough mistakes and witnessed enough meltdowns and vomit explosions to know a thing or two about traveling with littlies. When I told my husband that I’d be writing a post on advice when flying with kids, his advice was…
1. Don’t do it!
2. Send them ahead and meet up at the destination
3. Send your wife and her sister to do at least one of the long trips alone so you don’t have to 😉
For those of you who don’t know Adrian, he’s the most devoted dad and this is all (mostly) said in jest, but it gets the point across… he’s not a fan of flying with small kids 🙂
Here are some of my takeaways from my limited experience in the skies with sweet littlies:
Prior to Flying:
1. Pre-book Parenting seats, Bassinet, Kids meals
This is huge! If you are booking your flight way in advance, remember to talk to your airline or agency about securing the parenting seats with extra leg room for your family. If your baby will still fit in the bassinet, book that seat! If you don’t have a seat with a bassinet pre-arranged, you will be holding your baby for a long time (trust me I’ve done that on two loooong flights, it’s not fun). I find my toddler doesn’t eat well on the airplane in general, except all the treats that we pack of course, but having a kids meal booked in advance makes a massive difference – they at least eat something. If you don’t book this, the flight attendants will be giving your kiddo an adult meal.
2. Get Organized!
Flying involves a lot of logistics. Besides the booking and planning of your actual vacation, be sure to plan what you are going to need to pack. I find the suitcase packing is super easy but the hand luggage part is a mission. Essentials for baby and toddler, activities, snacks, medicine… the list is long! I plan this well in advance, and then make sure I do a store trip with plenty of time to buy what I still need. I usually carry a back pack which is only dedicated to little Hudson (he was three months when we traveled recently), my husband carries a back pack for Summer (our preschooler), and we take a stroller and one small wheel bag for Adrian and my hand luggage and any spares for the kids (we take all the spares!). I’m busy compiling a hand luggage essentials for baby and toddler list, as it’s far too long and exhaustive to be included in this post. Feel free to contact me about that list and I’ll be sure to get it to you.
Make sure you also give some thought to what you would like to do with regards to travel items like strollers and car seats for the kids. For our last trip, we checked in Hudson’s car seat base, used his stroller and car seat connector in the airports and dropped it off at the airplane entrance, and we hired a car seat for Summer (pre-booked with our hired car booking). She is old enough to not need a stroller luckily.
3. Talk about the trip and What to expect
Flying is an absolute adventure for kids – let’s not let our stress and anxiety for how the flight will go with our kids get in the way of enjoying the journey and experiencing this with our children. What a luxury! We talk to Summer about what will happen on the airplane and tell her about the activities and surprises we have packed for her. We count down how many sleeps to go until we board the big airplane – she loves it. This is also super important for toddlers because they love being in control, so knowing a bit about the experience and preparing their minds for it goes a long way.
4. What is sleep anyways?
Get your head around the fact that you probably won’t sleep a wink for all the flights and transit or layover time. It’s just good to know this and mentally prepare and if you get even a few minutes of sleep that you weren’t expecting, it’s a big win!
At the Airport:
1. Arrive embarrassingly early
My husband will be so proud of me for including this point. I have learnt that when traveling with kids, and having three different passport types in our family of four, it always takes forever to even just check in for the flight. As a standard, we arrive at least three hours before our international flights and two hours before our domestic flights. That’s with the kids anyways. When I used to travel alone I’d cut it super fine just for fun, and for some reason I’ve been lucky enough to never miss a flight 😉
2. Use Airport lounges or Hotels
If you are able to, make use of airport lounges or hotels as much as possible, while in transit. Airport lounges have absolutely saved us on our trips. Having a washroom (bathroom) with a changing mat and showers/ baths, and food and drinks already prepared and included, has been incredible when traveling with littles. You get to regroup and prepare for what’s to come, without having to rush around finding snacks or facilities. Big win. We’ve broken one of our trips by staying in Paris for a night at a hotel, which was incredible for many reasons, but it was so great to be off the airplane for a while! We also had the luxury of checking into a hotel for the day in Frankfurt during another long haul trip – you underestimate the value of a simple shower or bath – it’s pure gold!
Okay, this is definitely something I have learnt to be more prepared for. Make sure you pack every single one of your liquid and cream bottles in the same Ziploc bag, instead of separate Ziploc bags throughout your hand luggage bag. So, for Summer we would take out one ziplock which includes the liquids and meds, and the same for Hudson and the parent hand luggage bags. We spent so long at security previously trying to take out separate bags – this tip was a game changer for us! You will need to take your baby out of your stroller at this point, so if you can try time naps for after this moment, that would be first prize (not always possible but a girl can dream right?!).
4. Use the help offered
We found all the airport and airplane staff really helpful because we were traveling with kids. Don’t be scared to ask for help with seating arrangements, meals, reaching for something if you have your hands full – they are there to help you so don’t stress alone!
On board the big Airplane:
1. It’s all about the Snacks, about the snacks
You cannot pack enough snacks. No seriously. For toddlers there is no such thing as too many snacks. We go big. We always have sensible snacks (bananas or other fruit, snack bars, cheese puffs or sausage rolls, little cocktail sausages, dried fruit, ‘healthy’ biscuits or crackers), and of course the treats. Pack whatever your little one enjoys for the flights – you may need it for bribery or just for fun. Flying is fun and also hard for little ones at times so we like to have smarties, Goldfish biscuits, Chips ahoy mini packets, suckers and any other goodies with us to make our little girl smile… and maybe avoid a tantrum or two.
2. Activities are a MUST
This is something I definitely go overboard with and never regret it. We pack so many activities for our toddler and she loves them – they are good for the flights and for the airport layovers too. Some ideas for toddlers/ preschoolers; stickers and sticker books, colouring books and markers, mini puzzles, simple card games, magic marker books, lucky packets, small toy cars. We also pack our iPad and download offline shows for her to watch like Peppa Peg, Paw Patrol, Dora the Explorer etc. She doesn’t enjoy the inflight entertainment as much just yet, so we come prepared with her favourites.
3. Stay hydrated
If your little is still drinking milk and is over two years old – most security checks will make you throw away any milk or water that you were bringing on board for over two year olds. No stress, just bring empty bottles and sippy cups (avoid epic airplane spills), and ask the air hostesses for some milk and water for your kiddo. There’s plenty to go around! Staying hydrated is crucial – dehydration can cause vomit explosions, head aches or just make your kiddo (and you) feel gross. The airlines provide so much fluid, make sure your kid is drinking every time you are as a rule. Make sure you pack all sorts of medication just in case – something for nausea and vomiting, and other tummy issues, pain and fever, etc.
Bring along their favourite blanket and teddy. Summer has a favourite teddy blanket and we got her a special monkey teddy which is also a travel pillow. If your kiddo uses a soother or pacifier and takes a bottle with milk or water, use these as much as needed to bring comfort to your little one (and hopefully peace for you).
5. Drink or suck when ascending and descending
In our most recent flight journey, Summer really struggled with ear pain. Hudson was totally fine as he was sucking away on his soother. Next time I’m going to be pedantic about Summer sucking on her water bottle as we ascend and descend. Spraying some saline drops before and during flights is also proven to help.
This is easy to get right on night time flights. Try make your kid wait until after their dinner to sleep. Have dinner, go to the bathroom, and read their favourite book and snuggle in. By the time the cabin lights are dimmed, your little one should be ready to calm down and get some shut eye (and if you’re lucky, maybe you will too). If at all possible, try to head to the bathroom about an hour before landing to change your children’s clothes (and diapers), brush teeth and wash faces. This helps so much if your flight was perhaps delayed and you need to rush to make the next flight. The airplane toilets are tiny, and so are the changing mats… I don’t have advice here. Well, just don’t drop the baby!
We’re here! Jet lagged?
We are beyond blessed that our kids don’t seem to suffer hugely with jet lag. I’ve heard it can be much worse than what we’ve experienced. When we landed in South Africa after our most recent trip, Summer only woke up between 3 – 4:30am SA time and battled to go back to sleep. Besides that, she settled back into her routine with her day nap after lunch and bedtime kind of fluctuated because hey we’re on holiday 🙂 She slept through as normal besides that first night. Hudson was a newborn and pretty much woke for feeds three times per night as normal anyways, so I didn’t notice a visible difference with him.
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Mandi I just love reading your adventures and such practical stuff for travelling families to know before hand. Pity I don’t get to see you guys while I am in SA, I travel out this evening. Lots of love 💕 xx
Thanks Aunty Sue, I enjoy writing and hopefully helping other parents who are traveling with kids too! 🙂
Enjoy the trip to SA! I’m sure your family there are so excited to spend time with you xxx