Travelling with kids ain’t glamorous. Someone always throws up on the departure lounge floor, or spills yoghurt all over your lap on the plane. And don’t get me started on the perils of packing with a toddler!
But given that we’ve ticked off more than 70 flights and visited some fifteen countries since our kids came along less than five years ago, it can’t be all that bad! In fact travelling with kids is a lot of fun. You just have to learn to travel differently. And of course you will make mistakes along the way….and there will be a few surprises coming your way too.
So after nearly five years of travelling with kids, here are ten of the most valuable lessons I have learned.
1. Airports make kids crazy
My mum and dad used to call it ‘airport fever’. You know that unseen impish spirit that possesses your children as soon as you step through the airport doors, and causes them to do snow angels on the departure lounge floor, then chase each other around shrieking at the tops of their voices?
I know that on arrival at the airport I have at least two “you won’t be coming on holiday with us if you don’t start behaving” threats in me. I have to say though, things have vastly improved since we introduced Trunki races down the corridors – it just means I’m exhausted by the time we get on the plane from pulling it!
2. Toddlers make terrible packers
The first time I tried packing with my small kids I naively thought we could turn it into a fun game. “See if you can go and find your toothbrush” etc. But no. As soon as you involve toddlers in the packing, you are setting yourself up for hours of frustration and run the risk of leaving all the important things behind.
Take it from me – small kids have a habit of removing all the essential items from your suitcase, and replacing them with small plastic toys and random kitchen utensils when you’re not looking. My advice? Pack when the kids aren’t around. Or lock the door.
3. People will make it very obvious you are not welcome
Anyone who has walked on to a plane for a long haul flight carrying a small baby will know that look. The one that says “You better not be sitting near me” and “You’d better keep that baby quiet”.
Our first long-haul flight with a baby was an overnight flight from Singapore to London, with our then 12-week old daughter. The man behind us muttered “for God’s sake” and immediately demanded to be moved to a seat where he ‘wouldn’t be disturbed by a screaming baby’. Charming. My daughter slept for nine hours and made hardly a peep, which is more than can be said for aforementioned man’s snoring…
I have since learned to mentally stick up my middle finger to these people and ignore the death stares. After all, you never have to see them again.
4. Air Pressure is not your friend
I’m not talking about babies screaming on take off and landing because they have sore ears – although any parent who has been in that situation will testify that it is stressful enough. I’m talking about water bottles spraying all over the plane cabin (you know those ones with the pop-up straws) and Ella’s Kitchen fruit pouches exploding all over your jeans.
I have learnt to unscrew water bottles at the lid before popping up the straw, and under no circumstances take an Ella’s Kitchen fruit pouch on a plane again.
5. Kids meals on planes suck
Who am I kidding – all airplane food sucks. But even when I remember to book a kids meal ahead of time, there is rarely anything on the plate that they will eat. Apart from the chocolate – because it’s always a good idea to give kids a chocolate when they’re stuck in a seat in a confined space for twelve hours, right?
The only solution is to feed the kids before you get on the plane (we often arrive at the airport super early nowadays to do this) and carry lots of snacks in your hand luggage.
6. Children spill things. And wet themselves. And throw up.
Yes, we’ve had all three things happen in the space of a three-hour flight from Phuket to Hong Kong. Oh wait, I missed the leaking nappy too. First my son’s nappy leaked, then he threw up all over me, then my daughter fell asleep on my husband’s lap, knocked his beer over and then wet herself (yes, all over his lap much to my amusement).
My son went through his change of clothes as well as his sister’s, and so was wearing flowery leggings. My daughter then didn’t have a change of clothes until we got to our suitcases, I had to do my best to wipe down my vomit-covered jumper with a wet wipe, and my husband had to walk through immigration with a large wet patch on his jeans, looking like he’d wet himself.
Oh the glamorous life of a travelling parent!
7. The iPad was sent from the Gods
No matter what your religious beliefs, you have to admit that someone up there was looking out for us travelling mums when they gave Steve Jobs the idea for the iPad. I salute my parents who travelled the world with three children in the days before the iPad (in the day before the individual seat-back screens even).
Say what you want about the evils of too much screen time for small children. On the plane, the iPad is a Godsend for everyone. End of story.
8. Jetlag with kids is a Killer
I have always suffered badly from jetlag. At least I thought I did, until I had kids. Then I realized jetlag on your own is childsplay compared to jetlag with kids. Here’s the scenario: you lie awake in bed willing yourself to go to sleep all night. You finally fall asleep at 3am, when – you guessed it – one of the kids decides it’s time to get up and play. You struggle through with them for the next two hours until they fall asleep again… and then the other kid decides to wake up.
That is jetlag with kids. It’s miserable. There’s no other word for it.
9. Compromise is King
When things don’t go to plan on holiday, it can be a nightmare. You look forward to your trip for so long, and then when it all goes wrong you feel like you are wasting precious holiday time being stressed and getting agitated. We soon learned when travelling with kids that you need to adjust your expectations, and learn to compromise.
The time my daughter screamed til she was sick all over the hotel curtains when we tried to leave her with a babysitter? We ordered room service, and the following evening arranged to all go out for dinner together to a child-friendly restaurant instead.
Adventure holidays may go out the window for a while, but it doesn’t have to be for long. My kids are only two and four, but we have taken them bamboo rafting in China, riding water buffalo in Vietnam and bathing elephants in Laos. As long as we combine some pool or beach time, or find a playground at some point during the day, we can usually keep everybody happy.
10. House Rules don’t apply on holiday
In the same way that it’s okay for mum to have a glass of wine at lunchtime every day on holiday (it is, right?), most of the kids’ rules go out the window when we’re travelling. They stay up way past their usual bedtime, it’s fine if they want to eat pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast every morning, and they can watch the iPad for an hour in the morning while I have a well deserved lie in.
Who cares? You’re on holiday! Relax!
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