Long-Haul Travel with Children

If you are considering your first big long-haul trip with your family – I hope this might help a little.

I know that the thought of travel with a young family can be daunting one, but it needn’t be. We travel with our 4 children a lot. I can honestly say that with a little careful planning, travelling with little ones can actually be so much fun. I am personally truly addicted to holidays and wouldn’t miss the opportunity for adventurous family time for all the tea in china!

So, does a long-haul flight and change in time-zones really have to equal hell-on-earth for the poor parents before, during, and after the trip? No, definitely not! (The in-flight experience with your little ones is unlikely to be, to be fair, the best spent hours of your life, but it needn’t be totally dreaded, or worse: avoided completely for such reasons)

With some carefully thought out plans and tricks, you can totally manage the whole travel experience and get through it in one piece, without losing your cool. I promise!

During the flight.

With babies

Personally, I have always found that flying with a baby is far easier than travelling a toddler. Generally speaking: a baby’s needs are still very simple. Apart from managing a little possible ear discomfort during take-off and landing, your routine with your baby can carry on in-flight just as it does in your lounge at home. Feeding your baby during take-off and landing will help with ear pressure too. And if your baby is still small enough to sleep in your arms and not yet crawling, then let me tell you: you’re laughing all the way to the beach! Sure, you may suffer a dead arm, and the fear that your baby may scream the whole way there may leave you feeling on edge throughout the journey, but the likelihood is that you will probably spend the flight walking around, rocking your baby whilst alternating between sleep and wake. Yes, this will be a little exhausting on you, but it needn’t be hell on earth or overly dreaded. Don’t worry and relax. It will be fine. And should your baby cry? well, I have always found that other passengers are usually very understanding of a sad baby and often look on with their sympathetic ‘can I help’ glances anyway … Don’t let other people worry you. You and your baby have just as much right to be on the flight as every other passenger – REMEMBER THAT!

With toddlers and children

Children: easy! With a huge array of in-flight technology available these days, you can keep your little people happy as pigs in mud with films and games. It’s going to be a walk in the park for you. With the exception of the occasional toilet trip to handle – You can afford to relax. You might even get some movie action in yourself. So sit back, pour a beer and read a nice book. Its holiday road for you! Woo hooo…

Baby feet on seat in the aircraft

Toddlers: travelling with a toddler can be a little trickier. But not impossible! Firstly, it goes without saying that packing carefully thought out in-flight activities and treats is an absolute must. Pack new items which your child hasn’t yet seen or played with – creating the Christmas morning effect with a whole host of new and exciting things. Spend the weeks leading up to your holiday curating a genius collection of goodies from random places. The £1 shop is a great place to start. And don’t reveal your special hoard either, keep em’ guessing and reward good behaviour with ‘something from the bag of goodness’ throughout the flight. Such items needn’t be expensive at all, but a little time spent with your thinking-cap on will ensure that your flight experience is a tranquil one.

Pack things that will really float your child’s boat. For example, my 3 year old son is crazy for colouring-in and play dough and can while away the hours with such activity. I would therefore buy/or home-make some new playdough, and buy a few new cheap colouring books and some fancy new pens/stationary whilst also ensuring that I remove those activities from his daily play at home during the few days leading up to the trip -Playdough withdrawal if you will … thus heightening his excitement once that seatbelt lights go out!

Pack yummy snacks – avoid overly sugary sweets though; 30,000ft is not the time to administer sugar highs and lows (Your fellow passengers with appreciate a no-Harribo rule too, no doubt!)

Maybe bake some healthy flapjack snacks or similar with your children before the trip – Just don’t let them sample even a crumb UNTIL THE FLIGHT. Build the anticipation with them. Make them excited and make them wait. Building up the suspense like this and involving them in the food preparations and packing will make them enjoy the flight all the more.

Always pack some Calpol sachets just in case. It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen an illness or cold present itself during the flight. I guess it’s all that recycled air.

I always like to pack carefully and considered, but do yourself a favour – Don’t pack too much. Travelling light is definitely the way to go with children. The less ‘paraphernalia’ in tow, the better. It’s not always easy with a family, but if you find yourself questioning ‘do I really need to take this?’ then the answer is probably no. step away from the item and leave it behind!

Jet lag and how to handle it when your children have it.

Obviously, time-zone changes will vary depending where you are going/have come from. But In my experience, Jet lag doesn’t present itself in quite the same way on the way out. Firstly, because it’s the first of the journeys taken and everyone is less fatigued, this combined with excitement of arriving somewhere new can totally override any exceptional tiredness pretty quickly in children.

It’s usually the journey home which can be a problem. Getting back into the swing of things after your holiday is the tricky part. But, it can be nipped in-the-bud quickly if you follow these simple steps …

Firstly, as hard as it is when you’ve first returned home – Do not sleep or allow your children to sleep during sunlight hours. No matter how much you all want to stay in bed, you really mustn’t. Giving-in to these desperate urges to nap will only prolong the sleep routine disarray. So throw open the curtains and embrace the daylight. I promise you – this is key to readjusting.

If you keep your children awake as much as possible during daylight hours, then obviously they are far less likely to wake during the night-time (So you have to be a little cruel to be kind here) It sounds like a very obvious point to make, but when everyone is so tired, yourself included – it’s so easy to ‘just let them stay asleep a little longer’.

Ensure that everybody eats well, at correct Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times. You might not feel hungry, but try to eat at those times anyway. This will get everyone’s metabolism running as usual again, which will in-turn help with sleep and wake patterns. No one wants to be Cooking dinner for a starving hungry family 4am!

Wake everybody up and lure them out of bed by 9am with a huge, energy rich breakfast – That will get everybody going nicely. Resist Lying in! (Oh, and put on a VERY large pot of coffee for you)

When you really can’t wake up, or feel like a pack of zombies – Get out into the fresh air. Exercise. Encourage your children to run around and play outside as much as possible, no matter what the weather.

Fresh air, daylight and great food eaten at the right times is the answer to Jetlag. I promise.

It might feel tricky at the time, but observing these simple steps as soon as you get home from the airport will have you all back on track in no time.