This post is written specially for Qazaq House, a voluntary project to unite people from Kazakhstan in the UK, keep up to date with interesting events and British Kazakh cultural exchange.
Aeroports, aeroplanes, waiting times, checking in, security checks, passport control, finding the gates and so on. What do you think? I think stress. I usually like travelling, but even at the best of times it’s a bit overwhelming. Now add children, little children that can’t be “switched off” with gadgets? Did your cortisol level go up? Mine did. I have been in this situation many many times. Staying put isn’t an option for me because part of my family lives in Kazakhstan, and other part, that’s me, my husband, and two of my kids, as well as my parents in law in the UK. We also like going abroad just for holidays. Well you know families with children also like going on holidays, they don’t always just want to go see their relatives that they missed. Not that I need to justify it, but some people think that once you popped some children out your life is finished and the only reason for you to be on aeroplane is to go see your mum and dad in a different country. No, no and no. Anyway, in my humble opinion, I have learned a few things about traveling with young children, that I am going to share with you. Before I start listing some tips I just want to say that I personally found the easiest time to travel between birth and 3 months. If you can be bothered, of course, they just sleep and eat. Give them a breast or a bottle while taking off and landing, and use a sling. The hardest times to travel are between crawling stage and about 20 months old. They are constantly on the go, can’t sit down for long, can’t be reasoned with, still need milk and already need food, so you end up carrying pouches of food, snacks, milk if you’re bottle feeding, on top of nappies and change of clothes and toys, and their attention span is so short it’s a nightmare. But that’s just my experience, everyone is different and all. So here’s the list of some useful tips from me, please feel free to add your personal tips in the comments so everyone can benefit and travel better with children.
- Plan. Did you know that every mother does a third shift called “strategic planning and management”? This is why we are so mentally exhausted all the time. Well bad news you have to plan this too. On top of normal finding the best deal, shortest connection, how to get to the airport etc you have to plan your children’s day so they are in a reasonably good mood. I found that children who have been fed before boarding were in a better mood and were not screaming “food, food” when the air plane is taking off. I have also found that children who had their nap before arriving at the airport were in a better mood. Translate: feed your children so they are not hungry when you are boarding and taking off, give them a nap before you arrive at the airport, or obviously if it’s in the morning try to make sure they woke up not too early. Prepare for the idea of having a nap on an aeroplane. I started putting Askar to sleep in random places on my knees by gently rocking him from side to side a few weeks before our flight so he got used to falling asleep that way and wasn’t too hooked up on the idea of a cot or a bed. Also if they are little you can get them used to falling asleep in a sling and staying asleep in it. Obviously you might have to take them out of the sling for taking off/landing to strap them in, so practice at home: gently lower the straps of your sling/baby carrier, then lower the baby/child and take off the sling or just lower it and leave it dangling between your legs. That’s me! I’m the mum with a sling dangling between my legs! Say hello if you see me. Research a soft play area and children’s facilities at the airport. Most airports in the west have these. The ones in Kazakhstan? Unfortunately not. If you have a connection research what you can do while you’re waiting to occupy them. They might not like the idea of shopping in duty free.
- Sling/baby carrier/hipseat. Has it become clear you need a sling? Well please don’t take this advice lightly, it’s a very very useful advice. It’s so much easier to have your hands free at the airport while holding your child at the same time. Children get overwhelmed, they get frightened and stressed at the airports, they will hold on to you for dear life. I don’t blame them, you’re the only familiar thing, you’re their safety blanket. Yes, even big children can go in a sling. They come in baby/toddler/preschooler sizes. You can get a hipseat if you’re not feeling like spending 100 odd quid on a sling. Ask friends, perhaps you can borrow one for a holiday. If you’re in the UK lots of cities have sling libraries where you can borrow a sling for a small fee. Obviously remember to bring it back. Practice wearing your child in a sling, putting in on and taking it off. If they are tiny tiny they can just sleep there and not be aware of the surroundings. Alma slept most of the time in her sling when I took her and Askar to Astana by myself. They were 2.5 months and 2 years 8 months. Askar went on his first transcontinental flight in a sling at 4 months old.
- Food/snacks/milk/drink. I remember on a long flight to Astana I spend the last 40 minutes on the plane just giving Askar snacks one by one while he was watching a film on a tablet. Don’t underestimate the amount of food that your kids might need while being trapped on an aeroplane. Take their favourite snacks and drinks, even if they eat biscuits for the duration of the entire journey it’s better than screaming. Don’t worry about being judged, they will judge you even more if your child makes a noise.
- Tablet with favourite films, cartoons, colouring games. It’s not an ordered list of things. Just a list of tips, so don’t get the tablet out first thing because then they won’t be interested in new toys, or exploring or even snacking. I usually hide the tablet so they don’t know it’s there, and only get it out as a last type of entertainment/keeping them quiet device. Everything else gets tired and used first.
- New toys. I don’t mean big expensive toys, I mean lots of little cheap things that they haven’t seen before. I usually get them from a charity shop and make sure they don’t see them before the journey. Then I wrap every little toy individually and get one thing at a time when they get bored with a previous one. Unwrapping takes time, makes it exciting and keeps their interest fractionally longer. Every 5 minutes of piece on an aeroplane is precious.
- Little books/magazine/activity pack. I invest in Cbeebies magazine, if you live in the UK you will know what I’m talking about. If not it’s a magazine with most popular kids cartoons characters with a story to read, colouring pages, stickers, little pop out things and lots more.
- Let them play and explore. That’s mainly relevant to airports, don’t make them sit down at the airport, remember, all the sitting is happening on the aeroplane; and even on the air plane you can let them walk up and down the aisle for a bit. It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect children to sit down for hours at a time. You might get odd looks when your kid walks around, but you will get even more if they are freaking out and crying, or bashing someone else’s seat because they want to move about.
- Ask for help. Don’t be shy, heroic or stuck up. I used to be heroic: “Look, I can do this! I am amazing. I don’t need help”. Well that’s pride and as we know pride is a sin. Not that I’m religious at all, but pride doesn’t do any good in this situation. People are reasonably happy to help out. Say something along the lines “poor tired child who will scream the place down and give you a headache” or “might be a good idea for you to move because he’s such a lovely active child he won’t give you a minute of piece, I just don’t want him to disturb your nice journey”. I know it sounds like a manipulation but people don’t want to be dealing with children and you need help or space, or to jump the queue, so phrase it so it’s in person’s best interest to help you out. Also ask the officials for help, last time I went straight to the passport control officer in Astana and asked to let me jump the queue because “kids are tired, I’m by myself and this one needs a breastfeed”. Alma started crying quite appropriately and the word “breastfeed” worked the magic. I’m all for promoting breastfeeding in public places but lots of men don’t want to see it so use it to your advantage. Ask fellow travellers and stewards to lift your bags, help with jackets, slings, hold the baby while you nip to the toilet, show older kids how things work etc. Obviously everyone likes feeling like a hero and everyone likes cute children.
- Get your partner or family member to travel with you. Obviously this is the best travel hack going.
- Buy jump the queue passes or VIP lounge passes. I don’t need to explain this one, do I?
- Buy extra leg room spaces and book a bassinet if you can and your baby is small enough. Even if they don’t sleep in a bassinet they can stay there for a bit to give you a chance to eat, or go to toilet or to attend to another child if you travelling with more than one, or just because you don’t want to hold your baby 24/7.
- Get a little empty bag in your hand luggage to put the most needed things in once you have boarded, for example, wet wipes, some toys, dummies, and put it under the seat in front. Put the rest of your hand luggage away in the upper compartment so you have some space for your legs and your child’s legs. This way you won’t need to get up every five minutes to get things out of the bag at the top and will have the most necessary things within an easy reach.
- Take a travel potty if your kids are small. There are queues in toilets sometimes and if children are small they usually say they need a wee 1 minute before it’s about to come out. You might not have the time to wait in the queue. Obviously you can ask people to let the child go first. But have one just in case.
- Take some calming down pills. I’m only joking.
- Have all of your paperwork available in your hand luggage and have a pen. You don’t want to be looking round for a pen after a tiring flight with children in a tow. There is usually some kind of immigration card to fill out most countries that you go to.
These are the tips that I found very useful when travelling with my little people. If you have any other tips please feel free to comment and make traveling better for everyone.