Some helpful tips for travelling with kids
We’re just back from our annual catch-up with friends and family in Ireland that we’d been organising for months beforehand and – I can hardly believe I’m saying this – it was a breeze! Could it be we’ve got this travelling en-famille thing down at long last?
God knows we’ve had some hairy moments in the past: mass meltdowns at the boarding gate, a complete reshuffle of suitcase contents at the check-in desk and the like. At still only 5, 3 and 1 years old we’re hardly out of the woods yet with the kids… but we definitely seem to have moved up a notch on the cool, calm and collected-ometer.
So assuming you know all the basic travel advice like packing extra layers for the plane, first aid kits, stuff like that, here’s a few thoughts on what worked for us specifically on this trip.
1. Don’t fly with Ryanair
We usually do as it’s cheaper, but this time got a great deal on Aer Lingus and the difference was remarkable. Comfort levels soared and the expected, dreaded stress just never raised its sweaty head. There will have to be a very significant price difference next time for us to go back to Ryanair.
THE most important factor is having assigned seats. This cuts out all of the major headaches of flying with children: the queuing at the gate; jostling in the aisles trying to grab what you can as near to each other as possible; having to stare down the obviously peed-off couple who had thought they were going to be spreading out for the next 3 hours but instead have a mom, a baby and an excitable toddler squished between them and their view of the clouds.
Also there’s so much more leg room, an antiquated but way-better-than-nothing entertainment system, no constant advertising of electronic cigarettes and my personal bugbear, no migraine-inducing canary yellow seats. Although I did kind of miss the trumpets at the end…
2. Easy on the hand luggage
Even though our 3 and 5 year olds are allowed an item of hand luggage each – and it’s tempting to max out on this when you’re paying for extra check-in bags – it’s better to just let that go and keep the bags to a minimum. You’ll have enough on your hands just keeping track of your people never mind having to worry about your bags. We took on only what we needed for the plane trip itself.
3. Don’t queue
Even if we don’t have assigned seats we don’t bother queuing at the gate anymore. With 3 kids in tow it’s too much of a headache doing the slow shuffle for half an hour, just when you should be conserving your energy. Better to relax and wait til the last person has boarded and the staff are about to call your names out over the intercom, then calmly appear at the desk with all your boarding passes neatly tucked in to their passports. Once on board the stewardess will be keen to seat you as quickly as possible, so will lead you to whatever seats are free, and usually help pack your bags overhead. A no-brainer this one.
4. One last wee wee
This should really come under basic travel advice but it’s worth a mention here just to be sure.
5. Pack by event
Ok this will only work if you have clothes-specific stuff to do at your destination. We had a good few big dates in the diary requiring pressed shirts and polished shoes, so instead of packing our usual: Ivan’s bag, the baby’s bag, we did: the wedding bag, weekend in Clontarf bag etc. This meant at each stop we only had to haul one bag in from the car. It required a lot of organising beforehand but was definitely worth it.
6. Minimise the toys
Stuff to keep the kids entertained is essential but there’s no need to pack loads. I find books and action figures are the most played with in small spaces like this. Avoid any toy that makes noise or rolls.
Very young children especially just don’t get bored, there’s so much going on! My one year old busied herself with pulling up and down the tray table for the first half hour, tearing apart the inflight magazine for the second and then conked out.
Meanwhile J and R were mesmerized by the lovely flight attendant while she did her thing with the whistle and the life jacket. Inspired by her enthusiasm – or perhaps commencing their studies to one day themselves become flight attendants – they got stuck in to the safety manual and fell apart giggling at the illustrations of the man with no nose. They especially loved when he jumped on the blow up slide out of the plane door and begged us to ask the stewardess could they do this too.
7. Make sandwiches
It hurt getting up half an hour early, but it really was worth it to have something fresh and edible for everyone on the flight.
8. Smart napping
Try to keep your child’s normal napping time in mind when booking your flight. Ideally you don’t want to be boarding right after a nap when your child is bouncing with energy.
This is problematic for us as it’s an hour’s car journey to the airport and our gang generally pass out with the first vroom vroom of the engine. We came at the problem fighting this time though – got them up at the last minute, with just enough time for a quick breakfast, extra sugar on the corn flakes, then straight in the car and cranked up the volume on The Aristocats soundtrack (currently No. 1 in the kiddie charts) which kept them bopping in their seats all the way to the airport. The pay off – half way through the plane journey, 2 out of 3 were asleep.
9. Kids need to know the plan too
With all the planning that goes in to preparing for a holiday – booking flights and hotels, renting cars and baby gear, arranging stuff with friends and family, packing – it’s easy to forget to keep the children in the loop too but it’s really essential to take the time to map out for them what’s going to be happening for the next few weeks.
They need to know where they’ll be going, who they’ll be staying with, how long they’ll be staying there, who else lives there – basic details that you take for granted yourself.
This simple but vital piece of advice really sunk in for us at the end of our holidays last summer as we dragged our tired and emotional little ones through the airport begging to “just go home now”. As usual we had a list of friends and relatives we wanted to get round to see, so there was a lot of driving, single night stays and no stretches longer than 3 nights anywhere.
This was all well and good for the first week until one afternoon JJ met a cousin of the same age for the first time. It took them a good while to warm to each other, and just as they were starting to hit it off we had to leave. Poor JJ was gutted, he had thought we were staying the night, and it took him days to get over being pried away from his new buddy like that. This really brought it home for us how wide open the whole holiday experience is for children, with no familiar routines, people, food or places – everything is new for them. It’s fine when it’s fine but when it isn’t it can get upsetting and confusing very fast.
This was a big worry before this year’s trip as with weddings, birthday parties and what not, we would be moving even more than usual: 2 weeks, 7 stops, so moving every 2 days!
So we really put in a lot of time beforehand talking about where we were going, how we’d get there, who we’d meet etc. and it turned out all the forewarning really helped. In fact the regular packing up and moving every 2 days gave them a rhythm they quickly got used to. Kids can be so adaptable!