When I was four years old, my parents took my brother and I to New Zealand. The things that I remember most from that trip were the c-c-c-coldness of the glaciers, the Māori Doll I carefully selected, and the mess I caused on the flight over.
I remember being so excited that my parents let me order some lemonade from the uber-glam air hostess, and then so appalled when the lemonade arrived with a dainty slice of lemon bobbing in it. To an over-tired and overly fussy little girl, that unwanted slice of lemon flipped me out. I violently swatted the entire drink off my tray-table in disgust – soaking my mum and everyone else within a two metre radius.
And recently, this over-tired and overly fussy grown woman retraced her steps on a similar family holiday across the ditch to New Zealand.
Besides crossing my fingers and hoping there’s no such thing as air-travel karma, I turned to some of my well-travelled friends (who regularly pack their offspring with them for globe-trotting escapades), and grilled them for tips, ideas and shortcuts to make it much, much easier to travel with kids.
Mercifully, their tips for drama-free travel with kids got me through the trip unscathed, unstressed, and undrenched.
23 tips for travelling with kids, in style.
Carry on without the carry on
1. “Pack a full change of clothes for every member of the family in case of on-flight messy disasters or if your luggage goes MIA when you arrive at your destination. And plastic bags to store soiled items in are a must.” Rachel, Gold Coast
2. If they’re old enough, get them bags they can carry themselves, and that they’ll love. If you’re not into licensed gear (hello Thomas the Tank Engine, it’ s not you, it’s me…) try something like these Frog Backpacks (pic below) I stumbled upon at David Jones. You can buy them online for $34.95, and there’s a bunch of other cute zoo animal backpacks to choose from if you don’t want your kids to worry that ‘it’s not easy being green’. Alternatively, get a plain, brightly coloured backpack and personalise it for your child with cute and colourful keyrings.
3. If your child is a teeny tiny baby, make sure your nappy bag is well equipped to withstand the tyranny of travel. Here’s 10 ways to know if your baby bag is awesome.
4. “Pack plenty of snacks, treats and little toys for the kids to keep them occupied.” Lee, Seattle
5. Airlines like Emirates have generous luggage allowances for trans-Tasman flights (30kgs!), which means you can pack all of the extra nappies, toys and entertainment you’ll need in your checked in bags without the worry of being labelled ‘oversized’.
Avoiding airport security
You don’t want to be that parent screaming out their kid’s name in a panic because you’ve lost them in the airport.
6. “A mini stroller for one bubba makes dealing with the older one easier. Having one contained means you can keep your eye on both when in big crowds.” Annie, Toronto
7. “I use a permanent marker and write my mobile number on my toddler’s arm in case he gets lost in the airport.” Annie, Toronto
8. It may seem daggy, but buy your brood brightly coloured matching items of clothing like a backpack, shoes, hats or tops. This way they’ll be easier to spot if they make a run for it.
Mile High Meals
9. “Usually I pack all food and snacks that we need (Vegemite sandwiches, cheese, yogurt, fruit, treats, etc) so it’s on hand when I need it. I freeze it so it lasts for the long haul (not the fruit obviously).” Cozza, Hong Kong
10. If the kids get hungry, don’t be afraid to ask the airline staff if they have something extra for the kids. The staff on our Emirates flight were more than happy to provide my son with a plate of sandwiches well before the rest of the food came out.
11. “Don’t be too concerned about the kids eating ‘healthily’ if your version of ‘healthy’ is not readily available. A few days eating different foods is not going to hurt them.” Lisa, Texas
12. Try to avoid giving them food that will get them over excited (see my example before about the Lemonade). Similarly, now is not the time to try to get them to eat their Brussel sprouts. Most airlines recognise this and tailor make kid-friendly meals.
Let me entertain you
13. “iPads are fantastic for children to keep them amused. Download a variety of interactive applications to keep them busy on the flight, and during stop overs.” Annie, Toronto
14. “If the flight staff don’t offer activity packs for the kids, ask. They usually have something.” Annica, Sydney. On our flight to New Zealand airline staff gave our children Magnetic Sketchers, activity books and coloured pencils that kept them engaged long after the flight had ended.
15. “If your kids have all-time favourite movies or tv programs, pack a portable DVD player so it’s ready to go at any time.” Lisa, Texas
16. Check out the in-flight entertainment options before you leave, to familiarise yourself with what your airline offers, and to gauge what extra entertainment you may need to pack. Emirates offered over 1,200 channels of entertainment including latest Hollywood releases, popular TV Shows, audio and over 40 games – much of this suitable for kids of different ages, so we didn’t have to dip into our activity bag at all.
17. “If you’ve got a long stop-over, ask at the information counter if there is a playground in the airport. Many of them offer these, and it’ll allow the kids to let off some steam.” Fiona, Hawaii
Something to cuddle
18. “Take their own pillow – it may sound strange but it’s a good familiar thing for them to have when they need to go to sleep.” Annisa, Sydney
19. Pack a favourite soft toy or blankie for comfort. Emirates actually supplies the little ones with their own ‘Blanket Buddies’, a pack which contains a brightly coloured blanket, and soft toy ‘monster’, and ‘Seat Belt Critters – little toys worn around a seatbelt to encourage safety. For my kids it was love at first sight.
20. Hopefully you’ll have something to cuddle also. Preferably someone tall, dark , and handsome. If not, pack a copy of 50 Shades of Grey to read about ‘grown-up cuddles’ instead.
A quick exit
21. “If you have little ones in nappies, change them prior to landing so when you arrive at your destination you can head straight for the baggage carousel.” Annie, Toronto
22. “Before you leave, work out where you plan to stay and visit, and check that they have lift access if you’re pushing a pram.” Annisa, Sydney
23. “If you are hiring a car, pre-book children’s seats, and have them installed before so there is no waiting around. Different countries have different rules about this, but it’s important that you are happy with the way your children will be secured in a vehicle.” Cathy, Melbourne
What tips can you share for travelling with kids? And do you have any disaster stories like mine?