Travelling on the whole is hectic and can even be uncomfortable for adults. Travelling with children however, can bring about and additional level of stress that only one who lives it would know it. Navigating through security with little ones while trying to be brisk given that there hundreds of people following behind you waiting to be screened and you have more than the average to be checked (stroller, baby, baby bag, any milk or milk powders plus all of your other stuff) can leave you feeling slightly frazzled. Then we get on the plane and sit in a small seat. And let’s not fool ourselves, any seat assigned has its own complications.
That coveted window sit can become a nightmare if you have to repeatedly ask the two strangers next to you to go for a diaper change, or a bathroom break for yourself, or to give your little one a walk up and down the aisle when they become restless. If you’re sitting in an aisle seat (which is probably best), you’ll have to watch out for crew and fellow passengers walking by so you’ll have to work a little bit to keep those arms, legs and head from “sticking” out into the aisle to prevent injury. If you’re in that middle seat with a lap baby/child and strangers on each side, then you’ve got double the challenge of keeping everything nice. The person next to you on either side may have just wanted a nice quiet trip or planned to sleep but now they are next to a crying fussy baby and the mom wants to move often so they may be annoyed at the situation.
Yes, hardly anyone thinks about it from the perspective of the mom. These days it seems like folks have forgotten that they themselves were babies or that their moms would probably have endured the same thing. Even though people have grown and changed over time, there is still seemingly a lack an empathy that should result from knowing or understanding. Maybe they themselves had travelled with five children under the age of five and they did it all on their own so therefore have no mercy for you who is travelling alone with only one child or two. Regardless of what has been done before and by whom, your experience is your experience and should not be trivialized and diminished by anyone. How we cope can make a difference and improve the quality of our experience.
Before airlines charged for every single thing, one could have reasonably assured that the journey would have been palatable as families were usually placed together. Now that fees have been introduced for choosing a specific seat, you could be gambling away the help of your friends and family if you don’t pay to be seated together. Children, especially small children usually don’t like confined spots and certainly not for a long time. Here are some tips for travelling with small children to help you in your travels in the plane and beyond:
- Pack Lightly/Comfortably – Whether you have the ‘help’ of family or not, pack no more than you can comfortably carry if you were alone with your baby/children. It is often necessary to pack everything that you need for you and your baby/children in your carryon on in the event that the airline misplaces your luggage. However, children can sometimes run off and you may have to run behind them; you may have to bend down and tie shoelaces; you may have to stop and do diaper changes or wipe hands all while there are many strangers walking all around you. You wouldn’t want to be overburdened and become over exhausted if you don’t have to.
- Plan Breaks – Pampers need changing; children need to eat and use the restroom and so do you. These things take time and energy. Factor in time for all of these things including “rest” or moving at a slower pace in your travels. If you have to catch a connecting flight, you may be tempted to get a particular flight to get there soonest but you should maybe take a later flight so that you will have enough time to sit and eat without rushing (a short rest) before going again. This may only be practical on short popular routes which may have a flight every 1-2 hours. If that’s not possible, then book your air-ticket in person at a travel agency so that your luggage can be checked all the way to your next flight, and you wouldn’t have to go to baggage claim and check in again. The luggage should go directly to your connecting flight which should save some time and energy. If your connecting flight is with another airline, then be sure to ask your agent if this would still be possible. The last thing you would want is to arrive at your destination and realize that your luggage did not arrive with you. If you have to change airports, then prepare mentally as best you can and be sure all parties eat well (limit snacks) and keep hydrated in order to keep the pace and not become overly exhausted. If it’s available to you, you can also pre-book a taxi so that you are guaranteed transport on arrival which may save you some time. Don’t forget to factor in rest-time and slower movement when out and about shopping and sightseeing also!
- Don’t Be Too Cheap – Sometimes taking three trains and a bus maybe cheaper than getting a taxi or even another short flight. However, conveniences matter when travelling with small children and can go a long way in preserving the mental health and wellness of you and your family. Tiredness zaps your energy and could also cause distractions which would not be great for your trip. Convenience comes at a cost so be sure to budget for them as well!
- Wear Comfortable Shoes – If you are great with kids in high heels and full glam then kudos to you. If you are not, then wear comfortable shoes for walking long distances and dress chic yet comfortably. Wearing a dress or frilly skirt on a windy day while carrying a baby and bag/stroller may not be the best idea unless you want the extra work to not expose yourself. I personally like to dress in case I need to run behind a toddler at a moment’s notice.
- Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize! – Everywhere all around us is full of germs. We can’t control that, so we have to keep them as safe and clean as possible by sanitizing often. Regardless of how clean it looks, every baby changing station and surrounding environs, table trays, chairs should be sanitized as much a humanly possible. In the hotel rooms/Airbnb, I would even sanitize toilet knobs, door handles, remotes and countertop. Wiping children’s hands often is great for preventing transmission especially in new locations where there may be diseases which are endemic to that location.
- Don’t Expect Kindness – If you’ve been keeping up with the latest topics, you would know that there’s plenty of talk about persons who refuse to be accommodating to moms or young children to the point of cringe worthy mom/parent shaming. Whether we like it or not; or think that it’s right or not – no one is obligated to be nice to you for any reason including if you are having a difficult moment travelling with a small child nor does anyone have to be kind to your child. If you want to be seated together on a plane then pay the additional fee; if you want your children to sit when on a bus or train, then be prepared to wait for a lighter transport or travel when it’s not peak time.
- Walk with your own Snacks – If you’re a mom or dad, you would know that children eat small amounts often and walking with snacks is the thing to do. This doesn’t change because you’re on vacation. In fact, it may be best to carry the snacks that you know that they love and would eat from home. Many locations would have some international brands that you enjoy at home, but others may offer local variations, or they may have different palates and so the foods and snacks may not taste the same way thus may be less desirable for picky eaters.
- Trust No One – Kindness goes a long way in making one feel better in any stressful situation. I have experienced the kindness of strangers while travelling with my own small children that positively changed my outlook and certainly made my day and my trip. However, when it comes to small children, you must be extra cautious especially in a new environment where people may neither look like you nor think like you. Pedophiles don’t have a look nor does a kind person with dubious intentions! A tired individual distracted by equally tired children who express it by behaving badly (crying and screaming) can become an easy target by anyone looking to take advantage (pickpockets, drug smugglers, kidnappers).
- Talk – Talk to your children to help them prepare for the journey. Let them know where they are going, what it will be like, what they will have to do (e.g., going through security and what you expect of them. Even if you have a child under the age of two that isn’t fully capable of understanding, it’s still a good idea to talk with them about it as it will also help you to prepare. The meanest person can become nice when there’s a baby around so if you find yourself amongst strangers on the plane, a friendly chat may help to break the ice and pave the way for a smoother journey. Talk to the flight attendant if you need anything (hot water, tissues, garbage bag etc.) Everyone won’t respond the same way but talking generally helps.
- Be Safe, Take Loads of Pics and Enjoy – You’ve planned, prepared and spent a lot of money. All that’s left to do is to be safe, enjoy and create some happy memories for you and your children. Unfortunately, children (and even adults) won’t remember it all so be sure to capture and save all those priceless moments for future reference.
Traveling with small children can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Preparedness is key and adjusting your own expectations are all tools which will help you to cope and have an enjoyable travelling experience! If you’d like to know more about my personal experience when travelling with my small children, read here. To find more tips, click here!