Traveling Long Haul with Children

 

29 August 2013

For the last 11 years we have been traveling with our children to various places around the world – the short, medium and long haul distances alike.

When we were expecting our first child we discussed ways in which we would allow our children to change our lives and which ways we would not. Travel had been a big part of our lives so naturally travel was one way in which we agreed that our children would need to adapt to and embrace. This naturally included more work than anticipated.

When our eldest was six weeks old we ventured out on our first trip, just a three hour road trip, but nevertheless a trip. On that trip we learnt two important gold nuggets of information that we have kept in mind on all future trips with our children thereafter.

  • Babies sleep a lot when in a moving vehicle, whether a car, boat, plane or train.
  • Babies travel with a lot of accessories, I mean a LOT of accessories!

 

My wife always insisted on feeding our kids their bottled milk at a refrigerated temperature as she knew there will be times that we would not have access to a microwave to heat up the milk (not to mention the associated dangers with serving young toddlers with microwaved milk several times a day). This worked out well when we traveled as we never had to search for somewhere to heat the milk. When on an aircraft, the flight attendants have always been happy to rinse our bottles and return it nice and clean. Likewise, they have always been obliging to store our own milk in their refrigerator on the longer flights.

When nursing, or when our children had graduated to a bottle for milk, we would always make them wait and then nurse them or give them their bottle as the plane started to take off. We found it best to wait until the aircraft actually starts bustling down the run way, as the sucking would help the child’s ears equalize as we gained altitude. Not doing this can cause discomfort from the child, which will result in a lot of crying.

A few pointers that might help make your trip getting to your destinations a lot easier.

1. Gate checking our stroller - Quite often you have around an hour or two to wait after you have checked in and it is nice to have a place where your child can relax. Your stroller must be collapsible and it is a good idea to check with the airline you are flying with first as some airlines do not allow it (however, it is a very common practice on most airlines within North America).

2. Day Time Boarding – This can be tough as your child is likely to be awake for quite some time. Look for child play areas/rooms inside the transit area of your terminal upon boarding so you can get your child to run around and use up some of that energy they have built up. One time we had a horribly long transit delay of 9 hours so we found an empty gate area at San Francisco International and just spent hours playing games such as Tag with our kids. People would walk by and give us some horrible looks, but when those kids got on the plane, they were ready to relax and everyone around us was happy. We would always take some activity books for these types of flights and perhaps a new game for the IPAD. This would give the kids something to look forward to when they got on board. A great tip that we learned early on, was to bring a special back up surprise book or toy, something you know they will love enough to snap them out of a possible tantrum. It can be difficult trying to get a 3-year-old through security when they are having a melt down.

3. Night Time flights – We try to keep the kids awake right up until take off and they will just go out like a light and stay asleep for a good 8 – 10 hours (without any sort of sleeping aids). I remember taking my then 2.5 year old daughter to the UK on an overnight flight. She fell asleep upon take off at around 9pm and slept the entire way; I actually had to wake her up an hour before landing so that I could take her to the washroom (I did not want her to wake up and really need to use the washroom when the plane was about to land and the seatbelt sign was on). 

If you are traveling with an infant under the age of 6 months, always request the bassinet seats.  All the bassinet seats are usually in a row together on the aircraft, which means there are quite possibly going to be other babies around you. It is important that you do not practice your perhaps normal parenting technique of letting the baby cry itself to sleep. This is just not fair on the other babies trying to sleep, and can be detrimental to the sleep of your own baby, as your baby may just finished crying itself to sleep and it wakes up to another baby crying and then your baby’s crying starts all over again. It’s best to pull your crying baby out of the bassinet and hold it or take it for a walk up and down the aisle. 

4. Normal Day-to-Day Rules – Need not apply when traveling. We are always way more relaxed on our personal rules when traveling with our kids. For example, we do not force them to eat the airplane food. If they say they are not hungry, we let it go. We don’t worry if they forget to use their manners when talking to us when we are on a long flight. We will let them stay up as late as they want to on a flight. We will let them watch the TV sets as much as they want. We basically give into their every demand on board a long haul flight. It is certainly not our normal parenting skills, but spoiling your kids on an airplane by relaxing your normal parenting performance standards can make life a lot easier for everyone.

5. Bring Snacks – The goods your kids like to eat. Even if you ordered special child meals (always a good idea to do that) there are no guarantees that your child will enjoy the meals. Kids can be very fussy eaters at times. So if you want them to eat at all, bring some snacks along. Remember, you can take what ever food product you want onboard an aircraft, you just cannot take it into different provinces/states or countries, so remember to leave it on the plane before your disembark the aircraft.

6. Drugging children – Some parents highly recommend it, while others caution against it. Every child is different. The one piece of advice we received early in the game, which we regarded as the best advice on this subject, is to talk your family doctor for the recommended drug to use and try your child on the drug in your home environment before you administer on an aircraft.

7.  Bringing your child’s car seat on board – This serves a couple of different purposes: 1. You can secure your child into the seat on the aircraft, a seat that they are comfortable and familiar with. 2. You have a car seat for the child at your destination, and you did not have to pay for checking it in. You have to make sure that the car seat has a Federal Airport Authority sticker on it stating that it is okay for flight usage. We have never bothered with it being authorized by the particular country that we were traveling to, as long as it was authorized by the Canadian government, we felt confident it would be fine by other countries.

8. Special Immigration Lineups – These are dedicated to young families. Take your kids to the washroom before you begin the line up process in the bigger airports such as LA or San Fran, or better still, have your spouse take the kids to the washroom while you get a head start in the lineup. 

Aside from all of the above, it is always wise to get your children to the airport an extra half an hour or so more than you would normally do if you were traveling by yourself. Everything takes longer to do when you have the kids with you, so give yourself the time to make it a more relaxing trip. 

As our children have grown older, traveling has become easier as they can now carry all their own accessories themselves and they understand how to behave on an aircraft. We find talking to them several times during the weeks leading up to our journey always gives us the best results. This includes reminding them of the correct behaviour in airports and on aircrafts, what to expect, explaining how long the flights will be in reference to other flights we have already taken.

Written by Jason (Destination Specialist)