Don’t you just love airports, security, queues, expensive food and drinks, getting the plane, finding your seat, waiting for others to put their over sized carry-on into the overhead locker and then the whole flying experience?
Reverse that, getting off – seat belts snapped off before the sign says so, phones turned on, people immediately stand up and grab their luggage and wait – just wait. Then the shuffle out of the plane, wait at the luggage carousel hoping yours will be out before others but inevitably not.
Now let’s add kids into the mix. As adults, we can have a fairly high tolerance for the stress that goes with travelling – but kids – it can get messy and very quickly. There are a few steps you can take to minimise the procedures and protocols of travelling with kids through airports. and I’ve put together some helpful tips that I’ve found useful having taken my own children to several countries and more recently 31 teenage students to nine European countries. All but one of the students have travelled overseas, with many as seasoned travellers however, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that help to make the trip, the transits, the layovers and transport a little easier for kids.
1. Get your travel documents sorted well ahead of time
Check and recheck that everyone’s passports are valid, accurate and have at least six months validity from your planned travel date and that there are plenty of spare pages (at least two) for stamps and visas. If a child needs a passport, plan ahead and don’t leave it until the last minute. Yes, you can get a fast track passport here in Australia but it’s costly. A regular passport takes around three weeks. I have seen someone have to return to their country because their passport had less than six months left on their passport final date.
If you’re travelling with a baby or young infant I’d recommend going to Australia Post (in Australia) as they do a lot of passport applications and know exactly how to take the photos and pull all the documents together.
Don’t forget to scan and email copies to your email account plus take a hard copy with you (which I have in my checked in luggage). Haven’t needed it so far but nice to know it’s there. I also use the Evernote app which is good for storing my digital signature, scanned copies of passports, itineraries etc.
2. Notify your bank or credit card company before you leave
I speak from experience. The National Bank cut us off from our funds in northern Vietnam as we hadn’t notified them we were travelling there. They thought our account was hacked. A very long and expensive phone call didn’t fix it. I appreciate their security checks but it put us in a dire situation with young kids and we had to be creative about getting more $’s to finish our adventure. They WILL freeze your account if they think there is some foreign activity on your account. Tip: bring more than one credit card/debit card. In Slovenia, the ATM’s wouldn’t take a credit card but would take a debit card due to the fees attached.
3. Plan ahead and request seats, bassinets and child meals when booking
If you are booking through a travel agent, ask them to ensure you have an infant/child meal and a bassinet for those youngsters under two years of age. The chances of getting once of those precious bulkhead seats are minimal unless you let them know in advance. If your kids are a little older, allow some time for checking in. They get impatient and tired easily. If it’s possible to prebook sets then do that. Stand your ground about not being split up as a family. I regard this is a definite ‘no-no’.
Kids often get attended to first with activity packs and the parents are asked if they need anything special such as formula heated up, baby food heated and so on.
4. Choose the most direct flights
There are so many deals and offers these days that can make your trip cheaper but some of them mean 10 hour layovers in remote airports with multiple sectors to navigate. With kids, pick the easiest route with minimal security checkpoints and direct routes.
One of my biggest griefs travelling with kids under 4 was strollers and car seats. I could check them onto the plane but heck it was a hassle. Small strollers are easy to check in at the departure gate but larger items such as my Bill & Ted 3 wheel buggy had to be taken to over sized luggage and checked in. Plus the car seat if you require one. In some countries, they have no idea what a car seat is and will unlikely have the facilities to safely secure it into vehicles, especially if you are in and out of taxis and buses. Tip: My youngest would be strapped to his dad with a sarong during these unprotected transport occasions. He loved it and made the trip much easier.
5. Supplies – entertainment, snacks and drinks
Elsa the Lion, Rarfee the Giraffe and Lydia the Zebra have travelled around the world. One of them was lost in Cambodia but my gorgeous then sen year old said that perhaps someone else will love her as much as I did (sigh!). A companion can make or break a trip and these days with mobile phone cameras – kids love to take photos of their toys travelling through airports, planes, shopping centres, temples, castles and so on.
In-flight entertainment these days is excellent, depending on the airline. You will need to be prudent about what they watch as there is everything from G, PG to R rated movies plus everything in-between. For those little babies – we all know that the simplest things keep them happy – a movie on a screen, a play toy, a piece of scrunchie wrapping paper. Take what you know will keep your child amused and engaged.
If you have a tablet, phone or other device that might keep kids engaged (loaded with movies or games) ensure it’s charged before you get on the plane. Some airlines have the facility to charge them during the flight. It’s minimal charge but enough to keep the device going. Always travel with adapters and chargers in your carry on so during stop overs you can charge up the devices.
I occasionally brought snacks but find they aren’t necessary. Flight attendants are more than happy to provide you with food and snacks for your child. Unless your little one has special dietary requirements – give it a miss. Just another item in your hand luggage.
6. Bringing on the craziness
Go with the flow. Airports and flying comes with many idiosyncrasies and sometimes you’re just going to have to go with it. If you are short tempered, rude or agitated then so will your kids. Patience and distraction go along way. So many of these things are out of our control and sharing that with the kids will take away their own anxieties. Remember to breathe.
7. Carry-on craziness
I hate lots of carry-on luggage and tend to travel with only one bag but with kids, it can be lots that include all the things you ‘might’ need. Obviously, nappies, spare clothes, snacks, toys etc. but things like band aids or drinks – they are all available on the plane and the flight attendants will be able to assist you. If you are arriving in a country that you’re not sure you can access appropriate food and drink – bring something alone with you.
8. The less you travel with, the less you have to remember
With kids, you can imagine that they each have a small bag or backpack, plus you have one and no doubt your partner, plus maybe something you’ve bought duty-free and before you know it – there are dozens of bags to keep your eye on. Teach your kids to be responsible for just one item – their bag. It can be done but expect failures. Take it with good grace and acknowledge age appropriate responses.
9. Forget the camera – take your phone
This is a contentious one as I’m an iPhone 6+ fan and with editing, I create some pretty damn good photos. I’m often complimented on my pics after a minute of quick editing. I wonder where digital cameras will be in 2020? But my favourite photos of those that I least expected. My kids asleep in a crib on the beach, Their face smothered in watermelon and cantaloupe in a high chair in Bali. My son sitting on the deck of the boat off Komodo Island just being in the moment. I used to travel with the big camera and lenses and do love the work of those that use that equipment. But I’m a snap and shoot kinda chick. Just remember to send your pics to iCloud whenever possible just in case something happens to your phone.
10. Board the plane first
The airlines nearly always ask adults travelling with children to board first. Take this chance to find your seat, settle the kids in, put hand luggage away, get out that book, that tablet, the earphones and settle in.
11. Book accommodation for at least the first night — then stay flexible.
So you arrive at your destination, kids are tired, hungry and grumpy and you’re not sure where to start to look for somewhere to stay the night. Doh! Book in advance, Find something in your budget range nice and central and you can do your homework from there. If you travel out of season, sometimes you luck onto something great and you’ll have the chance to stay longer because they won’t be booked out.
12. Explain, praise and keep going
I like to keep my kids in the loop about what we are doing and what’s happening next. But not too much information as it can overwhelm them. When they do something right or well, I praise (like thank the flight attendant for their meal and using manners) but I also like to verbalise that ‘you’re being very patient’ or ‘wow, you’re doing a good job with all the security checks’. Praise effort and process but mostly effort.
Now it’s your turn.
What experiences have you had travelling with kids on planes? What’s worked and what hasn’t?
Leave a comment below.