Preparing for long haul flights can be daunting and when you add a little person into the mix, you have yourself a mini mission. Being married to a Scotsman has meant frequent trips back to the UK over the past 7 years. While the extended twenty something hour flight and jet lag was always a thought on my mind; It was balanced by the knowledge that I could kick back and catch up on the latest movies. Just over 12 months ago we were blessed with the birth of our first child. Being quite fond of my in laws (lucky I know) and eager for them to spend time with our daughter while she was still ‘wee’, we managed to squeeze in two trips back to bonnie Scotland, in her first year of life. While I didn’t manage to watch one movie the whole way there or back on either trips, we survived and all went much better than expected.
As a GP and a mum here are a few tips to help you have a safe and stress minimised journey, when travelling with your little ones…
- Firstly make sure you book a travel consult for the whole family, at least a couple months before your trip and at a clinic that does travel medicine. This will ensure you are up to date with all the necessary vaccinations, emergency medical supplies and any specific safety and health warnings specific to your destination. For example given the recent outbreaks in Measles and increased risk while travelling we made sure our daughter had an early Measles vaccine (can be given from 6 months if travelling to at risk area).
- Think about the timing of your flights and whether you want to stop over somewhere or to just get it over and done with… both ways have pros and cons and it depends on your preferences/temperament of kids and partners etc… For us we like to do night flights and stop over somewhere for under 24 hours meaning we don’t need to collect or re-check in our large bags. This allows a shower, swim, feed and sleep before heading off for the last leg.
- Request Bassinet row when you book, confirm soon before your flight and get there early on the day to make sure – even if your child is too large for the actual bassinet, asking for this row means much more leg room and easier to get up and down when re settling little ones and for all those nappy changes. I always ask if there is a row that isn’t right next to the toilets so we don’t have constant disruptions.
- Accessorise! These days there are so many great products available to make your flight more comfortable. We always take a memory foam cushion each to make the seat more comfortable (just look on ebay). Also there are a number of inflatable devices that allow you to put your feet up and feel like you are in business class (kinda) or act as a bed extension for your little one. We used Plane Pal on our recent flight with Etihad and couldn’t be happier. You just need to make sure the airline allow them and you aren’t in an exit row. Foot hammocks that hang over the food tray also work well for allowing a bit of elevation and stretch for those tired legs. Oh and don’t forget your face mask, neck pillow and ear plugs. Some people have also used noise cancelling ear muffs for their little ones. I also took our carrier and made sure our daughter was having the occasional sleep in it for a couple of weeks leading up to flight.
- Pack light! This is definitely not my strong point… but packing in advance and frequent reassessment of what you actually need is the best approach. Start a list of essentials and write them down as you think of them in the weeks leading up to the flight. I also love packing cells which are great for making sure everything is organised and easily accessible. For carry on make sure both parents have a couple of changes of light comfy clothes and for the little ones think worse case with risk of multiple spills, poonamies, vomits etc, packing plenty of extras. Onsies are comfy and easy for those frequent nappy changes.. And on that note a general rule is 1 nappy for every hour… sounds crazy but we actually used nearly all of them. Something about the pressure changes meant about 6 dirty nappies on the first ascend when our girl was 3 months. Yeah fun!
- Plenty of toys and snacks are essential… small toys and hardy books that you can easily wipe over and clean make entertaining easy. Also depending on your child’s age, simple things like post it notes and sticky tape can make for a fun 10 minutes of entertaining. While current recommendations say no screen time before two, I feel 24 hours in confined spaces is a pretty good exception to the rule. Download some shows or games you think your kid will like and make sure all devices are charged and chargers are packed. Kids appetites are usually suppressed when travelling and they prefer small frequent snacks. Pack lots of non messy easy snacks that you know your kids will like. Some for yourself too especially if breastfeeding and needing those extra calories.
- Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!… Make sure all passengers have their own big drink bottle. Take them onto the plane empty to avoid all the stress of liquid checking and then request a large bottle of water to fill them all up once on board. They cannot refuse you water although sometimes some resistance is felt if you need large amounts. Just be firm and If you are breastfeeding let them know that hydration is even more important for you. If your baby drinks formula you can take sterilised water with you without any restrictions but does mean they have to do all their security checks. Using one large thermos for your water rather than individual bottles being filled means that not all the babies bottles will be handled by security that are touching all sorts of other things in their days work. Take twice as much formula as your baby would usually use in the travel period. Also try to time a feed for the ascend and descend.
- Keeping clean… Airports are like daycares on steroids… there are germs everywhere! Wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water and hand sanitiser as much as you can. Don’t forget to wash your child’s hands before eating.
- Final tips given to me from a well-travelled friend with kids… if your child is mobile (crawling or walking) don’t let them know they can get on the floor of the plane or walk down the aisle, or you will find yourself having to do this the whole time. Also remember the flight WILL eventually end!