So, a little while ago we went on a holiday. Not our usual two-hour-drive-to-stay-with-family holiday. A proper, get-passports-for-the-children, arrange-a-petsitter, crikey-we-really-need-some-more-adequate-suitcases holiday, to stay with some dear friends in fabulous Singapore. To say we loved our time there would be a massive understatement. To say we coped well with the process of getting ourselves there and back would be a massive lie.
And so, in hopes that you may learn from my failings, here are some dos and don’ts for international travel with kids.
Don’t. Just don’t.
(Nah, I’m kidding. It wasn’t really that bad. Now seriously):
Do book your trip well in advance, so you have time to plan, prepare, and possibly panic before you leave.
Don’t forget that small children grow and develop at a surprising rate. So, hypothetically, if you booked flights in July for a trip in December, that would be enough time for your adorable cuddly baby to morph into a fully-mobile, squealing, wriggling, running, jumping, joyous toddler. Just so you know.
Do find an adorable travel-themed outfit for your little one!
Don’t be too upset when nobody is as excited about it as you are. English won’t be the first language of many of the people you’ll meet, so an adorable toddler sporting a clever alpaca pun probably just looks like a white kid in a llama shirt to them.
Do devote your entire carry-on baggage allowance to food, activities and an exhaustive list of possible necessities for the children.
Don’t laugh at your husband when he tells you he’s planning to pack everything he needs for ten days in a cabin bag, so he won’t need to check a suitcase. Break it to him gently that you’ll actually be filling his cabin bag with nappies, fruit sticks and teething gel.
Do book a flight that leaves during the day. Yes, your children will be awake and excited FOR THE WHOLE DAY, and everyone will be exhausted by the time you get there. But at least most of the people in your immediate surroundings that day will also be awake, so you don’t need to worry about your children’s excitement disturbing everyone. Plus there’s the very real possibility of sleep once you finally reach your destination in the evening.
Don’t be clever and try flying home at night, assuming your children will just sleep peacefully on the plane if you’ve spent the day wearing them out in preparation. The cabin lights will stay on until well after midnight, and they serve small children ICE CREAM at 10pm. Also, in the event of turbulence (also known as ‘the captain flicking the seatbelt sign on for no apparent reason at completely random intervals’) you will need to retrieve your soundly sleeping small from the cosy bassinet and strap her securely to you. This will almost certainly happen every single time she dozes off. And when you arrive home, exhausted: it’s daytime, yo! And the kids will have had a catnap during the interminable wait at customs, so they’ll be refreshed and ready to go. Worst. Day. Ever.
Do arm yourself with books, games and small toys to keep your children happy when they need to be strapped into their seats. Agonise over exposing your toddler to excessive screen time via your tablet, but download a bunch of age-appropriate apps anyway.
Don’t get upset if the only thing that in fact keeps your toddler happy on your lap is you singing non-stop repeated renditions of ‘The Propeller Song’. No, she’s not interested in the recorded version you have on the tablet. Just keep singing whenever the seatbelt sign is on. There’s a plane full of passengers counting on you.
Do breastfeed your baby or toddler on takeoff and landing, to keep them settled and stop their ears from hurting.
Don’t start with that straight away though. Remember there may be a good fifteen minutes of taxiing around the runway before the plane actually takes off. So if you start feeding as soon as the plane starts moving, she’ll be done well before there’s so much as a hint of a pressure change, and you’ll end up having to give her lollies like her brother instead.
Do dress yourself in artful layers so you can breastfeed discreetly on the plane and at the airport.
Don’t be surprised when your toddler shows total disregard for modesty and energetically pulls your shirt up, down and sideways at unexpected moments mid-flight. She’s figured out what you haven’t: that your fellow passengers would rather tolerate an inch or so of exposed skin than a minute or so of whining from her while you faff around with your clothes.
Do pack your ring sling, so you’ll have something to walk your baby up and down the aisle in while discreetly breastfeeding her to sleep.
Don’t forget to put your boob away once she falls into her milk coma. The ring sling has large aluminium rings holding it together, and if they’re positioned incorrectly (say, because you’ve put it on in a hurry in an enclosed space), they sit directly over your left breast instead of up on your collarbone. The cool breeze is what will alert you to your wardrobe malfunction. That, and the flustered looks of your neighbours.
Do book a bassinet seat, so your little one will have somewhere to nap and your big one will have floor space to spread out his activities.
Don’t start a fight with the childless man in the bassinet seat across the aisle, who growls at your tiny daughter for brushing against his leg while peeking through the curtain into the galley. Yes, he’s clearly chosen to sit in a family row purely for the extra legroom. No, he doesn’t seem fond of children. Yes, this is somewhat of a strange choice on his behalf, but don’t start a fight with him. It’s a long trip.
Don’t forget all the things you need out of your carry-on luggage, which is stored in the locker right above that man’s seat. Oops, did I drop a crayon on your head again? I’m so sorry, Sir!
Don’t be surprised if his pretentious fedora hat somehow migrates behind your bag in the overhead locker and gets a bit squashed, maybe gets a little bit of banana or something on it. Apologise sweetly. Act surprised. But don’t be surprised.
Do remember to pack your children’s sleep companions, Monkey and Miss Rabbit.
Don’t forget to pack them again on the way home. Poor Monkey had a long trip home via Singapore Post, and we had a rough week without him (including a tearful meltdown on the plane when his absence was discovered).
Don’t come to me for travel advice! What would I know? I’m a walking disaster just raising these kids at home, so of course we’re a shambles when we attempt to, er, ramble. If you want actual, useful, cleverly-written travel advice, including topics you’d never even think of but seem obvious once she’s told you about them,
Do check out the wonderful Bronwyn at Journeys of the Fabulist. One of my favourite blogs, and possibly the oracle of all travel-with-children-related knowledge. If you follow one piece of my advice (and really, why should you? See previous point), make it this one. She’s well worth a read, although you could lose hours discovering all the things you didn’t realise you’d need to know.