Long distance traveling alone with kids is not on the top of my fun-list, but hey if you have chosen to live in a country far away from your family, then it’s something that just seems to come with the deal. And when do you choose to travel? When you have time off work and on maternity leave! More often than not this means at least one of the passengers will most likely be a tiny screaming person.
My first trip to Sweden alone with kids was with a 3 month and an almost 2-year-old. I have purposefully wiped this experience from my memory, but still have strong recollections from my most recent trip which I made with a 2 and 4-year-old. A totally different experience although still quite challenging. To get to my home country I have to travel 8 hours by plane, a 4 hour stopover in Asia and a further 12 hour plane trip. Here are some of my best travelling hacks that I have learnt by trial and error:
- Make sure that you can transfer kids and luggage by yourself
You never know how the kids will behave during the trip so don’t rely on anyone else other than yourself to transfer all of you. My kids seem to know when I am stressed and they choose the worst possible time not to cooperate, such as when it is time to make it to the gate. Make sure that you have the right equipment to be able to bundle them all up and run if needed.
When travelling with the 3 month and 2-year-old I arranged for my double pram to be returned to me during the stop over. If it wasn’t for the pram I’d have no idea how to transfer all of us plus luggage through the terminal to the next plane. Let’s not forget the trips to the bathrooms, the playground, and countless expeditions up and down the airport terminal. I also had a baby carrier for the 3-month-old to get on and off the plane and had to carry the 2 year old in my arms if he was asleep or refused to walk. The flight attendants were really helpful and carried whatever or whoever I couldn’t carry myself. Speak to the airline before departure to ensure you can get your pram during the stop over. If not possible, here is plan B which I had for my second trip with my 2 and 4 year old:
Travelling setup: Carry-on stroller, baby carrier (under stroller), Country Road bag over stroller handle, back-pack, two kids and two check-in bags.
A baby carrier and a foldable stroller which was allowed as a carry on and could be stored in the overhead locker. The 2 year old was in the stroller most of the time while my son was walking or running. When swapping flights in the middle of the night I could transfer two sleeping kids by popping the bigger one in the stroller and the smaller in the baby carrier. It looks like a joke with an oversized baby in the baby carrier, the feet dangling down to my knees, but its survival mode and you do what you need to do.
2. Carry-on bags – don’t bring too much or too little
Packing right for carry-on is a fine art. Too much will be a struggle to carry but too little might leave you with hungry and bored kids. I had a Country Road bag which can be hung around the handle of the pram/stroller, and a back pack.
For my most recent trip I was convinced the kids would carry their own backpacks with toys the entire way. Do not fall for this! You will most likely end up carrying all the bags yourself the entire trip.3. What to bring in the carry on
Snacks snacks snacks! If it’s a long trip it is highly likely that they will have “night time” on the plane during a time when its day time for you. During these times hardly any food is served other than chips or nuts so make sure you have some proper food for back-up.
- Cucumber sticks, capsicum sticks, strawberries, blueberries, apple wedges. Nothing that is messy. The smaller the slices, the longer it takes for little fingers to pick and consume.
- Plain pasta as a back-up if the airplane food is not up to standard for our fussy travellers
- Popcorn… Ask for a plastic cup per child, fill up with popcorn and put a movie on for the kids.
- Crackers that are a bit foody and filling
- Lolli-pops are great for take-off and landing as the sucking helps with pressure in the ears and they take a while to finish which keeps them in the seat until the plane is in the air or on the ground. For us, travelling requires some bending of normal sugar rules.
- Extra treats for when nothing else is working (usually involves unhealthy things such as lollies).
- Water bottles
Some airlines require you to order kids meals before the trip so remember to check this beforehand. Kids meals are much more entertaining with heaps of small parcels with food and snacks.
Toys and things: It is not easy to keep kids entertained for a long flight so have a few surprises up your sleeve:
- Pens, pads and stickers.
- Mosaic sticker pads
- Pack some cheap but cheerful gifts for little hands to unpack
- The absolute winner last trip was a bag of balloons! We blew them up during the stop-over which attracted an entire crowd of travelling kids that all had too much energy in their little legs. The kids ran around during the entire stop-over and were asleep on the next plane before we had even taken off.
- Two sets of extra clothes for the kids each. Non-bulky but comfortable.
- An extra set of pants and t-shirt for yourself in case an entire glass of juice ends up in your lap… Woops!. At that stage you have given up on anything else than fast-forwarding to arrival and you won’t mind a pair of tights and a simple t-shirt as long as its not soaked in juice.
- Scarves are a must have on planes. I use them as blankets and I also swirl them around my head to get my own dark sleeping space. Must look funny but works for me.
Other important things:
- Nappies, wet wipes and nappy bags. Nappy bags are great bins during the trip too.
- It’s a treat to brush your teeth halfway. Makes you (well almost..) feel like a person again.
- Use pack bags!
Use see-through pack-bags in both carry on and check-in luggage. This diminishes your time digging through your bags to find the right item.
In the check-in luggage, have a pack-bag for each child and hopefully a few for you. You can purchase pack-bags anywhere. I made some out of net fabric so that I can see what’s inside and don’t have to open them each time. Colour codes are also useful for even quicker finds.
Homemade pack-bags. Makes the mess look tidy. Ok, I admit that I have taken out half the packing when taking this picture.
- Plan your trip so that one entire flight is during the kids night sleep (if possible..)
I have discovered that the match between flights and day/night routine is crucial. If you can get the kids to fall asleep around, or a bit after their usual bedtime (and stay asleep, see below), then the chance of you getting some sleep increases significantly. If possible, try to get one entire leg of the trip during the kids sleep time. I had to transfer with sleeping kids one time which resulted in major sweat outbreak and no sleep during the entire night. Kids slept through the entire transfer and woke up two hours into the next flight full of energy just as I had fallen asleep.
- Build a comfortable sleeping place to avoid kids waking up
Sleeping arrangement: Edvin on seat and Country Road bag and Frankie on seat with legs in my lap.
Once the kids are asleep you want them to stay asleep as long as possible. Kids sliding off the seat in the middle of the night often results in everyone around you waking up. You can have one child sleeping on you, but two is a challenge. I have been stuffing the Country Road bag full before bedtime (use spare airplane blankets if needed), and placing it standing up in front of the seat closest to the wall. Place a blanket over seat + bag to make it into a mini bed. My oldest has then been able to sleep there comfortably lying down, although a bit scrunched up. This worked for a 2 year old as well as a 4 year old.
- Going to the toilet on the plane
Before having kids I would laugh about this ever being such a challenge. The problem is that you will have to squeeze in all of you (unless you have a super social child who enjoys hanging out with other passengers), and not only once per plane trip, but fifty-five thousand times. If they have nappies – constant nappy changes, the altitude must upset their little bellies. If no nappies – the same number of visits, but now you have to RUN to the toilet to avoid an accident. Kids don’t seem to time their needs with their siblings either so the toilet frequency will grow with number of kids. Once you have managed to close the door, the next problem comes – where do you place the kids in that tiny area? Be inventive – keep small babies in the baby carrier, medium ones sitting on the sink or even on the change table which is usually above the toilet (just try, it works), and larger ones standing on the floor.
- Be well rested and have fun
My last and most important pieces of advice: make sure to be well rested, expect a non-sleep marathon and every hour of sleep you get is a bonus. Turn every little catastrophe (there will be a few) into a laugh. I am sure you have been on a plane with screaming, loud or annoying kids before so now it is payback time. Do what you must and don’t be embarrassed. I tell myself that 24 hours of travelling is a golden opportunity for some intense and fun quality time. Mindset is everything. Happy travelling!
Astrid @ Bubnest
If you have any good hacks, please share in the comments below. I am always on the search for ways to make travelling easier, and I am sure every other fellow travellers out there are too!