During this time of year, many of us travel to visit friends and family who live a little further afield, but if you haven’t travelled as a family before, even the prospect of flying with a baby or toddler can be a little daunting.
We went on our first trip away when my daughter was just 5 months old, and whilst a few people thought we were mad, I can honestly say travelling with her when she was a baby was actually far more straightforward than it is travelling with her now, it just required a bit of forward planning. My personal view is it gets harder the OLDER that they get, as hearing “are we nearly there yet” twenty times in the first hour can soon become a little tiresome!
Here are my hints and tips for having a successful first flight with your baby or toddler:
- Take a new toy and an old favorite – something familiar is a great option to keep your baby entertained – ideally you want this to be something that doesn’t have small pieces that could get dropped or lost (the last thing you want to be do is scrambling under the seats to find them when the plane arrives at your destination!). It’s also worth remembering that not everyone likes to hear the noise of bells, rattles or music, so stick to toys that are quiet where possible! If the novelty of their old toy starts to wear out mid-flight, that’s when the new one can make it’s appearance, something they haven’t seen before, ideally with lots of different tactile textures and areas to explore. Stickers and colouring in are also great ways to keep toddlers busy too.
- SNACKS – if you forget anything for older babies and toddlers, DON’T let it be the snacks. Pack more snacks for the flight than you think you will need, and ideally things that take a while to eat so they buy you a longer period of distraction time! If your baby is old enough, large finger food like wafers are ideal.
- For younger babies, breast or bottle feed during take off and landing if the airline will allow, as this can really help comfort them and help their ears which may start to feel a little funny when they pop. For older children, a sweet to suck on or lolly can be helpful.
- Be prepared for ‘poonamis’, sick or the inevitable spillages – Pack small bags of full outfit changes within your larger carry-on bag. Each one should have a diaper or two, and full outfit change inside. It is far easier to pull out a small bag as and when you need them than have to rummage around in your bag in a confined space trying to find all the items that you need.
- Always take more diapers than you think you will need. Trust me when I say you do NOT want the feeling of realizing you’ve just used the last one when there are still 3 hours of the flight to go.
- Try and plan the flight times to fit / work around nap and sleep times if you can, however don’t expect them to sleep like they normally would just because its night time. The process of boarding the plane and take off is incredibly stimulating for your baby’s senses, so whilst night time travel may seem like the best option, if they don’t sleep it can also leave EVERYONE feeling very tired. We found it easier to travel during the day, and have their usual nap time fall in the middle period of the flight, by which point the novelty of this new experience had started to wear off!
- If you are travelling over their normal bedtime / at night, try and create a normal bedtime routine where you can – as much as is possible at 35,000 feet! Get them into their pajamas, read them a book and have a cuddle. If you take their normal blanket or sleep-sack with you, the familiar smells and textures should help them settle more easily, despite their strange surroundings.
- Try not to overstimulate them – the flight itself is a fairly daunting new experience, so try and keep them calm for at least an hour before you want them to rest. Giving them too much to focus on can actually leave them feeling more stimulated, resulting in an overtired and cranky baby.
- Consider carrying your baby – if your baby is really struggling to sleep but becoming over tired, a baby carrier or sling is a great way to help them settle – walking up and down the aisles of the plane if necessary, can also help them to drop off. The baby carriers can also be really useful during boarding and getting off the plane too, as they leave both hands free to deal with passport control / luggage.
- Be conscious of those around you – whilst you can’t help it if your baby starts to cry mid-flight, you can stop them from kicking the seat in front, banging unnecessarily or making excessive noise. Keeping other passengers on side can be really beneficial if you need any help or assistance at any point, so be kind!
Overall, whilst traveling with young children can come with its challenges, preparation is most definitely key! I hope you find these tips helpful, and where ever you are travelling to with your family, I wish you a safe and stress-free flight!