This piece first appeared in Pregnancy and Parenting Magazine in May 2012…..
“I thought this was supposed to be a holiday – I am more stressed out than ever!”
The Summer is fast approaching and we are all looking forward to getting a break away from our normal lives. We have our own ideas about what the perfect holiday might be but chances are we may have to adapt this (a lot) if we have small children to think about. Many people choose holidays based around what their adult expectations are, but for the sake of the whole family, I think you really have to spare a thought for the children. Remember toddlers love routine and are not big fans of change. It is not fair to expect them to be happy with your choice of holiday destination if they don’t fit in with the overall plan.
I have decided to put together some tips for you, no matter what type of holiday you choose.
Packing your carry-on bags
Have everything in your bag organised in transparent bags so you can get whatever you need instantly. Food supplies, toys, wipes and nappies etc. Make sure Dad knows where everything is so he’s not emptying the whole bag out for one item!
Bring enough nappies and wipes for 48 hours. Be warned though, brands that we recognise in Ireland may be quite pricey when you are away. If you are not prepared to use local brands (which are no doubt perfectly fine), then plan accordingly.
Although not exactly a fashion statement, wear a bum bag if travelling on your own with kids for passports, soother, phone etc. It allows quick and easy access (and can be easily hidden under your jumper!)
Try to get the timing of your flights as appropriate for the childrens’ routine as possible. Don’t delay nap times in the hope that your child might sleep on the flight. It is better to have a child who is alert and happy than one who is overtired and miserable. It can be distressing for everyone and not exactly an ideal start to your family holiday.
Boarding your flight
Flying can be hard enough when you are an adult, but if you‘re two years old and have to cross international time zones, it can be a bit trickier!
The advantage of being able to board first with small children can be diminished by them getting ‘cabin fever’ before they’ve even taken off; also planes can be very hot which makes everyone cranky. There are a few options available: board the plane as late as possible which helps limit the cabin fever or alternatively (and particularly relevant when there are lots of bags to be stored overhead but also really only possible if there are two adults travelling), send one parent ahead to get set up. Otherwise go to the plane together and one parent stands at the door of the plane (on the gangway) with the kids where it’s cooler and there’s the distraction of the other passengers boarding.
Keep them entertained Children’s attention spans are notoriously short – an 18 month old has on average an attention span of 2-3 minutes and a 3-4 year-old can usually pay attention for about 10 minutes. Sounds scary when you have a 7-10 hour flight ahead of you! Pack sticker books, colouring books, finger puppets or small dolls they can cuddle and look after on the journey. If you are lucky enough to have a portable DVD player, bring it with you! You won’t be frowned upon for being a bad parent. Neighbouring passengers may in fact thank you! Use whatever you can to get them through the flight.
Make sure you differentiate between your expectations and your children’s expectations. It’s likely that your children will be quite content with you and their toys, as long as you are stress-free and happy. If the wheels are falling off, introduce a new toy at the “lowest point” of the flight i.e. when you can’t distract them any further.
Keep hydrated We all know that flying dries out our skin. Kids aren’t immune to this so remember to keep them hydrated too. Make sure your children are drinking as much as you are and give them lots before they sleep. Although you may be restricted in bringing bottled water on the flight, if you are travelling long-haul, most airlines are pretty good about providing water, so take it when it is offered.
Eat lightly One of the ways our bodies tell the time is through food and eating habits, so when you travel to a different time zone with your kids, it is often recommended that you eat your meals at the correct local time in order to adjust easier to jet lag. If, for example, your children’s dinner arrives on the plane and it is actually breakfast time at your destination, encourage your children to eat lightly and to eat as much fruit and vegetables as possible. Airline food is not known for being light and delicious, so bring plenty of fruit snacks in your carry-on luggage. Grapes are ideal as they rehydrate the body. Also good alternatives are pieces of melon, pineapple, raisins and dried mango.
It is a good idea to bring a lollipop for your child to suck during take off and landing. Many children have no problems with their ears on flights, but if this is your first time travelling with your children, you won’t know. Also, remember that if your child is asleep during the take off and landing, don’t wake them up – their ears will equalise naturally once they are asleep.
(I mention the lollipop and I suggest bringing only ONE! Sugar, a new environment, a confined space along with a potentially over tired child, spells disaster!)
I feel I have to mention tantrums and crying when we talk about flights. Life before children meant that we watched with trepidation as the plane boarded and we silently prayed that “the people with those children” didn’t sit beside us! Now, you are those people with those children. If your children cry, just go with it. There’s no point in making things worse for yourself by worrying about everyone else – toddlers are prone to tantrums, that’s just what happens.
Arriving at your destination
Firstly, having a swim or even a shower, helps to wake you up and refreshes you all after your long flight. Plus it can also help to keep you awake for longer on the day you arrive. Secondly, water helps to rehydrate the skin by replacing lost moisture. If this isn’t possible, try at least to get plenty of fresh air.
If you have travelled long haul, try and stay awake as long as possible. Forget the time zone you have left behind and focus on where you are now. Travelling west is easier than travelling east. It will probably take at least three days to re-adjust in both directions, so bear this in mind.
Getting on with your holiday
You may be worried about preparing your own food while you are away. If you want to make your own food for your child, maybe pack a small hand blender (you can pick these up for around €20). It allows you to have a healthy meal option (and a little bit of control) once in a while as it is easy on holiday to let your day to day eating rules slide a little!
Maybe your little one is still taking formula in bottles and you are wondering about either bringing it with you or whether they will have the formula you use at your destination. Once they are over a year old, it might be the right time to move your child onto full milk. (As long as your child has no special dietary requirements this might be a great opportunity to make the transition). Start offering milk a few days before you go away.
Bring your child’s gro-bag if you use one as it will be a familiar part of their bedtime routine. Check your sleeping arrangements before you go. Will you have a travel cot with you? You might want to bring your own mattress and bedclothes – maybe a familiar duvet cover for your child. If your little one still takes a daytime nap, and usually does this in a dark room, you can use strips of blackout material and bring it with you. Alternatively, ask the hotel to put black sacks on the windows!! Also, bring a blackout cover for your buggy if you are expecting your little one to sleep in it during the day or if you are out for a meal at night. It can be a godsend.
If you are renting a car, bring your window blind with you if you can fit it in – along with the kitchen sink. It can be really hot in the car for kids and having some sort of shade for the window will be of real benefit. A muslin cloth can be a good alternative.
Snack ideas for travelling
Grapes and raisins
Pieces of apple
Dried mango (messy and sticky but delicious)
Bread sticks and crackers
Smoothies (in pouches)
If you prepare well and plan to relax and enjoy yourselves, holidays with young children can really be the holiday of a lifetime!