Will they scream all the way? Will everyone glare at us disapprovingly? Will my nerves take it? These thoughts are perfectly natural and are shared by all parents, but here are some tips to help you prepare for most eventualities.
Manage your expectations
First of all, ground yourself in reality and accept that your children will be noisy, restless and harder work than normal whilst on the plane. Remembering your child-free days of a relaxing flight, sipping a G & T whilst starting your holiday read, is not helpful and will only lead to disappointment.
If you can be realistic about what travelling with children is actually like (or like me dread it and fear the worst), then you might end up being pleasantly surprised.
Also, don’t forget that there will be other families on the flight all feeling the same way.
Prepare with military precision
As mums we have to be super-efficient and fully prepared, but when going on holiday we need to take it to a whole new level.
1) Timing of flights
If you do have some choice in flight times, think very carefully about when your children are at their best. I find that a morning flight is best for us, as my girls are least likely to be tired and grumpy. We have tried evening flights (mistakenly thinking they’d be so tired they’d fall asleep) and found them to be exhausting for all of us.
2) Allow extra time
Our most recent trip was in April this year and it was surprising just how long everything took at the airport. Even though we had already checked in and could fasttrack security (as we had kids), we still felt rushed, despite having arrived at the suggested two hours before check in time. All I wanted was to sit in the airport with a coffee and a pastry, but somehow we didn’t have time. So, allow lots of extra time so that you can let the children look round the airport and find a café to sit and relax in.
3) Prep the kids
If your children are old enough, try to prepare them for what the aeroplane experience will be like. Practise sitting in your seat and fastening your seatbelt, listen to the pilot’s announcements and show them pictures of what it is like inside a plane. Role playing will help to prepare them for the journey and should make it a fun, rather than a scary experience.
You could even go to the airport’s visitor park to watch the planes taking off and landing – try this a few weeks before you go. Visitor parks are great days out (and
often have a café and a playground – bonus!), plus they’ll get your children used to the sights and sounds of the airport.
4) Have a spare everything
To save on worry, have in your hand luggage an emergency set of clothes for the kids, plus a spare cuddly toy etc. This way, if/when there is a spillage or an accident it won’t be such a drama. For you, I suggest layering so if/when they cover you with sticky hands, food or drink, you can just remove or add a layer to maintain an air of togetherness.
5) Get a Trunki
We have one Trunki that our girls share and it recently proved invaluable when we had to queue for an hour to drop off our bags. They both sat on it and it saved lots of lolling around and asking to be picked up. We also use it to pack all of their toys for the trip. The rule is that they can take as many toys as they can fit in it – and no more.
We all know that distraction is one of the best ways to prevent meltdowns and to keep the peace. And when flying with kids, this is your number one survival technique!
Although plane food can be expensive (and not always very tasty), there’s no denying the excitement of getting one of those trays with lots of little compartments and different foods. Book a meal for each of your children for the distraction factor, even if you don’t think they’ll eat it all.
If you are flying on a value airline then I’d still recommend buying a selection of food on the plane. Get your children involved by looking in the in-flight magazine to choose what they want and let them order their food and pay the money if they are old enough. We recently flew with Easyjet and were quite pleased with the quality of food we had and the fact that our girls ate it (porridge, muffins and bacon butties at breakfast).
As well as buying food on the plane, have a supply of snacks too. Think foods that take a while to eat, but aren’t too messy, like raisins or mini cheddars. We also have emergency stashes of sweets (Starburst are a favourite as they take ages to chew), which saved the day with my three year old on a recent trip.
I find the Cbeebies magazines to be a great source of entertainment – and distraction – for my kids. We let them go to the shop a couple of days before we travel to choose their own magazine – then they can open it on the plane. They always have a toy included, plus stickers, games and colouring.
Buying the kids a present, wrapping it up and hiding it in your bag is ideal as a ‘last resort’ distraction when travelling. They can then play with their new toy whilst on holiday too.
4) Books and games
Taking a child’s favourite book – and perhaps a new book – snuggling them on your knee and reading to them is a calming and soothing activity that will help to comfort them on the journey.
5) Stickers and crayons
I have a supply of stickers, crayons and paper in my bag at all times – they are brilliant at calming the kids down and engaging them in a thoughtful activity. Make sure you’ve got some on the plane and perhaps set them a task such as “make Mummy a jungle picture” or “can you make a pattern”.
As a last resort, when times are tough, I have an iPad and our mobile phones prepped with some films and favourite shows. The BBC iPlayer app is great as you can download a variety of short Cbeebies shows (Go Jetters anyone?) to watch on the go. We bought a set of headphones for each of the girls so they could choose their own shows to watch and have a device each. And, we were very thankful to have my husband’s headphones too as one set broke on the plane, which could have been an almighty disaster.
Going on holiday with children is never going to be the same as before you had them, but, if you set your expectations from the beginning, plan your trip with precision and get your bag of distractions ready, travelling together can be a fun experience for you all.
Julie Waite is a copywriter and marketing consultant. Find out more at www.jwaitemarketing.com and connect on Twitter @JWaiteMarketing