So you've decided to travel with a toddler. Yes, you are opening new worlds to your little one, sharing new experiences and expanding their horizons, and all this at the expense of your sanity and back muscles. Parenting a toddler is hard enough without more complications, but here's a few tips to ease some worries:
Plan it like you plan the day: when does your child sleep and can he/she sleep during the flight? Try to find a flight that doesn't disrupt the precious sleep-eat daily routine. If you're planning a day flight, make sure you bring lots of entertainment, but don't assume that they sleep on night flights.
Prepare them for the flight with songs and stories about it. Tell them what's going to happen.
Chill. It might be stressful to think about everything and anything, but try to calm down, and if they sleep on the plane, try to nap as well (although being a parent, when else can you catch up on the latest films than with the in-flight entertainment?)
- Children over the age of 2 pay for a separate ticket and get their own chair. Obviously make sure their passport is valid.
- If choose to brave travelling alone, make sure you have a letter of consent to allow the child to travel from his other parent, some countries are hysterical about allowing a child without both parents.
- Remember that you will need to queue at passport control, even if you have the fast-track finger-printing card. Yes, Children slow you down.
- What surprised me the first time I traveled with a baby is how many chairs they need: a car seat, a bath chair, and a portable chair-strap for meals. Luckily with toddlers, a car seat will do, especially if they are good at falling asleep in it. Most airlines allow you to bring both the car-seat and buggie/pram/stroller up to the gate, and will even allow you to have the car seat strapped in the chair next to you. This makes for a quiet journey, as you don't have to hold the squirming child for the entire flight, just take-off.
- For the flight, carry as much entertainment as you can. Some airlines will give you colouring books, but these are more suitable for children over the age of 3. Here are my recommendations.
- Apps on your smartphone, there are some good free ones that distract your toddler for hours, including: Toddler Trifling and Kids Doodle. Also consider, small home videos or ibooks on your smartphone. Just remember to set the phone to flight-safe mode first.
- Books – the small ones, picture books that have a lot of animals or objects.
- Music – Long flights have earphones which are a great curiosity to small children. (Music on, music off, switch channels, what's mommy got on her head?)
- Exercise – make it a point to walk around the plane when it is safe to do so, to let them let off some steam, and smile to random strangers. By showing everyone how cute your child is, they will most likely forgive the seemingly-endless crying that eventually comes.
- Toys – small ones that you have seen the toddler play with for a long time, dolls are ok, balls aren't. Not much room to bend and reach for it.
- Food – don't trust airline food to be children friendly. Even pasta can be spicy. Pack a sandwich and lots of snacks. Anticipate a bit of emotional regression, and pack comfort food or drink, such as formula milk, a favourite cup, or snacks they liked months ago and have grown out of.
- Nappies/Diapers and wipes– Excitement triumphs potty-training. Make sure you have enough for the flight, take a day's worth of nappies, i.e. 6 or so.
- Layers of clothes – If it gets too warm, you can take the jumper off. Bring a small dark blanket as well, which you can use as cover to bring forth instant night-time. It works on loud pet birds, and it works on sleepy toddlers.
Special considerations at the airport
- Get to the airport a bit early, so you could try and get an empty seat next to yours, in which you can fit the toddler's car-seat. Try choosing a flight that is not full, if you can.
- Passport control takes time, plan entertainment for the wait, unless you can tolerate your little monkey swinging from the barriers, or have someone to chase them around the immigration hall.
- While you can take your buggie straight up to the airplane, you might not get it back until the luggage collection hall after you've landed. Make sure you know when you disembark where exactly your buggie awaits.
- Security takes longer, but luckily some airports will allow you to bring liquids through if you show it's for the toddler and are comfortable sipping from it. If your toddler is going through the 'It's mine, not yours' phase, turn your back before you sip from their cup. Also, anticipate that you will need to close the buggie to get it scanned.
- Remember, excited toddler means running-around and underfoot. Prepare the eyes in back of your head for extra work and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are travelling without another adult, get someone else to fold the buggie for you and get it through security, as security people will not hesitate to hold your child, regardless of how they feel about strangers touching them.
Special considerations on the flight
- Ears sensitive to pressure – bring a dummy/pacifier if your child is using it, and encourage them to use it during take-off and landing. Alternatively, offer drink during these crucial moments. Some toddlers love the noise of the engine and will just conk off to sleep and not notice the pressure.
- Entertainment – even an hour's flight can be seem endless if you have a bored toddler acting out and there's no naughty-step in sight.
- Sleep - If it's a night flight, make sure you know in advance whether the lights are turned out on the plane... There is no joy in an over-tired toddler, eager for sleep who is blinded by the strong lighting kept on.
Special considerations for accommodations:
- Bed - You can ask for Cot-bed. Some toddlers are okay with the standard travel cot provided, but the mattresses tend to be bumpy and your ray of sunshine ends up sleeping in your bed, and yes, with their nappy in your face. If you are renting a cottage or similar accommodation, get 2 beds as it's better to create a nest of pillows around the toddler in a large bed, and drop a few cushions on the floor just in case.
- Bath or shower? If your child doesn't like showers, know what facilities are available. Some European accommodations do not have bath tubs, it's showers only.
- When do we eat? Toddlers wake up at 6am (if you're lucky), and hotel breakfasts usually start at 8am. Plan accordingly, either with having room-temperature safe food (fruit pots, bread-sticks, dry cereal, or fruit bars) or with a kitchenette in your room, or pick a self-catering holiday and make sure you have time to stock the kitchen upon arrival.
- Safety – know how child-safe your environment is; just as you child-proofed your house, try picking safe accommodations.
- Travel blackout blinds – Do you really want to start your holiday at dawn, when dawn is at 4am? If you are going to northerly regions, bring along travel blackout blinds to darken the toddlers room, it means that your little one's night comes early and leaves later than it does for you.
Yet, in the end of the day if you managed to remember about 50% of these items for your holiday, then I will sadly say this to you: you will do this again sooner rather then later!!
Side comment from Eric:
Don't forget the camera. Take lots of pictures of the trip as the toddler is bound to do all sorts of cute things you can show off (post on FaceBook), etc. but it will be the only proof that you went to these places that your teenager (formerly toddler) will accept as proof that it is not true that you "never take me anywhere."
A blog post about photography travel will be coming soon.