Our new family travel columnist, Alexia Santamaria has tips for the journey.
I’ve been travelling since I can remember — my parents did a six-month stint around the world with me when I was 3 and it hasn’t really stopped since. When I was in my 20s I went to live in Japan for a couple of years, then England, then Scotland, then France before meeting my husband back here, and deciding to make Auckland home again.
These days things are a bit different; with an Auckland-sized mortgage, two kids and a coffee habit to feed there’s not so much moving to other countries on a whim. When we first started our family I wondered whether travel would become a distant memory — something for the too-hard basket, but that hasn’t been the case at all. We took our first overseas trip as a family when I was 20 weeks pregnant and we had a 2-year-old.
Although we were apprehensive, it turned out that Vietnam and Cambodia were excellent places to travel with kids and at that point I realised having children need not limit where we chose to go.
Since then we’ve been on lots of adventures around New Zealand and the world and the boys (Keenan, 12 and Tyler, 9) have loved it all. It’s been fantastic for them to see how other cultures live and they’ve definitely had their horizons broadened. It’s not always easy — hotel rooms with one toilet are quite confined spaces for four people, aren’t they?
But it’s always worth it for those moments when you watch these little guys wide-eyed in wonder at something they’ve never experienced before. Modern kids take a bit of impressing so I love those moments of unadulterated delight that come from leaving our city and exploring life beyond the everyday.
First however, you’ve got to get through the journey . . .
How to survive a long-haul flight with kids
You can feel the tension in your body rising as that call to board gets closer. It’s such a lottery — you might get lucky and have two well-behaved angels right throughout the flight but it may also equally end in tears, and possibly not just from the toddlers. We all love our children dearly, but being confined with them in a huge metal tube at altitude for hours can push that love to its absolute limits. Changes in environment, air pressure, food, lack of sleep, boredom and confined spaces can result in kids playing up
and you looking longingly at the drinks trolley and escape hatches. Here are some tips that could help.
Food and Drink
Take lots of snacks they like, especially if your children are fussy eaters. That packet of crackers, muesli bar or snack mix may just save your backside if they turn their nose up at what’s on offer. Take empty drink bottles to fill once you’ve cleared immigration and security. If you’re okay with giving your kids sugar, take lollipops for sucking on as you commence your descent. They last longer than sweets — hopefully all the way to touchdown.
Digital distraction is excellent on flights and if your kids are already getting it at home, try to reduce screen time drastically in the week before your big trip so the appeal of inflight entertainment is even greater.
You won’t always have choice, but seats towards the back of the plane are good — it’s convenient for the toilet, there’s plenty of space to walk and you’re less likely to get blocked in by food and drink trolleys. If you have sibling friction, seat yourself between the warring parties.
Invest in your sanity
Buy new reading or activity/sticker books, travel-sized games, felts etc beforehand, that your wee darlings don’t see until you’re on the plane; novelty goes a long way in desperate times. Bring these out periodically as surprises throughout the flight so they double as incentives for good behaviour. Buy a travel book with pictures of your destination that you can read together on the plane, and plan what you’d like to do.
There’s a lot to be said for a well-placed night flight. Tired kids are way more likely to sleep on a plane at the end of a long day (and give you a chance to have that glass of wine and watch a movie once they have).
Like a good girl guide or boy scout, be prepared for any eventuality. Make sure your carry on luggage contains extra clothes in case they get cold; wet wipes and plastic bags in case of spillage (a change of clothes is smart for you all, you never know who’ll end up covered in what) and basic first aid including liquid paracetamol and antihistamines.
Pick your battles
Sometimes it’s good to remember children are well out of their normal environment on a plane, so normal rules may have to be relaxed at 34,000 feet. Subtle bribery and turning a blind eye to some objectionable behaviour — as long as it’s not affecting others — may not be how you parent at home, but it could save you lot of drama.