If you also follow me on Insta, you may have noticed that I recently went very quiet. This is due to the fact that we were batty enough to travel to the UK with a toddler and an infant. After spending an eternity checking and rechecking flights, we booked with just enough time to get all our admin together and we just went at it, head first. With travel season looming, please allow me to share some of the wisdom I gained from this experience with you, so you don’t make the same mistakes we did.
Read up on the top airlines for kids. Read up on child friendly activities at your destination. Research baggage allowances – for you and the little ones. Check, double check and triple check on what admin needs doing for your travels. Find more affordable ways to see the sights – most tourist destinations have combo deals on certain attractions. Find out whether there are interesting events on during your stay. And make a list of things you absolutely want to do, so you make time for it.
Book well in advance. First, it’s cheaper. Second, you get the seats you want. The first leg of our flight was extremely busy and our family was split across an aisle. Now this might not sound like an issue, except that when you have a bulkhead seat, the next seat “in your row”, is actually behind you and not directly opposite you. Waving at someone like an idiot every time you need something, is not the hugest amount of fun.
Also, in our case, we were four people to three seats, as infants generally travel “in arm”. I strongly recommend booking your seats in the center section of the plane and booking the adults to the two aisle seats, with kiddo on either of the two middle seats. Very few people travel abroad alone and those middle seats don’t fill up so quickly, so if your flight isn’t full, you score an extra seat. The middle armrest also lifts up, creating a larger seat, where tired little people can stretch out a bit. If someone does book that extra seat, you can always swap out.
And finally, try to book flights that don’t require you to keep your kids up past their normal bedtime or nap while trying to board a plane or get through customs. Traveling is exhausting to us as grown ups, those little bodies can only handle so much.
Make sure you have easy to reach snacks available for flights and outings at your destination. No matter how good an airline is at catering for kids, you can’t please everyone and that is never more true than for children. Your child may well refuse all the airline’s food (as mine did) and risk hitting some nasty sugar lows that can make them quite ill, so have some backup options. Be considerate of the people cleaning up after you and traveling with you – avoid sticky, messy and high in sugar.
For holiday outings, always have a little something handy, you never know when your child will randomly get the munchies somewhere ridiculous.
Also, water, water and more water. Make sure to keep little bodies, and yourself, properly hydrated – both on flights and during your holiday.
Make sure you have all your admin sorted in good time and easily available to you. Children traveling abroad from SA are required to present a valid passport, an unabridged birth certificate and letters of consent (the former if traveling with only one parent or a guardian). Children also require a valid visa for the destination country, so don’t forget those.
What we found very helpful, was to carry all our paperwork in a file, which myself or Hubby presented on behalf of the family, whenever required. Also be sure to scan all the appropriate documents and save them to cloud storage and/or your smartphone, in case of loss.
Invest in child carriers. It’s tempting to lug a stroller along, but frankly, they’re a pain. They’re bulky and not really all that practical for travelling. Lugging them up and down stairs, maneuvering them over train platform gaps or onto buses, searching for elevators at the airport. It’s all a pain. If you are travelling with an infant, a good baby carrier gives you freedom of movement and free hands. For a toddler, a backpack carrier, for hiking, works brilliantly for resting tired little legs – and doubles as a nappy bag and snack pack. Also, the children are just calmer when they feel close to you and they’re safer up against you.
The build up
Finally, prepare little ones for the trip. Get them excited to be going somewhere new. Tell them about something specific you are going to do. Storm is crazy for dinosaurs, so we made a big deal about seeing dinosaurs in London (the Natural History Museum has a superb display). We also did one leg of our journey on an Airbus, which was a big deal for all of us, so we had great fun building up the “hu-MON-gous” aeroplane.
And nothing quite works as well as bribery, does it? As a birthday gift, we bought Storm a Trunkisaurus Rex ride-on suitcase (not sponsored) with a saddle/messenger bag and specially fitted clothing bag. It’s the perfect piece of hand luggage for a little person and packing it herself and feeling all important about having her very own, special luggage, just made her trip for her. Any small gift will do, really, it just also happened to be her birthday, so the family went big.
Tips from the experts
I was wonderfully surprised to find an email from Travelstart in my inbox upon return, including some great tips on traveling with children. Here are their top 10. You can view more great travel tips on their blog.
What are your top tips for flying with the minis?
*While this post is in collaboration with Travelstart, all views expressed are my own*