For those of you brave enough to venture out on a long distance journey with your bobbler (baby-toddler), my hat goes off to you. Already, you most certainly know, deep down in the pit of your stomach, that your upcoming travels with a child this age will prove to be most challenging. If you are looking for hope, for inspiration, or merely for people who have survived an overseas journey and live to speak about it, I hope I can offer my own experiences to ease the dread and anxiety you now feel.
This January, my husband and I traveled with our 15 month old son from Vancouver, Canada to Bombay (Mumbai), India. We were looking at about 30 hours of travel, with two very long portions of time flying in a plane. This journey was our first air travel with our son, so we were nervous about how he would react to the new surroundings and enclosed space for so many hours. On the way overseas and back, we had two flights with a layover. All in all, our son slept almost the entirety of every leg but the second one (on which he didn’t sleep a wink). After that, the short 50 minute flight from Bombay to Goa to visit family was such a treat! All I know is, if we can do a journey that long, a trip from Los Angeles to New York will be a breeze. This trip has given us many good memories, and we really loved the delight in our son’s face when he began to realize we were going on a plane ride. It was so exciting for him, and even now he loves to use his hand to mimic the flying of a plane. What fun it was!
The following are tips I share from my personal experience to hopefully assist in making your flying experience an enjoyable, worry-free one.
Things to consider:
- Before the trip, especially a long-haul journey, book your flights around a night routine for your child. After the initial newness and completed exploration of the seats and all surrounding buttons, your child will likely go to sleep. Check if your airline carries an infant seat (see photo below) for those who book seats with a cot. This Britax seat is fully reclinable and can be oriented upright, but there are only a few available on selected flights, so ask the cabin crew immediately when you board. (We flew British Airways.)
- For those traveling with long layovers (we had 8 hr & 10 hr layovers in London), we highly recommend leaving the airport! It will be a breath of fresh air for you and your little one. We stayed in a hotel both times, and all enjoyed showers, a stroll outside, naps in the hotel, and time playing in the hotel play area. This was the best travel decision we made, and was so good for our busy toddler who needed to burn some energy running around somewhere. It was a great release not only for him, and for us as well!
- If you can afford business class (or get upgraded like we did), all the better for you! For those in other classes, we highly recommend a seat behind the bulkhead, and beside the window. This way you will most likely have a cot (phone the airline in advance and request this seating), giving you more leg room, a window to look out of, and an area on the floor where your child can play without getting into other passengers’ things (the parent sitting on the aisle seat can put one leg over a suitcase, with a blanket draping over it all).
- At the airport, check in at the gate early, and just ask when they board families with infants. They will always priority board, but it is good to ask so they are aware of your needs. Pre-boarding affords you the opportunity to get all your hand luggage stowed away in your location of choice, allows for one last bathroom break, time to change your toddler into a sleeper and new diaper, a chance to talk to the steward(ess), and gives your child the opportunity to explore unharnessed for a while before take-off.
- Worried about their ears? Give your toddler a bottle of milk or nurse during take off or landing. It really works. Keep a sweet treat on hand (like a chewy fruit snack) that you know your toddler won’t refuse in case you need it.
- New toys and books are a must. You have probably thought of this already, but this truly is great. We downloaded a few books on the iPad (the iPad we also kept as a new object of interest), interactive hard books, pipe cleaners to make various objects, new drawing board with water pen, Winnie-the-Pooh tattoos, bubble wrap, removable stickers, squishy glow ball, favourite stuffed animal… you catch the drift. But when all is said and done, your toddler at this age will probably care about the buttons on your seat and play with the remote as a “phone” for hours. Pack enough things that you can pull out to keep them entertained, even though you may not use everything.
- Entertainment is obviously a major consideration for this age. The attention span on the plane seems to pass in 10 minute increments, so pull out all of the SkyMall magazines, empty pens and caps, zippers, items with buttons, and other knick knacks you have. The food and drink service provides constant entertainment with useful cups and spoons. Try using all of these things on the plane as learning opportunities: count with your toddler, create stacks they can build and knock down, point out things and teach them new words.
- Don’t forget to feed yourself! Pack nutritious snacks for yourself and drink a lot of water. It will help you cope and give you the energy you need. If it is a night flight and the cabin crew is taking a rest, go to their service area and you will probably find some snacks and drinks laid out for you. This is also a great new place for your toddler to explore (with supervision).
- The bathroom on the plane is a fabulous distraction. When you change the diaper, your toddler can play with you/himself in the mirror, play with the small cups, enjoy washing his hands, pretend to clean the mirror with a paper towel, etc. It is a great opportunity for you to stretch and a place I recommend going if your toddler cannot be consoled. While the child is playing in the bathroom, you can use those moments to pick the cheerios out of your hair that scream, “parent”.
- If your child is crying (probably one of your worst fears), trust me- NO ONE is going to feel worse than you. So don’t worry about it. Breathe in and out. You will do better to concentrate on your child rather than on how everyone else is affected by their troubled cries.
True fact: I realized while flying that the white noise in the plane is so loud that only a people a few rows down from you will really hear it, and beyond that, it is a softer noise.
- Flip a coin and see who can have a glass of wine that flight. It will help with number 10.
- If you cloth diaper like I do, it is worth it to travel with disposables for the journey.
1) You can toss the diaper in the plane, 2) it is an easier change in the small bathroom, 3) the diapers are smaller and more can be packed in case of a delayed flight, 4) your travel load lightens with each diaper change
- Sleep when your baby sleeps.
- International airports really have families in mind. You will most likely be able to go through designated family security lines and family customs lines, meanwhile skipping a line of 150 people and joining one of 10 people. Just keep a pen handy for forms, and don’t feel shy to ask a help desk if you can’t see these queues. We were escorted both in London and in India when we couldn’t find the lines.
- Think positively! Keeping your minds in the right place is so critical as parents. I cannot emphasize this enough. When the little one is squirming, stuck in a 2′x2′ space, will not take his favourite food, and will not sleep for the entire flight, it is easy to turn on each other. Staying positive will help you stay strong as a team. You truly will need each other.
The longest part of the journey will be the getting there. But once you’ve done it once, the subsequent flights will only be better. I promise. For those parents who travel alone, you amaze me!
Trust me, the journey will be worth it once you get there. We would do it again, in a heartbeat.
Share your stories, or ask any travel questions below.
the urban momma