I've just returned from a holiday (if a mum can ever really be on one, that is) that entailed a longish journey by air. While seeing Little Man settle into his seat (he's over two now so yes, he got his own seat) demanding to see Minions and Cars simultaneously on the little telly in front of him, the idea for this post came to me. This wasn't the first time I've travelled with Little Man; on the other hand, I consider myself an expert-of-sorts in this department, my first stint in the skies with him when he was all of five months. But of course, like all other departments of motherhood, my built-up expertise is a result of trial and error. And some planning. And luck.
So I'm sharing a few things I learned en route (pun intended) on travelling long-distance flights with an infant and toddler, while keeping your dignity (somewhat) intact.
Must-dos and must-haves
A bit of forward thinking and planning ahead helps. A lot. Try and book a night flight when possible, so you are assured baby/ toddler will sleep for most part of the journey. Can't get a night flight? Second-best option is to choose a flight that coincides with naptime – he/she will at least sleep for some part!
Travel light but smart. Especially when you are flying solo without help from dad. Choose a comfortable backpack (with lots of handy compartments) over a conventional nappy bag or cabin bag – so your hands are free to carry baby or hold toddler's hand. Preferably don't tug another piece of hand-luggage along, but if you have to, make sure its on wheels. Ditch the fancy big purse and put just your essentials (passports/phone/money) in a small purse slung across your shoulder.
If your little one is still an infant and light/small enough to fit in a sling, consider yourself blessed. Believe me, it's much easier having baby straddled onto you than having to carry him/her around the airport. Hands-free to manage luggage/ passport checks or even hold a drink.
Carry LOTS of snacks and entertainment when travelling with a toddler. Babies drift off to sleep eventually or are content soaking in their new environment, but keeping a toddler in his seat for nine hours is a Herculean task. Bring along his favourite biscuits/ nibbles (something fun that he can hold himself and take sufficient time to eat). Pack plenty of small toys that you can keep producing when boredom strikes. Books, colouring books and stickers keep them entertained for hours on end. And last but probably the most important in my opinion – a tablet that has his favourite cartoons/ nursery rhymes downloaded on it. And don't forget his favourite soft toy/ cuddly for sleeptime!
Make sure your little one is sucking on something during take-off and landing to prevent his ears from 'popping' and aching due to the change in air pressure. Breastfeed/ bottle-feed a baby or give him a pacifier to suck. Older toddlers can even sip on water.
Always carry a sachet of paracetamol with you in case baby develops a fever/ pain on board or his molar suddenly decides to pop out!
Keep your wet wipes handy AT ALL TIMES. (If you're a mum, I needn't say more!).
If your baby still fits into the bassinet, ask for one, irrespective of whether he will sleep in it or not. It's useful to dump toys/ pacifiers/ milk bottles/ water beakers or any of the other baby paraphernalia. And when you need a breather or need to eat, it's a safe place to put baby. Remember to ask for a bassinet seat when booking your ticket itself; sometimes they do get booked up!
However, if your child is over two and has his own seat, then don't take the first row of seats in any section of the plane – the armrests on these are fixed and don't come up so its impossible to put your toddler to sleep on your lap.
It's tiring for an adult to sit still for nine to ten hours straight, so it's not fair to expect your toddler to do the same. Take him for regular strolls through the aisles and let him explore the plane. Let him walk or run or crawl (as Little Man did on one long flight from USA to London. Just make sure he doesn't put anything in his mouth while crawling). Show him the different parts of the aircraft and talk to him about it. And if another passenger entertains your baby/toddler for even 10 minutes, embrace it!!!
Toddlers need to keep moving, sitting still is a big no-no in their world. But that's not always feasible on an airplane. So make use of the baby play areas that some airports provide and let your little one run and jump as much as he likes before boarding the plane. It will tire him out too, which means more rest for you on the flight. Terminals 2, 4 and 5 at Heathrow, London have a lovely free Stay and Play area with soft play, slides and more. Added advantage: you don't have to worry about keeping your toddler entertained at the airport.
PS: Be ready to get 'looks' of all kinds from fellow passengers. The common assumption is that if there's a baby on board, there will be crying. Or noise. Or tantrums. So you will get the 'Damn, the baby's right behind me' look or the 'I hope she's not sitting in my part of the plane' look, but just take it in your stride. Better still, ignore it. YOU are a tired mum and YOU need a vacation too. So screw them. Better still, silently whisper to yourself: 'Wait till you have one of yours!'
But you will also get looks that say 'Wow, here's one brave mother flying ALONE with an infant all the way from London to India'. You'll also get the odd helpful old lady who will give you that 'I'm here if you need me' smile or the chatty Indian grandmother who takes it upon herself to entertain your baby. I'm lucky to have experienced more of the latter than the former, but I owe that to Little Man – he's always been a good boy in the skies, getting me more compliments than complaints. On that note, here's to my next vacation…
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