Is it your dream holiday?
Or an exciting work opportunity on the other side of the world?
Adventure beckons – new sights, experiences, culture, the food! You know this will be a wonderful experience for everyone.
But first, you’ve got to get there.
And that means a long-haul flight.
With the kids!
Can you do it?
How will they behave? Will they throw the mother of all tantrums? Constantly thump the seat in front of them? What can you do to keep them entertained for All. That. Time?
Take a breath, Mama. With a little preparation, YES you can absolutely do it!
I’ve survived the 16+ hour flight between Australia and Canada with 3 young kids several times. And I’m still (mostly) sane.
So buckle up – I’ve got a carry-on full of practical sanity-saving tips to share!
1. What happens at the airport?
Unless you love to fly ‘by the seat of your pants’, prepare your crew for the flight well before take-off.
So, explain the check-in process and the likelihood of lots of waiting in long queues. Brainstorm ways you can pass the time while waiting. Talk about what happens to your luggage. (For little kids, grab a copy of At the Airport by Richard Scary)
2. What’s it like on the plane?
Research the seating configuration on your aeroplane, and know how many passengers you’ll be sharing your trip with.
3. What will the weather be like at your destination?
Will you need special clothing, eg down jackets and thermal underwear for cold climates, for example?
4. What happens during the flight?
Do your groundwork, and explain before you board. What the captain and crew says goes. Seatbelts are checked. (And a heads-up, Mama, they are a cinch for reluctant little bodies to wriggle out of!)
5. Going to the toilet.
Ahhhhh the toilet run… To avoid any fear of aeroplane toilets (yes, that’s a real thing!) it’s best to explain a couple of things before you board:
. The toilets are tiny
. The toilet makes a scary THHWAAAAAPPP noise when flushed (but no, you won’t get sucked out)
. you will likely have to queue
. get clued-up on where the waste goes – the kids will ask you that for sure!
6. Send ‘em packing.
While you’ll probably want to be boss of the suitcase contents, get the kids involved in packing their own small bag to take on the plane. Invite them to choose a (compact) book, toy and any other ‘special’ items as travel companions.
7. Bust on-board boredom.
Long-haul flights are not just long, but skull-numbingly boring. Stuck in close quarters and with nowhere to go, your entertainment options are limited.
So, let them get ‘square eyes’.
Relax your ‘screen time’ rules up in the air. Happy kids (hopefully) means quiet kids and quite frankly, don’t worry about their eyeballs falling out from watching too many movies.
Most airlines have reasonable in-flight entertainment, but do check. We once discovered about 12 hours out from a long-haul flight that our plane had no personal entertainment system – just ‘old-school’ ceiling mounted televisions every 12 rows or so. (I know, very retro..) Thankfully, we had time to download a couple of kids movies onto ipads in the nick of time!
Oh, and don’t forget your own headphones – airline supplied ones are usually too tricky to sit properly in little ears.
8. Get your game on.
Truthbomb – you’re gonna have to play a few games with the kids. (ugh, I know!) Try to find a balance between games they like and that won’t send you batty. (Everyone likes ‘I Spy’, right?) A deck of cards for SNAP! or Go Fish will be handy, or UNO cards. Mini-tubs of playdough are great for creative play, and you can’t go past stickers or a colouring-in book or two (so long as you bring a few pencils!)
9. To medicate or not to medicate?
Oh the stories I’ve heard! Some folk administer over-the-counter medication in the hope it will help the kids sleep, only to have it backfire, big time!
Like my sister-in-law. On a flight to Japan, she gave my 5 year old niece a wee slurp of phenergan, hoping for a 8 hour dose of peace. But oh no! It had the opposite effect, with her tearing through the aisle in a hyped-up state. Needless to say, they were happy to disembark in Tokyo and won’t try that strategy again!
Make your own informed decision about whether to get help from the Medication Gods. My hippy tendencies lean to a more natural approach – think flower essences or a roller-ball filled with a calming essential oil blend – or both!
These little concoctions are gentle on kiddy tummies, easy to source and small enough to pop in your carry-on.
10. Food glorious food.
My kids scream, ‘I’m hungry’ on quick trip to the shops, so heaven forbid their hunger cries on a long journey.
And airline food is pretty gross. (Although I’ve never flown business class, perhaps that’s a different matter). Even so, request kids meals and flag any dietary requirements well before take off, and hope for the best.
You will want to BYO snacks. Your pre-flight groundwork should identify a few good options. Past favourites for us include wraps (with jam, vegemite or cream cheese), dried fruit, bliss balls, carrot and celery sticks. Steer away from melty, sticky or smelly foods with lots of wrapping.
Sweets are handy to combat kiddy ear-popping on take-off and landing. But limit sugar, particularly if the hit will send your kid bananas.
11. Don’t forget a drink bottle.
Your kids spill stuff? Yeah, mine too. No-one wants to sit in a spill, so pack a small plastic drink bottle or sippy cup in your carry-on. Drinks are often served in plastic cups, and for me and mine, that completely elevates the chance of someone wearing a lap-full of drink… A water bottle is a much safer bet.
12. What to wear.
Go for comfort and warmth. Planes generally run on the cool side and it’s hard to snooze if you’re cold. Dress in layers, and favour stretchy, breathable fabrics. Pack a complete change of clothes for each of you, just in case you forget your water bottle – ha!
13. Fellow flyers.
Worried what others will think of your kids, should they play up?
Remember, once you land, you’ll never see your fellow passengers again. So don’t sweat it. Some will be supportive, perhaps even offering to help. Others will give nothing but a scowl and a cold shoulder.
14. Keep calm with your carry-on.
Lip balm, deodorant and a toothbrush are top of my list to keep me feeling fresh. Baby wipes are oh-so handy for 101 purposes, so include a small packet, even if you don’t have a baby.
Load your phone with gentle music or even a guided relaxation or two. Even if you don’t sleep, a few rounds of yoga nidra or snoozing to some ambient sounds will help you arrive feeling somewhat rested.
15. When you need to ‘calm your farm’.
Travel can be stressful. Add in a couple of kids in unfamiliar surroundings and anxiety levels can skyrocket. When you need to calm down, pronto, try several rounds of this easy ‘4 count’ breathing exercise:
Step 1. Breathe in to a steady count of 4.
Step 2. Hold for a count of 4.
Step 3. Exhale for 4.
Touch-down (at last!)
When you finally hear the captain announce’ ‘prepare for landing’, be sure to take a moment.
Wa-hooooo – you did it!
You did what many families wouldn’t dare.
You packed up your family, got them on a plane and half way across the planet.
That’s no mean feat, Mama!
You kept yourself beautifully calm. You kept the kids cucumber-cool. Even hubby’s looking pretty fresh and fabulous!
All that time preparing was totally worth it.
So soak it in. Give yourself and your awesome family a massive congratulations!
Now, grab your guidebook, get exploring and start making amazing memories for you and your family.
PS Want to take some time out before your trip to relax? The ‘Calm Compass’ quiz will help you find out the relaxation technique BEST suited to YOU!