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It’s never fun travelling with kids. I used to think that flying from Auckland to Christchurch (80 mins) was long haul!
So being a bit of a stickler for organisation I would prepare like it. Packed snacks, drinks, stickers, crayons, colouring pages, change of clothes. Yes, yes, I was very prepared and always felt proud when I made it to my destination with zero meltdowns. That inward feeling of utter relief (silently sweating under a cool exterior) radiating casualness and a ‘this is how my kids always behave because we are seasoned travellers’ look.
Then my husband took a job in Dublin and we decided that he would fly out first to find a house and set things up for our arrival, (actually he just wanted to go to the All Blacks vs Wales rugby test match in Cardiff with a bunch of mates) and I would follow 10 days later with the kids. Of course I could handle it, I was a frequent, experienced flyer.
So I set about drafting up my list of what I would need on the plane with a 17 month old and a 3 year old. I even bought one of those deck chairs that you can strap to your carry on pulley bag, for one of the kids to sit in. I decided, in my wisdom, to travel the first leg at night so the kids would sleep the whole flight – brilliant thinking.
Crayons, food snacks, pjs, clothes, toys, wipes, the list went on. Logistically I was as prepared as a mother could be and I was a little proud and quietly confident if I’m being totally honest.
Of course I was in floods at the airport as I said goodbye to friends and family and this proved to be the beginning of my dissolving resolve, confidence and preparation.
We flew out of Auckland at about 6pm and flew 3 hours to Sydney. The kids were excited and well behaved so it didn’t bother me too much that they didn’t sleep on this leg – they could have a nap in the airport while we waited for our 15 hour flight on to Abu Dhabi.
Ok, if not at the airport they will definitely sleep on the big leg beause when we left Sydney it was now midnight NZ time. I might also point out here that I had not let my 17 month old have a day sleep before we left NZ intending him to sleep the Akld to Sydney – best laid plans and all that. Well, let me tell you (if you haven’t already discovered it for yourself) over tiredness in an airport is torture…for everyone.
But not to worry, I am a mother in control and I can handle this.
We got on the full flight to find ourselves in the middle aisle, second from the last row on the plane and in the only 3 seats where the armrests didn’t lift for some very unknown reason. The staff were as helpful as tits on a bull (as my Dad would say) and no one would offer to swap with us.
Not long after take off, my very own Watergate happened. My 17 month old accidentally put his hand between the seats and knocked over a woman’s cup – which held all of an inch of water in it. You would’ve thought it was acid by her reaction as she pushed the attendant button and threw her arms up yelling ‘that child….that child tsk tsk tsk!’. That one incident was just another chink in my confident parenting armour, just enough of an incident to add a bit more pressure to my child management plan. However, my snack organisation came in handy when the air steward tried serving my two children a mince pie for dinner heated well over 100 degrees celsius, because our travel agent had not thought to book food for my full fare paying kids and they had no spare trays (but that’s another blog post all together!).
6 hours into the flight, my 3 year old is finally asleep, but I am standing at the back of the plane holding my screaming 17 month old baby. Tears are silently streaming down my face and not one person is stopping and offering any kind of comfort or help. I’m not feeling so confident or prepared any more, more chinks fall away…Im feeling incredibly inept and inadequate. It was one of the lowest parenting moments I’d had.
Finally after 15 gruelling hours and between 4-5 hours sleep for each child, of which I have slept zero, we were 40mins away from landing.
When both boys became totally and utterly overwhelmed with exhaustion as their little brains just couldn’t cope for one more minute. A real test of Mummy patience and mental stamina. I have seen those SAS recruit training programmes where they torture candidates with loud white noise for hours on end – they should just make them fly from NZ to Dublin with two small children, I can guarantee they’d all break.
So we are not far from landing, both kids have kicked off in the most wild and violent manner I have ever witnessed. So much so, that I had never seen either of them behave this way before or since so I actually had no idea how to handle it. I hold one and let him writhe and scream while the other one is so tired he can’t even use words but can only thrash every limb about making it impossible to put on his seatbelt. They are both beyond tired, beyond rational, beyond human and all I feel is the burn from the horrible Watergate lady’s eyes drilling me with her disapproving, judgemental glare.
We land, but we are at the back of the plane, so I make the decision to let everyone off first before I even contemplate moving. I sit quietly sweating, holding both my screaming children – trying desperately to keep my shit together because the last thing these boys need is for me to be weak when they desperately need me to be strong – and I do it. In my mind I tell myself that in an hours time we will be in a nice cool hotel and the boys can have a sleep, anything to get me through this nightmare. Everyone is finally off except two young ladies up ahead of me. By the time I notice them I have wrestled my bags down, strapped the chair on, strapped one screaming child in while literally holding the other one under my arm and am ready to march down the aisle with a full sweat on. One of the girls stops me and said ‘you’ve done an amazing job, I have no idea how you did it’. The tears come hot and heavy………
I say thank you but I can feel my breath shortening as I feel an overwhelming urge to sit down and heave with sobs.
You’ll be happy to know the rest of the trip went better. We spent a night in Abu Dhabi to give the kids a break and the Irish staff on the 9 hour leg from there to Dublin were amazing! As you can imagine I was a bit apprehensive about the next leg. But the staff took the kids for walks, moved us into more comfortable seats, and there were a couple of Irish passengers who took a real shine to the boys. I am positive to this day that that was the start of my love of the Irish people. Friendly, funny, genuine, lovely people.
It took me awhile to fly with the boys on my own again, but I got back on the horse eventually and have since flown to NZ and back twice on my own with the kids. It’s true that the older they get the easier they are to manage when they’re tired.
But everytime I fly now, I could give a rats patooty if I have all the essentials in my kit bag – I now prepare myself for psychological warfare and whatever happens it is never as bad as what I’ve prepared for!
Here are my top tips on flying with kids:
1. If you are only flying one leg and its less than 8 or 9 hours, make it a day flight and just deal with the kids. You don’t have to keep them as quiet because no one else is sleeping and they will sleep well when you arrive close to night time.
2. If flying from Europe to Australasia or vice-versa, it’s more important to time your landing at the other end than your departure time. For example, when flying from Europe to NZ, I want to land in NZ in the morning. That way I can keep the kids up till at least 6pm local time, put them to bed and they’ll not only sleep 12-13 hours solid but they’ll wake up with no jet lag. Same coming back.
3. Train your kids to watch movies. This will save your life and give you a break! On any length flight.
4. Always have easy access to wipes and hand sanitiser no matter the flight length. I wipe down the tray table for starters and then little hands and faces later.
5. Carry nappy bags or a plastic supermarket bag. Just in case kids spill all over their clothes or have an accident of any kind. Like the time one of my boys vomited all over himself as the plane was taking off – true story.
6. If you are taking an iPad to share between kids, invest in a headphone multi jack. They are cheap nowadays and can take up to 4 sets of headphones so the kids can watch the same iPad or iPhone together.
7. Get a mesh zip toy bag for each kid- about A4 size. Give it to them to put their own toys in it. My kids put their colouring stuff in it, some cars, dinosaurs, lego etc. The more kids you have the less room you have so limiting each child and making them pick their toys is crucial. The zip keeps them secure and the mesh bag means you can manipulate it into a bigger bag if needed.
8. Trunkies are a MUST! When I travel on my own I have a back pack as my carry on and then I can pull one kid in each hand when we are in a hurry or they are tired. When I’m with hubby, we have one child each. Since baby 3 came along I use a front pack and a pulley bag and hubby has a back pack and pulls the trunkies.
9. In one trunkie I put all the clothes needed for the trip (Pjs, change for other end, spare undies etc) and in the other trunkie I put snacks, soft toys, toy bags and things I’m going to need more often. This way if they both want something, I don’t need to get access to two bags.
10. If you can, get each child one of those half moon shaped travelling pillows. Kids sleep anywhere and in any position but these make them a little more comfortable. Also travelling can be daunting for little ones, these pillows can be like a little companion for them.
11. Water, water, water – everyone needs to drink as much of it as possible to help with recovery from the flight and fight the effects of tiredness. Yes it means more toilet stops, but keeping the legs moving is also a great way to aid recovery and stop the dreaded Cankles!
12. If I do have a night leg, I change them into PJs in the departure lounge and try to mimic their sleep environments in terms of cuddly toys, stories etc. You’ll be surprised how much pjs can help their mindset change from play to sleep.
13. Take their favourite (healthy-ish) snacks to use as a bribe and also in case they don’t like the food. Eating is more important on a long flight than trying to teach a child not to be picky!
14. If flying from Europe to Australasia go via Asia & not America. I didn’t realise that even if you are a transit passenger in the good old US of A you still need to clear customs, collect your bags, re check them in and go back through customs just to sit in a transit lounge. This process was made harder by the fact that one of the baggage handlers had torn the airline labels off my bag, so I literally had to go out to the front of the airport and get my bag rechecked – with two very tired little boys on a hot day.
15. If you fly Europe to Australasia and your kids are younger than 5, then I strongly suggest a stop overnight in Singapore – even if its only 6-8 hours. Book a hotel room in the airport and head straight there for a shower and sleep. This airport is also super kid friendly and there is heaps to do. If you can be bothered waiting in the information queue when you get there, you can get complimentary vouchers to spend in the airport on shower rooms, food, entertainment etc. This airport has a butterfly garden, a swimming pool, movie theatre, supermarket & also some good shopping for Mum!
16. If your kids are a bit older 6 & 8 for example, the kids are old enough to fly straight through with just the 2 hour stop over in Singapore or any other airport.
17. Take lollipops for take off and landing if your kids get sore ears. But only use them for this and not as treats throughout the flight!!! They can get sticky and no one likes to find a lollipop stick embedded in your trouser leg hours later. Another true story.
18. If you are able to spend a little more on flight options, then I cannot recommend highly enough the Skycouch offered by Air NZ! Three window-row-seats lay flat into a bed and the airline will provide a mattress topper, duvet and fluffy pillows. Costs about $200NZ or £100 per leg but is so worth it if travelling with little ones. Sky beds are only available NZ – USA – Europe, so its great if you are traveling return to USA from either Europe or NZ.
Please let me know if you have any travelling questions or if you have any stories to share of your own!
Love, Jaimee Sarah oxo
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