With the majority of my family living overseas, I am well aware of the stress and anxiety long-haul flights can cause, especially when travelling with a little one.
Although the thought of a few hours on a plane with a babe in arms can seem quite daunting, I think the hardest challenge of all is when the kids are out of the baby stage and slap bang in the middle of the “I need to be entertained and played with at all times” pre-school stage.
After recently experiencing a total of 23 hours on a plane with my 4-year-old, here are my top tips for travelling with a preschooler:
I made the huge mistake before flying of assuming that the onboard entertainment hub, which is full of kids movies, TV shows and games, would consume the majority of the flight and keep my little one busy.
However, on the rare occasion where all you want is for your child to be glued to a television screen, they couldn't be less enthusiastic. Convenient huh?
Never Travel Light
Stock up your iPad with a buncha new apps, TV episodes and games and pack a "surprise bag". Fill your child's bag with never-before-seen toys, games and activities and try to keep these hidden until the flight so that the "surprise" factor will keep them further engaged. Also, try to only present one item at a time so your child is not spoilt for choice.
New pens, colouring pads, stickers and activity sheets are a firm favourite, but there are also a number of craft packs that are flight friendly. Magic painting books which only require water are a mess-free and fun way to keep the kids busy. This doesn’t necessarily need to cost a lot either as cheap homeware stores have heaps of affordable options.
Get Ready for No Sleep
It can be tough for anybody to sleep when cramped on a plane with a hundred other people, and this is no different for your children. Unfamiliarity with their surroundings as well as the time difference can all contribute to one very long, sleep-free journey.
If you can, try to pre-book flights that take off late afternoon so that after a busy day on land, your little one will be more likely to crash out.
Regardless of what is provided by the airline, it can also help to bring a little bit of home with you as a comfort to your little one, whether it be your child’s usual pillow or blanket.
The biggest thing to remember when dealing with sleep deprived kids on a flight is “don’t force it”. You’ll only start World War 3 and the more you try to induce sleep, the more they will fight against it.
Take a Walk
Let's face it, it can be a tight squeeze on most planes and many people tend to simply stay in their seat and stretch their legs with the occasional trip to the bathroom.
However, it’s commonly advised to use the space around you and take your child on a short walk around the plane. Obviously, wait for a sensible time. Trying to stroll down the aisle when dinner is being served is probably not the best idea, but when you have the all clear – go for it.
Not only is it important to keep both little and grown-up legs moving health-wise, but the 5-minute break and change of scenery can work wonders for a grumpy pre-schooler.
You Can Never be too Prepared
On most long-haul flights, you’ll all be able to take 7kg of hand luggage each. For ladies, however, this does not include a handbag that you may be carrying. i.e. pack that sucker to the brim! Toys, wet wipes, tissues, medicines and snacks. Lots of snacks! You honestly can never be over prepared for a long-haul flight with kids.
It's always best to take some form of children’s paracetamol in case a high temperature rears its ugly head and vapour rub can sometimes come in handy due to the air pressure of the cabin causing a blocked nose. Common medicines for adults and children can usually be purchased in the terminal once you are safely past security.
Extra clothes, socks, and underwear are also a must and although most long-haul flights include regular meals and snacks, it's possible that what's on the menu might not be to everyone's taste. I always tend to stock up on child-friendly snacks from the terminal just before boarding. Age appropriate lollies can be great for take off and landing as the chewing and swallowing motions will help kids with the dreaded "ear pop".
And to be honest, if eating endless packets of chips and chocolate is going to keep your kid quiet and happy for a few hours then so be it. You can force feed them fruit and vegetables once you arrive!
Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
Probably the most important. We’ve all seen that look of annoyance that certain passengers throw towards crying babies or over-active toddlers when travelling, heck we’ve probably even done it ourselves pre-mummy status. It’s so important as a mother to try to ignore disapproval from others and simply focus on yourself and the kids.
Children can sense our desperation and are more likely to act up or scream the house down if you start to become hysterical. Try to remain calm and positive and your brood should start to abide by your instructions.
Deep breaths and counting to 10 can help if it's a particularly stressful situation and if you do get to this stage, it may be a good time to tag team Dad so you can have a bit of a break!
Have you survived a long haul flight with a preschooler? What tips would you give?
I'm a first-time mother and I've found that I can't go out with my son without somebody giving me advice on how to raise him. There seems to be a general assumption that new parents have no idea about children, and it is everybody's duty to share their wisdom.