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Travelling Long Haul with Kids

“Are we nearly there yet?”

Those dreaded words, asked so innocently by my curious little girl. How could I sugarcoat my answer? We were so incredibly not nearly there. The plane had been in the air for less than 20 minutes and we were flying from London to Los Angeles. How was I supposed to explain 11 hours to a four year old? What does 11 hours feel like, sat in one seat? And how could I describe time zones and sleeping because flying west, weirdly, means travelling back in time?!

“We are right at the beginning of a big, exciting journey,” I said, somewhat convincingly.

  My four year old did not buy it. “It’s too long,” she said.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about that,” I told her. It wasn’t as if we could pull over into a service station to stretch our legs and grab a quick Happy Meal. “Why don’t we watch a movie?”

“But it’s TOO LONG!” She repeated, whinging much louder.

This is where parenting feels a tad unfair. We spend our day-to-day lives trying every tactic under the sun to get our kids away from screens. Everywhere we look, the bright lights of smartphones are ready to snatch their attention. Nothing is more important than moving pictures inside a small device. My kids beg me - on their knees - to let them watch screens. I can get them to brush their teeth, tidy their room, finish that last bit of broccoli, with the promise of precious TV time. And yet, when they’re given their own private screen, with full personal use of the controls and a wide variety of movies, TV shows and games, literally at their tiny fingertips, they have a meltdown. It’s like that saying, Never Meet Your Idol, or Be Careful What You Wish For. Having everything you have ever dreamed of isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?

Thank goodness for Paw Patrol and its genius Mighty Movie. When my daughter realised that was on her screen, she sat through it. Twice. My other child is a bit older, so he wasn’t as difficult to settle and could navigate the screen much better. Still, travelling with kids is easy…said nobody ever. The days of kicking off my shoes and watching back-to-back movies with a few snoozes in-between are long gone, for the time being. I did take my shoes off, but they got splattered with spilt orange juice. I watched a single movie in roughly seven-minute segments, pausing to untangle a pair of kids headphones; take them to the toilet; open the small bag of pretzels to then have to catch them spit a pretzel out because it was, “disgusting”; and of course, mop up OJ with small paper napkins.

Was it a long 11 hours? Yes.

Would I do it again? Yes.

Many families with young kids might choose to holiday closer to home, understandably for ease. But if like me you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you will want to introduce your little ones to jetting off to faraway places as soon as possible and make those memories together. You might live the expat life, far away from family, and flying long-haul is your only option to see loved ones. It’s not impossible and with the right attitude, it’s not horrible. I promise. It’s just…different.

Here are my top tips for travelling with small kids:


1.  Get a Kid’s Suitcase - As a holiday surprise, I got my daughter a Frozen suitcase for around AED 120 with a choice of both wheels to pull and backpack straps. My son was keen to choose his own and opted for a Baby Yoda design of the same size and same price. These cases are small enough to be considered hand luggage whilst fun to pull along, and light enough to carry if your kid gets tired. Plus, they’re less bulky than backpacks and easier to cram in more toys and snacks. Pack spare clothes in there, too. Spilling orange juice all over themselves will make for one long and sticky ride without anything to change into. Avoid the tantrums and throw in a t-shirt or two.

2.  Big It Up - Tell your kids how exciting the big plane will be, how high it goes and how fast it flies. Create a positive vibe about flying so it’s fun from the word, go. The whole day, from journeying to the airport to arriving at your final destination is one big adventure. It’s likely to be crazy long. But it’s unusual. It’s stepping outside all of your comfort zones. Be buzzy about travelling and your little ones will hopefully jump onboard.

3.  Pack Snacks - I make my kids a reusable sandwich bag each filled with their favourite small treats, such as biscuits, lollipops, fruit snacks, crisps and raisins. They can dig into it whenever they want, but remind them, when it’s gone…it’s gone! Chocolate tends to melt quickly on a flight, so if you’re packing a Freddo, make sure you also pack some wipes.

4.  Arrive Early - Whether you’re a frequent flyer or not, we always underestimate how big airports are and how much walking is involved. Kids have little legs and can’t always keep up with an airport’s fast pace. Give yourself an extra hour. It’s no fun rushing around a terminal with all that extra baggage!

5.  But DO Encourage Walking - Because you want to tire your kids out before they are forced to sit still for hours on end. Let them burn off as much energy as possible. Walk up the escalators, mooch around duty-free. Some airports have soft play areas, so get yourself a coffee and let the kids go wild.

6.  Treat Them at the Airport - It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Something like a kids magazine with word games and stickers can mean the world to my youngest. My seven year old son loves taking his pocket money to the airport bookshops to choose a new book for the trip.

7.  Feed Them Before the Flight - Although long-haul flights provide meals it’s likely that kids won’t like the food. Adults will ‘make do’ with what they’re served and personally, I like the novelty of plane meal, even if it is heavy with sugar and usually tastes a bit weird. Kids won’t stand for this. Mine were given “pancakes” for the onboard breakfast and attempted just one bite. To be fair, they did not taste like pancakes! Choose an airport restaurant or familiar chain and get your children a comforting kids meal to fill them up before take-off. For long-haul flights, you can also reserve your kids’ meals in advance. Special meals are always served ahead of the regular meal service which allows you to help them get set up and fed before your meal arrives.

8.  Charge and Load up the iPad - Download their favourite movies and games to keep them entertained. The inflight entertainment might be varied, but if your kid’s number one show isn’t there, you might wish you’d planned ahead. Make sure you download before leaving home as airport wifi can be hit and miss (try explaining that to an impatient kid!). And don’t forget to charge the device fully before you board.

9.   Take a Trash Bag - Make sure you take a few extra plastic bags for rubbish. From mopping up  drink spillages to spitting out pretzels - and let’s face it, possible puking - you’ll want to stash the dirty wipes in the trash. It’s much easier (and kinder) to hand a bag to the cabin crew than the stained rag, right?

10.    Don’t Forget the Comfort Toy - Pack the bunny or the teddy in your hand luggage and pull it out when your child needs to try and sleep. Their favourite soft toy to snuggle up with might be the magic ingredient to getting some peace and quiet.





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