“I’ve taken 20 flights with a toddler. Here’s what I learned”.

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From Laos to Langkawi, Bali and back, multiple domestic trips to Sydney and the Sunshine Coast, I took 20 flights with my kids when they were between 3 and 23 months old. I will start with a disclaimer justifying the number and nature of flights we took as new parents by blaming my inherent wanderlust and fear or missing out (FOMO), which became amplified by parenthood and this increase in hours spent at home while on maternity leave.

Suddenly the southern sun wasn’t sunny enough nor the water warm enough and I needed to be anywhere and everywhere more tropical, and immediately. There was also the chronic sleep deprivation contributing to an exponential increase in screen and internet hours with most of my travel planning occurring between the hours of 3-5am. I hence take little responsibility for the decisions that followed. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

 

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Buy your kid a seat. Just trust me.

It might seem like a savvy financial decision to pack in your plane trips in those first two years but after 20 flights across Asia and Australia, I can now look back and declare that no amount of money saved by not paying for a seat for your child will make up for the loss of personal space, privacy, dignity, sanity and comfort which comes from being able to have an extra seat and a plane row to yourself. You will remind yourself of the above fact multiple times over particularly as your sleepy newborn becomes a curious crawler or you are wrangling a toddler intent on kicking your neighbour and you’ll wish you weren’t such a cheapskate despite this seeming rite of free passage.

There will be milk.

Suck. suck. suck. breast or bottle feeding on take off and landing will help your little one adjust to sudden changes in atmospheric pressure. A dummy may well do the trick also if they’ll take it. BUT beware the supply/demand issues. It may be the best remedy you have but comfort feeding for plane travel and the disruption of time zone and usual routines can wreak havoc with your milk supply.  This can lead to over-engorgement and may well impact those bikini selfies when one boob is the size of a watermelon. Just saying. If you travel in the first 3 months and are breastfeeding you will squirt milk all over the man in the suit sitting next to you as you wrestle with milk supply and space issues. Hopefully this is your husband, but it probably won’t be.  You will wonder why people in Economy wear suits.

Stop trying to make holiday outfits happen.

Changing out of your pyjamas into travelling harem pants (that still resemble pyjamas) is as good as it gets. You will start out with high sartorial style expectations and picture yourself wearing a straw fedora and curve-accentuating bather onesie while lounging poolside on a day bed indulging in your latest book.

You will leave the fedora and any other small non-essential items on the plane because your brain can’t remember five minutes ago and eventually will be grateful when your boob isn’t exposed at check-in.  You also won’t notice that both of your feeding bra clips have been undone for the duration of the flight until you reach your destination and change clothes for the first time. Not to mention your book won’t come out of your suitcase, your kindle is on the plane and your onesie doesn’t fit, but that’s another story.

Bring ALL the baby things.

New mums are liable to over-pack everything but the kitchen sink. Among the 38 cloths and nappies just make sure you have a couple of complete outfit changes for the flight including another layer for yourself in your carry-on. Those nappy explosions in the first six months can be brutal and no doubt one will occur the minute the first seat belt sign has been turned on.

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Most airlines allow you to bring a pram, cot and car seat for a child under 2 free of charge.  Take advantage of it! Depending on where you are travelling it will save you money and (particularly for parents of young babies) will give you peace of mind in those first 6 months rather than having to hire these things locally.

Use a carrier.

It may be an ergonomic multi-vented-3-way-transferable and costly contraption or it may just be a cloth sling. Don’t under-estimate how useful it is to have your hands free for carting luggage on and off the plane knowing your little one is safe and sound.

Not to mention muslin cloths or oversize light-weight wraps or scarves.  These are a must for providing a bit of privacy for feeding, darkening your lap for day time sleeps or acting as a temporary sling for sleeping especially if the seat belt sign is on and you can’t wear your proper carrier.

Baby bassinets on long-haul flights are over-rated. With strict size and weight limits and instructions to remove your baby in any event of turbulence they can offer false hope of a restful flight beyond the first few months. However, with more leg room, these seats are a bonus for families if you want wriggling room but if you prefer to keep your toddler contained, can be problematic.

Wherever you sit won't be perfect.

Where to sit? Choose a window seat if you value privacy and think your little one will sleep in your arms and you’d appreciate a corner nook. Choose the aisle if your older child is on the move and you think you’ll be pacing the aisles regularly.  If you are travelling with your partner choose an aisle and a window and hope no one sits in between. And if they do, hope they are rational enough not to want to sit in the middle of two flailing and desperate parents at their wits end.

Meal times are problematic.

For a toddler, timing flights over a meal time can be a good activity and, albeit, messy distraction.  Unless you are going long haul to Europe, ‘overnight’ flights to Asia are often overstimulating with too much food service and cabin lighting to be useful for a long sleep.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Unless your child can sleep through anything, fly during the day, time it with a day nap for a short flight and be prepared with food and activities either side.

If they are old enough to eat, you may be tempted to use food to placate a restless child. Be warned that a combination of milk, yoghurt, pear, a tube of broccoli/cheese/cauliflower and the rest may result in over consumption and be promptly regurgitated in volume once you get in a moving car and leave the airport.  Your car and car seat will never smell like crisp linen or new leather ever again. You have been warned.

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As they get older, forget home made spoon fed gourmet delicacies on the flight. With the lack of space and compartments on flights these days the less containers and cutlery the better. Choose low fuss and mess options and if that means a tube of mush and a Cruskit then so be it. (Please refer disclaimer and note no dieticians have been consulted in this decision-making-process).

Break your screen-time rules.

Never have screen-time under 2 years. Except when it is essential. And by about 18 months you will drive yourself crazy on a flight without it. Get an old iPad and enclose it in a durable rubber case. Download some Playschool, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bananas in Pyjamas on demand and get at least 5 minutes of your life back. Guilt be-gone.

And finally, just remember to Breathe! Repeat the mantra that it is only 2/7/14 (insert relevant time increment) hours of your life. You’ve got this. Good luck!

Sarah Guille is a freelance writer and blogger. You can follow her on Instagram here. 

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