Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Five Bad or Overrated Tips for Flying with Children

We've just booked our tickets back to France for Christmas (annual ski trip in the Alps!). Choosing the best times to take a plane with kids made me think of some "traveling with kids" tips that I have never followed, or stopped following very early on.

1) Bring snacks.

The issue with snacks is two-fold. First of all, the snack often doesn't get eaten. How could this be the case, you ask? Kids are hungry all the time, after all, especially when they're bored. The snacks you pack don't get eaten because you decided to stop at a coffee shop in the airport instead, or because it was an overnight flight and your kids slept, or because well, they didn't fancy the four-hour old peanut butter sandwich smushed at the bottom of your purse.

So the food ends up sitting in your purse or bag - dead additional useless weight that you have to carry. You discover it four days later while cleaning out your purse in your hotel room (so that's what that smell was!).

Secondly, there is the crumb, stickiness, and general mess factor. Chocolate is a huge no-no for this reason. Chocolate melts in hands at room temperature. Imagine what your 3-year old will look like after downing that Hershey's during the transatlantic flight. Yes, I know you brought baby wipes, but the baby wipes will only get his face and hands. Have you taken a look at his shirt? Do you really want to have to change his clothes for that?  Cookies and muffins create lots of crumbs everywhere, including on your seat, and you're stuck with those crumbs for the rest of the flight. No matter how much you try to dust off that seat, you'll still be left with half the snack under and around your three-year old's (and your) butt.

Fruit is often too sticky and does not satisfy appetite. In fact, it increases it. That apple you just ate is going to make your stomach growl for more food. Then there is the fact that if you're going to pack something healthy and not some pre-packaged industrial junk, you're going to have to bring it in a container - more things to carry - and you're stuck with a dirty container for the rest of the trip.

So, no, this globetrotter mom does not bring any snacks for long plane or train trips. No really, I bring no snacks for the kids. None.

And what if my kids get hungry in the airport? We stop at Starbucks (barely more acceptable than McDonalds. Just barely). They get a muffin, or maybe a short hot chocolate, and some water.  If we are truly fortunate, the Frenchman's frequent flyer card will get us into a lounge, and then the kids can have a proper meal. Otherwise, they eat at an airport take-out place and eat very little, if anything, on the plane. No containers or dirty bags to carry around, no mess in my purse. Crumbs, excess food, and spilt drinks land on the airport table and floor and are left there.

What about on the plane, I hear you asking? Well, here is one tip I do actually follow. I try to book overnight flights. Because on overnight flights, kids tend to sleep. Or if they don't, they can watch movies, or play on ipad or the Bambina might read a book. When we arrive at our destination, we have a proper breakfast or lunch somewhere, or if we arrive at nighttime, we just go to bed.

2. Order the kids' meal

The only thing more disgusting and unhealthy than airplane meals is the airplane meals for kids. It is also more likely to increase the crumb and mess factor, as it is more likely to contain things like cookies and chips. If your kids have to eat on the plane, just get them the regular meal. And once the flight attendant has served your meals, don't let her/him move on to the next row before you hand back every single item on the tray that you know your little one is not going to eat. You'll have much less clutter to deal with when the eating is over.

3. Bring toys

Why not bring toys? Kids need entertainment when they travel!
Kids need entertainment when they travel until about age of three, at which point they can watch the movies or sleep. And that two kilo / five pound bag of small toys you brought for your two-year old? He'll be done with it in about ten minutes or before you can say "Hey! Where're you going! You can't go in there, that's the business class cabin!"

One exception: if you can bring a few wax crayons and some paper or colouring books, this should hold your child's attention a little longer. Maybe even 20 minutes if you're very lucky. Don't hold your breath, though.

But even if the toys only occupy them for half an hour, it's something, right? But guess who will eventually have to carry them... You. Yes, I know, your toddler has a carry-on suitcase with wheels on it that she can pull with her. Do you think she'll be able to manage when you're on the escalator, when you're going through doors, or when your racing to the gate because they changed the gate number at the last minute and your gate is now at the other end of the airport? And once you've reached your destination, guess who will have to deal with the toys littering the hotel room floor... You. And guess who will be stuck looking for them when they are left at the airport or in the hotel room...Yes, you, while your little one is howling because they're lost.

But my kid will be bored if I don't bring toys, you say. Do you own an ipad? Does it have games on it? Does it have an app for painting or colouring? Trust me, those ipad apps are going to hold your kid's attention much longer (and be far more educational) than that new plastic truck you picked up at Boots drugstore yesterday. You can also bring one or two small books, preferably ones that your little one hasn't heard yet. No more - they can add a lot of weight to your bag.

4. Accept the airline's goodie bag for kids

Flight attendants typically provide little goodie bags for children on a long-haul flight. These bags often contain pencil crayons, a small colouring book or an activity book, sometimes a furry toy. The problem with them is that the activity book is rarely age appropriate - by the time your child is old enough to actually read the instructions and do the activities, he or she will not likely to be very interested in completing it. The pencil crayons draw so faintly that the wax crayons you brought will be more effective. The colouring book is usually very small. The toy is, well, junk. The Bambina - age 9 - now routinely refuses the goodie bag. If the Bambino is sleeping, I refuse it on his behalf. If he's awake and insists that he would like it, I make a point of leaving the contents behind when we get off the airplane. It's just more junk that I don't want to carry and that I don't want in my house.

5. Bring large suitcases with lots of clothes, even if you could manage with carry-on suitcases.

Most tips for travel with children encourage you to bring as much as possible. Better safe than sorry after all. Bring numerous changes of clothes, the bottle warmer, extra diapers, toys, books, changing pads.

My take: bring what you absolutely have to bring, but if at all possible, bring it in carry-on suitcases, and don't check in the stroller. Waiting for luggage is that last thing you want to do when you've arrived at your destination. Waiting and searching for the stroller that never showed up on the carrousel or in the "special luggage" pile is pure hell when you have small children who just want to leave the airport. Kids' clothing doesn't take up much space. I've packed a week's worth of clothing for a toddler in one carry-on suitcase. I buy diapers at the destination. The stroller is a bigger problem, as some airlines force you to check it in. There is also greater risk that the stroller will be lost or broken than there is with other luggage. Just remember, generally speaking, the less checked in baggage, the better.