Each year since Digger moved in we have been travelling to see Pierre’s family. It takes almost two days to get there, so we stay for a fortnight in Grandmama’s house.
We just did our third trip with Digger, who is now 3 1/2. Here’s is what I have learned over the past three trips. Much of it is advice from parents and carers, who have passed on their best advice. If you have any ideas to add to this list, please do add them in the comments below.
Here goes my top 20 tips.
Before you go…
#1 Preparation is everything
Tell you kid you will be travelling. Map it out. In words. In drawing. In whatever way you normally tell your kid that something new – and quite possibly unsettling – is about to happen.
That said, this year we made the mistake of telling Digger too early. Two and half weeks before. So … Every. Single. Day. We have been over the travel itenary. How many sleeps til Grandmama’s house? A week would have been plenty – pleeenty ! – of warning for a three-year-old.
# 2 Warn the kid about possible travel stress
I warn Digger at the latest on the day of travel of the probability of stress will be going UP. I say something like : Ok my little heart, mummy and daddy are going to be stressed while we pack. We will rush around looking for stuff. We might say things like: Digger hurry hurry. Shoes on. Where’s your bunny? Digger where is your cocktail umbrella? And so on. We make fun of it. We all rush around hurrying each other. We may put socks on our head while saying I can’t find my socks… Where are the socks?? Has anyone seen my socks?! It worked a treat this year. Digger didn’t get unsettled by us dashing about and stress levels rising.
But then again packing up to go home, it didn’t work as well. Mainly because we forgot to involve him properly.
#3 Make a list of what to pack
One of the things I stress most about is forgetting essentials. So sometimes I write it all down. Or try to. This really helped when Digs was little and needed a caravan of stuff – formula milk, diapers, special toys etc.
Nevertheless I always always forget something. I reassure myself that I am likely to forget something. And that that is ok. Usually we are going to place where they have diapers and food.
#4 Start packing well in advance
I start a couple of days before. It truly cuts down on things I’m likely to forget, and adds to the things I do bring.
#5 Get the kid involved in the preparations
We drag out the suitcases from their hide away. Digger loves hiding in them. We put a coloured ribbon on the outside so we can recognise it when it comes round on the bagage carousel.
I ask him about which clothes he would like to bring. For instance I might say : Would you like to bring the red or the blue trousers? Holding both pairs up.
We pack his little rucksack together. Here Digs will be in charge. This year we brought:
A couple of small books
A selection of cars (4-5 hotwheels, a bus, a match box digger and a dump truck and a duplo car)
A few duplo blocks
A tiny book for drawing in + colour pencils
1-2 soft toys (we choose bed time softies)
Some cotton wool
A piece of string
A small giraffe
A new reusable pad and special water brush, which reveals colour when wet. Neat. No mess.
In addition I brought a few things in the diaper bag:
A sticker book (Frozen. Don’t ask)
The iPad (loaded with a few new apps)
A few more books
#6 Bring something that spells home
We bring at least:
Bunny, definitely bunny. When Digger was little we took Bunny, plus a back-up bunny incase we lost the first. Which we did – once or twice
1-2 current favourite bedtime soft toys
2-3 current favourite bedtime stories
2 big scarfs of mine
His pillow and duvet. This was great when he was wee, but now it is just too much stuff to carry.
The scarfs doubles up as small blankets. They are soft and smell of mum. Scarfs and soft toys usually makes for a much better night’s sleep or kip on the plane.
#7 Bring more diapers than you think you might need
Be prepared for a lot of moisture. Going in and coming out.
I calculate a generous amount of diapers. Then I take double that number. Even though they may have diapers at the end destination, you don’t want to get caught out. Like in Spain during siesta. If your plane is delayed…. We took 12 on our eight-hour flight. This year we used one. But last year we used nine before we got our suitcases back.
#8 Bring minimum one change of clothes for everyone in your travel party
This is especially true if your fellow traveller is under two and likely to be sitting on your lap a lot. Take it from a dad who got wee-ed on, two hours into an eight-hour flight. I took said advice and have been grateful for the change of clothes on trips when Digs was 1 and 2. This year we got off with one set only for all of us.
Once in the airport…
#9 Dress you little one is something bright – so you can spot him if he does a runner. Or consider reins. We had a little rucksack in the shape of a monkey which had reins – worked a treat during the toddler years. He grew out of that aged 2 1/2.
#10 Squeeze as much energy out of your tot as possible
I make my son walk. And run. And jump. All the way to the plane if I can.
I trick him to run from window to window to spot planes and diggers and what not. I go up and down escalators. Same ones if I need to. Trying not to care about people staring. I play lots of ‘red light, green light’ (red light = stop/freeze, green = go, go, go). And when I am out of fuel and if my husband I also travelling, I hand Digs over for some invigorated energy squeeze.
Once onboard …
Opportunities for excercise will be severely limited on board. But even there we take walks. When Digger first learnt to walk we had him walk back and forth between us – the game was to be silent or whispering. Only we would gesticulate as if shouting. This of course we had been practising in the weeks leading up to the travels.
#11 Consider separate seats
Pierre and I try to get seats a parts from each other. Two seats next to each other for Digger and one adult, and another seat for the other adult somewhere else. That way one of us can watch a film or catch up on sleep. That way we can take effective turns with our little man.
That said we do enjoy a row of three seats if we can get them.
#12 Locate packed snacks
Easy ones all the way. My favorites are:
Ellas. We love Ella’s (very good regulators on the bowel movements too while abroad)
Bars and crisps in their own wrappers
Fruit and veg if you can. Cut up in small containers work well, or in their own natural containers, like bananas and avocados.
But don’t overfeed. Travel sickness is more likely on a full stomach. Trust me on this one.
#13 Offer drink or chewy stuff during take off and landing
Drinking or eating during take off and landing will help levitate the pressure on the small ears. If you little one is still bottle feeding, ask the flight attendants to heat a bit of milk/formula for you.
#14 Think of activities you can do while sitting down – lots of them
I aim to have a mental list of 1-2 things to do per hour. Low tech games work really well. Here are some of our favourites:
Nursery rhymes work as background noise levels on a plane are notorious high and you can sign while you sit very close.
Post its – stick them to your kid – you can even number them and ask him to find them all. That has worked every year since we first flew with Digs.
The box! I found an old small box, cut a slot in it (approx. large enough for a £1 coin). I then searched the house for things that could go into it. Coins, spare buttons, pieces of foam, papers etc. It’s ok with some pieces are too big for the slot, eg. pieces of papers that would need to be folded to go in. This year Digger spent nearly a full hour doing it.
Play-doh, or my new favourite: silk clay (same stuff but lighter and more silky..)
#15 Bring surprises
We add some to Digger’s back pack, when he is not looking. And I keep a good few in my bag. I try to bring more surprises that I think I will need. This year it was the post its (again), the iPad, a sticker book and two new books to read.
#16 Under no circumstances – what so ever – ever bring a noisy toy or a musical instrument
It will ruin it for everyone. Just don’t.
#17 Invest in a set of comfortable kiddie ear phones
Just like for adults this transforms screen time. And hey oh you can even understand what they are saying on the screen!
#18 Make maximum use of Screen Time
We load up the iPad with new surprise apps – more on good apps in another blog.
We completely deprived Digger of any sort of screen time for two weeks leading up to our holiday. So he was a happy camper with a screen. For about an hour. On an eight-hour flight Diggers still need a lot of 1:1 time. And lots of interaction. Digger is nowhere near being able to watch a full feature length film on his own. So … those days of enjoying airplane movies are long gone for us.
Once you arrive…
#19 Get a hotel
If you have any distance to go from the airport to your end destination, it really pays off getting a hotel in or near the airport. Much better than arriving frazzled. Especially if you are visiting family. Or anywhere else where you all have to be on best behaviour. Sleep and wake up to breakfast. Then travel.
#20 Expect to be exhausted
That takes the sting out of it for me. And I always feel it’s gone much better than I thought it would.
As a friend once said Holiday with a child is just going somewhere else – less convenient. There is some truth in that. But only some.