Flying with small children; the hand luggage

{For THEE most impressive and detailed advice for travelling with kids, there are two blogs I can’t recommend enough. Please see Tips for travelling with kids (journeysofthefabulist.wordpress.com) and Travel (freebutfun.wordpress.com)}

As I struggled up the aisle behind a dawdling 4 year old, a clumsy 2 year old and with a 1 year old strapped to my back, my arms weighted by 4 winter coats, a big sports bag and a cloth shopping bag, I thought to myself am I mad to bring so much hand luggage. When I landed in Dublin having stopped over in Amsterdam with most of the sports bag contents untouched, I concluded I was. However, on the return journey, with woes of foregone journeys taunting me, I decided to be “mad” again and I was glad by the end of it all that I was. By the time I landed in Tokyo I had used all and ran out of some of the contents of my hand luggage.

What I have learnt about flying with young children over the past 4 years of flying solo (without my husband) with first one, then two and now three children under five is;

  • Anticipate the worst; and prepare for it
  • Distraction is the key

And what I have learnt to pack;

*Spare clothes for everyone, especially yourself. Having been thrown up on three times on one flight (turned out it was a tummy bug), I not only dress in old clothes that can be binned, I also bring at least 2 spare upper wear for everyone and trousers for the kids. Leggings are great, because they fold up small. This past flight 1 year old did a “code red” nappy, it was just everywhere. 3 year old spilled orange juice all over her. 4 year old got saturated by a gush of water from the bathroom tap. It can and does happen.

*Food, food and more food. On a long haul flight food is provided, but sometimes it is not to the taste of a young child (I recommend ordering the children’s meals, which you often have to do in advance). And sometimes it’s not to the child’s schedule. I bring at least one instant meal for each child, sometimes a spare, lots of healthy snacks and one or two not so healthy ones for when emergency distractions are needed. Don’t pack drinks in advance, because they will take them off you at security unless it is milk for a baby. They usually have ample supply of drinks on the flight.

*For smaller children; a nappy (diaper) an hour. Seriously, Murphy’s Law is the only law of the airs when flying with babies. Babies can be sensitive to the change and have upset tummies. Plus, if you are giving them more to drink to settle them and keep them hydrated it only makes sense they’ll go through more nappies. Every single time I have flown I have used at least 12 nappies and sometimes I’ve even given some to other Mothers whom have been caught out. Sometimes an airline will have some, sometimes they won’t and sometimes somebody else will use up their supply before you need them.

*Tissues and wet tissues.

*DISTRACTIONS. A lot of, if not all, airlines provide inflight entertainment on long haul flights. However, for young children they often can’t hear it very well, or they may not be in the mood for TV, or (as has happened me twice) the inflight entertainment system may not be working. It is really useful to have some things packed to keep them entertained. The list of possibilities is endless, depending on what your child likes. Having something they’ve never seen before in the goody bag usually goes a long way. If you want to pack light, what worked really well on one flight was buying the kids a new toy in the airport. It kept them entertained for a few hours. I like light things such as Origami paper and finger puppets. However, here are the 3 things I have found to be useful each time for children between one and five.

Activity Book

  • Activity books for their age group. Coming from Japan the “baby books” are brilliant as they are loaded with crafts (necessary supplies provided), stickers, stories, games and other activities. (The one pictured also came with a DVD, all for 700 yen). I always carry a small scissors and tape in the hand luggage, but these aren’t even necessary for some of the crafts. On our last outbound flight, 4 year old and 3 year old spent most of the time playing with these activity books. On the inbound flight they had activity magazines (Peppa pig and Thomas the Tank Engine), which weren’t as effective, but did keep them entertained for about an hour.

Sticker puzzles

  • Sticker puzzles. I brought both jigsaw and sticker puzzles on our outbound flight. The jigsaw puzzles were a bad idea. 1 year old got her hands on them and the pieces went everywhere. 4 year old and 3 year old enjoyed the sticker puzzles, where each sticker is numbered and you stick it to a corresponding numbered grid to make a picture.
  • WASHABLE markers and paper. This kept 1 year old happy on and off during the flight. She did draw on the seat and bulkhead while I was distracted with the others, hence I stress “washable”! On the inbound long haul flight 4 year old enjoyed writing in a notepad with just a pen for about an hour.

There you have it, the bones of the hand luggage I cannot be without. Don’t forget to visit Tips for travelling with kids (journeysofthefabulist.wordpress.com) and Travel (freebutfun.wordpress.com) for even more great tips.

0 thoughts on “Flying with small children; the hand luggage”

  1. Thanks for the link!

    I’ve actually got an origami book for the train in Japan, so I’m glad to hear it’s one of your favourites (it has paper plus instructions). I have to say it has taken a looooong nearly-six years to get P to the state where he thinks activity books are not a form of torture but he will use them these days and I’m optimistically hoping that whole phase is behind us.

    I’m still impressed you manage to travel solo with three young kids like that. You’re so matter-of-fact about it but it really is a feat in my books.

    1. Pity its not a transferrable skill. Or maybe I can find a way to wangle it into my CV!

      The activity books here are really awesome though. The crafts contained are pretty amazing and most require nothing more than a bit of tape or even. This one from Christmas shows a little. Of course, he won’t know most of the characters so maybe more torture for him!!

      I was fairly surprised how quickly Mr 4 year old took to Origami actually. I use the little books from the 100 yen store Daiso, that come with instructions in English and Japanese. Are they the ones you have? I find they are great presents for friends back home, especially if you add a wad of origami, also available at Daiso (and most other 100 yen stores too). 🙂

      1. Oh no! I should have gone to Daiso. We have them here, too and it would have probably been less expensive. But no – I bought one from a book shop I’m just organising my picture for the etiquette post which shows it.

        I wouldn’t underestimate my son’s aversity to activity books, though. Anything which requires him to sit still and concentrate on fine motor activities tends to get a thumbs down. I think iPad apps have gradually won him over…

        1. I just bought my first iPad (Air). I have it almost a week and I still haven’t opened it. I am terrified to open it because I know the kids and I are going to be sucked in whole!!

          Daiso is the best thing since sliced bread! 97% of the stuff is just 100yen, a couple of things 200 and a few others 500. There are people here who have a hobby of living 100 yen; their kitchen, their house furnishings, car, even their clothes are from the 100 yen shop!

          Looking forward to your etiquette post 😉

          1. Arrrrgh my free trial of photoshop has expired and I can’t buy a licensed version (literally). I am looking at how to get it illegally now (I think I’ve earned it actually).

            You would think they’d be interested in selling it to me? But no, can’t seem to get it for love or money. In the meantime I’m downloading another free trial version onto another laptop… it’s all that’s stopping me getting finished! Sorry to rant on but I’ve wasted hours over this now and I’m pretty (well let’s use the word) “miffed”.

          2. I’ve used it a couple of times, but a lot of the time I want to use my own images because that’s just what I want a picture of! It’s so frustrating. So far I can’t find a good alternative that does what I want it to do. Got another thirty days to find a more permanent solution!

  2. …you made me remember the time we flew Helsinki-Amsterdam-Singapore-Melbourne with a 4,5 month old. I had packed 4 changes and when we about 3 hours after our first departure got to Amsterdam, I was using the third set of clothes on her. I bought in panic a few more changes, which we ended up not using during the rest of the 25 or so hours.

    But I’m with you, legging are great. And I try to pack clothes so that they can all be combined. And I always forget my golden rule of packing a change of shirt for me too…

    Those Japanese activity books seem great! My girl would love them!!! I anyway find that the hardest age to travel was around 1 yr, when they were mobile but couldn’t really focus too much on still games. Back then they were also more sensitive to changes in the rhytm. Since then I think it has been easier to keep kids occupied but what is your experience on that? You’ve had kids for longer 🙂

    Thanks for the nod!

    1. You see, Murphy’s Law IS the only law of the airs. 🙂 If you’d bought nothing in Amsterdam you’d probably have been stuck.

      On the outbound flight at Christmas the man beside me was telling his son always pukes at the end of a flight, they prepare now but that first time they’d nothing so KLM gave his wife a jumper with their logo on it and she got to keep it. 🙂

      Totally with you on 1 y.o being the hardest age to travel with. Absolutely. They are into everything at that age, harder to entertain and don’t like to sit still. Newborns are the easiest, in my experience. That was a LOOOONG flight you did with a 4.5 month old. Apart from going through all your spare of clothes, how did you find travelling with her at that age?

      1. 4,5 months was easy (apart from the occasional neck poos, leaking nappies and pukes): I fully breastfed her until 6 months (which is when we arrived at home ), so I had all the food with me all the time at the right temperature. She wasn’t mobile yet but very happy to sit on the knee (which you definitively have time for on the long hauls 😉 ), lie on the floor on a blanket and sleep in the cot. And when she was tired, she was small enough to fall asleep pretty much anywhere as long as she was in my arms or in a baby carrier.

        I hope the toughest flight we’ve done was a bit more than a year ago with a 1 yo and a 2,5 yo flying Helsinki-Singapore-Brisbane-Auckland and then driving 8 hours. But at least there were two of us parents there, I’ve been lucky not to have done a long haul solo with children.

        1. Still that’s a very very tough journey, even with 2 of you. Were one of you driving? Or was someone else driving you?

          Yes breastfeeding is very advantageous when flying. No bottles is bliss and they are easy to comfort. And at that age they can fit in the bassinet. I had a bassinet for the inbound longhaul, I used it to change nappies (on a towel)! she was too big to sleep in it and she was too big to change her nappy in the tinchy little changing table in the toilets. Plus, when 4 year old was on his first flight at 4 months old, we had turbulance just while I was trying to change him on that small table and he was very lucky he didn’t go down the toilet! I have been reluctant to use those facilities since. 🙂

          1. Yes, we drove. Or my husband mostly, I refused to start driving on the left hand side of the road (we drive on the right – normally I’d be ok driving on the left too but not after that trip!) and out of Auckland in that sleep deprived state. But we did stop in a motorlodge to get some sleep just south of Auckland. To good part was the kids were so tired that they slept solidly for the first 5-6 hours of driving.

            I have usually changed on the tiny changing table so that the baby stands up holding me, even the 4,5 month old (she pulled herself up standing at 5 months, so she was pretty stable early on). A handy maneuver even in tiny restaurant toilets with no changing tables (a life savior in eg Amsterdam): I used to have the baby stand on the edge of the sink, obviously all the time holding her, while changing the nappy. With my kids it has also made them stay still better, lying they were super fidgety early on.

            Only once in Poland did that nappy changing maneuver become problematic: In the middle of a restaurant meal we realised the nappy of an 11 month old was very full, so I went to change her, took off the nappy, and she immediately started to pee. Obviously it all splashed on me… Once again I should have had spare clothes for ME in the baby bag rather than the hotel.

            But turbulence really can make a mums life hard on an airplane!

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