Travelling with kids brings that quote from A Tale of Two Cities to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” For every Kodak moment, there’s a monumental meltdown that makes you wonder why you ever left home.
Whoever said that life was about the journey, not the destination, clearly never experienced the unique stress of air travel with a child under ten. It is worth it though. Instead of throwing in the (beach) towel and swearing that you’ll never stray from the house again, take a deep breath and read on.
Here’s my survival guide, with tips and lessons hard-learned, to make any holiday – and getting there – plain sailing.
These will – quite literally - get you out of any sticky situation. For those times when you’re nowhere near running water, or when tissues just ain’t gonna cut it, wet wipes have got your back. Or their ice cream face, or sandy hands.
Wet wipes have had a bad press of late, with good reason, as the majority of them contain ocean-polluting plastics. Not all wet wipes were created equal, however, and there are some really good ones, like these ones from Beaming Baby. They’re organic and made from 100% natural cellulose, meaning they are completely biodegradable. Just don’t flush them down the loo, whether you’re in London or Limnos. Obvs.
Snacks are the answer to almost every situation. If you want to keep them happy on the flight? Snacks. Coax an unwilling child into a museum? Snacks. Got one minute to catch the ferry? Snacks. For bribery, coercion or just a few minutes’ peace, they really can’t be beaten.
I’m known in certain (toddler) circles as the snack lady. Like a walking bar counter, I’ll usually have a selection of rice cakes, peanuts, dried fruit or breadsticks somewhere about my person (or the crumbs inside my bag), but the absolute hands down hit in my family are Bear Claws.
Billed as “deliciously freaky fruit and veg shapes”, they have all the yummy, natural goodness of YoYos, with an interactive element: dismembered bits of beastly bodies inside each bag, for your little monster to play with and gobble up.
As much as we all know about the dangers of screen time, show me a parent who hasn’t resorted to an iPhone or tablet a couple of hours into a flight or long car journey, and I’ll either applaud them or punch them in the face. Only joking! I don’t condone violence. But what I do support is whatever it takes to get you through it. My former self would probably have been a bit judgey about that - “Why don’t they just play with them?” Oh the parent I was, before I had a child…
This multi-angle, portable tablet and smartphone stand is just the ticket for your child’s in-flight entertainment. It’s light, adjustable, packs away flat and has rubber pads and feet to stop it sliding around. Hands-free viewing.
On the subject of hands, and without wanting to come across as a massive clean freak, this is another must for travelling with little people. Washing hands with soap and water is preferable, but sometimes you just can’t. And for those occasions hand sanitiser is, well, a helping hand.
We know so much more than we used to about the essential role the microbiome plays in our overall health. Ditch those harsh anti-bacterial gels for an organic, nasties-free hand sanitiser, like this one from Organic Children. Containing organic aloe vera, tea tree, orange and mandarin essential oils, it is paraben-free and naturally antibacterial. It’s on the spenny-side, but it’s worth it. You get 200 pumps per bottle and it lathers up nicely. Works a treat.
If you want to go anywhere, do anything and see something on your trip, you’ll need a collapsible stroller. Obviously if your child is five or older you might need to re-think this, but I know of older kids happily hitching a ride on the back of their sibling’s stroller.
On a recent trip to Venice, we insisted on setting out on foot without it. But after ten harrowing minutes and off the Richter scale whinging, we had to admit defeat and go back for the buggy. We ended up enjoying a whole day’s sight-seeing, without (much) complaint.
The Easylife Stroller by Recaro folds in seconds (even one-handed), into a manageable size for carting around art galleries, stashing in narrow cafes or hauling up stairs. And, crucially, it has plenty of room underneath for those much-needed snacks.
Lavender essential oil really is essential. Its calming and sleep-inducing properties are well documented and a couple of drops in the bath really helps my son to wind down. A few drops on a pillow or in a vaporiser can transform a room and help excitable little ones get into the sleep-zone, which is always a little harder when you’re away from home.
Whether you’re toilet-training or just feel a bit squeamish about public loo seats, a portable potty seat will keep things sane and sanitary for your child.
These are brilliant for the stage between potty and grown-up loo, though they are listed as suitable for children up to six years. I lugged around my son’s full-sized IKEA potty for way longer than I needed to. If only I’d come across this folding travel potty sooner.
It sits on top of any shaped loo seat, without slipping, thanks to its silicone pads.
My son loves the fact that it’s an animal (please see below on the importance of novelty in getting tiny tyrants to cooperate). I love that it’s made from environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials and folds up into a small, washable bag. Perfect for on-the-move erm movements.
Hand-knitted Fox Hat, Etsy, from £13.99
Children are notorious for refusing things that are good for them; vegetables, sleep, baths and, in my experience, hats.
If you want to get your child to wear something to shade them on a baking hot day, or keep their ears warm in winter, one way of doing it, is to make it fun. They are far less likely to chuck the chapeau, if it captures their imagination.
This fox ear winter beanie will be sure to stay on, and as it’s available in both child and adult sizes, the whole family can get in on the fun.
To keep little mitts off your phone and encourage them to express their creativity, consider getting a kids’ camera. We got my son a Vtech Kidizoom for his birthday and it’s been a big hit. It’s a proper five megapixel digital camera, albeit a sturdy and shockproof one. It’s got loads of cool features like fun visual effects, sound and video recording, and even educational games.
We’ve had a ball taking selfies as astronauts, cupcakes and snails, or watching our faces morph, fairground mirror style with the photo editor. Several months on and there’s still lots to explore.
Santa, if you’re listening, please could I have one of these for Christmas? Ticking lots of the boxes on my list (novelty, wheels, storage, fun), this penguin scooter case from ZincFlyte has dream journey written all over it.
Cabin sized, but still with a 25l capacity, it is height adjustable, so has room to grow with them (it’s designed for four to eight year olds). It’s the perfect answer for older than stroller kids, or if you have several children, as it will keep them happy doing wheelies in the airport – or down to the beach. What’s more, they can carry all their own snacks, cameras, books and spare clothes etc, meaning you can put you feet up and have a cuppa (or something stronger). Cheers!
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