Flying with Kids, While Retaining Your Sanity (Part 2 of 2)

21 May 2017

Go time…

Essential travel kit for babies and toddlers:

As with the main luggage, don’t give yourself a literal hernia trying to lug the equivalent of a large branch of Mothercare through the airport. It’s time to ditch the gorgeous nappy bag, and consolidate everything into a good-sized rucksack. Maybe not the sexiest option (although my blue Herschel Little America was one of my better investments), but so much easier to either sling on the handles of the stroller or leave you hands-free when on your back. Then all you need is a chic little cross-body for your passports/tickets/lipstick.

Very importantly, bear in mind that a lighter stroller will be more prone to tipping backwards than your usual pram, so invest in a pair of these My Buggy Buddy Pushchair Weights to ensure your duty-free shopping doesn’t topple it. These little stroller organisers are also great for making sure you have water/coffee/emergency snacks to hand while you’re in the airport, and they fold up easily with the stroller.

Airlines and airports vary in their policies, but the general rule is that you can take your pram through security and up to the plane door (if you’re travelling alone, sometimes you’re allowed to leave your baby in the pram and then they’re searched to one side, instead of having to take them out and wrestle the folded pram onto the x-ray conveyer belt). You then hand over your pram at the plane door, which is the last time you see it until the baggage carousel on the other side (some airlines will arrange for it to be at the door when you disembark, but it’s not guaranteed).

You need a good, easy-to-use sling, preferably one that can be used up to age three or four – even if you have a little walker on your hands, it’s usually a bloody long way from the arrivals gate through security to the baggage carousel. I always travel with my Ergobaby carrier (I have the original as the outwards-facing position of the jazzier version is not great for little hips). You can get a newborn insert for it, but I didn’t find it that useful in the very early days. Stretchy wraps are great with really small babies (I’d say up to about four or five months), and as long as you practise putting them on once or twice beforehand, they’re much easier to use than they look!

Hand luggage essentials for babies and toddlers:

  • Nappies, wipes (a new pack), bags and change mat (at least one nappy for every two hours of travel – including the time from home to the airport, and then from the airport to your final destination). My PacaPod Mirano change bag has separate pods for changing and feeding, and they’re great for organising things in my rucksack. Large cosmetics bag or plastic freezer bags also work!
  • Two spare dummies, as well as teething gel. Dummies are great for sore ears (as are boobs).
  • Speaking of boobs (I mean, when are we ever not speaking of boobs?), if you’re at all anxious about breastfeeding in very close proximity to other passengers on the plane, these Bebe au Lait nursing covers fold up to almost nothing and provide all the privacy you need without covering your baby’s face.
  • Bottles and formula (if applicable). These Nuk Stackable formula dispensers are very handy. Bear in mind that the rules for liquids are constantly changing, so do check before you travel. Baby foods and liquids are usually okay as they are inspected separately, but if you are organised, you can order ready-made formula and pouches/jars from the Boots at whichever UK airport you’re departing from. Just order a few days in advance and collect them once you’re through security!
  • Snacks. A Tupperware of baby rice cakes, biscuits, etc. will help in those moments when little ones are getting hungry and grumpy. Make sure you pre-cut any fresh fruit. Bananas are always useful. Most airlines don’t supply a meal for under-twos (as they don’t have their own seat), so make sure you’ve got food for the flight – even if it’s a case of buying a sandwich in Departures. Remember to stock up on bottles of water, especially if you’re breastfeeding – flying is very dehydrating, and those tiny plastic cups don’t come close to hitting the spot.
  • Changes of clothes. Two sets of separates for each small child when you fly long-haul (one is fine for short haul), and spare t-shirts for each grown-up! It is an unwritten law of parenting that if your tiny human is going to puke, they will always puke on you.
  • Good-sized pashmina or a light, warm blanket. The temperature is always either too warm or too cold on flights, so having layers available for a sleeping baby is a good idea. If you want a very compact and warm layer for yourself to stick in your hand luggage, do have a look at these amazing Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Compact jackets – they are perfect for travelling, with or without kids!
  • Muslin cloths x 2 (preferably including one of these giant ones). Essential for mopping up spills, and blocking out light for babies in a bassinet (don’t cover the cot, just the top bit).
  • A small bottle of Calpol (under 100ml). Our eldest spiked a fever and was utterly miserable on a flight to New York once. Just having the bottle will probably guarantee you won’t need it!
  • Skybaby Travel Mattress. This is actually a very useful bit of kit, and fits into a small bag that you can clip onto the outside of your hand luggage. It acts as a super-comfortable and supportive mattress for when your baby is lying in your arms, and can be securely clipped in with the seat belt. If they do end up on your lap for a long time, it can be tricky to support them without getting cramped and sweaty, so I found this really handy.
  • A few small (not too noisy) toys, and Peppa Pig pre-loaded on your phone or iPad (plus chargers and adaptor plugs!)
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel and wipes (for surfaces). Air travel is gross.

Hand luggage essentials for bigger kids:

  • Their own backpack (not too large) with a small selection of their toys and books. Alternatively, a Trunki for smaller kids. We never had one because the long Bar legs made them impractical, but some parents swear by them.
  • A few small toys (colouring-in books, stickers, little cars) and sweets in your own hand luggage to whip out whenever you sense whining on the horizon. Aim to have at least one item for every hour of the flight.
  • A change of clothes, and warm, light layers.
  • A packet of tissues and some lip balm.
  • A big bag of home-made popcorn and Cheerios/Bear cereal. This, along with an iPad full of TV shows, can guarantee hours of peace and quiet, without too massive a sugar crash.
  • Kids headphones for devices. As children have more sensitive ears, and it can sometimes be hard to monitor the volume of their headphones, do opt for ones like these JVC headphones, which have a limit on how high the volume can go.

Surviving the airport:

As you will have prepped your kids so brilliantly for what to expect (see Part 1…), arriving at the airport is about taking a deep breath and engaging your best ‘the holiday starts now’ attitude. Although arriving three hours in advance of a long-haul flight (two hours for short-haul) when you’ve already checked-in online the day before may feel like insanity in terms of keeping the kids entertained, bear in mind that if you get stuck in traffic and suddenly everything becomes a mad dash, you’re guaranteed at least one meltdown of the ‘I’m lying on the floor now and nothing you can do will make me move’ variety.

Outline a bit of a schedule for what happens after you’ve got through baggage drop and security. While meal times do make a good way for older kids to pass the time in the air, it may be very late by the time dinner is served on a night flight, and trying to eat anything yourself with a small person on your lap is seriously challenging. Consider starting off the holiday feeling with a nice meal at the airport that everyone can look forward to – it really doesn’t have to be expensive either. Although, I have seen one couple dump their children and nanny at Pret while they headed for Caviar House & Prunier. I won’t lie, my inner reaction to that was somewhere between judgement, admiration, and seething jealousy…

Then, set a little budget for each child to buy their choice of plastic tat-filled magazine, or even a little toy. We all know that the magazine browse in Departures is one of the best parts of flying anywhere, and it’s no different for little ones!

Now that you’re all fed and shopped, it’s time to while away the rest of your wait at either a play area (many airports have them now, so do check their website before you leave) or somewhere with a decent view of the planes taking off and landing, as close to your gate as possible. Keep a beady eye on gate announcements as you want to leave plenty of time for last pee breaks/nappy changes.

Up, up and away:

There are different views on whether it’s worth boarding early with children (every airline we’ve ever flown on has called passengers with children first for boarding), and I would say it’s definitely a good idea. You’ll need time to fold the pram and get your baby into a sling, plus you’ll want to ensure your hand luggage is right above you. If you’re in the bulkhead with a bassinet, all your hand luggage will need to be stowed above you for take-off and landing.

Now is the time for a massive charm offensive on both the cabin crew and your fellow passengers. Greet the crew warmly, and if appropriate, disarm your nearby passengers with a joke about how you bet their hearts sunk a little when they clocked you boarding with tiny potential noisemakers. When Skellies was still small enough to kick the seat, I would speak to the person seated in front of him and ask them to please tell me immediately if he did it (I wouldn’t always be able to see if he had a blanket on his lap). People always appreciate if you are upfront about trying to ensure everyone has a pleasant flight, and it means they’ll be far more understanding and helpful if things do kick off at all. I’ve even had people offer to hold my babies when I’ve been flying alone and have needed to nip to the loo. The only time people really get the hell in is if parents don’t seem to give a crap whether their children scream, kick and run in the aisles.

One final thing. Sore ears. I have mentioned these before, and it’s because I had them every time I flew as a child (and still do now). These are probably one of the biggest causes of in-flight misery, but apart from the usual sucking (dummy/boob/straw) or chewing (sweets/gum) tricks, there’s one more you can try. Ask a member of the cabin crew to bring you two plastic cups with paper towels at the bottom soaked in hot water. Place these over the ears and wait for them to create a vacuum and equalise the pressure. It works a treat.

Bon voyage!

C x

Flying with Kids, While Retaining Your Sanity (Part 1 of 2)

7 May 2017

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation…

A life of travel and adventure does not end just because you now have a tiny human (or a few tiny humans) to consider. However, a definite shift in mindset is required. Every child is different, and while some take to travelling without a moment’s hesitation, others require a bit more coaxing and careful management to understand what’s expected of them and what the whole point of the exercise actually is. Being out of routine, sore ears on airplanes, and jetlag are all tough as an adult, so bear in mind how tough they can be on a baby or child. Luckily, if you’re strategic from the very moment you start planning your trip, you can pre-empt the majority of possible meltdowns. Of course, gin will very often take care of any meltdowns you haven’t planned for (as this is not the 1940s, the gin is for you, not the tiny human).

In this post, I have covered the pre-flight portion of a trip, and I will get into the nitty gritty of what to pack in your hand luggage (for both babies and bigger kids), as well the actual airport/flight experience, in my next post. I tried combining them, but this is already a bit of an essay, and there’s just not enough coffee in the world to entice someone to read a 2,400-word blog post on bassinet booking and the versatility of giant muslin cloths.

Before you even start Googling holiday destinations:

Consider the appropriateness of the destination, in terms of journey time, temperature and time difference. Obviously there are times when family commitments dictate that you just can’t avoid, say, three weeks in Australia in December, but if you’re trying to plan a relaxing family holiday, starting with a nine-hour day flight that plonks everyone in a different time zone is possibly not the best start. If it’s also 35 degrees, so your baby or child can’t sleep, then you’re into ‘have you lost your mind?’ territory.

We often fly to South Africa with the children to see family, but we always opt for a night flight. Yes, you may not get the best sleep, but the fact that it’s dark and your child’s natural sleep time may just mean you skip at least a large part of 11 hours of trying your best to entertain them. If you’re going to attempt a day flight to somewhere less remote, try to stay under four hours with really young children – anything more and you’re going to be completely frazzled on both the flight there and back. We did London to New York just before our eldest turned two, but we managed to time it so it coincided with his normal nap and bed times.

Things to consider when booking:

What sort of visas/vaccinations are required for the place you’re travelling to? This may seem obvious, but you’re now organising this with kids in mind – you can’t get it wrong. As well as ensuring everyone’s passports are up to date, bear in mind that you may need additional paperwork if you’re a single parent, or you and your partner don’t have the same surname. South Africa has new rules which mean I have to get a signed affidavit from my husband each time I travel there alone with the boys. It’s a faff to organise, but much less of a faff than being sent home at border control in Johannesburg!

If you’re travelling with a baby or toddler under two, they don’t need their own seat (unless you’re desperate enough to pay for one – but they’ll generally need to sit on your lap for take-off, landing and turbulence anyway, unless they’re in an approved car seat on some airplanes). However, you definitely want the option of putting them in a bassinet or reclining toddler seat in the bulkhead for long-haul flights. This needs to be booked at the time of purchasing your tickets, as it’s first come, first served. As a serious sanity-saver, if you are travelling with a budget airline, pay whatever you have to pay to get seats together as a family – being stuck on your own with the baby while your other half kicks back for a snooze 15 rows away might not make for the most relaxing start to your holiday…

Also, how are you planning to get to the airport? If you’re going to need a pram and car seats on the other end, it might be easiest to book airport parking for your car instead of taking a cab. If you are booking a cab for any leg of your journey, make sure it’s big enough for all your luggage plus the pram!

Finally, get that travel insurance sorted the same day as your pay for your trip. Kids have real comedic skills when it comes to things like chickenpox. Even if you don’t end up having to cancel your trip last minute because your child suddenly looks like a Damien Hirst painting, you may end up having to see a rather expensive foreign doctor upon discovering a torso covered in pox when your three-year-old changes out of his pyjamas on your very first day in Havana… Or appearing on your ten-month-old’s face a week into your visit to South Africa… My kids have the BEST timing.

The dreaded packing mission:

Try not to get carried away. Unless you’re headed to somewhere really remote, there will be nappies/wipes available, and even formula/baby food pouches (do some research if you’re fussy about the kind you use). Pack just enough to get you through the first day or two (although if you do pack a bit more, it does mean you’ll have space to fill with holiday purchases on the way back!), and don’t forget the bottles and bottle-cleaning brush if applicable. You can also buy really compact travel sterilisers and tablets for one bottle/dummy at a time, instead of hunting for a sterilising bucket on the other end.

A well-stocked first aid box or bag is always a good idea, no matter where you’re going. Apart from the usual (plasters, antiseptic, painkillers, anti-nausea tablets, Imodium, rehydrating sachets, etc) make sure you have some good cream for stings/rashes and an anti-allergy syrup for babies over one (i.e. Piriton). Also, don’t forget the sun cream and after-sun (even for skiing holidays!) Fun fact, after-sun makes a soothing alternative to calamine lotion on chickenpox. You’re welcome.

When it comes to the larger bits of baby kit, try to keep it as streamlined as possible. Don’t take your beautiful new Bugaboo (it’s fiddly to dismantle and will get bashed about by the baggage handlers). Instead, pick up a light umbrella fold number (second-hand even). Our McLaren Techno XT has done the job magnificently for many trips, even for a very tall child, but there are even lighter and more compact models out there. Some even fit in the overhead bin! Remember to bring the rain cover and a good, breathable shade cover too. I have been through a few inexpensive stroller travel bags that fit in the basket underneath. and can then be unrolled to put the stroller in when you get to the door of the plane. Make sure your stroller is labelled too, but then put the check-in luggage tags on the bag. The fact that we’ve had to replace ours from time to time shows just how much abuse your stroller would get without one.

This same principle goes for your car seats. If you can’t avoid taking them with you (they can be very pricy to include with your car hire on the other end), you can either buy special car seat bags, or make sure you take one heavy-duty clear plastic bag per flight (like these Waitrose Clear Storage Bags), tucked into an outer pocket of your suitcase with a pre-filled luggage label. You can use the car seats on the way to the airport, then easily stick them in a bag securely tied with a luggage label at bag drop. If you have an older child who’s now in a booster seat, consider the Trunki Boostapak (great for schlepping their own hand luggage essentials too!), or the mifold Grab and Go Booster seat for ultimate space-saving!

One last bit of baby kit, if you really have no option of organising one on the other end, is a travel cot. Save yourself the mare of paying for an extra piece of luggage, and go for a really compact pop-up version (Koo-di Bubble Cot) that can actually fit inside a suitcase, along with a waterproof sheet and two cot-sized sheets. We used one for our youngest up until he was 18 months.

Preparing the kids too:

If you start travelling with your kids when they’re really tiny, chances are they’ll get the hang of things pretty quickly and know what to expect when you’re off on another adventure. However, most kids do really well in situations they have a bit of preparation for, and they’re less likely to get overwhelmed and uncooperative if they know what to expect. Talk them through the plan every time (even if they’re really small), and involve them as much as possible in packing their own toys and snacks for the plane.

Help them label their favourite stuffed toy with your phone number (including international dialling code!), and let them choose what sort of programs and games they want on the iPad (more on the digital nanny in the next post). Finally, details like their very own kids-sized neck pillow for the plane will make them feel like a super-grown-up jetsetter (and hopefully they’ll behave like it too!)

Now that you’ve got the big stuff sorted, stay tuned for my next blog post for all my top hand luggage, airport and in-flight tips!

C x

Keeping it Classy

23 April 2017

I have a secret. Not a particularly well-concealed secret, what with the significant height and the significant nose, both of which lend themselves so effectively to peering down when the situation requires it. However, it’s one of those secrets that, especially in today’s society, in which tolerance and acceptance are so desperately needed, probably isn’t something to be proud of (for the record, I’m not). But, there’s no point in denying it.

I am a honking great snob.

As with all sweeping declarations about anything, this one may require a little clarification. Much as it may be regarded as the ultimate social suicide, I can’t say that the way someone holds their knife is of any concern to me. I’m rather more concerned with whether the person holding that knife has at any point uttered the words ‘I’m not racist, but…’ The same goes for the way you address your envelopes – if you’re thanking me for a gift, or inviting me to your wedding, whether you’ve used the correct form seems a bit irrelevant. And, who exactly would I be to judge this anyway?

As a bloody forriner, with the accent to match, I have found my viewpoint as an outsider to the British class system really rather fascinating. In my 15 years in London and Wiltshire, I have concluded that the English way across the board (with obvious exceptions, which the Daily Mail then use to prove the rule) is actually far from one of insularity and hostility to those who are different, or of a different (perceived) social standing. In fact, the only ones who do give you a hard time are those who are anxious about their own position in the pecking order, wherever that may be. I’m always intrigued by people at cocktail parties who open with the line ‘Where did you go to school?’ As the Johannesburg school I was at the longest happens to be an offshoot of a desperately posh public school here in England, I always sail through that question. My husband, on the other hand, relishes adopting his deepest Afrikaans accent to announce the name of his small, strict Afrikaans school in a tiny town in South Africa, finished off with a wide-eyed ‘And you?’ The person who’s asked him this most tedious question then tends to adopt that bewildered look of a big game hunter who’s suddenly found himself smothered in BBQ sauce.

The bottom line is that some of the kindest, most relaxed people I’ve met have either been so titled up to the hilt, they don’t have the slightest inclination to worry about whether or not someone eats their asparagus with a fork; or rightly proud of what they’ve achieved on their own merit, however modest it may seem to anyone else, that they likewise have more interesting things to think about. They may well notice the small details that Debrett’s would have something to say about, but they don’t use it as a measure of someone’s entire worth. My inner snob starts hoiking up her judgy pants when people think that either money, or the fact they are 476th in line to the throne, makes them immune to the most basic elements of manners and human decency. If your only claim to importance is that 475 other people have to pop their clogs to make you king or queen (and, let’s face it, that would suggest a far graver situation of either plague or nuclear apocalypse to worry about), then you need to evaluate how much more important you are than the barista who brews your morning flat white, or the cab driver who deposits you safely outside Chiltern Fire House.

I will never forget one kitchen supper I attended in my first year in London. It was at the home of a girl my age that I hadn’t met before, but she’d kindly invited me after an introduction by a mutual friend. She was still living in her parents’ enormous house in Kensington, and we sat down to a lovely meal with some of her friends. It became clear pretty quickly that my role was that of audience member, as they reminisced about drunken adventures and planned for their upcoming ski trip. It was all rather entertaining, so I was happy to sit back and listen. However, talk then turned to their favourite game to play when away on country house weekends – and I cringe while I type this – Hide and Seek, but with a ‘number two’ twist. This game pretty much does what it says on the tin, and the ‘like, most classic hide’ was so utterly revolting I can’t actually bring myself to share it (I live in a house with two small boys, so you can imagine how grim it really was). Much as I tried to compose my features, I have a face of glass, and they all seemed delighted with the reaction they’d gotten.

The purpose of their sharing this anecdote, whether even true or not, was as transparent as my face. While these 22-year-olds obviously derived no end of Freudian glee from the nature of this game (let’s file this under ‘Lifelong Scatological Fascination When Potty Training Goes Horribly Wrong’, shall we?), they took great delight in shocking this particular, ahem, prole from the colonies. The clarification that this game only ever took place in the grandest country houses, along with the absolute hilarity of imagining their friends’ housekeepers dealing with the resultant mess, was all designed to cement their status as daddy’s-credit-card-carrying members of the Trust Fund Club. As soon as my role as shocked observer to this story was over, I was shuffled out the door pretty much mid-pudding, the door quite literally hitting me in the backside.

The take-away for me from this experience was not ‘all rich/posh/rich-and-posh people are arseholes’ (sorry, Jeremy Corbyn), but rather validation of the fact that birth, breeding, and boarding school are truly no guarantees of class. There is a strong argument to be made for manners being a way for us to all navigate our way confidently and considerately through our daily interactions with the people we encounter, ensuring that no-one ever need feel uncomfortable. Manners are subjective, and cultural, but as long as you’re trying your bloody best, you’re showing respect for those around you and should expect the same in return. Believing that being born into a certain name or tax bracket bestows you with the right to be dismissive or even downright rude to people around you suggests that you’ve missed the point of what being ‘one of us’ really means.

My mother roared with laughter when I told her about my proposed topic for this blog post, asking whether I was going to say I learnt to be a raging snob from her. And, yes, I will lay this particular brand of snobbery squarely at her feet. My mother knows all the correct ‘form’ like the back of her hand, but I have witnessed how her base level of genuine friendliness and openness never changes, whether she’s interacting with the security guards in her office parking lot or royalty at a boat race (clarification: my parents are neither titled nor obscenely wealthy, but they do an enviable amount of interesting travelling and are bloody good fun – that gets you invited places). But, woe be-fucking-tide anyone who gets their kicks from being rude or condescending, to her or anyone else. For such a petite woman, she has a hard stare that would make Paddington Bear crap his duffle coat, and her use of it is terrifying to behold. Watching her take down a misogynist CEO at a dinner party is pure poetry, like a cashmere-clad cheetah tearing the throat out of a large impala in a David Attenborough documentary. Queen of the classy smackdown, that’s my mother.

We all have our moments of being a bit of a dick, whether intentionally or not (no? just me then?), but assuming you’ve ever earned the right to be patronising or unkind to anyone because of a supposed superiority is really not what it’s about. Whether your version of a bad day is when the butler calls in sick, or you work two jobs to keep your kids in school shoes, if you treat everyone you come across with genuine respect for their humanity and their own value in the world, you’re a class act.

C x