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Long Haul Travel With Kids

31 May 2012 57 Comments

Travelling with small children can take a lot of organisation, and for many parents the thought of going long haul is simply out of the question. However, seasoned traveller Victoria Wallop from our Parent Panel shares some invaluable tips for taking the stress out of travel and encourages families to venture further afield.

Last year, my husband and I upped sticks and took our three children aged 8, 6 and 4 backpacking around the world. We went to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and Japan. It was an incredible adventure, involving many, many flights. After much trial and error, here are my top tips for surviving long haul travel with children…

The first thing to say is: don’t panic! Even if you’re flying to Australia, it’s only going to take twenty four hours, so however difficult it is or isn’t, it’s only one day out of your life. And then you get to visit Australia, so it’s not all bad.

Flying is actually quite exciting for most children, so don’t approach it with too much trepidation. Try and see it through your children’s eyes and embrace the experience as part of the holiday. Unlimited seat back TV, free colouring books and baseball caps, funny meals in special trays and people who come and ask you what you want when you press a button, are all amazing if you’re six.

That said, it’s as well to be as prepared as possible. Take a spare set of clothes for the whole family, not just the children. Chances are that if a child vomits, it’ll be on your lap, so you might have to change too. And if no one is sick, the clothes will come in useful when your luggage doesn’t appear on the carousel.

After years of being fairly sniffy about electronic gadgets, we finally saw sense and fully embraced our iPod touches on our round-the-world trip. Journeys were the one time that the children were allowed to play until the batteries ran out. I actually started to look forward to long journeys as an opportunity to get stuck into a book; after years of trying to entertain children on flights this was something of a revelation.

Make sure you have old-fashioned entertainment too, like a story book you can read out loud. There are quite long periods at the beginning and end of flights when electronics must be turned off, the seat back TVs don’t work, and the tables must be folded. Particularly at the end of the flight, children are cranky, often having been woken up at an ungodly hour to ‘prepare for landing’. At these moments normal parenting rules go out of the window and I usually hand around lollipops to avoid meltdowns.

Special mention must go to Air New Zealand, the only airline I’ve ever used with seat back TVs that work from the moment you sit down to the moment you disembark the plane. Why other airlines can’t do this, I don’t know, because it makes a huge difference to the experience of travelling with children. They also have minty smelling loos, which is very welcome at 3am somewhere over the Pacific.

Take snacks. You often have to wait quite a long time to be fed, and the little sachet of peanuts/pretzels/Bombay mix you get with your drink may or may not appeal to your children. Be aware that you’ll probably have to surrender whatever’s left before you go through immigration at your destination, as most countries now have very strict rules about importing food.

On the subject of immigration, be prepared for it being horrible. We didn’t enter a single country that processed us quickly, even Thailand, which had a separate queue for families. You will be photographed, finger printed, have to fill in countless forms and shuffle slowly around a large, badly lit, hall with everyone staring at your whining children. It’s not fun, but the end will be in sight.

Despite the obvious issues, long haul travel is often not as bad as you fear. Even when it isn’t much fun, the destination is always worth it. Hawaii wouldn’t be quite so special if it was in the middle of the English Channel.