When I married my husband, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that we would become a traveling family with 3 kids. I was very content staying in our small town in the Free State, living a pretty routine life. But all that changed 3 years ago when my husband got the opportunity to play rugby in Japan for 6 months. When he asked me if we would join him, it was a no brainer “yes”.
Where it all started
You see just 6 months before that he lived in Japan for 2 months and we stayed behind in South Africa. I literally packed my bags and moved to my parents-in-law for 2 months. It was extremely difficult for me and the kids. My boys needed their father, and I needed my husbands support, but we knew it was only temporarily.
*Looong story coming up… for the travelling tips scroll to the bottom.
Anyways, we packed up our life, put everything in storage and had 4 suitcases, 1 extremely heavy Phil and Teds double pram and 3 boys aged 2,3 and 5. We were ready for Tokyo. I did all the research I possibly could. Pinterest and Google became my best friends in preparation for our (mine as well) very first international flight. I spoke to our GP and he recommended medicine that I could give the kids, with a very confident promise: Your kids will sleep for 8 hours straight. That sounded like heaven. The last thing I wanted to worry about is my kids not sleeping… and low and behold, those meds had the opposite effect on all 3 my kids! my kids slept a total of 1 hour all together. A flight from South Africa to Japan is 18 hours, that is excluding travel time and a layover. So you can imagine the “fun” we had!
I need to plan
I feel in control of circumstances or situations if I kinda know what to expect. So the Japan flight was way out of my comfort zone. Long story short, nothing worked out as planned. I was hoping my kids would sleep when we took off at 8:00pm in their normal sleep routine, and wake up at 5:00 for breakfast, and then they could do some activities that I packed for them, watch a movie and play some educational games, BUT it just didn’t happen.
They ended up crying from exhaustion and overstimulation, not one of my boys wanted to sleep, when they did nod off it was for about 10 minutes then they would wake up again, I was so nervous to sleep because it felt strange sleeping and not being able to watch my child. What if he wakes up and needs to pee? or something like that? We landed in Tokyo 1:00 am and drove to the hotel for 1 hour, eventually got to the hotel and then had to sleep in 2 separate rooms, I had Kian (2) with me and my husband had Sion (3) and Luan (5) with him, they eventually passed out and we woke up at 12:00 pm.
So as you can see we had a horrific first experience to travelling internationally, but it gets better I promise.
Fast forward 2 years
We are currently living in France, and we have been here for about 11 months, it was the end of the season and we planned to go visit our friends and family in South Africa for 2 weeks. This time I felt even more prepared, snacks were packed in a backpack, all the devices were charged and we each had a comfortable traveling pillow and a spare blanket for Sion or Kian incase they don’t want to use the inflight blanket. But when we were ready to board the flight they told us it was cancelled. I mean really! At that moment we were already over it. The airport is about 1hour drive from our house, we had to be there about 3 hours before our boarding time so you can imagine the chaos.
One of the ground staff from the airline escorted us to one of the desks and explained to everyone in French what is going to happen from there on.
You know that game that we use to play as kids “broken telephone”, where one person has to whisper to the person next to them a word or phrase and they continue to pass on the message, then the last person has to say what they heard? its almost never what it started out to be…haha
Well that was our experience that evening, we stood there in that que for 2 hours trying to figure out and ask around what is happening, and when all the snacks we finished and my patience swell I said to my husband lets just go home and start again the next day, we can worry about the flight in the morning. We were tired, frustrated and so disappointed. I remember Kian crying all the way home, and saying but I want my buzz lightyear thats at my grannies house. My heart.
The next morning our travel agent called and said our flight is in the evening, so we repacked our bags and got a good nap in and we were off to the airport, hoping and praying today was the day that we would fly to South Africa, and it was and everything went kinda smooth.
Here are a few tips for flying with toddlers.
1. Try to book your flights overnight.
We usually book for 8:00pm and try to get flights with the shortest layover. Our last flight was at 10:40pm which was also a good time. The kids were extremely tired and slept well.
2. DON’T try new meds for yourself or for your kids.
Use what you know. My go to is Stillpain. It works for all 3 my kids, and doesn’t leave them feeling groggy when they wake up.
3. Always have snacks.
My youngest refuses to eat anything on the airplane, so I pack mixed nuts, little packets of biscuits, cereal bars, dried fruits and their water bottles (I just fill it up in the plane)
4. Have a copy of important documents.
You will ALWAYS need this when traveling with your kids. For example your kids unabridged birth certificates. Have printed copies or saved documents on your phone. This is really important. When we were in Istanbul for our connecting flight to Johannesburg we didn’t have the documents, and the ground staff just said we cannot get onto that airplane without it. Thankfully we eventually found it on a email and we took screenshots of the documents and they were happy.
5. Take the kids special blanket.
2 of my boys are quite fussy about the texture of a blanket, so I know if that is one extra thing that I have to carry with to help them sleep better, then I will take it. One thing that helped when my kids was smaller was to make a tent. So you basically take the inflight blanket and then tuck it in at the back of your seat and at the back of the seat in front of you, it helps to block out the light and helps the kids sleep longer than 2 hours, (and its fun for them)
6. Position your child in a comfortable sleeping position.
I put my kids legs over my lap and then put their pillow on their opposite armrest then when they do toss and turn in their sleep they are not disturbing the person next to them. This way they are still in a semi upright position, and their seatbelts are still fastened.
7. Neck pillows for the whole family.
We recently bought those that can transform into a normal pillow when you unzip it. So its basically a 2 in 1, and try to get the one that shapes with your head instead of the blow up ones, they are much more comofortable.
8. Plush toy
Dudu for kids. My 2 youngest boys cannot sleep without their special soft toy. I makes them feel safe.
9. WATER, WATER, WATER!
You are going to need it for those stress headaches… no one said it was easy travelling with kids, it just gets better the more often you do it.
Its much easier than a large handbag
11. Earphones appropriate for kids.
Most airlines provide earphones but they don’t fit into tiny ears. We use the headphones instead of the ones that you put inside of the ear.
12. An essentials bag.
This is my go to bag in my backpack. I have these things on hand and it makes the flight just a little bit more comfortable. Eyedrops, Panado, waterless hand cleanser, wipes, tissues, lip ice, facial wipes, facial moisturizer, gum, Panado or Stillpain syrup for kids.
13. Grace and patience for each other.
You and your husband/partner will get stressed out, tired or frustrated from waiting inline for 40 min and almost missing your flight, but remember its not in your hands. be kind to each other, be patient and loving. It just makes the whole experience so much more fun!
Hope you find these tips helpful.
Please comment if you have other travel tips that have worked for you.