When asked an expat mum said to Santa that she’d like a purple unicorn for Christmas. ‘Don’t be silly’, Santa replied, ‘there’s no such thing’. ‘OK’, said the mum, ‘I’ll have a relaxing flight back home with the kids then’. ‘Umm… let me see about that unicorn’, said Santa.

I recently survived the flight from hell with our two preschoolers.

Here are some tips to make your journey go a little more smoothly than ours did. Do message me if you have any more ideas to add into the mix. I’m forever learning…

How to travel with preschool kids

And we’re off!

  1. Prepare. My youngest is one year old and too little to understand, but my three year old was very excited when I told him about our upcoming journey. It’s nice to prepare kids a while in advance so they look forward to the trip, rather than have a stressful surprise sprung on them. Explaining how airport security works and why it’s necessary helps (a little) to stop the tantrums when they won’t pass through metal detectors or leave teddy on the conveyor belt.
  2. Breastfeeding. If you’re in a conservative country or you just appreciate privacy, Google the airport beforehand for a breastfeeding room. Running around with a hungry baby isn’t a good look. Having said that, in my experience, when asked, most airport staff will try to help out a stressed mum with a quiet space.
  3. Contact the airline in advance. My sister in law travelled from Brazil to Europe with her infant and was told upon boarding that it was airline policy not to provide bassinets in business class. Some airlines offer more generous hand baggage allowance including car seats, double strollers and cots, while others don’t. Some provide baby food, most don’t. Check in advance.
  4. Lounge access. It may be worth upgrading to an flight with lounge access, paying for access or if you’re a frequent traveller subscribing to a club such as Priority Pass. Lounges aren’t really cute child friendly play zones, but they are at least enclosed spaces to stop them running wild (with your cash).

    Also available in clean bib version

  5. Pack. Always err on the side of caution and pack plenty of nappies, wipes, zip-lock bags, snacks and water. Squash and juice will not be allowed through security, but water and baby milk will. In our case, our 18 month old wasn’t provided a meal on a business class flight, but thankfully I’d packed enough food for the trip. Taking a few sachets of baby paracetamol is also a good idea, just in case. A few simple, single piece, quiet toys that can be played solo also come in handy. Small vehicles, colouring (I’m a fan of ‘magic’, no stain colouring books) and comforter teddies are our essentials. My kids won’t wear disposable bibs and in any case we always need a couple of changes of clothes (and a spare top for me too).
  6. Breathe. You’re tired and stressed, but so are your kids. It’s normal for them to act up a little more than normal. Deep breath. The journey won’t last forever. You have every right to take your child with you and while it’s polite to take heed of other travellers, remember that you’re doing your best.
  7. Relax the rules. Normally I limit my kids to squash at meal times only, I don’t like them to have too much screen time and one treat per day is enough. On long journeys however, pretty much anything goes. Be kind to yourself and chill on the rules a little. Having said that, sugar high kids can be even more difficult to manage.
  8. Slings or strollers or carry ons. Remember that on a connecting flight you won’t have use of your stroller in between, so a sling can come in very handy. For babies and small infants slings are great calming devices, especially when you might not have the time or the energy for lengthy lullabies. Personally I’ve never done a long haul trip on my own with the kids, but fellow mums who have rave about the YOYO carry on stroller which is small enough to be packed on board flights. For our last trip, we were gifted Trunki cases. These worked wonders for my three year old who loved riding in style (and for Mum and Dad who were too tired to carry an equally exhausted child). My one year old took a little longer to get the knack of it, but after a few bumps he was cruising along just as fast.
  9. Hands free for hands on parenting. Chances are that how ever light or efficiently you manage to pack, you’ll still be left holding a teddy, bottle or child. Go for backpacks over standard handbags which can get in the way, and always allow a little extra room. Every time we travel, the kids eat their way through the snacks, yet we still seem to land with more than when we set out. I’m still debating if this is because I end up splurging on duty free make up and extra snacks, or just because we end up in a rush chucking everything into a previously neatly packed bag.
  10. Everywhere is a playground. While some airports are better than others in terms of play facilities, remember that for kids everything is rather new and exciting. For you, it’s a case of getting from A to B as fast and as stress free as possible. For them, it’s a huge adventure. You’ll be surprised how simple things can take a child’s breath away or keep them entertained for ages. Explaining the ins and outs of travel, be it where the pilot or captain sits, the role of stewardesses or the safety manuals is all part of the adventure.

As a mum I know it’d be dumb to wish you a relaxing journey, or a unicorn, but I hope you manage to keep it together a little better than I did last week.

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