10 things I wish I’d been told about traveling with young kids
1. Always have a signed parental consent form if only one parent is traveling.
Traveling from Brazil to the UK for Christmas, my daughter and I were supposed to meet her father at the airport. When a series of disasters en route meant that it looked like he was going to miss the non-changeable flight, we agreed that my daughter and I should check in without him. That was when I was told I’d need his written consent to take my daughter out of the country. He arrived just as check-in closed and we caught the flight by the skin of our teeth. Since then I always have a signed consent form when my daughter and I travel by ourselves. Some authorities ask for it, others don’t, but it’s always a good idea to have one.
2. Luxury can be uncomfortable.
Since my daughter was born, work has occasionally taken me to some luxury lodgings. But there’s little to enjoy about your one-year-old bawling over the waiter-served breakfast or a toddler running amok among expensive and easily-broken objets d’art. True ‘luxury’ travel for me now is somewhere simple, preferably with an unkempt garden, where rampant children are welcomed rather than stiffly tolerated.
3. Be prepared for unexpected travel sickness.
My daughter never suffered from travel sickness. Until one day, she did. Sitting on my lap on a wildly-swerving bus ride, she suddenly had a fit of vomiting, and the only thing I could use to clean up her, myself and the seat in front was an ineffective wad of tissues. There was nowhere to change at the bus station on arrival, so I had to meet my Airbnb host in a vomit-covered dress. Since then, there are always wet wipes and cover-up towels in my bag when I travel.
4. Bring emergency nappies and mattress liners.
On a long-haul flight, my daughter — out of nappies for a couple of months — fell fast asleep as soon as the plane took off, and promptly peed in her sleep. I managed to surreptitiously change her clothes and put a towel under her, but there was a distinct waft of urine throughout the flight. Luckily the partied-out passenger on the other side of her was so drunk he’d almost slid under the seat in front of him, so I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice, but I wished I’d stuck her in a nappy before take-off. Bring disposable mattress liners too, as I wished I’d done when my three-year-old picked up a stomach bug during a weekend away.
5. Overnight travel is best.
A child aboard a long-distance bus or flight by can be a terrible thing by day. By night, it’s usually a different matter, as most small children are quickly lulled to sleep by the rocking motion. Do yourself — and other passengers — a favour and travel at night when you can.
6. Child-free flights are little short of a joy.
I can’t believe I used to complain about taking long-haul flights before I started having to do it with a nipper in tow. Nowadays, the idea of sitting still for hours, with nothing to do but read books, watch films and have food and drink brought to me, sounds like pretty much the best thing in the world.
7. Rigid bedtime routines can be overrated.
After my daughter was born, I pretty much stopped going out in the evening because she didn’t have a babysitter. When I finally did venture out for drinks in my neighborhood of Rio, I realised most people just took their kids out with them, and let them sleep in their strollers. Rigidly imposed early bedtimes don’t make much sense in a hot climate, especially if babysitting isn’t a common practice.
8. Portable DVD players are lifesavers.
With the best will in the world, it’s hard not to succumb to the lure of cartoons when traveling. Those crayons and coloring pads are going to lose their appeal if your flight is delayed or it’s still a ‘no’ to the question ‘are we nearly there yet?’. A portable DVD player and huge stash of favorite films/cartoon series has rescued me — and my fellow passengers — during many a potentially unpleasant extended layover
9. Don’t bring baby food you don’t want to taste.
Due to the ‘no-liquids’ rule, airport security will sometimes ask you to open and taste baby foods and milk to prove they’re not disguising anything illicit. So maybe don’t put that foul-smelling-but delicious-to-toddlers pouch of kiddie meat stew in the travel bag
10. Always go for aisle seats.
Very young children aren’t big on views, but they tend to require repeated toilet trips, so it’s best to go for an aisle seat and give somebody else the benefit of the window seat.