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By: Dr. Afiniki Akanet, author of Fortitude and Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress)
Posted on: Jun 13, 2019

Essential Tips for International Travel with Children

I have always loved travelling, even though I did not get to do much travelling as a student because of financial constraints. My husband and I decided even before we became parents that we would not let having children stop us from achieving any of our goals, and that included travelling. We often hear people talk about their honeymoon as the ‘holiday of a lifetime’, sometimes because they expect never to be able to have better holidays after getting married (and having children). I really enjoyed our honeymoon, but it would be depressing to think that I would never have a better holiday, especially because I pray to spend more years as a married woman and mother, than I had as a single woman.

Travelling broadens your mind, exposes you to other cultures and new ways of doing things. It is definitely something I encourage people to spend money on, if they can afford it. With good planning, useful contacts and a positive attitude, you can see the world without breaking the bank. It is sad that some people let the hassle of the journey itself put them off getting to amazing destinations. As important as it is for people to create a life they love, so they are not living for the weekend or holidays, it is also nice to have a change of scenery from time to time. There is no denying that travelling with young children can be stressful, but it is not impossible. I have actually learned over time to enjoy travelling with my children. Children get better at coping with long distance travel, the more they do it. Here are some tips to help make international family travel, especially by air, less stressful.

Before you go

Check and double check that the connections are feasible for your own family. You don’t want to buy a cheap flight that involves running to the next gate, when you have a buggy/stroller and three small children. It helps to have another adult with you for the journey, although it is perfectly possible to travel alone with well-behaved children. Try to keep hand luggage to a minimum, so you have more hands free and energy for the children. This is an art, especially if you need nappies/diapers and baby food for a long-haul flight. Keeping all your liquids in one bag helps you get through the security checks quicker. I find that backpacks work better for hand luggage, and airline staff are usually quite helpful to parents. Don’t forget the little things, such as dummies/pacifiers, pillows, snacks, teddies, sweaters, cash and whatever else will help keep your children entertained and comfortable during the long waits. You might also want to sort out mobile internet access and banking for while you are away. I find that it also helps to explain the plan/process to children as you go along, so they know what is going on, and can even participate, for example, in looking out for the right bus, train or gate number. Promising children rewards to be given on the other side can also motivate them to behave well. Remember to confirm your flights a day before, check if you can sit together, what meals and entertainment will be provided onboard, etc. I was very surprised to find out once that an airline, which shall remain nameless, expected people to pay for food and video entertainment as optional extras on an eight hour flight!

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During the flight

Once you are all strapped in (after a toilet trip for all, of course), prepare to spend 30-90 minutes responding to the children’s excitement as they touch the buttons, find the movies, and get to know the airline staff. It can get frustrating if you expect to put on your seat-belt and close your eyes immediately, but the children won’t let you. I also find it funny when parents apologise in advance for their children’s behaviour on a flight. People often behave as expected. Children will be children, but they can also be taught to be aware of how their behaviour affects others. I find it helpful to explain to my children that being noisy disturbs other passengers, while finding ways to keep them entertained before sleep comes. Smaller babies should be well-fed and changed before take-off to encourage them to sleep comfortably, although there are no guarantees this will work! If they normally have a dummy/pacifier, use it. Don’t get too embarrassed about children crying or misbehaving occasionally - most people understand, unless they have their own issues. Know how long the flight is, and plan leg stretches and/or toilet breaks so the children don’t keep asking if they can stand up throughout. Try to have realistic expectations for snacking/toileting/sleep duration that is appropriate for their ages. You might find that travelling together gives you time for deep conversations you might not have had at home due to busy lifestyles. Also, try not to ignore your spouse/partner’s needs when travelling with children. The journey will be much less stressful if the adults are not too tired, bored or hungry themselves!

When you arrive

Arrival time can affect how much more or less stressful a journey is. Try to consider your children’s routine when planning this. Make good arrangements for onward transportation to your accommodation. It might just be worth hiring a car or taxi from the airport to avoid all the additional hassle of travelling with your luggage on public transport. Don’t forget to keep children up to date with what is going on, even after landing. We can all feel unsettled when there is uncertainty or we are in unfamiliar surroundings. My children like to see new flags and learn the names of new cities, so we talk about that. You can point out things that are different from home and tell them what else you have planned for the trip. International travel can be even more memorable when children get to do the things that they love. I would not travel eight to ten hours only to sit in a hotel or by the beach all week. Be intentional about sightseeing and making memories that are specific to that destination, if you can. Keep your passports together and explore safely - not all locations and activities are family-friendly. Finally, wherever you go, take photos and don’t forget to allow time for proper rest, before and after the long journey back home!