I can’t really believe I’m sat here typing out “tips for travelling with toddlers”, given I found our first abroad holiday pretty stressful, but perhaps there’ll be a few things in here that are vaguely useful?! A lot of it is obvious but when you’re preparing for your first flight with a toddler (or two, in my case) it can be easy to get worked up about the flight and spend so long creating some sort of ~busy bag~ for your child that you don’t do something simple like pack emergency Calpol. Hopefully there’ll be something useful to be gleaned from this post.
I’m aware that there are plenty of people who fly long haul with their babies and toddlers with seemingly zero hassle (HOW?!) but that’s not really my vibe. I like to worry about things. I like to think that taking 14 month old twins on a ridiculously short flight to Nice is akin to climbing Everest. There are no motherhood medals to be had but, after this holiday, I felt like I needed one.
Please indulge me, I *do know* that taking a very short business class flight (more on why later – involves cashing in points and oxygen mask restrictions when travelling with two infants) is nothing compared to flying to New Zealand or whatever but I FOUND IT HARD. Certain things helped though…and these were they:
BEFORE WE LEFT
- Leave yourself enough time to apply for the first passports as the forms can be a hassle, especially getting the countersignature and sending off original documents. For the passport photos I used PasPic.com which meant I could take their passport photos myself on my phone. I wrote about the experience here but it was easy and cheap – £6 for each child including P&P.
- For packing, I followed my usual packing list but also tried to maximise the generous allowance that infants get on flights. You can find secret places to stuff extra nappies for example, like in the travel cot bags.
- If you have medicines your children regularly take, give yourself enough time to collect prescriptions before travelling. I would always advise packing a thermometer, basic painkillers, teething remedies and liquid Piriton too as although these things are easy to buy abroad you won’t want to spend your holiday in local pharmacies nor does anyone want to decipher dosage instructions in another language if they don’t have to.
- If you have any queries, phone the airline! I found the BA website confusing as hell when it came to baggage allowances so I triple checked everything over the phone. I didn’t want to be stuck paying for excess baggage at the airport.
- Look into hire companies if that makes more sense than taking your own equipment. If you’re not staying in a hotel or kid-friendly rental (we weren’t) then you might feel like you have to take half your house with you. There ARE companies that serve most decent sized airports where you can hire things to collect on landing (travel cots, car seats, high chairs etc) for the duration of your trip. I haven’t tried one to recommend one, but the option is there if you don’t want to take your own stuff. I also looked into hiring travel strollers as feared our double buggy getting bashed about in the hold, but I didn’t need to in the end as we took cabin-approved single strollers instead (more on that in a bit). I WAS warned on Instagram that there are some shady people on FB who offer Babyzen YoYos for hire and run off with the deposit, so if you are going to hire a stroller I’d make sure it’s with an established company not some rando off FB. Airtots.com was recommended to us being based in central London, but I’ve not personally used them.
AT THE AIRPORT
- Obviously give yourself plenty of time. The first time you fly with children is “an experience” (lol) and the days of rocking up just before boarding are probably gone forever now. Sorry!
- Make sure you have a coin for a luggage trolley. Lots of airports don’t require coin operation now (perhaps they’ve realised we don’t actually want to nick the luggage trollies and take them home?) but in France we still needed coins so it was helpful to have one to hand in my pocket. It sounds simple but when you’ve just wrangled twins off a plane the last thing you want to do is go through your whole rucksack to find an old euro. Have one in your pocket!
- When it comes to packing your carry-on/changing bag, prepare for the worst in terms of mess and delays. I brought a spare tee and trousers for both boys AND for myself. There’ll be plenty of places to buy water/milk/snacks at the airport but if you end up being delayed ON the plane pre take-off (has happened to us lots, thankfully pre-children!) there are often regulations preventing cabin crew from opening up the bar carts. You can’t pack too many snacks and pouches, basically. Airline staff will refill cups of water if you ask. (They were more than happy to help us, anyway).
- If you’re driving to the airport and can afford it, valet parking is really helpful. It was cheaper for us to drive ourselves to Gatwick and use their official valet service than it would have been to take taxis. SO much easier too. Prices fluctuate though and the further in advance you can book, the better. I was amazed by how well the service worked: we literally just drove up to the door of the terminal and by the time I had got the boys into their strollers and bags onto a trolley, the condition of the car checks and photos had been done and we handed over the keys and walked right into the building. We probably had our suitcases with us for five minutes total! Literally just walking from the car at the terminal entrance to the check-in desk. (Hence my being able to manage two single strollers on my own whilst my husband had the luggage trolley, it was a really short period of time).
- Use the dedicated family lanes at security (available to all with kids) or “premium security” if your ticket/club status allows it. Gatwick is particularly family friendly (I didn’t realise just how good Gatwick’s family facilities were until we flew home from Nice and I nearly had a mental breakdown) and the security staff were really helpful with us. I said we hadn’t flown with children before and they explained what we needed to do in terms of putting the strollers through the scanners etc.
- Rinse lounge access if you have it. My husband flies every week so we have lounge access through club status, but our tickets allowed for it on these flights too. You can pay for lounge access though and depending on how long you’ll be at the airport this could be worth considering if budget allows. My two ran around the lounge like ABSOLUTE LUNATICS for what felt like about fifty years but was probably only an hour and a half, but it tired them out pre-flight. There’s also unlimited food from the buffet so if your children like punching croissants into their gobs as keenly as mine do, you’ll probably get back your entrance price back just in flaky pastry. The baby change stations were spotless too. (And lord knows I spent enough time in them).
- Change nappies as close to boarding as possible. Miraculously, I didn’t have to change the boys on the plane on either flight. Luck is a huge part of that, of course it is, but if you can get a fresh nappy on as close to boarding as poss then at least leaks shouldn’t be a concern.
- If there’s an opportunity to go the loo yourself, take it! Once you’re on the plane it will be hard to get up and use the bathrooms if you are two adults travelling with two infants. Of course airline staff will help hold your child if you need them to, but it’s MUCH easier to go to the loo whilst still on the ground! (And trust me, if the white noise of the cabin sends your child to sleep on your lap – please god! – you will NOT want to risk disturbing them so you can get up).
- We took cabin approved single strollers rather than our double buggy, so we didn’t need to worry about checking the buggy into the hold. These made life so much easier as it meant the boys were safely strapped in their strollers during the LOLsome queues at passport control on landing, whereas we wouldn’t have been able to collect the double until baggage reclaim. (The rules for doubles are often, annoyingly, much stricter than singles in terms of collecting and dropping off at the plane door). THAT BEING SAID, whilst I had fantasised about pushing my single stroller right onto the plane and down the aisle, that only worked on the flight home from Nice. At Gatwick we ended up being bussed to the stand and climbing the plane steps. Whilst holding a toddler and a buggy each. Not exactly ideal. (There’s a full video review of our single strollers here).
ON THE PLANE
- Those travelling with infants get to board first, but it’s up to you of course if you want to take advantage of that. Lots of people advised me against it as it just maximises the amount of time you have to entertain children in the tiny confines of a plane seat, but we got on the plane immediately as I wanted to just get settled and sorted.
- I’d brought Calpol sachets in my liquids bag (easier than faffing with a bottle!) and I gave the boys a dose each at the gate just before we got on the plane to combat any ear pain.
- My boys only have dummies at night but I allowed them to have dummies on the plane to help with ear popping (and general comfort!). Dummy straps are helpful to bring if you’re going to use dummies. I offered water as much as possible during take-off and landing too to keep them swallowing to tackle the pressure change. I’m not sure if it was the dummies, Calpol or drinking but the boys had no discomfort during take-off or descent so it seemed to be a good combo. Friends who breastfeed have always recommended feeding during this time too if you can.
- I didn’t want to risk losing comforters at the airport but I did have their comforters in my rucksack and they had them on the plane. (As a side note: their comforters are fairly easy to replace Jellycats and we have a back-up of each. I didn’t bring the back-ups on the plane but they were in the suitcases. I don’t generally let the comforters out of the house but if you can have a back-up I would definitely recommend it!)
- Dress accordingly! Outfit-wise for the boys, I put them in leggings and long sleeve tees with no poppers. I wanted everything to be quick and easy to deal with if any clothes changes were needed. At this age my two didn’t have shoes so I didn’t even have them in socks for the flight – I’m sure some people will think that’s barbaric but the idea of fetching four discarded socks every other minute was a bit too much for me.
- Entertainment-wise, it was only a short flight but I wanted to keep them as occupied as possible and I wasn’t afraid to resort to tablets. I had pre-downloaded a bunch of Night Garden and BabyTV faves onto two old tablets using a free trial of YouTube Premium. I think you can get offline videos on Netflix and iPlayer too but I could be wrong. I used the “guided access” feature on iOS to lock the screens so they couldn’t come out of the videos once they started.
- I was going to be super organised and buy stickers and little toys and stories and all sorts of magical things like that, but I didn’t have time to organise anything so I just quickly bought two kiddy magazines at the airport instead which were crammed full of stickers, little toys and stories anyway! Those CBeebies mags (and the like) aren’t cheap but for a flight where you want some relative peace they were a useful tool to bust out when the tablets got boring. At one point I think I had about thirty stickers on my face.
- SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS. My children basically ate for about four solid hours if you include the lounge. I’d brought rice cakes and dried fruit (I had dried cranberries which were good because they lasted ages) but we also had adult meals included in our flight. Did my children eat all of my food? Yes. Obviously yes. Praise be for the never ending bread basket.
- Most importantly…be patient. Be kind. If you have multiple children and are travelling with another adult, divide and conquer. T1 is “my” baby during travel, T2 is my husband’s. Remember you have every right to be on the plane, kids and all. See it as a “fun test of your character”?! It will all be over soon, you don’t have to live on the plane for the rest of your life. NOBODY finds it easy.
TWIN SPECIFIC ADVICE
- If you’re reading this from the UK, I really recommend the FB group “Holidays for Twins and Multiples”. You’ll find some great advice on there and I’ve always had my questions answered by twin parents who have been there and done it. It’s a fab resource.
- If you’re travelling with “lap infants”, be aware of the restrictions on oxygen masks. Planes are different but generally for every row of three seats, there are four oxygen masks. This means that two infants cannot be sat in the same row of three seats, as if another adult sat there there would not be enough oxygen masks to cover three adults and two infants. This isn’t something airline staff can do anything about, it’s purely a safety issue and you won’t be allowed to sit together, you just have to sit either across the aisle on the same row OR in front/behind one another. If you’re concerned about what the oxygen mask provisions are for your specific plane it’s best to call the airline. To get around the oxygen mask issue and sit in the same row of three you can buy a seat for one of your infants or you could upgrade to business if that makes sense for your plane layout. I called BA and for us it made sense to upgrade (it was all on points anyway) as business class on our plane meant the middle seat had been taken out of action and replaced with a table – so four oxygen masks and four passengers worked perfectly. It was also REALLY useful to have that table in between us to keep some space between the boys so they couldn’t wind each other up too much.
- If you are travelling with a second adult (or even better – a third and fourth adult!) it could be worth getting/borrowing single strollers. Our holiday was CONSIDERABLY easier for having two singles rather than a double, just because so many of the doorways were comically narrow and restaurants all packed to the rafters. The FB group mentioned above is great for advice on this.
I’ve probably missed some key things but the above is what helped us. The flights went well overall. They were physically hard work in terms of carrying/lifting/restraining but there weren’t any tantrums or tears really. Granted it was a short flight and we kept them in our seats throughout but it was ok. The real tantrums started once we got to our destination 🙂
Have a great holiday?!