Rathi Menon’s toddler was 18 months old when she had to take a long-distance flight with him on her own to Singapore from Europe, where she was based.
Although she and her husband had been travelling with their son, Anand, since he was 3 months old, Rathi was understandably nervous about her first solo flight with her young ’un.
“I had sleepless nights thinking about everything that could go wrong on and wondering how I was going to keep him occupied for 18 hours,” Rathi, 32, recalls. “I was filled with dread as we were boarding the plane.”
Luckily, most of Rathi’s fears were unfounded. While she admits that it was tough and tiring to travel solo with such a young child, she says it can be done, as long as you plan well.
“I’m glad I read up on some travelling hacks, asked my mummy friends and even came up with a few myself,” Rathi says. “It’s all about planning and having a backup for everything, so you’re prepared for all kind of situations.”
Everything is a harder when you have tiny tots in tow, especially if it involves being stuck in a plane for hours with very little to hold junior’s attention. Then, there’s always a chance that boredom, fatigue and discomfort will cause your cutie to lose his marbles. Trying to cheer your little one up will not only take a toll on you, the worst part is that you’ll be the cynosure of all passengers!
After the kids arrive, even the most avid traveller-parent will chuck their wanderlust aside when they think about what could go wrong on a flight will junior. However, long-haul flights with little ones don’t always have to spell doom and gloom, especially when you have these tricks up your sleeve…
Hack #1 Pack junior a special “plane bag”
Explain to your tot that he can bring along a bag as he’s going on an airplane soon. Go shopping and allow him to pick a carryall, then make a list of things to pack and get him to help you put the things in the bag. The bag should contain a change of clothes; plenty of diapers and wet wipes; a selection of underwear; and junior’s favourite toys and snacks. When you include your kewpie in the travelling planning process, he’ll not only learn more about the upcoming trip, he’ll be better prepped for it.
Comfort is key if you want to avoid appeasing a cranky child…dress up your child for the trip to the airport, but once you’ve settled down in the plane, change him into his favourite pajamas and socks.
Hack #2 Dress them comfortably
Long-haul flights obviously last hours on end, which means comfort is key if you want to avoid appeasing a cranky child. As much as we want our kiddos to look like they just stepped out of kid’s fashion magazine, we also know that jeans get tight and uncomfortable after a few hours. Go ahead and dress up your child for the trip to the airport, but once you’ve settled down in the plane, change him into his favourite pajamas and socks (cold feet is not fun!). And make sure you have backups, in case he soils himself or accidentally spills food on his clothes. Don’t forget to have a cute ensemble ready for when you reach your destination ― you do want to land in style!
Hack #3 Arm yourself with snacks
We know you packed snacks in junior’s special bag, but it won’t hurt to stash extra. Your little one might end up disliking the airplane food, or the airline might have forgotten to reserve a special kid’s meal for him (expect the worst!). The last thing you need is a hangry child and not being able to speed dial UberEATS. By the way, while it’s okat to have Junior’s favourite treats on standby ― in case you need to bribe him or cheer him up after a tantrum ― do make sure to pack healthy foods such as fruits (dried and fresh), trail mix and homemade muffins. Long-distance travel can do take a physical toll you, so do eat healthily to avoid falling ill once you get to your destination. Do also keep your tot and yourself hydrated throughout the flight!
Hack #4 Make use of the inflight entertainment systems
Unless you’re travelling on a budget airline ― which we strongly advise you against doing if you’re doing a long-distance trip with your tots ― you can expect a good selection of in-house entertainment. Inflight movies, cartoons and music channels can keep your fidgety little fella occupied for hours. Nor should you feel guilty about all that TV time because you’ve got to do what it takes to make it through the flight with your sanity intact.
Hack #5 Bring a back-up gadget
In case junior spurns all the entertainment options, make sure you have your iPad or tablet on hand. Days before you fly, download all of your mini-me’s favourite shows into the tablet and stash it in your hand carry along with the charger. Whip it out when all hell breaks loose and look the other way as junior stares at the screen for hours. Remember, it’s all about surviving the flight!
Hack #6 Encourage junior to sleep
At some point, you will have to cajole your cutie to take a rest because being up the entire flight won’t do him any good. If you can, book a bassinet or a front-row seat for the extra leg room ― now is not the time to skimp. When you’re travelling with little ones, it’s all about comfort. The more comfortable they are, the less fussy they will be. Let junior stretch out on the seat as much as he can to get really comfortable. If you’re lucky you might even be travelling on a fairly empty flight, which means the seats next to you might be free. “I chose to sit on the floor, so my son could have my seat and his to sleep on,” said Rathi. “On another flight, I let him put his legs or head on my lap while he stretched out, which also worked well.” Putting your peewee down for a nap in an environment with people walking up and down and making noises will be challenging. But once you do, kids can sleep for up to 8 hours, uninterrupted, on a plane, which will take up a big chunk of your flight time. Besides, when junior wakes up, he feel refreshed and be in a chirpier mood.
Hack #7 Make the most of your surroundings
While toys, in-flight entertainment and the iPad help keep your kewpie entertained, don’t forget that there’s also lots to see and do in the plane, too. You will be surprised to know that toddlers are very happy toddling up and down the aisle, smiling, waving and engaging with the rest of the passengers. If junior enjoys doing that, let him. It’s a great way for him to stretch his legs and, best of all, you can watch him from your seat the entire time. It’s not like he’ll wander off and get lost! By the way, some airlines also offer baby-sitting or child-friendly services, so check before you book.
When you’re running out of ways to keep junior occupied, unveil your “bag of surprises” and let him pick one. Your tyke enjoys exploring his new gift, plus, the simple act of unwrapping something will excite him and improve his mood.
Hack #8 Engage with your child
No better time to spend some one-on-one quality time with your little one than on a plane because it offers minimal distractions. Pack some crafts, blocks, Lego, puzzles, slime or play dough and enjoy each other’s company while doing an activity together. Holidays are all about making up for lost time and creating happy memories, why not start on the flight itself?
Hack #9 Bring a bag of surprises
You may think you have enough in your travel arsenal to survive that long-haul trip, but it never hurts to have backup. Before your trip, head to “dollar shops” such as Daiso and buy some cute and cheap knick-knacks and toys. Wrap them individually in colourful paper and put them inside a special bag. When you’re running out of ways to keep junior occupied, unveil your “bag of surprises” and let him pick one. Your tyke enjoys exploring his new gift, plus, the simple act of unwrapping something will excite him and improve his mood. This is also a great way to get your toddler to do your bidding. Better yet, play a game. Tell him to sit quietly for a few minutes or finish up his snack and he can pick a surprise from the bag!
Hack #10 Travel as a group
When all else fails, it’s always helpful to have a village to help you out. This could mean travelling with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and your kiddo’s cousins or even friends who have little ones the same age as yours. They will have plenty of people to engage and play with and won’t even notice that time is passing. Sitting in a plane for hours can take a toll on anyone, especially unseasoned little travellers. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is cut the kiddos some slack, and know that in a few years, with a bit more of experience, they’ll be fancy jet-setters just like you!
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