Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Travel with children

The newspapers have put out their 'school holiday activities' supplements and it's cold, sometimes wet, sometimes sunny, but generally cold.  It must be almost mid-year holiday time in Victoria.  In my long lost youth this was the worst holiday in the school year, its only redeeming feature was not having to catch the tram to school on mornings when the grass at the Shrine of Remembrance was while with frost.  As if to emphasise their difference, children from wealthy families used to return to school tanned, either from the snow fields or from a holiday in Queensland.  The rest of us passed our days reading, mooching around at home or at friends' homes and occasionally mustering up enough money for a trip to the 'pictures'.  We envied those who travelled and returned with the tales of their experiences which seemed exotic in those days when travel was a luxury only available to a few.

Today travel is much more affordable and much more common, but often those long road trips have been replaced by jetting off to Bali, Thailand, Hawaii for sun and warmth or to New Zealand for winter skiing or to Japan, the US or Europe in the southern summer.  Even holidays interstate these days often involve flights, but some families still opt for the long drive.

When I wrote the title for this post, my immediate thought was 'who would want to travel with children?'  Children are not designed to sit still and quiet for long periods and even the quietest, best behaved child is likely to be restless and bored at some stage. If you have more than one child, old issues between them are likely to find expression as a result of too much time cooped up in close confinement.  I well remember such complaints as 'she's looking at me', 'he's breathing' etc.  It's often fun to be with children at the destination, it's just the process of getting there that is difficult.  And it's not always easy to leave them behind with a grandparent or a live-in nanny because many parents worry about their children and fret when they are separated.  At the Agency we have heard of parents who travel in business and leave the children in economy, with the nanny to care for them.  On the other hand, one family all flew together, with the nannies in first class, which must have been an interesting journey for any other first class passengers!

5 tips for long distance car travel with children:
  1. Ensure all child restraints are properly fitted, straps are firm, and that all are worn correctly.
  2. Don't drive for more than 2 hours without stopping for a play/exercise break.  This is as important for the driver as for the children.  If possible alternate the roles of driver and supervision of children.
  3. Let each child pack a small 'in car bag' with activities like books, coloured pens or crayons (pencil leads always seem to break!), a snuggle toy, hand held computer games and a drink in a spill-proof container. 
  4. Take an adults 'in car bag' with snacks, small treats (eg sticker books), travel games, lotto and 'I spy' type games, hand wipes, tissues.
  5. Use children's music CD's (there are some songs I never want to hear again), ipads or DVD players with appropriate movies or games (preferably all these should have ear phones for the sanity of the adults in the car)
5 tips for short plane flights (ie those within Australia):
  1. While children under 2 fly free on an adult's knee, it is worth paying for a seat for any child over the age of 12 months as it gives you a break from nursing them.
  2. Many children (and some adults) experience ear pain when the plane is taking off and landing so it is worth giving children a drink or something to suck during these times.
  3. As with driving it is worth having a special bag for the children of  small activities and toys that they have chosen.  An advantage of planes is the drop down trays that make activities like colouring and writing is much easier than in a car, though 'steadytables' designed for bed use may help give a flat surface in cars. 
  4. While there are some food options available on planes, they often aren't appealing to children so it is helpful to take a small snack.
  5. Many domestic planes now have seat back entertainment free or for a small charge and this may provide some quiet time.  While travelling it is well worth sacrificing your rules about how much screen time children can have.
6 tips for international plane flights.  All the tips for short haul flying also apply to international flights, but because these last much longer, here are some extra ideas:
  1. Space is even more important on long-haul flights so seriously consider a seat for the toddler.  If you have a baby/infant make sure to book a bassinet which is helpful for sleep, although the child has to be nursed during take off and landing.  As bassinets are in the bulkhead row, there is usually a little more leg room and a toddler may be able to spend time on the floor without blocking the aisles.
  2. In your carry on baggage ensure you have an adequate supply of nappies, wipes etc.  There is usually at least one toilet where there is a nappy change station.  Also include a change of clothes for young children (in case of spills and sickness) together with plastic bags for soiled clothing, and a spare set of adult sized clothes in case you are the target.
  3. While airlines supply food for children, they may or may not like what is provided.  Snack foods are often available, although not necessarily listed on the menus, and these may be more tempting.  For infants, it is better to take prepackaged food that they have tried and are known to like.  Most cabin staff will warm food and bottles for you to make them more palatable, as well as trying to find snacks suitable for older children.
  4. Drinks on planes are often poured into glasses for passengers.  Make sure you take a spill-proof bottle into which the cabin crew can pour the children's drinks.  And not too much sugar or they'll be flying under their own steam!
  5. Ensure the children are not pests to other passengers by insisting on 'inside voices', keep them kept occupied by the activities and toys that they have packed, by the in flight entertainment systems and by regular, accompanied walks up and down the aisle, regular trips to the toilet and most of all by not bouncing on the seats or kicking the back of the seat in front.  Accompany young children to the toilets to ensure they don't lock themselves in, and that the toilet flush doen't frighten them.
  6. Try to ensure children are not in the aisle seats where they can be knocked by other passengers or by the trolleys or even have their fingers jammed between the arms of the seat and the trolley.
There are no easy answers to make travel more enjoyable for parents (and nannies) and their children, but there are many websites and books that offer ideas, so if you are going to get away from Melbourne this winter, it would pay to do some preparation.

And have a great time...whether in our own country or overseas, travel broadens the mind and piques our curiosity about our world.

Qantas has an excellent resource for family travel
Lonely Planet has some good reading on its website as well as a book, Travel With Children.
Better Health Channel has some general travel tips for travelling with children, and some specific to flying and international travel.
Thailand4Kids has some excellent general information about long-haul air travel with children.
Smartraveller has information on overseas travel for children (and a brochure you can download or order) about safe travel with children overseas, and about legal and Family court issues about overseas travel for children.

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