Or …How to Make the Best of Long Journeys With Your Child
Whether you’re travelling by car, train, plane … it can be a worry planning any journey with young children.
As an expat of many years, I lost track of the many times I travelled by air, as a lone parent with two young children, a baby and a toddler. Long 7 hour flights where I could see people looking at us, often scowling, as we got on the plane and thinking “Please don’t sit near me” – then watching their relief turn into a smile as I walked past them! My children were usually brilliantly behaved and I think a lot of that was down to planning, knowing my children really well and anticipating their needs. It could be hard work at times, but it was never horrendous, no screaming, crying, jumping in the seats, running down the aisle or tantrums – from me or the children!
It is not in your child’s nature to sit for a long time – inactive. I had a friend who once ‘lost’ her child for 15 minutes on a long flight from Dubai to London! To be fair, it was a BIG plane – he was eventually found in the cockpit, having a great time with the pilot.
So – whether your journey is plane, train or car, here are my five top tricks (I use that word ‘tricks’ wisely as some of this is pure bribery!) – to getting to your destination without going grey in the process…
Pack lots of little gifts, wrap them individually if you have time, and produce them at intervals during the journey, when you need them most (a child getting grizzly/you getting anxious). Small, inexpensive toys such as wind up figures, comic books and children’s magazines, a colouring book and never forget –Stickers, Stickers, Stickers!! – and something to stick them on – hopefully not the passenger next to you!
The best of us get upset if we’re hungry and energy levels drop, I have a daughter who still gets ‘hangry’ at the age of 23! So, pack a variety of snacks they can nibble on along the way; rice-cakes, raisins, cheese, cucumber sticks and houmous, mini sandwiches and biscuits are ideal. You know what foods your children like – but try not to pack too much sugary food (including raisins and fruit), as high sugar levels mean they will get active and restless. Don’t let the children eat them all at once and save sweet treats until the very last. Any drinks should be in spill-proof cups or bottles.
- Play games
Play I-Spy with older children, or number bingo (looking for numbers on car licence plates and signs) – you get lots of extra points if you’re playing this in an aeroplane! Or play the spotting game (where children win points for every animal they notice – on pub signs, shops, etc) – and the winner gets to pick what you spot next. If you’re on a plane, you can take cards and play snap, or a memory game – anything that will fit on a plane tray table (a little bit of playdough is great).
- Audio books and music
I am a huge fan of audiobooks for children (and adults) – they can be downloaded onto a phone, or e-device/iThing and you can all listen together. On a plane, you can do this with a cheap converter for two sets of headphones. You could also give your child the book of the story, to look at the same time. If you choose a book read by someone with a soothing voice (Stephen Fry is my favourite), they may actually go to sleep. Bonus! Whilst you might restrict the use of screens at home, and depending on the age of your child, this is when they are worth their weight in gold. Give each child a new, or favourite, film or series to watch (and of course headphones). Nursery rhymes and favourite songs are a great idea too.
5. My Journey
For older children you can start making a booklet about their journey and destination before you travel. Maybe print a map of your journey for the children to track as you go. Find out about the station/airport you will leave from, and arrive at. Find out about your destination, or make a list of things you are going to do when you get there. Let the children take some photo’s of the journey to print out and put in the book later. All of this gets them involved, engaged and interested.
And a checklist for you before the journey begins.
- Do you know where you’re going and how to get there? There’s nothing worse than getting lost with tired/grumpy children in tow
- Have you got all the documentation you need? Keep it all in one place where you can get to it easily (and don’t lose it)
- Have you got pillows and blankets? Children are more likely to sleep if they’re comfy and warm
- Try to travel at a time when your children would usually be sleeping, or napping (night flights are great)
- Take a change of clothing, in case of spillage (drinks/food/bodily fluids)
- Keep a first aid kit in the car (just because you should)
- If your child gets travel sick, encourage them to look at the horizon (and pack a few plastic bags!). Fresh air is always a big help (unless you’re on a plane…)
- Take plenty of loo breaks/exercise breaks (car) and a portable potty if necessary
- If you’re having to make your way around an airport or station, have you got everything you need to be able to transport bags and babes? (A pushchair/Trunki/trolley – make sure you have coins for a trolley if needed
Some links to useful products;
Trunki has some great stuff – including blankets, bags and lunch boxes.
Audible has a great choice of children’s audio books.
Discovery Kids has put together a list of sites with free printable games for older children.
The RAC also has a page dedicated to family games to play on a car journey.
Wherever you’re going, remember that the journey is part of the adventure.