The condition known as "travelling with a toddler on a plane" can present with a constellation of symptoms such as fear, anxiety, dread and an impending sense of doom. And that's just for the other passengers, never mind the parents!
Well, never fear, I am here!
Well, the good news is that now it's easier.
Now, you don't need to worry so much about sterilisation and breastfeeding and changing nappies every other minute.
We've taken Rosa on umpteen flights by now, both long and short haul, sat together and apart. On only one (touch wood) did it feel difficult.
Crossing Cardiff (my home town) in the car has caused more problems than a long haul flight, because when you're driving, you have limited, limited options. And you have to concentrate on where you're going.
On a flight, you're already one step ahead of the game by outsourcing all that "navigation business" to the pilot and you have a team of people on hand who are paid to help you.
And your partner (if you have one) can't mysteriously disappear in quite the same way as they can at home.
That said, you do need to put together some preparation. And lower your expectations just a little. Then a little more.
A little more.
And then waaaaaay, way, way lower than that.
Look. If you manage to have a glass of wine while watching a film, that's a triumph. The Rolls Royce, Olympic Oscar dream of flying with a toddler.
I'm not saying it won't happen.
I'm just saying, y'know. If it does, enjoy it.
Stress Free Doesn't Mean Care Free
Do be prepared to spend the majority of the flight alert and focused on your small one.
Or in other words, much the same as at home.
Here's our guide to stress-free travel with a toddler (Mr Lab may write a guide on flying solo with a toddler since he's done that too. Twice.)
Start sharing an airport book and playing at taking teddy onto a plane.
Shop for any non-messy snacks (see below for suggestions.)
Keep your special toys out of sight so that they still come as a surprise during the flight
Find some brightly coloured bags to store different things in on the flight. Why bright? So that it's easier to find them when you're rummaging around in the dark.
Pack your worse case scenario things at the bottom of the suitcase (change of clothes, plastic bags) and keep your essentials easy to grab (the gear you'll need for take off.)
Arrive as early as you possibly can. Everything takes longer now...
Be on the lookout for space to let them run around (under supervision, obviously.) They will be cooped up soon enough and the NHS advice recommends that toddlers need a minimum of three hours a day to exercise.
Best for everyone if that happens before they board the plane...
Some airports have dedicated play areas for children. See if yours does. Be creative if it doesn't.
This is probably the toughest bit of the whole gig. If there are two of you, designate one to handle the pushchair and stuff, the other to focus on the child.
Liquids and pouch like snacks will pass through but you'll have to have them tested.
Children usually have to come out of the pushchair. You may still need to remove your shoes at this point so a sling is useful as you only have so many hands.
Everything needs to come out of the pushchair. That includes any waterproof covers, bags, lost toys and god knows what crumbs or detritus you find in the pocket underneath. Onto the conveyor belt it goes...
Don't forget things like calpol and sudocrem need to go in a liquids bag.
Be really, really sure you've picked everything up afterwards. What with the liquids, shoes, pushchair, food, laptop etc and a toddler, your belongings will be scattered to the seven seas. Make sure you've navigated to each before you leave. We lost food on one flight because someone had separated the pouches from the other liquids and we missed it amid the mayhem.
Opinion differs here but I'd highly recommend getting on as soon as you can.
It takes a while to organise yourself but more importantly, it gives your toddler the chance to explore the plane before it's full of people. They can wander in between seats and pull at seatbelts, arm rests, magazines, cabin crew (!) before they're seen as in the way.
Toddlers aren't being annoying. They're showing the vital life skills that we all need in order to investigate and then understand the world as children and then adults. It's their job.
Let them do it and they'll be more likely to sit down and settle down for the flight. At least, that's what I've found.
Also, boarding early gives you a chance to talk to the cabin crew and get off on the right foot.
You can do a last minute nappy change and snack before seatbelts and take off.
And, well, it's just nicer and lessens the chance of someone thwacking your toddler on the head with their suitcase as you both try to navigate the aisle.
Within the caveats of not giving medical advice, I'd recommend giving calpol about 15 minutes before takeoff just in case it's going to hurt their ears. But you have to consult your own doctor and make your own decision.
Have a drink and non-messy snack at the ready to prevent against their ears going pop.
Have access to your best entertainment skills and patience. Staying still isn't the way toddlers are wired, particulary when there's a safety demo going on. Distract, distract, distract. Stickers. Drawing. Talking through the airport book.
Be enthusiastic about the upcoming noise and shaking - it's an exciting adventure, not a terrifying ordeal. (Right?!)
Hungry toddlers are miserable toddlers. It's not always reasonable (or bearable!) to make them wait for the in-flight meal.
Arm yourself with these minimal mess snacks and keep your toddler regularly refuelled.
Create a separate snack pack filled with a folding bib, plastic tray, wipes, cutlery and a small plastic bag for rubbish.
Then stock up on these snacks:
In a way, this is the easiest part. Sit back and let food and drink be brought to you. Slowly make your way through your bag of tricks and toys.
Lull them to sleep if you can (!) A walk with slings can help with this, using a scarf to try block out some of the light (and oohs and ahs from admiring passengers.)
Walk up and down the aisle when you get the chance. Be pleasant with anyone you meet.
And it goes without saying that you aren't going to let your toddler grab other people's stuff, are you? And you are going to clean their hands after eating too, while we're about it?! Of course you are...
Top Toddler Travel Tip
Removing toddler shoes drastically reduces the enjoyment they get out of kicking the seat in front... #justsaying
Wait, what?! You made it! You've landed, hallelujah and now great adventure awaits (or a great pile of laundry if you're just getting back.)
But not so fast.
You have to get off the plane, get your bags, get through passport control etcetera.
And then, quite possibly, you've got to transfer to somewhere else.
Wait for everyone else to get off the plane. Too many people aren't paying attention and are thwacking suitcases around. Also, it's just easier for you to search for potentially missing items when there aren't so many people about..
Take a quick stock check. Do you need to buy more food or nappies before a long transfer?
Now's a good time for a nappy change. And another offer of a snack.
That's it, you made it! Now go, travel, enjoy! And leave any other tips you may have in the comment section below...
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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