Many expats with families of their own will have heard this question during the recent holiday season. Christmas and/or the New Year are a popular time for expatriates to visit relatives and friends back home. However, long-distance travel with children adds a few more stressors to last-minute packing and jetlag. Here are some tried and true survival tips for long trips with kids, be it by air, car, or train.
Have a seat
• Seating arrangements are key, especially on planes. If possible, choose flights that are less likely to be crowded, e.g. at odd times of day. Fewer people may mean empty neighboring seats – or at least a more relaxed atmosphere in general.
• Websites like Seat Guru allow you to check out the seat maps of major airlines. You can thus choose according to legroom, proximity to toilets, etc.
• For longer flights, book an extra seat for your infant or toddler, even if you are allowed to hold them in your lap. The latter soon becomes tiring. Also, the second seat usually gets you permission to carry another hand luggage item.
“Mommy, I’m sick!”
• Prepare yourselves for motion sickness. If your kids get sick very easily, talk to the family doctor about anti-motion sickness meds. They have to take them before actually getting sick, so dispense the medication at the beginning of your journey.
• In more harmless cases, it helps to make the children look out the car or train window, or at some stationary object on a plane. Reading, watching movies, or playing video games should be avoided. They all increase dizziness. It helps to distract the little ones with a favorite toy (e.g. a stuffed animal) and an audiobook. Some parents give them dry crackers or ginger candy to munch on.
• For the worst case scenario, keep sturdy plastic bags, preferably with zip-locs, close at hand. Really close.
“Daddy, my ears hurt!”
• On airplanes, ear pressure problems are an additional concern. Babies can suck a pacifier, a bottle, or breast-feed during take-off and landing. For older children, there’s candy or chewing gum: sugar-free, if you are health-conscious, or their favorite bubblegum, if you want to give them a treat. Pressure-regulating earplugs might also be worth a try.
Hygiene comes first
• When packing your hand luggage, put hygiene items first. Always take more diapers than you need. Especially if you travel by plane or train, switch to disposable diapers, even though you may normally prefer those made of cloth.
• In any case, two changes of clothes for your kids, an extra t-shirt for the adults, some zippy bags, and plenty of wet wipes are indispensible.
Food comes second
• Second in importance after hygiene, there’s food and drinks. There is a board restaurant on many trains, but it’s often very expensive. In-flight food on the plane may arrive when your kids are fast asleep.
• Some kid’s meals offered by airlines are high-fat, greasy fast food that may not be good for children prone to motion sickness. If you can, enquire beforehand what sort of food is served for children. On highways, fast-food joints often have the best play areas, but it helps to carry some healthy snacks too.
• Make sure to check the air safety regulations for liquids, baby formula, and baby food before packing. Do splurge on some overpriced bottled water in the boarding area, as plane travel often leads to dehydration.
• Last but not least, don’t forget the sippy cup for smaller children: drinking from a bottle or normal plastic cup on a rattling train or swaying plane can prove rather difficult. You wouldn’t want the fresh orange juice to end up all over your kid’s clothes.
But don’t forget the toys
• Finally, there should be still some room for toys and games in your luggage. Plush animals and comfy blankets help your kids to fall asleep during the journey. But as long as the children are awake, they will be in need of distraction.
• For babies, colorful magnetic blocks or construction kits as well as first picture books could be fun. Older children will love crayons and coloring books or small dolls and cars. However, don’t bring any markers, noise-making toys, or clay on planes and trains: the staff and other passengers will be very grateful for your consideration.
• Simple travel games like “I spy…”, “In my suitcase I packed…”, or “animals from A to Z” are classics for a reason. Small board games with magnetic pieces can while away a couple of hours, too. There are always gadgets for movies and computer games, but remember to confiscate these when spying the first signs of motion sickness.