Travelling with kids can be an extremely daunting thought and I think that a lot of the time we hold ourselves back as parents when it comes to travelling because of how formidable the task seems. I have so often heard people say that they want to travel before they have kids because they won’t get a chance once they have a family. I don’t think that this should be the case (although each to their own). I think we should travel with our kids because I think that it teaches them some very important life lessons – Patience, adaptability, acceptance of different people, places, food, cultures – to name but a few. 

Having done two overseas trips now with my daughter, I thought I would share some useful tips and advice on travelling alone with a toddler. 

Both trips that we have been on have been to Ireland. We have family there and we go over once a year to see them. Now, coming from South Africa, Ireland is a great distance away and it is definitely not a straight forward journey to get there. In order to get there, we have an hour and a half drive to the nearest airport, then an hour and a half flight to Johannesburg, from Johannesburg we either fly via Europe or via Doha, then get on another flight to Dublin, and finally a two-hour car drive to Galway. It’s far! 

Who to fly with?

Having done this trip twice now, and having tried first the route via Europe and then, most recently, the route via Doha, I feel pretty confident in saying I have a favourite. After this last trip, I will definitely be taking the route via Doha in future for the simple reason that Qatar Airways
( https://www.qatarairways.com/en-za/homepage.html )was so good to us. We had such an awful experience with the airline we traveled with last year when we flew via Europe and this time around it was almost painless. Here is why I intend to fly with Qatar Airways for future trips:

  • The staff were absolutely fantastic! They went out of their way to help me and my daughter get settled, they continued to check if we were alright throughout the flights (we had four flights with them in total), they went out their way to ensure we had what we needed in terms of milk, water and snacks, and they were friendly and delightful to chat to. The only thing I had to put a stop to was the number of KitKat bars they gave her during the flights, and let’s face it, that is not a bad complaint. We felt looked after and I am so grateful to all the hosts and hostesses for making our journey a little bit easier. 
  • Qatar Airways offers priority boarding. This is a massive help when you are travelling with a toddler and believe it or not, not all airlines offer this to parents with kids. On all our flights we were allowed to board first which gave us time to get settled in our seats and put our hand luggage and stroller away ahead of the plane getting crowded. 
  • The planes themselves were clean and smart.
  • The food was good, for aeroplane food, and I was able to pre-book a kiddie’s meal (at no added cost) for my daughter. The aeroplane staff served water or juice throughout the flights. 

Where to sit?

The last time we flew, my daughter was 18 months old and I had to travel with her on my lap which was the worst and most uncomfortable experience ever. Now that she is over two years old I was able to book her her own seat, and that made such a difference. Also because she is small I ended up having more space than I usually would sitting next to an adult on the plane – Yay! I booked us two seats in the middle row (aisle and middle seat) in the very last row on the plane. I was so nervous this was going to be a disaster but it turned out to be the best decision I could have made and here’s why:

  • There were three seats in the row so we were able to get in and out without disturbing the person next to us, also they were able to get in and out without disturbing us.     
  • We had easy access to the toilets.
  • When my daughter started hassling I was able to take her to the space at the back near the hostess station where there was a bit of space to move around.

What time of day is best to fly?

I always thought it would be best to fly overnight because then it is in line with my child’s routine and hopefully she will sleep the whole way. My biggest piece of advice is to throw the ‘routine’ out of the window when travelling and let your child dictate when they need to sleep and eat. Surprisingly, I have to say that the best time to fly is during the day. I know that sounds crazy but it is. The majority of people out there don’t want to travel during the day which means you may find an empty flight. We were lucky enough to find this when we flew from Dublin to Doha at 9 ‘clock in the morning. Our plane was half full which meant that not only was the seat beside us free, we had free rows all around us. What a welcome surprise it was so have space on a flight! Now, I’m sure not all day flights have less travellers but I think it is safe to say that your fuller flights will be the overnight ones. 

What equipment to take?

I didn’t want to carry my daughter in a carrier as she is much heavier than when we traveled last year, so I took a stroller. A friend of mine used the GB Pockit Stroller ( http://gb-online.com/ms-my/strollers/pockit/ ) when she traveled and that’s what I decided to use. This piece of equipment was a godsend! The stroller is lightweight so not a hassle to carry when it’s folded up and it folds up into a small square which can fit into the overhead bins on the plane. It was also easy to setup when I needed it. I mainly took it along to use in the airports but I found it to be super useful during our holiday adventures as well and it literally came everywhere with us.

How to keep a toddler entertained on a long flight?

  • Pack an activity bag. I used a small packing capsule with some goodies in to keep my daughter entertained
  • Notepad and crayons
  • Puffy stickers (she literally spent an hour one flight sticking these on the window, taking them off and sticking them on the tray table and repeat.)
  • A few toys (My daughter loves dinosaurs at the moment so I brought along a few little dinos for her)
  • Etch pad (I remember having one of these as a kid and was so glad to find one as I didn’t think that still made them)
  • IPad. I took the iPad along with some colouring and puzzle games pre-downloaded. I also had a few offline pre-approved Youtube programmes for her to watch. 
  • I bought a set of kiddie headphones to accompany the iPad so the music from the iPad games didn’t drive the whole plane crazy. But my friend also lent me a special adapter so I was able to connect my daughter’s headphones to the aeroplane and she could then watch a movie. This was a bonus! She was happy to sit (still) and watch movies and this got us through a lot of the flights. 

A few more useful tips:

  • Make sure you pack snacks and water for your toddler. Sometimes it takes a while before meals are served and you also may not have enough time while connecting to grab a bite, so come prepared. I packed; Crackers, squishes, dried fruit, liquorice and water
  • Put your toddler straight into your stroller when you get off the plane, and once you reach your next gate then let them run around. If you are in a hurry and need to get from A to B quickly, you don’t want to be trying to coax your child along on foot. 
  • When my daughter fell asleep (finally!) on the plane I lay her down with her head next to the next passenger, protected by a pillow, and had her feet next to me/on my lap. This was for three reasons; 

1. She kicked me rather than the poor person next to us and could then stretch out her legs without hassling anyone if she needed (the more comfortable they are, the longer they’ll sleep).

2. It was then easier for me to get in and out when I needed while she was asleep.

3. I was able to put the tray down comfortably.

  • Use a backpack for hand luggage rather than a shoulder bag. Hands free is key!
  • Go with the flow and try relax as much as possible. As organised as you try to be,there will always be a curve ball or two and stressing doesn’t help. Deep breath and keep going.

Each time we travel it gets a little bit easier and I feel a bit more practised and less fearful of the endless possibilities of what could go wrong. I cannot wait for our next adventure together. Let’s explore this world together my darling!