I’ve made every mistake in the book when travelling through airports with children.
Most memorable and embarrasing are
- Buying plastic junk as we go through the airport, only to end up carrying it or throwing it away
- Running out of baby milk in Schipol Airport when the ash cloud disrupted flights
- Running out of nappies on a business class flight
- Buying copious amounts of snacks at the airport and forking out a small fortune
- Taking too many toys
- Not taking enough toys
- Packing for everyone else and realising I’d only packed a pair of jeans for myself
- Not realising our youngest had liberally sprayed himself with the aftershave tester in duty free and having Georgio Armani wafting strongly behind him all the way to Corfu
- Arriving late at the terminal and realising we had 9 pieces of hand luggage for 4 of us for a 3 night trip.
Please tell me that some of these are familiar to you! With the marvellous gift of hindsight, I realise all these issues could have been easily resolved with a little more planning!
So now I’m Susie Planner, here are my top tips to gliding smoothly through the airport with children and feeling like a pro when you take your seat on the plane with a smug look on your face, knowing you haven’t spent a fortune, accumulated a load of junk, everyone has just what they need and no-one smells. Of anything!
Manage your children’s expectations. Tell them in advance when they are going to be eating and whether this involves a meal at home first, or a meal at the airport before they fly. Depending on the time of your flight it might be handy to pack sandwiches and snacks which you can hand out instead of heading into an airside restaurant. We found that once we’d said in advance ‘no restaurants or cafes at the airport’, amazingly the children suddenly found they weren’t starving as per previous trips!
Encourage your children to think carefully about which toys they take. As a bare minimum our 2 children travel with Snowy, Tom, Fluffy and Doggie. Always have, probably always will (at least for the foreseeable future). But we have had occasions when a whole myriad of soft toys have come with us, who usually get stuffed in my handbag at the last minute. We’ve had toys that have been taken on holiday, which have never come out of the suitcase, toys that have a million little parts to them with an inbuilt ability to jump everywhere as soon as you open the box, and toys that are so heavy we’ve been over our kg allowance. Every time I ask myself how on earth did it happen? Top tip – keep soft toys to one favourite and ask the other toys to stay and look after the bedroom. Anything else that comes should be light, not have any parts and be engaging enough to keep them entertained past 3 seconds. Books tick all those boxes.
Luggage As our children have grown we’ve tried (and sometimes failed) to encourage their independence by having them pack their own bag. My daughter once packed muddy trousers, a wrinkled dress, half a pyjama set, one sock, a hat, 16 pairs of pants, a swimming costume and a fairy tutu for a week in Greece! Nice try, but not quite what we were after! Top tip – ask the children to write a list of what they are going to pack, which you can review, making any subtle suggestions, before they start packing. Make sure they know that only clean clothes are allowed on holidays and if an item of clothes has a partner, it must come too!
Travel list. When the children were babies, I never had a master list of what needed packing when we travelled. This meant that each time we went away, (which was often as I used to work for an airline), it was as if I was packing for the first time, ever. You would have thought I’d learned to be more organised, but I never seemed to have time. So my top tip is to set aside a quiet hour and write a list of what needs to be taken on holiday for each person. Print out the list, laminate it and hang or stick it on the inside door of your wardrobe. Then whenever you’re going on holiday, you’ll already have a list of what to pack, therefore avoiding the time when I only took a pair of jeans…..
Managing anxiety Some children can find travelling through busy airports an extremely anxious time – they might not like the body scanners, they may worry that you’re going to miss the flight, they may not understand that you have to take a bus from the longterm parking to the terminal, and possibly another shuttle train to the plane. Top tip – help them by explaining what’s going to happen. Let them know what time the flight is and reassure them that you have plenty of time. The body scanners were a worry for our children so we were always a bit more reassuring to them as we approached security to help them understand why they have to walk through it.
Less is best. Now, this is one thing I am good at – packing light – even taking only hand luggage for our overseas wedding and 3 weeks away. Some children have a tendency to want to pack lots of clothes, but my advice is to travel as lightly as you can. (obviously not as lightly as the fairy tutu example earlier)! You can always wash things when you’re there, or worst case, if you’ve forgotten something, just buy a cbeap replacement when you’re at your destination.
That’s it, good luck! Happy travels and please do share your experiences of children at airports – even it it’s just to make me feel better about my own mishaps!