Flying home for Christmas . . . with the kids in tow

What are the secrets to travelling with children? Copious snacks, a change of clothes, and plenty of patience

Trisha O’Neill: ‘With an Australian husband and us living in the US for the past five years,  travelling with two young kids has become the norm.’

Trisha O’Neill: ‘With an Australian husband and us living in the US for the past five years, travelling with two young kids has become the norm.’

 

Christmas is fast approaching and many Irish parents living abroad are preparing to pack up their bundles of joy and bring them back to Ireland for a visit, perhaps for the first time.

We asked Irish Times Abroad readers who have travelled with kids, young and old, in tow to share their experiences, mishaps and advice for others. 

John Collins, San Francisco: ‘Bring spare clothes for parents too’

When flying long-haul, in addition to bringing two spare sets of clothes for the baby, make sure to bring at least a clean T-shirt for each parent too. Babies don’t just vomit on themselves.

Emily Abbey: ‘Keep reminding yourself that once you’re on, you can’t get off no matter the tantrums, accidents and meltdowns’
Emily Abbey: ‘Keep reminding yourself that once you’re on, you can’t get off no matter the tantrums, accidents and meltdowns’

Emily Abbey, Singapore: ‘Kids love 14 hours of cartoons’

If you can, always book a non-stop flight, and keep reminding yourself that once you’re on, you can’t get off – no matter the tantrums, accidents and meltdowns. For long haul, always pack extra socks, snacks and (if you have youngish kids) an empty non-spill bottle or cup. And call the airline a few days beforehand to check your seats, and to order kids’ meals.

We fly regularly between Ireland and Singapore with young kids and the thought of the journey is always far worse than the reality. Kids love 14 hours of cartoons.

Teresa Nestor, Tullamore: ‘Babies cry, there’s nothing you can do about that’

My husband is Mexican, so we have been through a good few airports with our little girl and will brave a three-flight trip to Mexico next Easter for the first time with two little ones.

Tips: Use a baby carrier instead of a buggy – no need to dismantle at security checks. Take plenty of snacks. Bring a new little toy to introduce in each layover, Lego works really well. Use a backpack instead of a nappy bag. Limit hand luggage and devices that you have to take out at security checks. Resign yourself to the fact you will never watch a full movie on flights. Try not to stress about other passengers – babies cry, there’s nothing you can do about that, and the more stressed you are the more stressed baby is.

Trisha O’Neill, Houston: ‘Lollipops are great to avoid ear pain’

With an Australian husband and us living in the US for the past five years, travelling with two young kids has become the norm. The kids love airplanes for the first 30 minutes, but then it’s a mammoth task for the next eight-plus hours to keep them occupied and happy. We are always prepared with snacks, games, movies and lollipops (great to avoid ear pain).

When we flew home in May for my mother’s funeral there was no joy in that flight, but the kids were on their best behaviour, knowing their Mama was so sad. We are ready for our flight to Dublin next week for Christmas with my dad.

Michelle Morrissey, Perth: ‘Bring your breast pump as carry-on luggage’

For breastfeeding mums, don’t forget to bring your breast pump as carry-on luggage. I travelled home when baby was three months old and found that baby stopped feeding to schedule, due to all sorts of disturbances and colic and I did not have a means to express.

We were also delayed in Dubai by seven hours, so it was something like a 32-hour trip from Perth to Cork, so be prepared for the worst.

Sarah Montgomery, Dublin: ‘I got him ready for bed – he slept for 10 hours’

I recently travelled from Dublin to Sydney, where my father lives. It’s a 22-hour journey when you include connections through Dubai, but more than a day when you consider check-in time and getting to the airport.

We have travelled previously with our son when he was a tot, always in economy, and it is a bit easier at that age (excluding the time he switched on the crew emergency lights). But I was dreading it this time – he is very active to say the least. On the transfer I changed him into his PJs and got him ready for bed – he slept for 10 hours straight – worn out from the excitement of flying. It was a dream flight.

We also printed his ticket out and told him to put it in a safe place. I guess it gave him a sense of ownership.

Louise Heathwood, Gold Coast: ‘An Irish mammy told me where she was sitting, for back up’

I have travelled numerous times back to Dublin from Sydney with my kids. I have cried, they have spewed and I have questioned the reasoning way too often, mid-transit. But then, as you approach the motherland, like child birth, it all makes sense.

One very precious moment for me was when I was departing Singapore heading to London with my two-year-old and three-month-old, travelling alone, and an Irish mammy tapped me on the shoulder and told me where she was sitting, for back up. I knew I would be fine – and I was thanks to that wonderful angel. I will always pay that gesture forward.

Amanda McCullough: ‘We’ve been delayed by three hours, so far, and missed our connecting flight to Dublin’
Amanda McCullough: ‘We’ve been delayed by three hours, so far, and missed our connecting flight to Dublin’

Amanda McCullough, Brisbane: ‘With our son in tow, we behave like adults’

I write this from Brisbane International. My 10-month-old has eaten his way through AUD$24 of over-priced baby-food bought in a last-minute frenzy. We’ve been delayed by three hours, so far, and missed our connecting flight to Dublin.

But you know what? It’s not that bad. Our boy is more resilient than we give him credit for. My husband and I are the team we always have been, but better. With our son in tow, we behave like adults. Two years ago, we would have said a few choice words and have our earphones in. With a baby, you don’t have that luxury.

It’s not ideal. But, by any standards, it could be a hell of a lot worse. We’ll be home for Christmas and these soft Queenslanders might just miss Storm Caroline.

Fran Flynn, Australia: ‘I buy two tiny gifts for each long haul flight’

I’m Irish and my husband is from Chile and our four-year-old is a very well travelled little boy. Before our trip I always buy two tiny gifts for each long haul flight we’ll be on. We call them aeroplane presents. They are small and light and gift wrapped, and at the moment when we know he’s reached his limit of being in one place, it’s the perfect time to take one out. The gifts he has enjoyed the most are tiny cars/vehicles. Peppa Pig magazines always work well too, because there are so many activities.

Laura Quigley, Paris: ‘Time feeds and naps to suit travel times’

Our journey home isn’t as long as those travelling from Australia or the Americas, but this weekend we’re bringing our four-month-old home from Paris for surgery in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

Once the surgery and recovery go well, we hope to be back in Co Laois for Christmas. From flying over and back for appointments, we’ve learned to time feeds and naps to suit travel times, and to be as relaxed as possible.

The choice of airline makes a difference, too. We’ve travelled with a few different companies and the assistance offered has varied significantly. An extra hand from an air steward can make a big difference when boarding and disembarking. We haven’t had any disasters yet and hopefully this weekend will be no different.

Caroline Enright, Co Dublin: ‘Have patience if it all starts to go wrong’

I don’t live abroad, but my husband Renaud Hutin is French so we go there a lot. Tips for travelling on flights with babies and toddlers: Let them burn off their energy before you get on the flight. Dublin Airport has a mini kids’ area near the restaurant in terminal 2 – make use of it. Try to pick a flight at a decent time of the day so your kid stands a chance of sleeping. If you have rules about iPad use, forget about them for one day and download movies from Netflix to watch on the flight.

My main tip is to have patience if it all starts to go wrong. And not to worry what other people think, most are sympathetic and have been there.

Ready for take-off: Renaud Hutin with baby Bastien Hutin
Ready for take-off: Renaud Hutin with baby Bastien Hutin

Aoife McCann, Melbourne: ‘Bring more nappies than you think you’ll need’

For toddlers, wrap lots of little presents and give one out when they get restless – the unwrapping is as much fun as playing with the item. Bring more nappies than you think you’ll need in your carry-on – there can be delays, especially if flying through Heathrow.

Try to fly at night or in the evening, so they’ll sleep on the flight. Pack a change of clothes for you, too - nothing worse than your baby vomiting on you and not having a change of clothes. Keep your eyes on the prize – grandparents, uncles and aunties at the other end.

Gavin Healy, Sydney: ‘Usually other passengers are quite helpful’

I am from Dublin, my wife is Lebanese and we live in Sydney, so we have travelled a lot with our boys (Joey and Rory), to see our families. My only advice is to try and get a bassinet seat if your child is under nine months. The flights have never been too bad and usually other passengers are quite helpful.

Our funniest experience making the trip from Sydney to Dublin was the first, when our son was too big for the bassinet and too young for us to be allowed to buy him a seat. He would have to spend the entire (long) trip on our laps.

We were dreading the flight. After boarding, when we got to our row, the man in the third seat had a look of absolute dread when he saw us sit down with a baby, probably from experience. He immediately called a nearby flight-attendant and paid thousands of dollars for an upgrade to business class, leaving us with a row to ourselves and enough space for our son to lie down. He slept most of the way, it was a surprisingly pleasant flight.

Aidan Moloney, Montgomery County, US: ‘Have a checklist’

The key is to have a checklist. Make sure that the essentials are easily accessible in carry-on luggage. Go early to the check-in desk and see if you can get bumped to seats with extra leg room.

Amber Kelly, Seattle: ‘Encourage your children to stretch their legs’

Have your kids chew or drink during take-off and landing, to help them manage pressure changes. When travelling with kids on a plane, just like being on road trips, always plan for tools to avoid boredom. Books, toys, travel/pocket games, tablets (with games and movies) ... whatever will keep your children occupied. Also, encourage your children to stretch their legs every now and then. And talk to them about places they will see and things to do.

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