One of the most common misconceptions I find about life with kids is that they’re a nightmare to travel with. You know what I mean: you spend nights before your holidays tossing and turning imagining worst-case scenarios – tantrums in airports, mislaid suitcases, disrupted flights.
But I’ve flown with my children plenty of times, and in my experience the expectation is always much worse than the reality.
It really is never as bad as you think it’s going to be, though when it does go wrong the only thing you can do is man up, get on with it and laugh at the situation.
Take a flight I was on with a toddler Elfie and baby Hux a few years ago, journeying back from the luxury holiday villas south of France with my mum. Of course I had multiple changes of clothes for the kids packed safely in my hand luggage in case of emergencies/poo explosions, but did I have any clothes for me? Nope. Which was not helpful in the slightest when Hux’s nappy decided to leak all over my lap somewhere above the Alps.
Journeying home from Heathrow with soggy baby pee thighs is not an experience I’d like to re-visit any time soon.
And so, this year before we flew to Greece, I did all the research. I thought of all the things, weighed up all the possibilities. This year, I thought, I’d be bulletproof. And you know what? I bloody well was. The journey was smooth, nay, smoother than smooth, smoother than glass. Nobody peed on me, nobody melted down, nobody judged my parenting/bribery skills. We were golden. It was a textbook holiday journey, and here’s how we did it:
Book an airport hotel
Although our flight wasn’t until 9.50am, I didn’t want to risk getting caught in traffic/queues/security lines at Gatwick, so I made the decision to spend the night before in a hotel inside the terminal. Our stay at Bloc was brilliant and I wouldn’t hesitate booking in here again – I hear the Yo! Hotels are really handy, too. Even better if your airline lets you check in the night before, as ours did for a small fee. It’s a brilliant feeling to have dumped your luggage and be inside the terminal a clear 12 hours before you’re due to take off.
Shop around for parking deals
When it came to the parking aspect of our trip I was bored before I started – parking is possibly the least sexy part of any holiday. But it paid off to research what would be available to me, and in the end I found a valet parking deal that was only £20 more expensive than most of the park and ride options. With two children, three suitcases and only two hands this was a total no-brainer, and being able to pull right up to the terminal with our luggage made such a difference.
Bring out the emergency Apple devices
This is one situation where nobody will judge you for sitting your child in front of an iPad for hours. NOBODY. May I recommend these children’s headphones as being a welcome addition for your fellow passengers – they look very cute as well as doing the job of keeping any iPad interference to a minimum.
Put the kids to work
Speaking of luggage, I knew I’d have to be inventive when it came to packing for our trip away. We had a small 20kg luggage allowance per person, but obviously as I was travelling with a 4 and a 5 year old I couldn’t really ask them to heft their own bags around.
Or could I?
I came up with the genius idea of packing the lightest and bulkiest bits of our luggage in Trunkis, and giving each child responsibility for their own suitcase. These got checked into the hold and their hand luggage essentials (stickers, Shopkins, teddies) came with us in backpacks on the plane.
I still had the majority of our stuff in my big suitcase, but being able to siphon off bits and bobs into the Trunkis – that were light enough for the kids to cart themselves – made the world of difference. Genius.
Book an airport lounge
I knew that the airport would be busy at the time of the morning we were passing through and so wanted to make the transition of ground to air as seamless as possible. To make sure we’d have no panic over where to eat breakfast or spend some downtime (with those iPads, probably ;) I booked the No 1 Traveller’s Lounge. This is a low-stress area away from the hustle and bustle of the main concourse where you can get a seat, relax overlooking the runway and enjoy some lovely food (all included in the entrance price, which is around £36 for adults and £15 for kids). This was a haven for us after an exciting morning and hectic security check – just what we needed.
It’s also not a million miles away from the kids playground at Gatwick, a genius soft play area you can pop your children in while you enjoy a lovely hot coffee and think about your holiday.
Stock up on food
I know most planes offer food but really, who wants to be in the situation where your child fancies nothing off the menu bar a box of Maltesers? Before our last flight we did a quick Pret whip-around, buying sandwiches, crisps and drinks for all. We still had the Maltesers, obvs, but at least I’d got a little bit of goodness into the children first.
What are your top tips for flying with kids?