Appeasing the Tiny Traveller – part one

International travel with small children immediately conjures up visions of despair for anyone with or without children until you actually do it and realise it’s just not that big a deal. As an expat, I started planning my daughter’s first trip home almost immediately with research and booking months before we left last November. After that trip we refined our lists and “must haves” with experience and her ever changing needs to make the subsequent several international trips a breeze.

The important thing to remember is that with the exception of new things to look at, it’s just another day in your child’s life, no more different to her than any new location, restaurant, etc. You are her favourite person and are alongside her for that entire flight instead of being away at work or wherever, so no matter what she will be thankful.

Our daughter Waverley has clocked 80 hours actual flight time plus countless additional travel time in layovers over the first 13 months of her life through various long haul and domestic trips to visit family and explore the world with us. We didn’t see a need to stop and wait for her to get older plus so much of her family lives far away and wanted to meet her. I think travelling is a skill that kids learn and get familiar with like anything else. It’s so fun to see a familiar place in the amazed eyes of a child who is experiencing something for the first time. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t remember it – we do, and we get to see another side of the destination. There are families in every country and it’s nice to feel that kinship and experience another lifestyle.

In three parts, I will provide a detailed description of how we travel to help you think about your own family’s needs and how to best appease your tiny travellers. I found most of the websites I scoured looking for the magic tips to make it less of an ordeal were pretty general. Most of it was common sense and some golden gems, but I find details helpful to alleviate stress. I hope it helps you make your next trip a little more enjoyable.

Booking and Seating:

  • Nowhere did I find the golden rule for long haul flights of “fly before your child is 6 months.” You might think that you’d rather be more settled in your new family before you travel abroad but for a number of reasons go early.
      • Most airlines will not allow you to book a bassinet once your child is over 6 months or can sit up on their own
      • You don’t have to carry any solid food, just milk or breast
      • If your baby still wakes up in the night, it doesn’t matter because night will become day
  • If your child is under 6 mths: Call the airline to confirm they have availability for bassinets before you book, then reserve it at the time of booking. Talk to a person and ask how many bassinets they have on that plane and how many are booked. Most Delta flights from Australia to the US only have ONE, whereas others say they can’t guarantee it but is first come first served based on check-in time. V Australia actually told me that, but then when I arrived a full 3 hours prior they had already assigned it to me, so who knows. If you get a choice, pick a bassinet seat in a row of seats not by a toilet. On the flights I’ve been on the foremost bulkhead row bordering business was very quiet, whereas the farther one back near the toilets had an endless queue of chatty people and slamming doors.
  • If your child is 6mths – 1 yr / not yet walking: I would suggest booking a seat on one of the sides of the plane and in the middle of a block (away from bathrooms). If you are travelling with another adult book a window and an aisle of a row of three seats and I guarantee the person in the middle will find another place to sit if you ask nicely. Worst case scenario and there is not 1 single empty seat, you can just swap to give them the window. This worked better for Wave to sleep since there aren’t so many distractions. I would have previously said go ahead and book the bulkhead anyway if you could, but many airlines have a policy against children playing on the floor. Trust me, having a debate with them about how sitting on the floor is exactly the same as sitting in your lap in the event of turbulence will get you nowhere. Ask at check-in to see if there is still an empty seat next to you and if not, if they can reassign you. Also book a child meal. It doesn’t cost extra and it might have something good.
  • If your child is walking – I’ve just come back from our flight to ChCh for Easter with a 13 mth lap child and can tell you a toddler is a lot more work. The bulkhead is best for a walker as they may be able to stand at your feet and play cars in your lap (depending on how bureaucratic your air hostess decides to be). Either way when they are sitting in your lap kicking and energetically hitting the touch screen, you will be glad there are no seats in front of you and the area between compartments is close for a little running around. Many people have success bringing a car seat (MUST have an airline approved sticker) whether or not they have a lap child, and if there isn’t a spare seat to get rearranged to (ask at checkin), it can always be gate checked for free.

In the next section I’ll share what I typically pack for the flight itself to cover all the necessities without carrying too much.

About the author:

I'm Tasmin, a photographer and the mother of a boisterous 2 yr old daughter Waverley and new baby boy Charleston. After doing (too much) research when I was first pregnant I became a Phil & Teds convert and love using all their toys to make my life as a mum easier. My partner and I love to travel and Waverley has 5 countries on her passport already! I have also co-founded Portrait Equality which loans instant cameras to travelling photographers so they can give out family portraits along their journey. Enjoy following us on our journeys as we share them with you and our families..

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