International long-haul travel with babies and toddlers can be a daunting thought, from managing the airport stress to keeping everyone entertained, fed and slept. Postnatal advisor and maternity nurse Katie Thomas is here to help – providing her travel bag checklist, tips for plane entertainment and jet-lag advice for when you arrive.
There are lots of variables when it comes to traveling with little ones, from baby’s age, development stage, help on hand, travel times, airport ammenities, stop overs, length of travel etc, that all contribute to the level of packing and preparation required. Take all of these circumstances into account when using this resource, and contact Katie for personalised guidance.
Travel basics to support a smooth journey:
- Ensure everyone traveling is all up to date with immunisations.
- Wash hands frequently – this may sound obvious but can’t be overlooked. Babies especially are much more susceptible to colds and flu viruses as they’re still building their immune defence systems, you will be touching everything and then touching them.
- Note that travel strollers can be taken right up to the plane, and put in an overhead cabin or stored for you until landing.
- If bringing a carseat on the plane, do your research to ensure it’s labelled safe to fly. Some airlines will allow carseats to be brought to the gate and stored with the travel stroller, check your airlines gate check policy before deciding what will work best for you.
- There’s a lot to juggle when traveling with little ones, carry on bags, the stroller, baby bag, boarding passes, your coffee, oh and the baby. You will quickly run out of hands! A practical option is using a front pack or sling and wearing your baby through the airport.
- Consider carefully if getting on the plane before everyone else is actually necessary for your specific circumstances. It might be helpful to get organised and everyone settled, or it might be more challenging having an extra half hour stuck in your seats. If traveling with two adults, it can be a good option for one to unload bags, set up and disinfect your seats, while the other runs and entertains until the last minute.
- Lots of verbal preparation and explaining to toddlers of what’s to come and what to expect. Toddlers can quite easily get overwhelmed by the overstimulation and unfamiliarity of travel. Explaining what’s going to happen and reassurance while it’s happening, can make the world of difference for calming any nerves.
- Feed – breast, bottle or food during take off and landing. Small airways are particularly sensitive to pressure changes in the cabin, chewing and swallowing will hugely help to ease ear pain. If not interested in food then a dummy is the next best option.
- Stay well hydrated, and keep your little ones extra hydrated. Long-haul plane travel especially dehydrates your body.
- Check Katie’s travel bag checklist for entertainment ideas!
- Ask for help! Flight attendants, the person sitting next to you, airport staff, a friendly looking stranger – it can be really stressful and exhausting, so ask for help when you need it, the majority of people are more than happy to assist.
- There are services that deliver baby gear to your accomodation, from high chairs to cots to prams and toys – this can be game changer to avoid overpacking or going without.
- Do your research, especially around accomodation ammenities and planned activities, ensure everything you book is baby friendly.
- Be flexible – give yourself and your little ones some grace, screen time or a few treat bribes to get you through, isn’t going to cause any damage. Try to stay calm, nervous parent means nervous baby.
- Bring bedding from home for babies, using hotel cots is usually necessary, but familiar bedding will help them feel comfortable and sleep better in a foreign environment.
- Goes without saying to bring baby or toddlers sleep comforts, white noise, cuddly, dummy, sleep suit, whatever they use at home bring with you, and bring spares!
- Bedtime routine from home is key to keeping sleep times consistent and successful. Of course when traveling it will be slightly different, but follow as many steps as you can from their usual routine. This will help them feel secure and increase your chances of everyone getting some rest!
- Depending how long you’re traveling for and where to, consider sticking to your original time zone, the stress and lack of sleep involved with adjusting is sometimes not worth it for short trips. If this isn’t practical or you’re staying longer than a week, give it 3 days of consistent adjusting and you should all be getting more sleep.
- If shifting to the new time zone, adjust meal times and feeds to the new time as quickly as possible. Don’t figure out what the old time routine is, focus on the new straight away.
- Keep day naps as frequent as they are at home, if you can. An extra 20 minute bridging nap in the afternoon to get to an acceptable bedtime is ok.
- Don’t keep baby awake for hours and hours in the hope they’ll crash at bedtime, this causes over-tiredness and potentially more night wakings.
- Get as much natural sunlight as possible, this is key to re-setting your circadian rhythm/body clock, for all ages. Movement and burning energy during the day is also helpful.
- Keep night times as dark as possible, this is also key to re-setting your circadian rhythm/body clock, for all ages.
- Try to resettle night wakes just as you would at home. If really awake and won’t go back, offer a small feed or snack, try again and if won’t go back, allow a short awake time but keep it dark, quiet and calm. Try again. Repeat until it’s a time you’re ok with getting up!
- Wake baby in the morning as close to your usual awake time as you can, to set the new time zone routine as quickly as possible. If there was a lot of wakefulness in the night you can allow an hour or two sleep in, and expect a slightly later bedtime that night.
- Expect the gradual shift of routine to take 2 – 3 days, from day 3 it’s recommend to follow the new routine times as consistently as possible.
- Do what works! Remember travel is meant to be fun, so as long as everyone is getting enough rest, you can decide how much flexibility works for you and your baby.