A couple of months ago we took a trip from New Zealand to Scotland to visit my family. Since I have been living in New Zealand for nearly twenty years I have made the journey a few times, but usually on my own. We did take our oldest child (now 5) when she was one, but travelling with three children aged 5, 3 and 16 months was going to be a different experience!
For the next four weeks I’m going to be doing a series on Tips for Travelling with Children, and will share with you some of the experiences we had and the lessons I learned. So, let’s start at the beginning – the all-important preparation!
The first thing to check is to make sure that you all have up-to-date passports, and any visas that you might require. I knew that my youngest needed a passport, but a quick check also showed us that the five-year-old also needed a new one and my husband’s was due to expire in less than six months, the requirement for some countries, so he would need a new one as well.
Next, we looked into flight options. Going from New Zealand to Scotland there are a great variety of route and airline options. I started by going to a local travel agent to see what they could offer but I wasn’t happy with flight option or the price she offered so I had a look on-line.
I would really recommend doing some serious research on-line when planning such a long trip. I was able to spend time looking in to a variety of options to find what suited us best. Things to look for are the price (this can vary greatly); the airlines and the airports. By checking the airlines and airports on-line you can find out what facilities they have on offer for children. This is particularly important if you are going to be in transit for a while. Having an eight hour stop over at some airports would be OK (they have hotels, swimming pools, movie theatres etc) but some wouldn’t (only a foodcourt and tourist shop, not even a playground). You can also find out if the airports offer courtesy pushchairs and any assistance if you are travelling alone with kids.
One of the other factors I considered when researching on-line was the times of the flights. We decided not to have a stop-over so we were going to be travelling for approximately 30 hours. I wanted to time things so that the longest flight would be during night-time and the children (hopefully) would get a decent sleep.
I found a flight that seemed to fit the bill – four hour flight starting in the morning; five hours in transit at Sydney airport; 14 hour flight over night; 2 hours in transit at Abu Dhabi; 8 hour flight to Edinburgh. The price was one of the cheapest too – about $3000 less than the travel agent had offered!
One tip I read on-line from Lajollamom was to keep the children in the same daily routine until you arrive at your final destination. When I have travelled by myself I always like to change to the new time as soon as possible to allow myself to start adjusting. However, staying in the original time seemed to make sense where children are concerned as you want to limit them getting tired and confused on the journey. The flight times I had chosen would help with this, but in order for me to keep track of what the time was back in New Zealand I made myself a little chart showing the flights with the local time and the NZ time. I also noted what meals we would be getting on the plane and what additional food I might need to take since our body clocks would be in a different time zone. For example, our third flight was from 1am to 8am local time, but for us it was 8am to 3pm so the children would probably want a morning snack and lunch.
When we had found the flight we were interested we still weren’t sure if we should book it on-line. We had always gone through travel agents before, and when travelling with three children, and spending so much money, we didn’t want to risk anything going wrong. So, I decided to take a print-out of the flight to a different travel agent to see what they could do. This time I went to Flight Centre. I showed the travel agent the flight that I wanted and she was able to offer me the same flights but had a slightly higher price. HOWEVER, since Flight Centre say they will beat prices they reduced the price so that it was less (by $1 per person) than the one I had showed them. When we had booked and paid for the tickets they also gave me $100 vouchers for future travel. So, it was definitely worthwhile going to them!
When I was going to the first travel agent I had my three-year-old son with me. In the car I explained to him that we were going to go on a holiday in a big plane and we were going to a shop to get the tickets. When I parked the car he asked me where the planes were! I knew I would have to do a bit of preparation with the children for this new experience!
First, I made a ‘Countdown Chart’ so that they would understand how long they had to wait before the journey. Since we made the decision to go fairly quickly there was only about two weeks to go. If you were planning further in advance it might be best not to say anything for a while! For the chart I simply printed off a calendar page from the internet and drew a plane on the date we were leaving. The children then took turns each day to cross off a day.
We also talked a lot about what the plane would be like. Their experience of public transport was pretty minimal (One 20 minute trip on a steam train and a 10 minute bus ride on a vintage bus at a Thomas the Tank Engine day doesn’t really count!) I told them that they would be on the plane for a very long time and that they would get their meals, there would be toilets on the plane and that they would be sleeping all night on the plane but they wouldn’t get beds. I also told them that at the airports there would be a lot of waiting around but then they might also have to move quickly and do what they were told. I also tried to explain a bit about security so they wouldn’t be confused or scared. To help with this I got some picture books (fiction and non-fiction) from the library and tried to find some clips on you tube to show them. Here’s one that we found that is pretty hilarious!
One thing I didn’t do was prepare the children for the escalators at the airport. Since we usually take the pram when we are at the shopping mall and use the lifts the children weren’t used to going on the escalator and my son was a bit scared. Since I was carrying bags and my husband was carrying bags and the 16-month old, and there was a line of people behind us trying to get down the escalator too this was a bit of a problem.
One final piece of advice I have for preparing for a long flight with children is to check out some tips on-line. There are some great tips out there which you can check out on my pinterest board. I’ll be discussing more of them in the rest of the series.
You may also want to look in to buying products designed to assist you on the journey. Since we weren’t liking to be travelling that often this was not something I looked into, but I have pinned some ideas on my pinterest board for your information.
Next week is all about the packing. I’ll share my packing list printables, as well as what I took in the carry-on luggage and how I packed it.
Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Children
Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Packing
Part 3: At the airport
Part 4: On the plane
In the lead up to our trip I found myself constantly thinking, and stressing, about the journey and wasn’t really thinking about the holiday. Remember the journey is just for one day! Try not to stress to much and think about what you want to do when you get there too!
Do you have any other tips for preparing for a long journey?
This post has been linked to the following link parties:
Thriving on Thursdays