The time we took a two year old to Australia

When my sister-in-law moved from Britain to Australia, I was looking forward to holidays in the sun, surfing lessons and shrimps on the barbie. And the reality wasn’t far from that, until she decided to get married in 2016. What was meant to be an exciting and memorable experience turned into something a little more nerve-wracking for us… because we were travelling with our two year old boy.

Our son began his terrible two period when he was about 18-months old and was really perfecting his tantrums, meltdowns and stubbornness by the time we booked the flights. Our apprehension levels were peaking with the thought of a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Sydney and that’s ignoring the 7-hour flight before that.

We’d taken our boy on two long-haul flights before, so it wasn’t his first experience of spending hours cooped up in the cabin. But this one was twice as long with twice as many opportunities to scream the plane down.

The one thing going in our favour was the ample time we had to prepare for the trip. We had learned a lot from our previous flights and although he was younger and more predictable then (ha, as if kids are ever predictable), at least he was used to the routine. And it was this prep that made the trip bearable and almost stress-free.

Although it’s almost impossible for a long-haul flight to pass without incident, he was absolutely golden from the moment we left our house, to the moment we arrived at my sister-in-law’s house, 27-hours later.

Was this a miracle or did we manage it?

Ah maybe it was a bit of both, but I’ll take you through what we did in preparation.

Long before the flight, we talked to our son about the trip and that it would include a long time in two planes. We emphasised the importance of behaving well and this regular discussion did get through to him as he began asking us questions about it. We wanted to prepare him for the journey but also to embrace it as part of the holiday.

Before flying, we bought a number of small rewards, like toys, books and even snacks, which we wrapped up for him to open. We gave him one in the airport and told him that if he was a good boy, he would get more opportunities to earn one of these.

We’ve since evolved this to create a sticker system, whereby if he gets three stickers for good behaviour, he’ll get a gift and this worked really well. We carried this system through the holiday and it got to the point that he would be asking us whether he’d been good enough to get a sticker.

We also got him a pair of child-friendly headphones before we flew, with an adapter so that he could use them to watch the TV in the back of his seat. We actually got him used to wearing these in the weeks running up to flying so that he was comfortable wearing them. He was really excited about wearing these on the plane and as he was used to them it didn’t become a battle.

We also took some books, play-dough and puzzles on the plane as activities, although I was worried that the play-dough would become missiles and he’d target other passengers. Luckily, this didn’t come to fruition.

We flew with Emirates and we knew that they were good with kids. At the start of the flight, they give all kids a cuddly toy that doubles as a sleeping blanket and a sketch pad to play with. The food for kids was good also and they were generous with the snacks they had on offer.

We all suffered with jet lag to an extent although he got into his normal sleeping routine within a day. The wedding went well, although he didn’t like wearing a shirt in 25 degree heat and who can blame him.

We flew home via ten days in Thailand, which broke the journey up. Once again we deployed the above techniques and the little man was excellently behaved. Parents of the year we may not be, but when it comes to flying with children, I think we’re doing pretty well.

I’ve just jinxed us, haven’t I?

The five things we consider before booking a holiday with our child

January and February are the busiest months of the year for holiday bookings. We know how much money we have left over from Christmas and the dreary new year weather compel us to book something we can look forward to.

And we’re no different, having booked our June holiday to Croatia before we went back to work in January. So what are the key things that we consider before booking a holiday, now that we have our little man to think of?

1. What are the local hospitals and medical care like?

We’ve had to take our son to see a medical professional twice while we’ve been on holiday – both times in Thailand and both times being ear infections, probably picked up from swimming pools. Not a nice experience, however we were glad to have quality care nearby.

This was a key consideration before we booked and we discounted a number of destinations because we weren’t confident with the facilities. Oh, and the hospital in Bangkok was more like a five star hotel!

2. What times do the flights take off and land?

Rocking up in a new country at 8am after a long flight might give you the opportunity for a full day’s exploring or chilling on the beach, but it might not be the best time for your nippers.

I remember checking in to a Bangkok hotel just before midnight and after a pleasant, sleep-filled flight, our boy was wide awake while we were exhausted and with no hope of getting him down.

While it’s not always possible to choose the most convenient flight times (I’m looking at you Ryan Air), it’s worth planning your take off or arrival times. Of course this depends on the length of the flight, however the last thing you want is for your child to fall asleep during the journey and then be completely wired for when you arrive at your hotel at 10pm.

3. Does the hotel have child-friendly facilities?

Perhaps the most obvious one on the list and for good reason. Checking out what child-friendly facilities a hotel has before booking is a must. Some hotels will have a kids club, or a room with toys, books and even computers to keep the kids entertained.

Hotels have other facilities designed to ensure you and your children enjoy the best stay possible. Some include a babysitting service (often at a charge), where a member of staff will stay in your room while your child sleeps, giving you a chance to visit the restaurant in peace. If you don’t have this luxury, then check whether the hotel has a menu for children in the restaurant. If they don’t, it’s likely that the hotel won’t be catering for your kids in other ways too.

4. How far is the hotel from the airport?

This may seem obvious but is easily overlooked. Often the most difficult part of the journey is arriving at an airport abroad, with tired and over-excited kids, only to have another hour or two to travel before you actually arrive at your destination.

This happened to us when we travelled to Turkey for an opportunity to grab some sun before the long winter set in. Arriving at the airport after a four-hour (and largely uneventful) flight was fine, however the two hour coach journey to the hotel wasn’t. We hadn’t brought a car seat and our boy, who was 18 months old at the time, was cranky, restless and noisy for the duration.

5. The weather

One of the reasons we enjoy going away is that my wife, born in South Africa, needs some sunny respite from the gloomy grey skies of Great Britain. However we have to be careful about where we go because the sun is so strong on such sensitive skin (I’m talking about my boy’s skin, as well as my delicate British skin).

So Greece in August in a complete no-go and when we do travel, we stockpile factor 50 sunscreen. When our boy was a baby, we’d dress him in a UV protection swimsuit and hat as well as covering him in sunscreen and that combination did the trick.

Top tips for stress-free travelling with kids

Tips for travelling with kids

Travelling on your own or in a group can be a stressful experience. Check-in, passport control, flights, transfers, language barriers and other such encounters can negate all the joy holidays bring.

Now imagine doing all of that with kids. 

Oh the carnage. I’ve been there, I’ve had a five month old vomit into my lap during take-off. However travelling with children doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you’ve got the time to plan a few simple things before you go, it may help reduce your blood pressure and increase your kid’s enjoyment.

We’ve been lucky enough to take a number of trips, both long-haul and short-haul with our little boy, and we’ve picked up a number of tips and ideas along the way that have made for a much easier ride (for him and us). (But mainly for us). And now we actually enjoy the travelling – even a 24-hour trip to Australia.

So here are our top six tips for travelling with a toddler that won’t guarantee to take all of the stresses away, but should make your experience that little bit easier.

1. Use a reward system

It can be difficult to keep your kids from melting down when you’re travelling, particularly with the excitement, new experiences and tiredness. One way to manage this is to use a reward system for good behaviour.

After a number of trips with varying degrees of success (spectacular failures in some cases), we nailed a sticker system that has worked a treat.

We set a challenge for our boy to behave well during stages of the holiday. This could be the check-in process, during takeoff, or while we’re at a restaurant and should he behave, he gets a sticker. For every three stickers, he’ll get a reward, which might be ice-cream or a chocolate or something more substantial like a toy.

My wife is amazing at preparing for trips, which has saved us on many an occasion. She’ll get a number of small, easy to pack presents (TK Maxx and Amazon are great for these), wrap them, and then take them away with us. These don’t take up much space in hand luggage and are hugely effective as a reward.

It’s even got to the stage where our boy has asked us whether his behaviour has warranted a sticker, and that’s when we realised we’d hit on something great!

2. Teach your child basic words in the native language

Teaching your child a few simple words in the language of the country you’re visiting is a sure fire way to win friends, as well as keep your kids entertained. A simple hello and thank you goes a long way and immediately scores you points with locals.

Check out language tutorial videos on YouTube before you travel, or even while you’re travelling, to get your kids engaged.

3. Make travelling part of the holiday

Someone once said that it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey, and how you get there. However when you go away on holiday with kids, it really is all about the destination.

However, a great tip for going on holiday with toddlers is to turn the travelling into part of the experience.

It’s tempting to tell your children about the beaches and swimming pools and all the activities you’ll do when you’re on holiday, but that means the journey is considered a hindrance to the good times. It’s blocking your kids from having fun. And that needn’t be the case.

Talking about the travel means that the moment your child sets foot outside of the house, they’re experiencing the holiday. Tell your kids about the plane, train or boat and what the captain and cabin crew do and how they’re taking you to your destination etc. This should introduce that element of excitement at the start of the holiday, not when you’re arriving.

4. Plan your flight times accordingly

Rocking up in a new country at 8am after a long flight might give you the opportunity for a full day’s exploring or chilling on the beach, but it might not be the best time for your nippers.

While it’s not always possible to choose the most convenient flight times (I’m looking at you Ryan Air), it’s worth planning your take off or arrival times. Of course this depends on the length of the flight, however the last thing you want is for your child to fall asleep during the journey and then be completely wired for when you arrive at your hotel at 10pm.

I remember checking in to a Bangkok hotel just before midnight and after a pleasant, sleep-filled flight, our boy was wide awake while we were exhausted and with no hope of getting him down.

5. Use a backpack for your hand luggage

Perhaps the most simple tip in this list. Using a backpack is so much easier than holding a bag – it means you have free hands for all the extra stuff you need when travelling with a child!

I made this mistake on my first trip away with my son. Carrying him in one hand and my bag in the other, and then his emergency bag (packed full with spare clothes, nappies, wipes etc.) around my neck wasn’t pleasant.

6. Have something organised for your first day back home

This is rarely planned yet so effective. I remember the days before child (BC) when our first day home was a mix of washing and chilling. And as any parent knows, chilling + children doesn’t go together.

Therefore in order to keep the kids entertained, it’s always a good idea to plan out your first day back so that you can keep their energy levels high and saves you from scratching around for ideas in that first-day-back-from-holiday-daze.

We also tend to do an online grocery order for delivery for our first day back (ensuring any delays are taking into account) so that we’re stocked up and don’t have to drag our kids around the store.