Travelling with children - Stock photo
None of the advice I have ever read from parenting experts with lots of letters after their names has ever worked when it comes to traveling with my kids. Trust me, I’ve tried it all. Not the cuddly toys, stern looks, timeouts or counting to three. Kids are a fussy, demanding lot who do not like being bundled into a car or plane and expected to sit still for hours on end. My children are an energetic, noisy duo who can drive anyone with the misfortune of traveling with us completely out of their mind. The situation is easier to contain when it’s just in the car for a miserable two or three hours. Not so when there are 200 other passengers on the plane with you. One thing is for sure: It is a learning process. For you, not for the kids. First you’ll try to go by the book in your quest to be a modern, urban supermom. Then you’ll realize through trial and lots of error that ‘expert’ parenting tips are a waste of time and effort.
Now, of course, there are children who sleep peacefully through an entire flight and never throw tantrums in public. If yours fit that description, you can stick to the expert guidelines. If they’re of the unruly variety, then here’s some advice from a desperate Cairo mum.
Disclaimer: These are the fruits of my own trials and tribulations. They are, for the most part, completely anti-establishment and may come as a bit of a shock to some. I do not, in any way, promise that the following guidelines will shape your child into a better person. They won’t. But they will make your trip far more bearable.
Bribery Will Get You Everywhere
On most occasions I don’t give in to my children’s every whim. I save that tactic for when we’re out of the house and the rest of the population is at risk. Being far more intelligent creatures than you think, your kids will take advantage of the hours on the road or in the air. They will whine the entire length of the trip until they get what they want. Trust me, eventually you will give in and buy that bag of candy or useless toy at the gas station shop. Cut your losses early and let them know beforehand they’ll be getting a treat. That way you can build up their anticipation and reward them for being good. And do make sure it’s a treat; wholesome bananas and nuts do not count. Candy and toys are a surefire guarantee they’ll be on their best behavior until they get their hands on their goal.
Sometimes you won’t find a convenience store handy so come prepared and pack your own goodies in advance. Just be sure to hide them the night before, and make sure the kids have no clue you’re carrying secret weapons in your bag.
When traveling with kids in tow there’s only so much luggage you can carry yourself. Forget giving them their own rucksacks or messenger bags as they weigh children down and often hurt their backs. Wheelies are great for older kids who want to feel all grown up. For the younger ones, go for colorful Trunkis that double as a much-needed seat when you’re in that never-ending customs queue. They’re also great for small items (like chargers and other accessories) that would otherwise weigh down your own bag. Along with coloring books and crayons or pencils, make sure each child has a favorite snack as well as a packet of wipes.
Keeping Them Occupied
Your best friend on any trip? An iPad, because they can keep the kids occupied for hours. They’re light and easy to pack and are loved by all children above the age of 18 months. Here are a few of my recommended iPad travel apps for kids, from toddlers to elementary schoolers.
Hidden Objects: Great for teaching kids about new destinations, kids will love the hidden object and spot the different games in exotic locations such as the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Giza.
Elmo’s ABCs: The perfect app for iPad novices. Toddlers and preschoolers love the letter puzzles and tracking options.
Kindle: With this free app, you can download the e-books and magazines you buy on Amazon and read them on the iPad.
Star Walk-5 Stars Astronomy Guide: Kids and grownups alike love to play with this app. Point it at the sky, and you’ll see a virtual starscape on your screen. Move around and the view changes with you, highlighting the constellations above you.
A serious word of advice: If you have older kids and are on an internet plan, make sure your access will last throughout the trip. Most airports, restaurants and some planes do have wifi, but if the kids find themselves without a connection at any given point, they will complain relentlessly. At the very least, have them download episodes or movies that they can watch
Are We There Yet?
You’ll invariably hear this question a couple of hundred times before you get to where you’re going, even after treats and iPad time. This is to be expected. Children were not created to be confined to seats, so you need to let them stretch their legs every once in a while.
Babies and toddlers in particular will be a test in stamina. Babies want to be carried, so prepare to stand for long periods at the airport or on the plane. If you don’t have a sling, invest in one or borrow from a friend. Slings are a life-saver if you have a small baby and need both hands for your own carry-ons. If you are borrowing, make sure the sling is in good condition and meets safety standards.
In the car, your best bet is to try and put your baby down to sleep for the better part of the ride. Most babies are lulled to sleep anyway by the car’s motion, but there are some (like mine) who just won’t calm down and get overly cranky in a cramped area. On the road, try to stop every 40 minutes or so at a gas stations or roadside shop for a snack and a quick stroll.
Some people swear by over-the-counter sedatives for babies, but I wouldn’t go that route if I were you. Sedatives are known to have a reverse effect on active babies, making them absolutely hyperactive! Instead, go for more natural options like chamomile or aniseed tea. Airport security measures mean you can’t check in with liquids, so bring sachets of these and get the hot water from a café.
Back to planes here for a quick tip: During takeoff and landing, air pressure can wreak havoc on a baby’s sensitive ears. Hug your baby close for assurance and feed him or her. The sucking and swallowing motion alleviates the pressure. For small children, give them chewing gum,m which has the same effect.
Kids expect you to keep them occupied every minute of the trip. Now this sounds much harder than it actually is, because we, parents, also get cranky when we’re traveling, but it can be done once you’ve boarded the plane or are settled in the car. Grab a soothing chamomile, take a deep breath and start to give them your undivided attention. Family sing-alongs will drive everyone insane, so let’s not suggest that, but I Spy is a classic hit every single time. Not only is it fun, but you can throw in bits of information about where you are going and what you are seeing along the way.
Better yet, read them a story. Read up on your destination and hit a couple of bookstores that may carry titles that can be fun reads for kids. Virgin, Shorouk, Alef and AUC Press all have a good number of kids’ books.