The Ugly Truth About Travel with a Toddler

There were tears, some were even from the toddler, as well as tantrums, screaming, exhaustion, injuries from being closed in the door of an Italian train, lost items from here to Hong Kong, nappy explosions and vomiting!

I remember saying having a child wouldn’t change me, I’d still be adventurous and travel the world … I remember hearing a story about a family taking their two kids trekking through Kathmandu and I thought I wanted to be that kind of parent, just bring the kids along and they’ll have to fit in I thought… Ha! Oh the best laid plans!! At least she’s cute I say!

Travelling with a toddler, it's all fun and games

Needless to say my aspirations for family travel after having been on our two-month world trip has now changed.  It seems at this stage of life for our family, the world now only encompasses locations reached by a direct flight, with minimal ground transportation and easy access to baby seats and porters… How did I become this person… What happened to my backpacking days???

I take back all my groans about travel pre-parenthood, being bored or tired, or whatever it was; oh how little I knew! The addition of a child as a travel companion, especially an energetic fourteen-month old toddler just adds a whole new dimension, like entering the major leagues, the degree of difficultly, and exhaustion steps up to another level.

I just want to point out the locations were amazing- Hong Kong, Macau, London, Bruge, the Italian Riviera, Milan and Singapore, all truly memorable experiences and I’m so glad I had the chance to show my one-year-old these stunning corners of the globe- but I’m not going to lie, sometimes getting there was tough.

A cup is a toy too! Travelling with a toddle

Blog flight

airplane travel with a toddler

So here’s the good, bad and ugly.

For a fourteen month old, Lucinda is a big baby, off in scales in terms of height and weight with the energy and enthusiasm for life to match. I knew she wouldn’t fit in the bassinet but I made sure we had the bulk head seats because they have more room to move. That was a positive.

The fact that she had to be literally on top of me (because she was under two I was her seat) for hours upon hours on end was not such a positive. I thank the kind souls who make Playschool as the trusty ‘bear in there’ playing on the tablet seemed to be the only thing to give me some respite from constant entertaining.  Luckily I had help as well, I don’t know how someone would cope on their own.  I had my mother with us on the way over and my husband on the way back.  This was great to give me a break every now and then but most of the time Lucy just wanted her mama.  Bless her.

Passengers gave me tired half smiles as I, or rather Lucinda and I, walked past them for the twentieth time (no exaggeration) as we did hot laps of the plane. We said hello to hostesses at the end of the aisles and stopped to play with cups, eat some snacks, check out the galley, stare blankly at other passengers or sing and dance as unobtrusively as possible in an emergency exit along the way!

Sometimes getting Lucy to sleep was easy, hooray! A smug smile would come over my face and sometimes I would even try to manoeuvre myself so I could watch a sneaky movie (or half a movie), winning!

Hong Kong Dubai flight - finally sleeping

Sometimes sleep was a battle that had me questioning my life choices: wrestling, rocking, bouncing, swinging, singing, swaying, wrestling and pleading with the universe to throw me a bone and let the little one nod off.

Then once she was asleep relief then passed over me, I could breathe again, that wasn’t that bad, I could cope… If only the blasted seat belt sign would go off so someone could bring me a cup of tea, or a wine!

Being uncomfortable was just part and parcel of keeping the toddler asleep, like a cuddling contortionist I would try move as she squirmed in her sleep so I didn’t disturb her, but she was just so big and heavy!

Asleep with her legs laying over the next seat, her head would slightly stray into the aisle which meant I had to protect it from bustling butts and trolley carts thundering past with no regard for the little baby asleep or understanding of the mission it was to achieve … or the fury that would be unleashed from an overtired child suddenly awoken, bored, tired and uncomfortable, unable to get back to sleep and desperate for their own bed.  I did have one Emirates employee tell me (after a long hard and exhausting battle to get her to fall asleep) that I need to flip her around and move her so there was no risk of her head getting bumped.  Now in theory I understand this but seriously, they do not have kids.  I was basically doing airplane yoga to try and let the little one get comfy, her head was resting on the arm rest (because I physically couldn’t hold it up all the time she slept) and it was maybe 2cms in the aisle, no more than someone’s elbow!  For goodness sake, how about you take some care and consideration for a little person! (Phew vent over!)

Ok some more positives- QANTAS were generally amazing. Like real humans who cared and were kind. Unfortunately, while I tried desperately to be on all QANTAS flight many legs were codeshare and run by Emirates who were far less than amazing.  Minus a scattering of exemplary staff one of whom even brought me chocolate when I was having a meltdown trying to get my husband seated beside me (Yep our travel agent made a big mistake in the booking and we were not seated together, but that is a whole other drama)… Where were we, Emirates generally had average service, I would even say some of the attendants were rude, the baby food was horrible – 50% corn starch puréed preservatives, where as QANTAS had the option for toddler meals and Lucy got something a little hardier like pasta or a sandwich. Emirates did have cute kids toys and blankets I’ll give them that but I still wouldn’t recommend to fly them.  But that’s just me.

Waiting for a plane, at Hong Kong Airport

BLOG Dubai Airport

Let’s get to my tips for travelling with a toddler and what I learnt from our trip:

PLANE TRAVEL WITH A TODDLER

  • Choose a reliable and comfortable carrier and check, check and check your seat allocations.  We found the bulkhead seats to be great even though she was too big for the bassinet as it had extra room for her to walk around in front of us.
  • Board the plane last or send one person in the party first to take the bags while the other runs around the airport lounge chasing the toddler, stretching their legs and getting some energetic play in before they are seat bound for a long period.
  • Take more snacks then you think you’ll need, remember food is fun and can be a game too.  Sultanas were a great time consumer for us, plus the box was fun to play with too!
  • We had an Ergo 360 baby carrier, which I loved but because Lucy was so big we didn’t use it heaps, it was mainly useful for trapping through airports and having free hands to push the trolley or wheel luggage.
  • Toys; you don’t want to over pack in this department and let’s be honest most toddlers will think an empty box of cup and spoon is a pretty cool toy anyways (and you don’t have to lug it all over the world).  I found things that worked were a few favourite books, wind up toys like a chicken that walked or a butterfly that flapped its wings (these were a huge hit actually, best travel toy award), I also had quiet-ish maracas and Lucy loves making noise and with all the areoplane noise these were hardly noticeable, I had a play Leap Frog phone/ipod Lucy loves this brand of toys, as do I and check the picture below of her falling asleep with the music player to her ear! I also had few other things she liked that were light and fun like play sunglasses, and small colouring book and a few crayons and a soft toy or two.  Also we had a small drawstring bag to pack these all up in which was great in keeping things tidy…ish.
  • Don’t forget a few changes of clothes and a heap of nappies (you definitely don’t want to run out!!).  Lucy was teething so I made a few dribble bibs for her which were great, when they were soaked through I could just swap them out and save changing a shirt.
  • We also bought a baby travel pillow which was a huge hit, a soft toy as well as a comfy pillow.
  • Stay calm – Remember your child feeds off you, I got really stressed one leg of the flight where my husband was placed up the other end of the plane and it was chock a block.  Lucy was then stressed and upset too, luckily we persuaded 5 sets of people to juggle their seats and my ever to calm husband moved beside me and all was calm but it did take a while to settle Lucy because she knew something was up.  I vowed to try and ‘go with the flow’ more and take the hiccups in my stride, but easier said than done.
  • Good luck!  And just remember this too will pass, you will arrive at your destination and all will be well!

BLOG - train Lucy on the phoneBLOG - Asleep on the train

AT YOUR DESTINATION

  • I did try and do the free train and hotel transfer when we arrived in Hong Kong but it was really long and Lucy was so tired I was regretting it from the start.  I remember one moment she looked at me and just let out a frustrated cry like, ‘why are you punishing me?’ and she just said, ‘bed!’ I felt horrible.  So from then on I booked transfers, it was painfully expensive sometime more than the actualy flight but I felt like that was the price to pay for travelling with a little one, it was going to be a long trip and I wanted to try and make it as comfortable and safe as I could.  I also found a great tranfers company I used a few times – City Airport Taxis, they were reliable, and really competitive on price.
  • It goes without saying to read your little one and see how they are holding up.  There were times when I knew it was just unfair to try and push Lucy to going out and exploring.  We were staying at my sisters house in London so a few days we just spent at home, playing in her backyard, going on walks and resting.  She loved it and I think really needed those days to rest and recover from big outings in London where she only would have short naps in the pram.
    Pram just paid for itself!
  • PRAM! That brings me to my BEST PURCHASE (that I actually didn’t purchase but rather borrowed from my Sister-in-law – the Mountain Buggy Nano Pram.  If you’re travelling then BUY ONE!  It was the best thing ever, seriously.  Small enough for the overhead compartment (though sometimes I had to argue the point but I always got away with it) it means that as soon as you get off the plane hey presto you have a stroller, you don’t have to carry your toddler through the airport and customs and they have a comfy seat, much more comfortable than their airplane seat, I could tell Lucy just relaxed every time she jumped in.  And thought many airports have loaner prams I think it’s unreliable, this was a consistent comfortable space for Lucy when everything else was changing.  Plus so easy to transport, fold up and down when jumping on a train or going up and down Tube stairs.  She slept really well in it so it’s a five stars from me.  Thank you Mountain Buggy for being awesome!
  • Change your thinking, yes it’s obvious but I really had to check myself and make sure I was being a mum first and an intrepid traveler second.  I had grand plans of things I wanted to do and see but I had to keep them in line with what would actually work and what was fair to ask of my little one.  In the Cinque Terre in Italy I wanted to see all five cities, then I said, four will be fine.  We got there and I tried to do three but I was really hot, and difficult to negotiate the pram and baby on the ferries (really just due to having to wait in the hot sun, cram in an over crowded ferry) and I could see little Lucy was not having fun being rushed around.  So we ended up doing two towns, seeing the rest of the boat and having a more chilled out fun day which was awesome!
  • Enjoy seeing the world through your child’s eyes, let them explore, don’t rush, follow them for a while, it’s truly amazing what they can teach you (wow that sounded philosophical) but it is a whole new world, and I loved seeing how Lucy reacted to different people and places, so innocently and honestly.  Whether it was making friends with kids who didn’t speak her language on the streets of Portofino, audible gasping at the ornate rooms in Kensington Palace or her reaction to trying food for the first time like gelato or pizza)

Travelling with a toddler in Italy

Lucy trying pizza for the first time in Italy

Ok this is getting to be an essay, I’m sure there are things I have forgotten and will have to do an updated post but I’m definitely open to questions too.

Everyone’s experience, and kids, will be different but this was my experience, as hard as parts of it were I would honestly do it again in a heart beat, it was the most special, amazingly beautiful and rewarding thing to be able to share the world with my daughter at such a young age.  She was like a sponge taking everything in and I’m sure our trip is affected her in ways I will never be able to truly define, helping to make her the worldly little resilient, fun-loving, spirited, gorgeous girl she is.

Views across the Italian Rivera with my daughter

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