Travelling long-haul with kids – how to ace the journey!

Reading time: 5 min

You might remember my name from a story I wrote in May 2019 regarding my struggle with multiple sclerosis (MS) and how to deal with auto-immune diseases at large. The advice and challenges that I addressed then were really tested and brought to light in a recent trip that I undertook with my family.

In June this year my husband and I, along with our two kids aged 11 and 3, embarked on an adventure and set out to visit my sister and her family in British Columbia, Canada. They immigrated there from SA in 2017. Setting out on such a long trip is in itself daunting, but combine that with having a dread disease and a toddler as well as a tween, and things become interesting, fast!

I read many articles about travelling with kids, especially toddlers, but nothing can fully prepare you for the long, long road ahead. Having three layovers with hours in-between, both on our way there and back, was exhausting. I became totally fatigued and the kids too, and after the second flight they became irritable.

My husband and I had spoken about taking the trip an hour at a time so as not to have any false expectations and this laid-back mindset helped me to deal with the kids especially when all I really wanted was a nice warm shower and a comfortable bed.

What I found worked really well with tired kids is to let them be… yes, just let them be. When my daughter cried intermittently, I tried to console her as best I could, but eventually, I left her to cry it out. After the cry and the tantrums that come along with being three and being stuck in four different aeroplanes for about 30 hours of transit time, she was fine and went to sleep.

“When travelling with kids and a stroller, you can always get to the boarding gate early and ask for a priority check-in.”

Other passengers might give you the evil eye when your kid is crying, but it is what it is and we have to all bear with it – especially if you’re stuck in a plane with kids. Of course, carrying sufficient snacks doesn’t go amiss. I found the kids did not enjoy the plane food too much, so this proved to a lifesaver… a happy and full tummy equal a happy child!

A few pointers that really worked well on the long trip:

  • This point I can’t stress enough… take your kids to the bathroom before boarding. Let them do their business and change them into their pyjamas so that you don’t have to disturb them once they’ve fallen asleep.
  • Do not have a lot of coffee on board. Yes, you read that right. Even if you’re not well like myself and are struggling with a sickness or disease, the temptation to fill up on caffeine is great, but you will pay the price when you want to nod off.
  • When travelling with kids and a stroller, you can always get to the boarding gate early and ask for a priority check-in. This really helped us to settle in our seats and get our luggage stowed away appropriately before other passengers boarded.
  • Take the kids for regular walks around the aircraft, even if this means up and down the aisle a few times. I tried this and it really energises you and prevents your feet from swelling (oedema) or you getting blood clots when sitting for many hours at a time.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not pack puzzles for your kids. I learnt this the hard way, as once the pieces start falling onto the floor between other passengers’ feet, the joys of doing the puzzles are quickly diminished. Rather download puzzle apps on your phone or tablet.
  • Safe entertainment options involve a few new, cheap toys like soft, cuddly ones, colouring-in books and crayons. Wait until their patience is totally worn out and (before yours runs out too!), hey presto, hand them a new toy every now and then for a few minutes of peace and quiet at least.
  • If, like me, you need to take chronic mediation, be sure to pack this in your hand luggage and, if required, take along your prescription. Eat regularly and take your medication at the appropriate times and if you are flying through different time zones, be sure to count the hours between doses.

These really simple and practical tips will help tremendously to make your trip more bearable. Just keep thinking it’s going to come to an end – even if it takes 30 hours. For me, the reward was seeing my sister and her family, and the painstaking travel to get there seemed a very distant memory once I saw her waiting for me at the airport. Happy travels!

Written by Roma Kenneth.

Also read:

Travelling with kids
Children’s air travel tips that I swear by