So we did it – we survived our first overseas holiday with the twins. I’ll admit, I was terrified before we left, but the girls were amazing. They surprised me at every turn, and despite some rough nights of very little sleep we had a fantastic family holiday. The girls, especially, had a blast.
My brother and sister both live in Perth, so we decided that before the twins turned two we would take advantage of the reduced airfare and hop on a plane to Australia. I’ve come to realise that many people thought we were nuts! But there is one thing that IP and I have not done since we had our twins, and that’s let having kids stop us from living life. Ever since they were very little we’ve always gotten out and about on weekends, gone shopping, eaten out at restaurants and had lots of other random adventures along the way. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve still always been very strict with our routine with them – we’d have gone mad if we weren’t – but we try have as much fun as we can as a family, and expose them to as many new and exciting experiences as we can.
The thing that terrified me the most before we left was the prospect of having to sit on an airplane for up to 12 hours with two very active toddlers. But, mercifully, it was a night time flight, so promptly on take-off we gave them a bottle and they both fell asleep straight away – giving mommy and daddy a few hours of peace – or at least as much peace as one can have with a toddler sleeping on your lap. We were also very fortunate to travel in a little bit of style – thanks to IP’s frequent flyer miles, we were able to sit in the slow lounge before take-off, so no running around a busy airport after two little monkeys – we could sit back a little in the confines of the lounge and enjoy our free snacks and drinks on comfy couches.
I imagine everyone’s experiences of international travel are different, ranging from fantastic to disastrous, but I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learnt about flying with toddlers:
If you can, try get the bulkhead seats as this gives you loads of leg room, and when the kids are awake, and provided the seat belt sign is off, they’re able to sit on the floor at your feet and play or read a book, so they’re not confined to sitting on your lap the whole time. BUT – as we soon learnt – the bulkhead is not always ideal because if there is an empty seat next to you in the bulkhead area it’s kind of wasted as you can’t lift the arm rests to let your baby sleep across two chairs because the tray table and in-flight entertainment screen is stored in the arm rest – as opposed to other chairs where these would be attached to the seat in front of you. So even though we had lots of room, we were a bit frustrated by not being able to lift the arm rests.
Don’t drug your kids if you don’t have to. I was not keen to give the girls any medicines to make them drowsy for the flight. We had a two-hour flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg before the main flight from Joburg to Perth, so we decided to test it out first and see how the girls responded to the flight, and especially the take-off and landing. They were absolutely fine – no screaming or obvious pain from the pressure – so we decided not to medicate them for the next flight, and I’m pretty glad we didn’t have to do that, as they were fine. The only real screaming we had was in the last minutes of the flight when HJ got very restless as she had to sit on my lap for landing and she wanted to run around so she was very frustrated.
People will be kinder and more accommodating than you expect. And if your kids need to run around a bit – let them! Toddlers were not made to sit still for so many hours, so they need to get moving every now and then. HJ loved walking up and down the aisle, and it was so sweet to watch her come out her shell and stop to talk to other passengers along the way. The other travellers also seemed to enjoy chatting to the girls and even indulged them with a few games of peek-a-boo.
Pack lots of snacks. We all know that aeroplane food is not the best, but SAA totally outdid themselves in the ridiculous and revolting food department. I pre-booked a kiddies meal for each of my girls. Well, when the food arrived I was horrified to discover it was two jars of purity baby puree! I promptly sent it right back. My girls are almost two and eat what we eat, they’re too old for puree. I was even more horrified on the flight home when the steward presented us with two pouches of FROZEN baby purees. Seriously? Fortunately I had packed lots of snacks for them, and they shared our meal, so we were all well fed.
Before you go, make up a little goodie bag with some new toys and activities for your kids. My girls enjoyed opening the little pouches I put together and exploring what was inside. Include simple things like little cars and miniature books. A magnetic sketch pad was also a great source of entertainment for them. But it was also the simple things, like paging through the inflight magazine, that they really enjoyed doing. Even the emergency information pamphlet was a hit.
Don’t forget to bring along your kids blankie, or binkie, or whatever it is that gives them comfort at home and keeps them calm. In our case, it’s our girls’ taglets, or taggies as they call them. They have these with them every time they go to sleep, and it was important that they had them with them at all times in such an unfamiliar environment.
Be flexible. It can all be very daunting travelling overseas with toddlers, but the most important thing is to be flexible, and you have to develop a thick skin, and not worry about what other people think. Like when your kid is having a whopping tantrum, as AJ did when she wasn’t able to push her own pram through the airport. It’s so hard when you can feel every eye in the airport on you, but you just have to carry on – you just have to smile and wave people, smile and wave!
You have to have patience with your kids, even though it’s so difficult sometimes. You have to realise that they are in a totally new environment. An airport and a plane can be a strange and scary space for a little one, with all the new sights and sounds. So be calm with them, be patient, be kind, and expect the unexpected.
If you’re thinking about an overseas adventure with your kids, just do it! Don’t let fear stop you. We had such a wonderful holiday, and we’re so glad that we took the plunge and just did it!
I’m looking forward to sharing more of our adventures in Perth with you soon, so watch this space!