There must be people who find the whole travelling with small children a big adventure. Let me say now I do not know any of these people, but I am sure they exist. For the rest of us, it’s Mission: Survival to get to our destination.
We flew to Corsica last week – our first flight with two small people. As it was over the smallest’s lunchtime nap I thought, ‘Easy. He’s a chilled out chap, he’ll sleep on the plane’. I had reckoned without teething and an awful cough and cold rendering him more fretful than usual. He kept dropping of – and then waking almost immediately, sobbing…just as his sister spilled apple juice all over herself and her seat. What wisdom have I gleaned from this experience? Do not bank on anything. If the child does not want to sleep, desist in your attempts to persuade him (he was as merry as a grig once I gave in). Beware of liquids in small spaces. Never travel without oodles of stickers, baby wipes, a cosy blanket or wrap (we took this one) and a change of clothes.
Fortunately, there are people who are far better at these things than I am. Step forward Cass Chapman, editor of luxe family holiday site, Kodomo; Sarah Clark and Nicky Hornsby-Clifton of Little Spree; and Daisy Finer, Editor-at-Large for Conde Nast Traveller.
Cass Chapman, travel writer and founder/editor of Kodomo – where you can find – and book – the best luxury family-friendly holidays around. Mother to Lola, 3.
When flying with children I never travel without… When she was smaller I would have said Calpol. Now, it’s all about snacks and healthy food (I am yet to get her a decent meal on an airplane): lots of carrot sticks and fresh fruit tend to weigh down my hand luggage.
I keep Lola entertained by…wrapping a little gift to be opened every hour, but it’s always something to be used in-flight such as crayons, stickers or a drawing pad. Each gift always buys most of that hour and keeps her busy. Of course, in-flight entertainment systems help, too…
I wear…a cashmere wrap (as I get cold too!) and I recently discovered an amazing range called Elemental Herbology. They do the most fantastic stuff called Tree of Life Balm which is designed for dry areas like elbows, but I put it on my face and it stops that awful dehydrated feeling you can get from being on a plane for too long.
Sarah Clark and Nicky Hornsby-Clifton are the crack team behind one of our favourite blogs, Little Spree. Sarah has twins, Tabitha and Marlow; and Nicky has Bailey.
Follow them… @littlespree on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
I keep them entertained by…getting them excited about the trip beforehand. In the weeks running up, I will talk to them in detail about where we are going and what will be doing, and how much fun we are going to have. They are naturally curious kids, so love to hear about places. I will talk about the food we might eat, the animals we might see. places we might visit… Basically make the whole experience into a big ‘adventure’ which includes the journey there. You can even turn an Easy Jet flight from Luton into an exciting adventure with the right marketing skills: I have done it! Books. Some favourites, and some new that I’ve bought and kept hidden. Tabitha and Marlow are so obsessed with books that they will happily be read to at any time, in any place (apologies to anyone who has to sit near us who is trying to sleep!). I also pack a selection of sticker/colouring books and a notebook each for them to write/draw in. We are a pretty lo-fi family, so don’t travel with iPads for the kids (we don’t even have one in the house). I do have a few kids’ apps on my phone though – sometimes you need to bring out the big guns! And I’m only human after all.
They wear…something comfy and (hopefully) stylish, and easy for them to go to the loo in! I always find I am either boiling hot or freezing cold on flights, so always bring layers, so I do this with the kids too. Soft cotton long sleeved tees (I love the merino ones from Love My Smalls – they cleverly keep them cool or warm accordingly), cashmere jumpers/cardigans (always cosy), a harem pant (anything with a comfy elasticated is ideal).
I wear…After travelling regularly for work for over 15 years, I think I have settled into a ‘travel uniform’ that works for me. It normally consists of a combination of the following: a mens cashmere sweater, boyfriend/cropped jeans, army jacket/crombie coat, cashmere shawl and ballet flats. I have to feel comfortable, but I also still like to feel a bit ‘pulled together’ (i.e. not too slummy…). I also have a great merino wool jumpsuit (more of a onesie really!) from Cos that it’s so comfortable it feels like I’m wearing my pyjamas, which I will often wear for long-haul flights (particularly overnight ones).
When flying with children I never travel without…snacks and a cashmere blanket. There are few things that can’t be made better with one or the other. The blanket felt like a real extravagance when I first bought it, but it’s been so versatile and comforting. Over the years we’ve used it as a pillow, shawl, foot warmer and padding against those metal bits that seem to stick in me no matter how I position myself in the seat; now it feels like a real investment item.
I keep Bailey entertained by… buying a few small surprise toys, gift wrapping them and producing them when he starts to get bored. He’s always so excited when I hand them over, even the unwrapping is an event. I try to make sure I include something related to the holiday – like a sticker book about flying or something creative: my latest find is the Omy pocket colouring box (a cute box that contains a colouring roll and crayons).
We wear… For both Bailey and me travelling clothes are all about comfortable style. I find that a soft cotton harem pant works well for Bailey. If we’re flying late at night I take a pair of pyjamas onto the plane and change him into them before we land so that if (when!) he falls asleep on the journey home we can put him straight into bed. My ‘go to’ outfit for travelling is a jumpsuit: I have a wool one for winter and a cotton one for summer (just make sure you allow plenty of time when you go to the bathroom!).
When flying with children I never travel without…a rucksack. For me they are indispensable as they mean your arms and hands are free for dealing with little ones, and holding their hands, but you still have space for all your bits. I have one summer rucksack from Monsoon (hippy, boho and colourful) and one winter one from Anthropologie. I usually pop in my rucksack my slim jim apple mac (the carpaccio of laptops), my scarf, sunglasses, some spare contact lenses (after my luggage once went missing on arrival I always take extra in hand luggage), some wipes or tissues, a Tangle Tamer hairbrush (originally bought for kids, but now they are all I use), an Emma Bridgewater tin pencil case stuffed with colouring pencils, and one fresh (and small) colouring-in book for each of the children. There is room in the rucksack for all the kids jumpers if they get hot. Plus a pair of flip-flops for me if we are landing somewhere hot with more travel to do (hate having hot feet!). My eldest daughter Millie gets car sick, so a stash of her pills in a pocket. Sometimes I also carry an over-one-shoulder very small cross over bag just to keep my phone and wallet handy and near me. This can then be placed inside the rucksack if necessary.
I keep them entertained by… They’ve never flown further than about four hours! I don’t see the point in taking them any further at this stage – it would just be miserable for all of us! They each have their own tablet now, fully stocked with movies (Harry Potter for Millie, Octonauts for Alfie, Angelina Ballerina for Connie), and their own headphones (spiderman ones for Alfie). This literally keeps them entertained for hours. And we are all about happy snacking on long journeys, so unlike at home, I try not to give them huge big meals, and then they can happily kill time with oat cakes, nuts, juices, and chocolate – anything for some peace!!, including sucky hard lollies which help pop their ears. Most kids cry on planes because their ears are hurting.
They wear… the girls have their hair tied up, all of them wear vests/tank tops with long sleeved t-shirts over top – they can take off the long sleeves if they get hot. Then comfy trousers and shoes all round. I usually shop for the children at Zara (their trousers have those brilliant adjustable waistbands). Monsoon (pretty girls’ stuff), Boden (love the boys’ shorts) – and all of them have one cashmere masterpiece from Mandarine Coco: this is supreme quality cashmere which doesn’t bobble and with very cool cuts and trims.
I wear…Hush harem trousers (I have them in every colour, in fact I basically live in these), Ash high top trainers (great in both winter and summer, and super comfy), a vest (Gap or Banana Republic), a long sleeved t-shirt (usually something striped), and an old tanned leather jacket for a tiny bit of urban cool. I always take a huge taupe blanket shawl that I bought in India a few years ago. It’s super soft and I spray it with lavender: it’s my very own comfort blanket. You can fold it up against a window and use it as a pillow, as well as for extra warmth.
(I had to ask Alex, mother of three boys, aged four to one, seasoned travel journalist and all-round wonder-woman. She never travels without “a smart-ish top and jumper, ALWAYS flats” and would not dream of departing without “an iPad, snacks, sticker books (the dressing-up ones are brilliant – the boys loves the kings & queens and occupations ones), books, ‘break in emergency’ treats”. Top tip: she always packs all the boys’ paraphernalia into one bag rather than giving each boy their own bag (to save the bags getting lost). Here she and I diverge: my little girl has this wheely bag which she adores. She’s only allowed it on holiday (so the novelty doesn’t wear off) and is so proud to trundle it behind her. But then I only have one bag to keep track of – and it’s hard to miss a bright red ladybird pulled by an excited small girl…