It was when our son, then a toddler, threw a piece of Lego across a plane, hitting another passenger in the back of the head (she was not happy AT ALL), that it dawned on me that if you’re going to travel with kids, you need to do a lot of meticulous planning before you set off. On that occasion we’d been sitting on the tarmac for over an hour, the plane was hot and stuffy, there wasn’t any water being handed out and everyone was tired and frustrated and close to tears, including the adults. But if I’d thought to pack a few extra books or a drink in our hand luggage then the Lego incident might never have occurred.
So, we learned the hard way that, when you’re traveling with kids, you have to plan it like a military operation (as did some friends of ours, who were caught in a traffic jam on the motorway with a sick child and no towels or bags to mop anything up. Not pretty.)
Before setting off on any journey, start with the basics: extra underwear and t-shirts in case of drinks spillage; wipes – these are essential, particularly if any food consumption is going to take place en route; and plenty of things to entertain your little darlings, including books, colouring books and pencils, puzzles, CDs and/or a DVD player, and headphones if you’re travelling by public transport (you don’t want to be the family on the train that annoys all the other passengers, trust me.) And, ever since hearing about our friends’ motorway incident, I’d recommend taking a small towel, just in case.
You don’t want to be laden down with gear (so I’d advise switching to a stroller from a pram as soon as possible); but it’s impossible to get away without taking some equipment with you.
Of course, there are games you can play, songs you can sing (and these don’t have to be child-centric – most kids love singing along to pop songs); but on a journey that involves public transport (and other people) you’ll definitely want to take things that will make your journey a little more entertaining for your family.
If you have an early morning flight, then it makes sense to book a hotel close to the airport; that way, although the kids will probably still be hyped up about going on holiday, at least you stand a fighting chance of getting some sleep. For example, Travelodge have just opened a new hotel in Crawley, just five miles from Gatwick Airport, with very comfortable family rooms and cots on request. It’s also really close to Chessington World of Adventures and Nymans National Trust House and Gardens, so you could always check in a bit earlier the day before you fly to take advantage of the nearby sites.
Gatwick also has a great child-friendly policy, with a ‘kids zone’ in the departure lounge. But, if you have a long-haul flight and you’re going to be spending a while at the airport, you may also want to consider booking in to an airport lounge, because your food and drink will be included, plus there will be plenty to keep the kids entertained in case your flight is delayed. It’s the perfect stress-free way to start your holiday.
And, always take any essential medical kit with you – plasters, inhalers, Calpol; hopefully you won’t need any of it, but if you do, you’ll be prepared.