With the recent announcement that we may be able to travel again by the summer, you might be considering planning a family holiday abroad or somewhere in the UK for later this year.
Travelling with children at any age can throw new challenges at us as parents – two long flights to New Zealand with a 16-month-old certainly demonstrated that to me and my husband. Here are my top tips on how to occupy a toddler on a long journey, whether in a car or on a plane, to make it as stress free as possible.
Activity packs and toys
My biggest recommendation is to prepare a little bag of age-appropriate toys or activities for your little one in advance, and make sure they do not get hold of them before the journey. The excitement of rummaging through a bag of new goodies will be an activity in itself! Depending on the age of your toddler, this might be some sensory toys, a pad to scribble on, books to read, the list goes on.
You can either put this pack together yourself or find a company who prepares them for you, such as KeepEmQuiet, where you can select packs based on the age of your child and the length of your journey. These have been invaluable on our long-haul flights and I would not be without one now!
The power of the screen
Whatever your opinions on screen time, never has a Kindle or iPad been more useful than on a long journey. You can download your child’s favourite shows, new movies or games to keep them occupied when the activity pack has been exhausted. For me, the screen was always a last resort because once my daughter had it, she did not want anything else – 12 hours into a long trip to New Zealand, I was happy to concede.
Make sure you get some toddler-sized headphones for plane and train journeys to avoid playing loud episodes of Bing on repeat to anyone nearby. Headphones will also save your sanity, but I will leave it to you to decide whether they are needed for car journeys…
ALL the snacks
Toddlers seem to require a constant supply of snacks at the best of times but a bag packed full of things for them to nibble on will be invaluable in keeping your child occupied and sustained during long journeys. Healthy snacks are ideal, but it pays to have a couple of treats in your bag for emergency meltdown situations. Mealtimes and routines might go a bit AWOL on longer journeys but try not to worry too much as you can settle back into your usual pattern once you reach your destination.
Ration the goods
Do not peak too soon and provide your little one with all of the snacks and toys to choose from at the start of the journey. They will inevitably rattle through it all at lightning speed and you will be out of ideas. Spread the goods out – putting them in different bags if necessary – and you will make sure you have enough to entertain your little one with for the entire journey.
Taking the car?
If you are heading on a long journey in the car, it pays to plan regular pit stops and look up service checkpoints in advance so you can schedule stops for meals and toilet breaks or nappy changes. Obviously, this may not go to plan in the event of traffic and explosive nappies, but it will help you to feel more prepared if you know when and where you can stop. You can also download mobile apps which map out services on your route, such as Motorway Services GB.
If more than one adult is travelling in the car, it can be helpful to have one of you sitting in the back to pick up the toys your little one will inevitably drop on the floor, or to return the iPad to your toddler’s favourite show after they have managed to switch it to camera mode.
If you are travelling alone in the car with your toddler, travel lap trays such as this one can be great tools to make everything accessible for your child and less likely to fall out of reach.
Leaving on a jet plane?
The thought of a long journey trapped in an airplane cabin with your child is enough to make any parent feel anxious, but there are lots of things you can do to make your journey easier.
Window seats are often a good idea as they provide a distraction for antsy toddlers as well as soothing views when they are due a nap. Sitting near the toilets is also a good idea for regular nappy changes or toilet dashes for potty training infants.
Depending on the airline, you may be able to board early with children and you may be given a seat with extra legroom. This is particularly ideal if your child does not have their own seat as you can use a blanket or muslin to create a makeshift playroom on the floor by your feet. If you can, a separate seat for your child is a huge bonus when it comes to mealtimes, play times and naps. Just be aware that if your little one is under two, they will have to be buckled on to your lap during take-off, landing and turbulence. If you are limited to just adult seats, do not be afraid to ask the flight attendant or gate agent whether you can be shuffled around to make the most of any free seats on the plane. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Extra changes of clothing for your little one and for you are essential as inevitably you will end up smeared in whatever they have been eating, and you want to be prepared for any nappy leaks or failed dashes to the toilet. Plenty of wipes within easy reach are a must for this very reason.
Children will experience the same ear discomforts as you so providing something for your child to suck will help to alleviate this discomfort, be it a nipple, a dummy or a food pouch.
Lastly, do not hesitate to get up and stretch your legs with your toddler. Not only does this occupy them for a while, avoiding any impending meltdowns, but it can also help to wear them out for a nap.
Whatever happens on your journey, try to remain calm and keep the end in mind. There will likely be the odd meltdown mid-journey, but experience has shown me that fellow passengers are more helpful than they are begrudging and whatever happens, you will soon be on holiday/home/wherever it is you are trying to get to.
Our return flight from New Zealand to Gatwick was diverted to Birmingham and ended with a three-hour coach ride back to our London airport but, it was all fine. We got there safely and thankfully; my daughter slept for most of the coach journey!
Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett