In it for the long haul

The trials and tribulations of travelling with kids.

We took Lily on her first long-haul trip when she was just over six months old. We went to Vietnam to see her grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. As I was still on maternity leave, Lily and I went for five weeks, while Mark caught up with us two weeks into the trip. We flew from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City, changing planes in Abu Dhabi in what was supposed to be a 14-hour journey (it took 18 hours longer, but that’s another story).

I was nervous about flying alone with a young baby and I’d witnessed children crying for hours on the plane, so I was prepared for the worst. As it turned out, Lily was the best passenger you could ever travel with as she slept most of the time. We’ve been on other flights since and, although she’s had a bit of a cry on occasions, she tends to be interested in everything around her - the airport, the passengers and the planes - so I try to encourage her inquisitive side on every long journey.

These are a few other tips I’ve picked up while doing these long-haul trips …

Packing

Packing for a baby or a young child is always tricky, particularly when you have a long journey ahead. Knowing you’ve brought enough stuff on the plane helps to make the trip less stressful. I’ve learned from experience that making sure I have enough of the basics is key - food, drink, nappies, wipes and spare clothes for baby (in case they are sick on the plane) and you (in case they are sick on you).  If your child is teething then extra bibs and muslin cloths help. I also take Lily’s comfort blanket, which she always goes to sleep with, because I think it has helped her sleep on the plane. Now she is older, I pack “entertainment”: books, colouring books and pencils, jigsaws, toys and games (travel size, so they don’t take up much space). And I always take a bottle of Calpol with me.

Airlines

In general, we find airlines are pretty good when it comes to families with young children. You are normally given priority boarding at the airport and most air stewards and stewardesses are quite helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask if you need anything. Your buggy, on the other hand, can be an issue. It will tend to get battered during flights, so don’t take an expensive one with you. 

Time zones

Vietnam is seven hours ahead of the UK. It usually takes us a day or two to get over jet lag, so we’ll try to get a flight that arrives in the evening, so at least we get a night’s sleep head start. A long journey is always exhausting and, if you arrive in the day, it’s tempting to go to bed as soon as you arrive. Try to resist. It’s better to try and stay awake so everyone’s body clock can adjust.

Changing climates

Vietnam is hot and humid and I was concerned about how Lily would react to heat. A lot of people get heat rashes, but I bathed Lily a few times a day and she didn’t have a problem while we were there. We tend to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, 12pm-2pm. Lily was also covered in sun protection regularly and some pharmacies sell cooling spray.

Healthcare

Lily had was a bit of cold while we were away, but there were fortunately no health emergencies to worry about. However, as Vietnam is a tropical country there are malaria and dengue fever risks so we always arm ourselves with anti-mosquito spray, wipes and bands. Mosquito nets prevent Lily from being bitten at night. Always check with your GP on the immunisations you require for the destination you are travelling to and don’t leave it to the last minute. It’s also handy to have some local medical contacts where you will be staying, just in case.

Coping with stress

Travelling with babies and small children can be stressful but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. A lot of people understand the difficulties of travelling with children, so don’t stress if your little one starts to cry. Just remember what you’d do at home or when you go to the shops. Distraction techniques often work, so make sure you have a few up your sleeve and if there are two of you, take turns in keeping them entertained.

Enjoy yourself

Although long journeys can be difficult, remember that visiting a new place can be a wonderful experience for both you and your child. Make the most of it. If you can afford it, going on holiday offers much-needed time to relax and enjoy new experiences with your loved ones. Just like you, your children will enjoy seeing a new place, meeting new people and trying new food. It is important for us and for Lily to go Vietnam to spend time with the family we don’t often get a chance to see. Every trip creates valuable memories for you and your family. Ask advice, prepare as well as you can, but most of all, enjoy yourself and each other.