Around The World With Kids In Tow

We were out on our annual summer holiday during the last week of July. We had been to Phuket and spent a wonderful seven days there. Beautiful place, lovely people and it indeed was a lovely holiday. On our way to Phuket, the flight was fairly uneventful, like it almost always is when you are heading for your vacation.

around-the-world-with-kids-in-tow

The flight back was a different story altogether. Both me and Macadamia fell victims to a stomach bug and we just wanted to get back to HK as soon as possible. Despite the miserable feeling of an upset tummy and the chills, one thing that stood out on our flight back home was the number of children on the flight. Plenty !!!

It was a noisy flight, a very very noisy one. Children howling, screaming, screeching, crying – it was all there. Now the locals in HK are known for their impatience when it comes to situations involving noisy children.

They give the parents openly disapproving looks, they look irritated, they tut away, they look disgusted with all the din. This flight was no different. Parents whose children were crying or screaming were subjected to some really dirty looks through the flight from other passengers.

Despite feeling unwell, I vividly remember thinking that people definitely ought to be more tolerant because travelling with babies, toddlers or little children is not a walk in the park. What came to my mind right then was the adventures (if you can call it that) we’ve had when we travelled with our babies.

It does seem long long ago but the memories are as vivid and sharp as ever. One particular flight stands out in my mind. We were flying from HK to Bombay via Bangkok and Pecan was a year and a few months old. He cried and cried and cried – all the way from HK to Bombay. We have had many such “travel travail moments” with both, Macadamia and Pecan, when they were little.

I clearly remember our 20 hour flight to Toronto when Pecan was 9 months old and an equally long flight back to HK. The stewardesses refused to wash his feeding bottles with hot water from the pantry and asked me to wash his feeding bottles in the toilet.  Something just snapped inside my head then and I remember ripping them to shreds verbally. I did take it up with the airlines later and they dutifully sent me a letter of apology but I do feel this goes a lot beyond just an apology.

All in all, there is a general feeling of insensitivity that one sees and senses towards parents travelling with little babies or little children. I do admit that people look forward to some peace when travelling but there are some situations that are totally beyond one’s control. If one were to look at the situation from the point of view of the parents travelling with babies or little children, their predicament would be amply clear. There is nothing to be gained by throwing dirty looks towards the little kids or their parents.

The one thing that we, as parents, spent a lot of time figuring when Macadamia and Pecan were little was “do we really want to travel when they are so little ?” All said and done, travelling with little children is a lot more stressful on parents than with slightly more grown up ones who are less physically dependent on the parents. End of the day, travel, we did !

We have done a fair bit of travelling when our children were little and here are some things that have helped.

  • Leave early – Little children are unpredictable :).  We often made things a lot easier on ourselves by giving ourselves enough leeway in terms of time.  There have been times when we have reached the airport way before the scheduled flight time because we factored in the sudden toilet breaks or the exploration breaks that toddlers often undertake because of their natural curiosity. It is better to be early than be frazzled because of cutting it really close and then getting all stressed up.
  • Travelling with kids who are in the process of being potty trained is sheer joy :).  I used to resort to Pull Ups during travel times. Worked fine with Macadamia but Pecan, despite having Pull Ups on, used to refuse to “go” in them.
    So yeah, we used to end up dancing outside the toilets because people never deemed it fit to let a toddler use the toilet before them. I’ve done many a little jig on airplane aisles with Pecan who used to think it was all a big joke. It has bought me many a precious minutes of distraction before the toilet doors opened in front of us like the Gates to Heaven (or so it seemed, right then).
  • If you are booked on a long flight (with a toddler in tow, there are times when an hour long flight feels like eternity), carry little things to keep them occupied. We always used to pack and carry one of those “entertainment” bags for the kids and they proved to be absolute lifesavers.
    Little puzzles, books with dot to dot puzzles and colour pencils, play doh, hardboard books, alphabet games – they’ve all helped tremendously in keeping our little ones occupied and in us retaining our sanity – well, most of it. Oh and yes, if you are travelling with two kids, pack two bags !!!  Expecting them to act all nice and share is like thrusting your hand into a lion’s mouth and actually expecting to see your hand whole and intact, a while later !!!
  • Wet wipes – carry loads of them. They can be used for virtually anything – right from wiping those little hands that seem to magically get sticky, messy stuff on them, to wiping their little faces for a quick freshener, to wiping your faces when they are lined with exhaustion to of course, wiping little butts. With my kids, it has been Murphy’s Law all the way. The number of times I’ve had to change diapers on a flight have been quite exponential.
    I’ve always wondered if high altitude is also responsible for an increase in certain bodily functions in children. That question still remains a question. Wet wipes are also extremely useful in calming nerves – not yours but your co-passengers’. Children have this uncanny habit of trying out their motor reflexes in terms of feeding themselves – especially in terribly constrained spaces like airplanes. Your co-passenger might unwittingly become a target and since you cannot serve them alcohol to soothe and calm their ruffled feathers, wet wipes are a safe bet. Pair those wipes with a sheepish smile and there – you’ve got a winner.
  • Always, always carry an extra set of clothing – for the kids, I mean.  Kids have this uncanny habit of throwing up all over themselves (and over you too, if the stars are really shining down on you and it indeed happens to be one of your lucky days) and the last thing you need is to be stranded without a change of clothes.  I remember the flight to Toronto turning into some sort of a Mathematical equation that just would not balance.
    I was carrying two sets of clothes for both the kids and Macadamia threw up thrice. Since there was no way she could fit into a 9 month old baby’s clothes, I had to set up Dhobi Ghat on the plane. So yes, I guess I’m one of those few parents who have been fortunate enough to turn into Kashi Bai and wash clothes 40000 feet up in the air.  That complimentary bottle of Eau de Cologne in the toilet was put to good use, though. Don’t ask me where and how I dried her clothes. I guess there are some things that one blanks out of conscious memory and this is definitely one of them.
  • Carry little plastic bags – lots of them. I used to carry a whole roll of food bags – thin but strong and you never know when you’re going to need them. It has come in handy for packing up clothes that have had food or juice spilled on them or clothes that have been puked on.  It has come in handy in wrapping up half consumed packs of biscuits, cookies or chips that would otherwise turn the plane aisles into a modern day Hansel and Gretel story with a trail of cookie crumbs.
  • While waiting for the flight to board, let the little ones explore their surroundings to their heart’s content. The more energy they expend, the easier it is going to be for them to nod off on the flight. Things could work the other way too – they might get over-excited and buzz like busybees on the flight but then again, what’s life without a bit of uncertainty to it, huh ?
    I remember a friend of mine who gave both her kids cough medicine before a flight in the hope that it would help them sleep through the flight. All it did, actually, was made them throw up all through the flight.  No no, I’m not suggesting that you try giving kids cough medicine just to see if it makes them sleep. All I’m saying is “don’t assume that cough medicine is the panacea to all flying ills”.
  • Carry hard boiled candies.  It has helped us massively during takeoffs and landings. Not all airlines have candies on board so it does help to carry your own little supply – just to ease that horrible pressure on their little ears. People suggested gum when I was travelling with my kids but I preferred to put the gum on hold till they were a bit older. I did not want to go through the ignominy of having to chop off half my tresses because there was chewing gum stuck on it, 20000 feet up in the air. If you are thinking lollipops, put that thought away.
    Like I said earlier, something happens at high altitude. Maybe the spirit of exploration or sheer boredom but lollipops start being used as a weapon and babies have this tendency to shove lollipops into people’s hair – just to see how long it takes to get all the hair off it, I guess. Trust me, you don’t want to be in that situation.
  • If your kids have a toy or a blanket that is their “comfort zone”, make sure you carry it as a part of the cabin baggage. God Forbid you check it in and the airlines manage to lose your bag or put it on some other flight. Now, that should be fun compounded.

There will probably be a sequel to this some time later but right now, it is time to end this post. Macadamia and Pecan have been peering over my shoulder as I pen this and right now, they’re rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

So yeah people, don’t let a baby or a toddler hold you back. Travel all you want because these are the hair-raising experiences that make life complete and wholesome.  You’ll look back at it all someday and you shall laugh at the things you’ve had to do and have done, out of sheer desperation.

Ah !  The Sheer Joys of Parenting !! 🙂

Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.

  • Sid Balachandran

    Hi Gauri – Fantastic post:) Though Little “Ri” is just 18 months old, we’ve been on our share of long haul flights, and I personally for one, always find it fascinating to hear the “tut” and disapproving looks when he goes into one of his crying whims. On one such recent trip back from London, I offered a pack of Strepsils to one of our co-passengers who kept clicking his throat everytime Ri laughed or cried – Don’t think he quite liked that 🙂 Fortunately enough, the flight stewards/stewardess’s have been pretty good on most occasions which definitely helps. With another flight due towards the end of the month, fingers crossed that he’ll enjoy the ride.

  • Oh, I have many a sorry tale to share too, Gauri. And since we are forced to travel Air India thanks to every civil servant being under an unsigned obligation to keep those planes afloat, my sorry tales are trebled. 😛 I have quite a few take-homes from your extremely helpful post above. And I agree, a little tolerance and patience from the co-passengers would go a long way in keeping everyone comfortable, and happy. CHildren don’t cry for fun. This, others need to understand. Sigh! I always used to keep telling myself – when their time comes they will understand. 🙂