How to travel with... a one-year-old
The idea of spending 32 hours in the air with a wriggly baby on your lap is daunting. Luckily, Robyn Wilder has experienced just this, and made it out the other end (relatively) unscathed. Here she divulges her secrets to safe – and sane – travel with a toddler
In 2018, my husband, two small sons and I flew to Bali, Indonesia, to watch my brother-in-law get married in old temple ruins, beneath a picturesque waterfall.
It’s one of my favourite family memories, but it’s marred by the 32 hours in the air (plus layovers) I spent travelling there and back, grimly clutching my one-year-old son on my lap as he screamed and thrashed about like an octopus in a fishing net, trying to stick his fingers in the dinners belonging to the two appalled passengers I was perched between.
A week before we left, my younger son had discovered walking, and during our journey he was near-feral with his desire to wriggle free and prance around the cabin.
Whenever I think of this now, a vein in my temple starts throbbing, and I obsessively run scenarios of how I could have prevented this nightmare. And I’m going to share these with you so that you, and the vein in your temple, may avoid a similar fate.
Keep it together
Reserve your airplane seats when you buy your tickets so that you can stay together as a family – as otherwise there’s no guarantee you will be seated together. This service is free on BA flights when you travel with a child under two. On the Bali flights, the baby and I were several rows away from my husband and our older son, which meant I was between strangers and had no support.
Tip: Booking a trip months in advance? The Wonder Weeks has evidence-based developmental and behavioural age-by-age forecasts, so you can gauge what your own baby’s predilections will be by your date of travel.
“Bring an appropriate baby carrier in case your child needs rocking or comforting to sleep”
Seat all humans
At 12 months, most babies are determined to explore the world around them – and to put as much of it as possible in their mouths. Although infants don’t usually travel in a seat of their own, clipping your baby into a spare seat means you won’t have to wrestle for your own dinner, or endure ‘help’ from small, sticky fingers whenever you retrieve something from your bag. However, do bring an appropriate baby carrier in case your child needs rocking or comforting to sleep. BA allows the person in charge of the baby to reserve a carrycot/seat position, where possible.
Tip: If you have a collapsible buggy with a car seat attachment, the folded buggy can go in the hold of the plane, while your child can stay in their car seat – which might be calming and familiar to them – if they’re clipped into a plane seat. Find out more from British Airways.
Test drive everything
Before the trip, I loaded up on cute, ride-on kids’ luggage, and activity packs for the plane. The kids kept toppling off their suitcases as we ran for the gate, and the baby wasn’t interested in any of the activities in the pack.
So, practise luggage-riding – if that’s your thing – weeks before you travel, and only bring tried-and-tested activities for the journey. If you’re using activity packs, open them long beforehand – pack what your kids play with and quietly dispose of the toys that don’t hold their interest. BA also provides Skyflyers activity packs on board (current restrictions permitting).
Similarly, bring pack snacks you know your child will enjoy. Little ears can hurt during take-off and landing, and swallowing snacks – or breastfeeding – can ease the pain.
Tip: Avoid toys with bits you’ll end up crawling on the floor to find. My kids are big fans of magnetic drawing boards – and they come with pens attached!
Carry spare earplugs, hope for compassion
Not many people enjoy travelling with babies – least of all the babies themselves. Some people downright disapprove when they see a baby on a plane, and I know there are parents who advocate pre-emptively passing out little apologetic notes and bags of sweets to those around you before you sit down, but I’m generally against these. For a start, all these apologies add weight to your hand luggage, and the fact is that babies are passengers, too.
I feel it’s far more helpful just to be friendly, to ask people to let you know if they’re bothered (if they are, be generous with your spare earplugs), but otherwise act as though we’re all in this together and be a human being about things.
Tip: I often find that people actually want to help out sometimes, in which case I’d see if I could return the favour in any way – such as watching their bag if they go to the loo or catching the cabin crew’s eye for another drink.
Don’t worry too much about airport play areas
When you’re a one-year-old explorer – whether you’re on foot, on your knees, or exploring with your mind – any stretch of flooring is an adventure. So long as you keep an eye on your child at all times, long empty airport concourses are excellent for wearing out your little one before you begin your journey, at your layover, or when you land.
Tip: That said, if it gets too much, there’s a family area in Zone A at Heathrow Terminal 5 where you can meet likeminded travellers and their wriggly offspring.
Internet-stalk your destination
Search through Instagram’s family content using your destination as a hashtag for a realistic idea of what to expect when you get there, in terms of suitability for children, hidden family gems, and local tips and tricks.
I went to Finland with my older son when he was one and learned that Helsinki has more than 270 playgrounds and play parks for children, and that parents with buggies are entitled to free public transport – making it an ideal family city break.
Consider yourself (too!)
Whether you’re travelling with your family for work or pleasure, you deserve a break – and your baby is less likely to be happy if you’re miserable, too – so make sure you have someone to hand the baby over to so you can tap out for a few minutes.
Tip: If things get really stressful, close your eyes, take long calming breaths, and imagine some future plane journey – where your child is now a teenager – and you are the one constantly disrupting and embarrassing them. Hopefully this, if nothing else, should bring you some peace in the short term.