Travelling Alone With Children

November 21st, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s a daunting thought travelling with children alone especially on a long trip because even the easiest of children get bored and frustrated. While I am not an expert on this subject I can definitely say that my children are. I have 3 children, 2 girls and 1 boy and they all have children of their own now. In the past 8 months my grandchildren have had 4 return trips to Italy and 3 return trips to New Zealand and Australia with only one of their parents. (in the case of my son it was my daughter in law who made the trips).
The ages of the children are four; three and 17 months old, it is no mean feat travelling abroad with children at any of those ages. Hopefully I can get them to blog about their experiences at a later time. In the meantime I have done research on your behalf to bring you some dos and don’ts when travelling alone with children abroad.

The object of course is to get to the other end of your journey without completely losing your sanity. Generally in our experience the airline staff are very helpful and accommodating. If you are travelling with a baby you often can get the seats at the bulkhead (usually in the middle of the plane) it is sometimes easier because they have bassinets that you can put the baby in while in flight. This gives you free hands and possibly a more comfortable position to try and get 40 winks. Not all airlines reserve these for babies and they tend to sell these seats at an extra cost these days. However there is a downside to these seats as they are right next to the toilet. So if you are on a long haul flight, people are up and down during the night and if your baby is a light sleeper you are in trouble bassinet or no bassinet. Also if you are breastfeeding it is probably the most public place on the plane.

Helpful Products

There are products available that can make your journey easier, the Flyebaby baby hammock, in which you can put your child (4 -7 months), giving you eye to eye contact and a free pair of hands. If you are travelling with a child in between 2 -5 years old and they have their own seat, a CARES Flight Harness is a must particularly if you have a child that will not stay in its seat or keep their seat belt on. As children are very used to being strapped into a car seat it is a familiar feeling to be strapped into the CARES Harness as it keeps them in a position they are accustomed to. A survey on Trip Advisor asking what flyers hated the most – the top score went to children kicking the back of the seat, a CARES Harness prevents this most annoying practice.

Keeping the Children Entertained

My girls have always collected new toys for the children to play with when they get on the plane (just little things), of course they may have their favourite toys/ bear/ doll and they are certainly needed, but new toys provide a new experience and by dishing them out slowly one at a time it can keep them occupied for a few hours especially if you wrap them. You can always put the proviso in that if they are good for an hour, then they will get another one. You’ll be surprised how well behaved they will be.
It also is easier if you have a bag especially for toys and food snacks. Preferably get a bag that has at least 2 compartments in it and perhaps a couple of pockets. Given the space between you and the seat in front, it is very difficult to keep bending down searching for something in a bag when you are not quite sure where in the bag it is, so you have to pull all the top things out first and rummage around in a very tight space…….. You get the picture!!
Personal DVD players are great for children upwards of 2 ½. On long haul flights there is in-flight entertainment but the odds are they will not be playing Peppa Pig or Dora the Explorer, or whatever your child’s favourite DVD is, the one they can play over and over again without getting bored. Of course if you are going to get a Personal DVD player do not forget the headphones. Do not forget that often a smaller child cannot always see the video on the back of the chair.
If possible when travelling on a long haul flight try to get a night flight, this way the children/babies sleep at their normal time. If you can stick to a normal sleeping pattern while travelling it minimises the problem of jet lag at the other end.

Stop Over’s

Even if your child has got past the pushchair stage, if you are stopping over for quite a few hours it might be helpful to take a pushchair. If they are tired they can have a nap in the pushchair, and it is also easier for you to get around.

Food and Snacks
A word about snacks, do not rely on aeroplane food for your child. The chances are they won’t like it or it comes at a time when they don’t feel like eating. Don’t get concerned if they aren’t eating what you may term as a proper meal during the flight, it doesn’t matter. Make sure they have plenty of water/milk and snacks they enjoy but leave the messy ones at home, you do not want to be trying to pick up bits of squashed banana off the floor and /or clothes. Wet wipes are a must but don’t take the big packet with you in your hand luggage they are quite heavy. Try and buy a smaller travel pack, even a couple of travel packs are better than a large at home pack. Most countries sell wet wipes you can always buy some more when you get there.
Remember on short haul flights you usually have aircraft stairs to walk down and up. You would normally hold your child’s hand and if you have hand luggage for both of you it is more than a little tricky. It may be worth checking in luggage rather than over load on hand luggage.

Sleep Medication

Now here is a controversial subject which some people will feel very strongly about. So I am not going to express an opinion one way or the other, only to say if you decide to go down that route I suggest you try the medication at home first as a medicine like Phenegan which is widely used apparently can make 15% of the children who take it hypoactive – not good on a long haul flight!!

Getting Through Security

In most countries you are generally asked to remove the baby from the pushchair going through security, some airport staff are helpful some are not. Do not let them fluster you, but be as prepared as you can be before you go through. Leave what you have in the buggy basket if the buggy will still fold. Put your coats in the trays first, and then your hand luggage (hopefully you will have already put any loose items away in the bag). Now take the baby or toddler out of the buggy. If the baby is happy to go to someone else hand the baby to airport staff, if not hold the baby if you cannot fold the buggy with one hand ask for help. Often a person behind you will offer to help if the airport staff are not forthcoming with assistance.
Go through the X-ray machine and immediately get the buggy off first and put your child in. Then retrieve your clothes and hand luggage.

If the child’s surname is different from yours

Normally this is not a problem and I cannot count how many times I have been through passport control with the girls and the children (who both have different names than their mothers) and no one has taken any notice at all; however the UK law says:
It is a crime for anyone ‘connected with a child’ under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without ‘appropriate consent’. This is set out in the Child Abduction Act 1984.
To explain:
• the people ‘connected with a child’ are the child’s parents, guardians and people with a residence order or who have parental responsibility
• ‘appropriate consent’ is the consent of the mother, the father (if he has parental responsibility), the guardian and anyone with a residence order or parental responsibility, or the leave (permission) of the court
Fathers and parental responsibility
In general, a child’s father has automatic parental responsibility only if he is, or has been, married to the child’s mother. However, a father also has parental responsibility if he jointly registered the birth with the child’s mother on or after:
• 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland
• 1 December 2003 in England and Wales
• 4 May 2006 in Scotland
I therefore think that just to be on the safe side it is best to have a letter from the non travelling parent. In the US they require that the letter be notarised (meaning counter signed by a notary/ justice of the peace/lawyer/bank manager). Of course do not forget that even a newborn in the UK needs its own passport.
As grandparents we took our granddaughter Scarlett to Italy one Christmas while her parents came later. We had all documents and photographic ID but not once were we asked for anything.
A note on other countries
Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, and the Dominican Republic— require parents travelling alone with children to carry a notarised document sometimes for that trip alone not a generic letter covering many trips—no matter whether the parents are married, divorced, or never married. Sometimes other documents are also required such as a birth certificate showing names of the parents. Parents granted sole legal custody of children need to show notarised proof of that status. These rules apply to grandparent, too.

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