Travelling with young children can sometimes be stressful — especially if long flights are part of the trip.
Globe-trotting American mom Jessica Gee has it down to a science, though. She and her husband Garrett — co-captains of the Bucket List Family — have visited 31 countries in the past 18 months with their two-year-old son Manilla and four-year-old daughter Dorothy.
“We make sure we have a routine, a schedule every day where they get their naps. Otherwise it does get difficult and you will have tantrums,” the mother-of-two said.
She’s suffered through her fair share of those on planes.
“Oh yeah. You definitely get the stares and evil eyes. But I would say 95 per cent of people are kind and they’ve been there.”
Some will even offer a helping hand.
Gee has found bedtime stories before a travel day help a lot.
“We’re going to this really cool destination. It’s this magical land, where we’re going to see whales and turtles, we’re going to make friends.”
Parents are also able to check a car seat or stroller free of charge (Air Canada charges for bigger strollers). On WestJet you can substitute either one of those for a playpen.
Here’s some more advice from travel experts to ensure your kids are comfortable on a plane, as well as safe and entertained throughout your trip:
1. Be mindful of possible pain during takeoff and landing
Calgary nurse Janice Heard, who’s worked in pediatrics for 30 years, isn’t keen on babies younger than two months being on planes.
“That’s partly because infants … suffer more from the pressure change on an airplane,” Heard explained.
The tubes that help us equalize the pressure in our ears are “very, very tiny” in young children up to three years of age, Heard says. This can cause severe pain on takeoff and landing — especially if a child has recently had an ear infection.
Heard suggests talking to your doctor about possibly giving your child Tylenol before a flight if he or she has had a cold recently.
For babies: breastfeeding, a bottle or soother can help alleviate some of that pain. Young kids may find relief from a sucker or snack. Older children could be given gum to chew.
By the time kids are three, Heard says you can tell them to hold their nose and blow out to regulate the pressure change.
2. Make sure to get the recommended shots
Heard’s other big tip for parents is to make sure childhood immunizations are up to date.
“That’s a really important thing … because they are on a plane full of people who may be carrying viruses and bacteria that could infect a child,” Heard explained on behalf of the Canadian Pediatric Society.
In most provinces, Heard says the shots are given at the following times: two, four and six months; a year and 18 months.
They protect against pertussis (aka whooping cough, where a child dies of exhaustion … they cough themselves to death), meningitis, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria and polio (which Heard says is still common in a few countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan).
If you don’t vaccinate your child, Heard warns “you’re running the risk of your child contracting one of those diseases” that can have deadly consequences.
She cautions moms not to be fooled into believing breastfeeding can pass enough antibodies to protect a baby.
“Breastfeeding helps, but I don’t want anyone to think it’s a replacement for immunization,” Heard said.
“A mother’s antibodies stay with the baby until about three months.”
Depending on where you plan to take your child, specific travel vaccines may be recommended.
Audrey Palombi of Atlas Immunization in Edmonton says there is special malaria medication for infants.
The most common “travel” vaccine for developing countries, she added, are Hepatitis A and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR, given at six months) and influenza (flu).
The shot for hepatitis B can be given at any age. If it’s warranted, there is also a vaccine for rabies available at any age, Japaneses encephalitis at two months and yellow fever at nine months.
3. Bring some entertainment
You need to plan ahead to keep kids occupied, as U.K. mom Karen Edwards learned.
She travelled to 10 countries with her husband and daughter Esmé during her maternity leave. And one of the things she regretted most is not having brought enough toys for her now-two-year-old.
Luckily, because they were in so many different environments, that helped keep her little one entertained.
Colouring books and reading material are a couple other must-haves for older kids on long trips.
Edmonton mother-of-five Kelly-Dawn has a whole bag of tricks she uses to survive road trips with her kids — like homemade Bingo, audio books, geocaching, and a “visual map,” which she gets the kids to create and tapes to the roof of the car.
It helps with the dreaded but inevitable “are we there yet?”
4. Get travel insurance
There’s no excuse not to get travel health insurance — especially since coverage is usually free for kids under two years of age, according to Will McAleer, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association (THiA).
He shared these three tips for parents travelling with kids:
1) Understand your travel insurance policy.
- If you’re getting a family plan, ensure there are no restrictions on the number of children or age of the children on the policy.
- If there is a medical emergency, parents should call the travel insurance assistance line. A customer service agent will direct them to the nearest appropriate health-care provider. In some cases, there may even be a benefit where the doctor can come to them.
2) Know your health.
- Make sure you or your infant have not had investigative procedures or tests done recently.
- Some policies exclude any coverage related to a birth defect for very young children.
- Most policies have an exclusion that says that kids are not insured until they are a month old.
3) Know your trip.
- How long will you be gone? Do you plan to scuba dive? What kinds of things could the baby be exposed to?
Based on your travel plans, some policies will be more suitable for you than others.