Working abroad is not new to many Filipino families. Almost everyone has a relative who is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). Some OFWs are lucky enough to bring their family with them abroad. Some are able to visit a kin abroad. Here are some of my tips to parents travelling with the small children.
All is set. You are going to bring your family with small children to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Documents, check. Plane tickets, check. Now, how do you deal with your kids on a 12 to 13 hour flight? If you have a babysitter along, good for you. If you have a relative travelling with you, your aunt, mother, cousin, good for you. However, if it is just you and your spouse alone travelling with three or more small children aged 5 below, that would be a challenge. Read on and I hope this composition I made from my experiences will be of help to you.
Here are some tips which might help put your mind at ease.
CHOOSING THE AIRLINES
Choose a direct flight. I have experienced travelling connecting flights locally with my toddlers and infants and it is more tiring to both parents and children than direct flights. Nothing else to say.
Choose a plane with entertainment / monitors in every seat. Having these gadgets in front of the kids will surely make your life easier. Kids love to watch especially animations. They will surely be glued to their seats and not be running around if there is some entertainment in front of them. In that way, they won’t get bored easily. Surely, you can also relax and watch a movie or your favorite series while the kids are doing the same.
Choosing your seat. If booking online, already choose a seat near the rest rooms as this will save you time and effort when you or your little one wants to use the john. Kids sometimes can’t hold as much as adults do so having the rest room closer to your seat would be a life saver. If you haven’t pre-booked your seat, you can do it upon checking in. Tell the check-in counter you need to be seated together and near the rest rooms because you are travelling with small people.
PREPARING THE BAGGAGE
Now that you have chosen the plane the next thing to do is to pack the “kid essentials”. I would break this down to the clothes, food, medications and toys which the children would be needing in the airport and during the flight. It means that these “kid essentials” should be in your hand carried baggage. A hand carried bag that could fit under the seats is better so that you won’t have to stand up and reach the overhead bins everytime you need something for your tots.
It is important to bring their favorite and comfortable clothes. This will make it easier to make them wear it if in case they need to change due to some unavoidable circumstances (i.e. spilled food, vomitus on the clothes, etc. ). Do not forget to include the underwear, diapers, wipe cloths and disposable wipes. Several sets (at least three) is ideal especially for long flights. Importantly, bring their jacket/sweater. You will never know if they get cold due to airplane or airport temperature.
Please also note the season in the Kingdom before your flight as winter season would mean that the temperatures would be dropping and winter clothes are a must for your kids, as well as, you. Also, it is more practical to let the children wear socks and shoes than just sandals alone. Make sure that extra clothes are in your hand carried bags. If your child is old enough to carry a small bag of his/her own let them do so. Put in a pair of clothes, wipes and a small amount of food in it.
Although planes have meals arranged for the passengers, it is better to bring what your children are used to eating as this will make it easier to feed them. Snack prepared in small amounts are better than bringing out the whole package. Prepare food for each kid. You don’t want them quarreling over a single bag of cookie, would you? Also, it would be less messy.
Feeding bottles and formula should never be forgotten as this will prove an absolute tantrum builder if not given when the little ones demand for it. Already fill your feeding bottles with the recommended amount of water and bring along the milk dispenser, as well as, extra milk. Again, these should be in your hand carried bags.
Motion sickness is the enemy of every parent travelling with children so be sure to bring along anti-motion sickness medications. Bring enough of the drug. Having the children take the medication before the flight is one thing and having brought an extra during the flight is another.
Be sure to consult your pediatrician for the dosage, though. Other medications such as paracetamol and vitamins should also be brought along. If your children are on special medications (i.e. anti-allergies, anti-asthma), bring these along and have some extra. I prefer placing the kid’s medications in a separate container from the adult medications.
TOYS and GADGETS
Most of the children have “lovies”. These are the stuffed animals or other toys they cuddle with before and during sleep. These are their comfort friends and these will surely make them feel better when told to sleep in a different environment.
Books, coloring books and crayons will be a welcome activity partner for children. Also, the introduction of newer toys which they are familiar with and have been asking you to buy them will give them joy and distract them from boredom during the flight.
Airplanes usually give toys to kids but your children might not like it and will just ignore it. Better be on the safe side. Tablets abound today and almost every travelling child I see has one at hand during their travel. Honestly, I think these gadgets keep them to their seat and gives every guardian a certain comfort knowing that their tykes are safe and sound (for a while and hopefully until they fall asleep or to stretch it a bit more, until the end of the flight)
THE DAY BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Congratulations! You are almost ready to fly. Everything is set. Is everyone set and ready? Have you told your children what will happen tomorrow? Frankly, I think it is better to orient them about your scheduled flight beforehand, say a week before. This somehow prepares the child of what is about to transpire. Introduce them to airport scenario and airplane scenario.
Role playing helps. It is like practicing them on how to behave or act when the actual day unfolds, but don’t expect them to do exactly as you have practiced.
Have an account of all the baggage you are bringing. Having a specific tag or marker on them will be useful as you might mistake them for identical ones when in the airport. Ribbons of the same color securely fastened to the handle of your suitcases and bags is an example. Having a separate small bag (messenger bags or sling bags) that carries all your travel documents would be helpful.
Rest well before your flight. Get a good night’s sleep. You would not want to be groggy and haggard during your flight. You have to be alert during the flight because you are travelling with children who can’t be left on their own.
AT THE AIRPORT
Be at the airport early. Around five to four hours earlier. Remember, you are travelling with children who needs assistance which will cost you time.
Departing from family members and the country is not a very happy scenario. The children might get emotional, too, when bidding goodbye to relatives and friends. In my opinion, the lesser the well-wishers are in the airport, the better.
Once in the airport it is better to have a porter assist you especially if it is your first time. These guys will direct you where to go and what to prepare while pushing your belongings. You on the other hand should watch over children as they may wander about and might get lost especially if the airport if full of travelers.
As mentioned earlier, inform check in counter that you are travelling with kids, and request for seats nearer a rest room. Strollers are allowed to be brought up to the gates. These will later on be intercepted before boarding. Going through all the counters in the airport is a challenge so having your travel documents and cash always ready until you reach the final counters which I think is the immigrations counter, is a must.
When done with the counters and upon reaching your assigned gate number, you can let your guard down a bit. Congratulate yourself and your kids for their effort. Find a nice spot nearer the boarding counter. Persons with children are among the ones allowed to board first. At this time, do not restrain your children if they want to walk or play or explore, as long as you guard them from accidents.
Letting them play and use their energy is better than having them do it in the plane, right? Now is also the time to feed them, change nappy or let them use the wash room. At the proper timing, give them their medications for motion sickness, as prescribed by their pediatrician. You also should take your medications at this time. Making it a shared activity makes it easier for them to abide taking their own medicines.
Meeting other parents with children travelling on the same flight happens at this time. This makes you feel more at ease. The encounter will also mean new friends and playmates for your children.
INSIDE THE PLANE
At boarding time, persons travelling with children are allowed to get in the plane first. The flight attendants should be your instant friends. Tell them or show them your boarding pass immediately so that they can direct you to your designated seats. Put your kids on the seat first, then arrange your hand carried bags. The kid essentials should be in the bag you put under the seat. The others, you place in the overhead stowage bins.
The plane will always have something that would draw the curiosity of children: the monitor at the back of the seat in front of you, the remote, the seat belt, the arm rest, etc. etc. etc. Let them explore a bit as restraining them will just make them curious all the more. Pay attention and follow the pre take-off demonstration of the flight attendant. Smile to your neighbors. Some are friendly while others are not.
Remember children are not adults yet and you can’t expect them to behave like one all the time. If your neighbor gets irritated by your children, the best thing to do is to ignore them. You can distract your children with the toys, seat activities and food you have for them.
If you need assistance call the attention of the flight attendant. If your child wants to go the rest room, but the line is long, ask permission from the people in line to go first.
When the meals are being served, choose a food that is served cold. Otherwise, put it on your tray table and let the meal cool a bit before you let your child eat.
TOUCHDOWN AND ARRIVAL
The announcement by the pilot about descent of the plane and nearing your destination brings joy to everyone, especially, parents. Your children might voice out that they have trouble in hearing or that there is something bothering their ears. Yawning or giving them their formula sometimes relieves it.
This is the scene at King Khaled International Airport. At the arrival section, new comers are separated from returning expatriates. However, persons with children or families are directed to a faster lane. Patience is the key while waiting for your turn. Your gadgets may help your kids get preoccupied while you are waiting in line.
As soon as you get passed the counters, you will be heading to get your checked-in baggage. Pushcarts are available. Next, would be the last, the X-ray section where your baggage pass through. Afterwards, before you knowing it, you are headed out the airport. Welcome and congratulations! Here’s to a happy trip to your family!
About the Author: Ruben is a physician with specialty in Radiology and subspecialty in Ultrasound. He is currently working in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To him, there is nothing more rewarding than to go home and see his family each day.