Travel with Kids: The Bad and the Worse


Like many expat mums the world over, every year I take the children on a pilgrimage to the motherland, to reintroduce them to their grandparents, grassy fields and Wellington boots.

Most expat kids are frequent flyers, but I think it’s the hollow-eyed, jet-lagged mums – many of whom have to travel long distances with their overactive offspring solo – who deserve recognition for ensuring that everyone arrives intact.

Now that my two are older, flying with them is so much easier, but I haven’t forgotten what trial by two-year-old is like at 37,000 feet. Without much further ado, here’s my take on the eight steps mothers desperately seeking serenity on board must navigate:

0-8 months
Provided your baby doesn’t cry like a banshee due to earache or colic, you’re relieved to discover that small infants are essentially hand luggage, and can be stored in a wall-mounted bassinet – meaning, in between feeds, you’re left with plenty of hands-free time for other, adult-related pursuits. Enjoy it. Indulge in a glass or two (while you can). This phase is over quicker than you can say pass the earplugs.

9 months-2 years
Now mobile, your infant is classed as a lap child, a burdensome phase that sees the two of you co-joined like Siamese twins and squashed into one seat. Once sleep finally arrives (for your 30lb lead-weight bundle of joy, at least), you find yourself sitting statue-esqe – and needing the loo – as you attempt to inhale a meal and not flinch an inch in case the slightest movement rouses your child.

2-2½ years
Your toddler has progressed to a seat, but the games, toys and books you’ve spent days collecting are dispensed with in minutes. Fun is sought in mischievous ways: Meal tray up/tray down. Light on/light off. Window shutter open/shutter closed. Call the flight attendant. Call the flight attendant again. When all the un-dinging you have to do gets too much, you traipse up and down the aisle – jolting several unsuspecting passengers awake as you go – or visit the bathroom together, where double-jointedness is always a plus when assisting your offspring.

2½-3 years
You’ve reached that murky zone where diversionary tactics are all that stand between you and a mile-high meltdown. Tantrums occur due to the most innocuous of reasons: not being allowed to bring the stroller up the aisle; the seat belt sign coming on. No other passenger makes eye contact – not even the smug mother of two crayon-loving girls opposite.

3-3½ years
By now, you’re travelling with two small children – a whole new world of in-flight angst – which means that if you’re on your own, losing your oldest at the airport or on board must be avoided (if you have more than two, good luck with that). After collecting all the luggage at the other end, you feel like hugging the kind lady who, on seeing that you don’t have a seventh arm to push the stroller, offers to help.

3½-4 years
Someone’s told you stickers are great for keeping children entertained on board, so you’re armed with sticker books. But while in the toilet, your kids stick them all over the TV. Bad idea: the heat from the screen can turn the adhesive into superglue. Imagining the entire aircraft being decommissioned while engineers scrape Lightening McQueen and his friends off 35F’s TV, you start peeling and don’t stop until there isn’t a single trace of sticker left. A happy coincidence is it uses up a good 20 minutes of flight time.

4-5 years
An iPad loaded with games is your saviour and, whilst still arriving disheveled and decorated with orange juice stains, you realise you had more time to relax on board, and even watched half a movie. A basic aviation knowledge – so as to answer questions like How does the wind move? – is extremely useful during this stage.

5 years+
You’ve made it. Long flights with small children no longer fill you with terror. While queuing at security, you see a mum with a seven-month-old infant struggling with all her baby paraphernalia, juggling her little one, taking her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulling it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, and you feel like punching the air with joy that you’ve left the aforementioned stages well and truly behind. Well done, you’ve arrived!

Sponsored by: My own personal experiences. Every.single.example.

This is an excerpt from my book Circles in the Sand: Stories about Life in the Big D. Please click on the Books tab above, or on the cover top right, to find out how to get hold of it.


Chaperone wanted

While flying from Dubai to London with the boys (and no DH) on Wednesday, it occurred to me that this is a task most mums of small children would dearly love to outsource.

Just imagine: if you hired a chaperone (and I think you can when they reach a certain age), you could come on a later flight by yourself, watch a whole movie, read, sit and think, drink wine and eat the meal, including the chocolate, in peace. Your clothes would remain stain-free, your sanity intact and you might even get some sleep. Remember those days of stress-free, champagne-swilling travel?

So without much further ado, here’s the advert:

Want to travel and get paid?

Position: Chaperone

Job description: Team leader needed for temporary work in a cramped environment. Candidates must enjoy travel and be willing to work long hours, sometimes nights, in pressurised conditions

Job requirements:
∙ Expert planning skills required, including the ability to pack for six weeks and two continents

∙ Must always be on time and have the ability to negotiate airports/airport toilets/fast food outlets with military precision. The candidate must also be able to speed walk, while dragging two small children along, to the furthest gate, without stopping at Duty Free

∙ Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Situations such as a sick child, delays or a lost favourite toy should be viewed in a positive way

∙ Ability to multi-task essential. Must be able to handle several difficult situations simultaneously, eg, consoling a distraught child who got stuck in the toilet, while stopping his brother waking sleeping passengers and balancing three meal trays

∙ Must be able to keep a smiling demeanour for fellow passengers while practising above-mentioned skills in conflict resolution. Must also be able to withstand withering looks from those seated nearby

∙ A basic aviation knowledge, so as to answer questions such as ‘What makes the wind move?’ and ‘What’s that noise?’, is a plus – as is the ability to tackle technical challenges such as operating the games

Airport hug: The smiles at the end make it all worthwhile and I wouldn’t miss this for anything
∙ Must be willing to be immobilised in a tight space for extensive periods of time, to dive for flying objects, to crawl on the floor for lost items and make multiple trips to a bathroom the size of a phone box (being double-jointed would help)

∙ Must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and preferably have a third or even fourth arm to carry all the luggage at the end

Dressing/grooming: In addition to following the airline’s dress code, it is expected that, for the duration of the shift, the chaperone will have makeup applied, not wear elasticated clothing of any kind and not develop crazy eyes

Previous experience: None required. On-the-job training offered on an exhausting basis

Possibility for advancement: None. Your job is to remain in the same position for years without complaining so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you

Overtime: Responsibilities also include rising at 5am the following morning with your jet-lagged, overexcited, overtired travellers

Benefits: Overseas travel and the joy of the airport reunion


Where I appeared Wednesday

No, not on TV or anything like that, but I was quite excited today because a guest post I wrote called Circles in the Sky was published this morning on a website in America and I thought I’d link to it here because it’s my first guest column, plus it actually makes me sound quite experienced at something!

Not experienced in anything useful or lucrative, but in flying with little hellions – something many expat mums will be thinking about as we prepare to head home to reintroduce our children to grass, grandparents and wellies.

Apologies to those who’ve read parts of this before – it’s adapted from a blog in my archives, and, yes, you might notice that I don’t mention I’m married to a pilot. I figured a more competent, all-round more together pilot’s wife wouldn’t lose a child on board, or nearly cause the take-off to be halted, so I decided to gloss over this piece of information while regaling some of my travel tales.

Without much further ado … here’s a teaser. Just click on the link for Airports Made Simple below to read more:


Waiting at the gate for a flight from Dubai to London last year, Son #1 came out with: “We’re going to go up, up, up and then we’re going to C.R.A.S.H!” – announced loudly, repeatedly, and with suitable sound effects. No amount of shushing would stop him and nearby passengers started looking really scared. Read more at Airports Made Simple