Author: Linda Anderson.
In July I travelled around France with my family including a six-year-old, a three-year-old and an almost two-year-old. A month before we left for our trip, my husband discovered he’d have to stay on in the UK for work, and so suddenly I had to face the reality of flying solo, with three young children, including one on my lap.
Before we departed Australia I shared my plan for survival with LIFT Magazine and now I’ve returned to tell you what REALLY happened.
The day we were due to leave France, I sat down with my two eldest girls and we had a ‘team meeting’. I talked to them about what the trip would be like and how important it was that we look after everyone. Together we co-created some rules to increase their sense of responsibility – they came up with things like “don’t fight with each other” and “share toys”. I talked to them about how important it was to stay together in the airports so we didn’t lose any team members, and then we made up some funny team names to use during the trip. I truly believe this conversation was the thing that made the biggest difference on our very long journey.
NAVIGATING CHECK-IN AND CUSTOMS
I predicted this would be the simplest part of our journey as I usually get fast tracked to the front of queues when I fly solo with kids. This didn’t end up happening, but my girls handled it well anyway. It was only when we got stuck in a ridiculously long passport control line in Sydney that they started to fall apart.
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
On my first flight (Lyon – Dubai) I had the most wonderful flight attendant. She helped my older girls with their meals while my 23 month old was sound asleep on my lap, and then asked me if I would like her to open everything on my tray so I could eat one-handed. She was also very proactive about clearing the trays quickly. Sadly this was not the case on our 14-hour flight fron Dubai to Sydney. There was no extra assistance offered and staff were quite annoyed with me when I asked for our trays to be cleared. Over all though, it was snack food that saved the day on the plane as it’s the perfect distraction for tired and hungry children.
As for entertainment – my six-year-old was happy using the in-flight entertainment, my three-year-old watched TV, played with stickers or my old iPhone and my 23 month old didn’t want to sit still so we cruised the aisle a lot. When she had to be seated stickers were the most effective activity. As for the Frozen figurines I’d stashed away for the final flight, they ended up being a total flop!
My kids only managed a total of six hours of sleep in our 26 hours of travel, but they coped amazingly well. I would ask my older girls to close their eyes, promising that they could open them again if they were still awake after five minutes – they didn’t even make it through two minutes. My 23 month old was a different story. There were times when the need to be in her infant seat belt upset her, so I just cuddled her and before the seat belt sign was off again she’d fall asleep.
What about the Phenergan? Despite my hesitation, after encouragement from my GP we trialled it on the flight over to France. It had some effect on my older girls but absolutely none on my 23 month old (the child who most needed support), and so it stayed packed away on the trip home and we did just fine.
As for me, I was resigned to the fact I wouldn’t sleep, and figured that it couldn’t be much worse than newborn baby days. I was right; I managed a few 5-10 minute cat naps here and there but otherwise relied on sugar and caffeine to keep myself going.
Toilet trips were nowhere near as tricky as I imagined. My eldest didn’t end up going while flying, my three-year-old was happy to wear a pull-up even though she’s toilet trained and when she did go, I managed to squish in with her and my youngest and we made a funny game up about that awful noise the flush makes. My 23 month old still cried whenever I changed her nappy, which I put down to her being scared of the vibrations through the change table.
FOUR HOURS IN DUBAI
Dubai airport is huge, and it felt like we walked forever to reach the transit area. I had a “magic ribbon” that we all had to keep hold of to stay together. It did help me avoid losing anyone, but it took my best “happy voice” to keep everyone walking.
Finally we found a stroller for my 23 month old, which was an absolute saviour, and we headed for the food court for breakfast to fill in time. I almost had heart failure when it cost 20 Euros to buy a coffee, three Pain au Chocolat and a little quiche, but sometimes you have to resign yourself to the cost of the simplest option when travelling with kids.
I didn’t come across any play areas in the airport, so after eating we waited at the departure gate. The older girls were happy to play on the iPhones and I have a travel ball that inflates with a balloon… Miss 23 months and I spent a lot of time playing catch!
I was pretty sure that at some point I was going to run into a multi-child meltdown. Thankfully this never happened, and the girls very graciously had their meltdowns one at a time.
My older girls niggled at each other much less on our trip home than on the way over. They both really stepped up to the “Team Girl” rules and I couldn’t have asked for better from them. It wasn’t until we were 90 minutes from Sydney that they’d had enough and started being horrid to each other.
KEEPING MY ZEN
I went into this trip firmly believing that managing my head space and stress levels were the key for a happy trip. No matter what was going on or how tired I was, my mantra was “Breathe, relax and have patience. This will pass and we are all OK”. Managing my own state of being means I can look back on the journey positively, because other than being totally exhausting it was, overall, a positive experience.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
Yes. I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly solo with three kids across the world but I would absolutely do it again. The difference next time would be a greater sense of confidence and less apprehension. My girls and I proved to ourselves that we do indeed make an amazing team.
Linda is an adventurous soul who also happens to be Mum to three little girls. She is a life coach and founder of Linda on the Go – a site dedicated to inspiring Mums to thrive. You can follow Linda and her adventures on Facebook or Instagram.