I’ve dreaded this moment for the past 4 years: travelling alone with my children while they’re still little. I put if off as much as possible but I could do it no more and here I am, on a 4.30pm Easyjet flight from London Gatwick to Portugal.
Every child is different and the whole family dynamic changes depending on who’s in the mix at that point and other external factors. At 2 and 4 years old we have a few issues to consider:
- Neither of the girls can walk for long distances. Or, even less so, run if we’re late. That means we needed to take a stroller. I chose not to take our buggy board (thank goodness, as you will see below)
- The notion of time and distance is alien to the children and therefore, there is a distinct lack of patience from them, and by proxy a lack of Zen attitude from me
- When walk past any toys or sweeties (i.e. every step of the departures terminal) they start pestering
- They don’t fully listen and follow instructions yet – so occasionally one, usually the youngest, will just run off because she sees a shiny or cuddly object
- They don’t yet have full control of their bladder so it’s tricky to manage toilet time. I know when it’s convenient to go, but the eldest doesn’t always ‘feel’ like going and the littlest still needs to be strapped to the stroller while we go about our business, otherwise she’ll touch every single filthy thing in public toilets
- They do not like to carry things, no matter how cute. As I found in the middle of the departures lounge, having to carry my bag, a Trunki, a bag with the winter coats, push the stroller with one hand and my not-so-well-toned belly, whilst holding one with the other hand
- Constant snack demands (though with insight, it wasn’t too bad this time)
- 2 year olds really don’t do what they’re told yet and have to touch everything, I mean, E-V-E-R-T-H-I-N-G, in the shops.
So, with this in mind, I’d like to share a few learnings and tips from my first journey alone with two small children.
When booking the flight I decided not to take hold luggage. I figured the less time spent in the airport the better. We’re allowed a bag each of up to 10kg. For me to be able to manage the girls (read: hands free to wrangle them and their constant needs) I decided to take a big backpack, a Triunki for them to take turns in and a small bag for snacks to last the whole day
I don’t want to pay a small fortune for airport food or soggy in-flight sandwiches that taste of plastic so I packed up sandwiches and fruit plus a few treats up my sleeve for an emergency
I put all liquids in a clear sandwich bag and kept it within easy reach for when we get to security
Tantrums. Doesn’t take much for it to kick off, let alone after hours of boring walking around. I did what I could to avoid that scenario. I downloaded plenty of entertainment onto a tablet and an old phone
Around the airport
Strollers are usually lighter and easier to collapse than other travel systems and the kids can take turns on it (depending on ages). If you’re travelling alone, I’d say, do not take a buggy board, it might prove one item too much to manage
Take marriage and birth certificates
Yep, you read that right. If you’re a woman who decided not to take your husband’s name and your children have his surname, you better take this documentation with you, just in case you’re questioned whether these are your children. I know, don’t get me started…
Reality at the airport
So, here’s what I found:
- Turns out kiddies in this age range quickly get bored of the Trunki. I found myself having to carry that as well as a cotton bag with all our winter coats, a huge backpack weighting 10kg and holding a child’s hand. Thankfully, I could put the Trunki lead on the stroller handle and it got dragged nicely by the motion of the stroller being pushed.
- Our flight was at 4.30pm. The boarding pass said the gate would close 30 minutes before the scheduled flight time. When we arrived at the departure lounge the panel had a message saying to check the gate number at 3.40pm. Well, that gives you only 20 minutes to make your way, plus children and bags, to the gate. Tight schedule, I say. Very tight, unless you take a lift from one of those airport mobility buggies – which, at this point, I considered hot writing, if only I knew how
- Ours was gate number 574. In some airports one has to walk, and walk, and walk some more to reach the gate. This one was not too far from the departures terminal however, 20 minutes is not a lot when you’re dragging all the bags and a child that decided wants to be carried (typical timing)
- We arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before the flight time. All went ok with time to go through security, get a hot chocolate (and strong coffee for mummy), buy a bottle of water and go to the toilet. That was it. No time to relax properly, have a meal, go shopping, look at magazines or charge mobile battery. Forget about that. If you want that kind of airport experience, I recommend adding an extra hour, so arriving 3 hours before the flight. Mind you, we had no hold bags and printed the boarding pass so didn’t have to check in. If we did, I would add an extra 1h for that. So that means, arrive 4 hours before the flight time
- Be ready to go to the gate from 1 hour before the flight time. Get all toilet needs, shopping etc sorted and have bags and children at the ready to ‘sprint’
- By the time we reached the departure gate, and shown our ID, that anteroom was so crowded I could barely move around with the bags and the children. There was barely any wiggle space. I was planning to take our buggy board, thanks goodness I didn’t because I simply did not have the physical capacity to cope with any more items.
- The worse part is that from that ante room, we had to go down steps to the runway and walk to the airplane, WITH THE FOLDED STROLLER. No staff helped with this, and remember, I had plenty of bags and enough children with me as it was. To make it worse, we were corralled for a few long minutes on small staircase leading to the runway. I thought that clack of accessibility would not happen in Gatwick, just in airports like Stanstead and Luton, but there you go.
- We finally got moving and again I had to walk outdoors to the airplane, with 3 bags, 2 children, and a folded buggy which a kind soul briefly carried for me. The steps up to the plane were too high for the girls to do it by themselves, so I had to pick them both up. Well, I didn’t have to but there were are a few dozen people behind me waiting and I felt I had to. Plus all I wanted was for us to sit down and relax
At this point I felt like Bruce Willis half way the film Die Harder II – injuried, disheveled after a long, tough fight scene
One word of advice: if you are travelling with a stroller or buggy, you can take it to the plane but then it goes on the baggage compartment. If you’ve looked out of the window from an airport you know that these are exposed to the elements when in transit and are thrown around like lumps of wood. I strongly recommend using a protecting bag (preferably your buggy’s own brand) and mark it fragile.
During the flight
This part was surprising bliss. As a matter of fact, I wrote this post during the 2h30 flight while the kids watched Cbeebies on the tablet. They also drew briefly on a pad and coloured in.
After the flight
This was the worse part. When we arrived to Lisbon at 7.15pm we didn’t have a stroller – we had to pick it up from the reclaimed baggage area. And there were no safe trolleys for the children. Again, none of the girls had an interest in the bloody Trunki. And the youngest kept running off exploring rather than walking nicely with us.
When we got to passport control it was even worse, with her running off and me having to chase her but also not want to lose the place in the long queue.
This is the point where I felt like Bruce Wilis towards the end of the film,
having stretched his stamina and strength beyond his limits. Welcome to my world!
Suffice to say, I was well and truly knackered, no drop of blood left in my body. You’d think that they were too, right? Nope. When we arrived to Avo’s house they partied on until about 10pm.