I’m not going to lie, I was pretty apprehensive about the 28-hour flights to and from Queenstown, but I knew it was a necessary evil if we wanted to go on our New Zealand adventure.
I got a few tips from friends and family before we left, and now I have some of my own to add to the list. I consider the fact that I survived a 28-hour flight with two four year olds on my own a real badge of honour, and I’m pretty proud of myself. Here’s what I learned…
1. Use their hand luggage allowance. There is no way you can fit everything you need for yourself and two (or more) small people in a single hand-luggage-sized bag. They need a bag each, but make sure it’s one that they can carry themselves so you won’t have to lug them around them too when you’re traipsing through airports.
2. Include a canvas tote in your hand luggage. The restriction to one piece of hand luggage (plus a handbag) only matters until you get through security at your departure airport. Pack a soft tote bag that you can pull out to stuff all the inevitable extra bits in – jumpers, water bottles etc.
3. Go for layers. We found all our planes really hot, but you do feel colder when you settle down to sleep, so layer clothing so you can get the right temperature. And make sure you have spare clothes – drinks are pretty easy to spill on a plane when you’re four (take their drinks bottles and fill them with water on the plane so they don’t have to drink from a cup too).
4. Label the children. My biggest concern travelling on my own with two young children was losing one of them at an airport during our transfers. You can buy reusable security wristbands but they’re pretty pricey, so I opted for standard paper wristbands (like the ones you get at festivals) and wrote the kids’ names and flight details on them with a marker pen.
5. Get kids’ headphones. The plane ones are rubbish and too big for little heads, and you want to be able to make the most of the inflight entertainment. The kids’ films, TV and games kept my two occupied for huge stretches of our journey.
6. Play musical chairs. The twins swapped seats regularly to avoid disagreements about who sat by the window. On the way out I made the mistake of sitting between them when they went to sleep. On the return flight I made sure to sit in the aisle instead so I could still get up and walk around or go to the loo easily when I needed to.
7. Avoid toys with small pieces. Lego and Playmobil are bad choices for flights. We stuck to larger toys that could be reached more easily when they inevitably fell down between the seats. We also opted for these pens, to avoid losing all the lids on the floor. Colouring and sticker books are always a winner. Do not rely on the airline’s kids activity packs. Ours kept the twins amused for approximately two minutes.
8. Have an assortment of snacks. My four-year-olds were definitely not keen on the lack of control they had over their inflight meals. Peeling the foil off the airline tray might have been exciting for me but it inevitably led to disappointment and upset for the kids. They lived entirely off apple juice, cereal bars and airline bread rolls on our return flight. Have some chocolate hidden away for bribery purposes if required.
9. Get the kids changed into pjs. Obviously it depends on your flight time, but if you want the kids to have a decent sleep on the plane, it helps to mirror your home routine by getting them into pjs, brushing their teeth and reading a story before “putting them to bed”. Also channel the first baby days, and sleep whenever they sleep. You never know if that’ll be the last shut-eye opportunity you’ll have for the rest of the flight.
10. Pack Phenergan for emergencies. It’s an anti-travel-sickness medicine for kids that you can buy over the counter, and drowsiness is one of the side effects so it’s useful to have in your arsenal if your child adamantly refuses to contemplate sleep. Apparently it can make some children hyper though, so it’s definitely worth testing it before your journey.