We have travelled quite a lot with Maple. We have had a few positive experiences, mainly when she was super small, and we have had some bloody dreadful journeys. This is a long blog because I’ve gone to town on the things that worked and the things that went utterly pear shaped and what we learned from it all…not to fly with a toddler! Ha! Not quite but phew! Below are lists of things we packed for long haul flights, what apps were successful on the iPad and loads of other stuff.
In Melbourne, Dec-Jan 2010/11
In Kuala Lumpur Jan 2011
When Maple was 4.5 months old we flew to Melbourne from London for five weeks in December 2010 and it was pretty easy. She slept on the boob the whole way there and on the way back we stopped for a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur to break up the flight, and she slept in the bassinet for about seven hours for the last leg. Easy peasy we thought. When she was eight months old we flew to Istanbul, Turkey (about three hours) in April 2011 and this was a different ball game. She had become far more alert and far less willing to just sleep on the boob. I can’t remember the outgoing leg particularly, but Oz and I vividly recall the return journey – horrendous! The plane was tiny, the plane was horrendously hot, Maple had missed her two hour sleep in the middle of the day, refused to be pacified by the boob, and kicked off in such an unsightly way on the plane we wanted to curl up under our seats or flush ourselves out into the atmosphere through their nasty loo. We were “those people”; “the people with the screaming baby”. It was monstrous. Oz took Maple for a rocking walk up and down the aisle of the plane trying to lull her to sleep, with small snippets of success. Anyway, we wised up. Plane travel was no longer going to be a walk in the park.
Istanbul, April 2011
In June 2011, my mum visited us in London, and we all headed to Dinan in Brittany. Both legs of the journey involved boob and books and Maple was fine. At this stage Maple was on the cusp of being able to walk, so keeping her in the seat was our main objective, which involved stimulation with magazines, toys, her favourite books, or new books specifically produced for her on the plane, and exciting new snacks. Plane staff have never volunteered to carry her or entertain her on any of our many flights. I think there must be regulations these days involving health and safety and certain liability issues. Such a shame, because sometimes the change of face and scene would make such a difference to a little one’s mood. And cut the parents some momentary slack.
Dinan, Brittany June/July 2011
In December 2011 we headed to La Gomera in the Canary Islands for a two week Christmas holiday. Maple was 16 months old, had been walking since she was eleven months and had become an unstoppably sociable, gregarious, curious and physically extremely active little thing. Now this journey is not for the fainthearted. It involves a three or four hour flight to Tenerife, a bus to the port, a ferry and then another bus along some seriously stomach-wrenching windy roads. We drove to Stansted airport from Dalston and parked in the longstay carpark for convenience. It was an early morning flight and we all managed it remarkably well. We took a few new toys, new books, different snacks and favourite foods. And the pair of us were determined to entertain Maple and keep her from encroaching on our fellow travellers. So many passengers commented on how well behaved Maple was. I don’t think they could possibly have realised the amount of energy this involved for us! But we pulled it off. She was excited beyond measure, but it was possible to distract her with enough things for the duration of the flight to keep her from melting down. We had our small McLaren stroller with us for this flight. We purchased it specifically for plane travel, as on two of our previous flights (returning from Australia in January 2011 and arriving into Turkey in April 2011) our bugaboo bee + had been broken by rough baggage handlers, involving a whole load of inconvenience and irritation. So we had the McLaren to hand on the ferry; popped Maple in it, covered her over with a universal sunshade and wandered her around the sunny deck of the ferry for a while until she passed out for an hour and a half on the journey to La Gomera. Actually, she didn’t wake up until fifteen or so minutes into the bus journey on our way to our accommodation. In short, the journey took an entire day with all the waiting and travelling, but Mae was a trooper and all the distractions and stimulations and changes in scenery were enough to keep her going.
La Gomera, Canary Islands, Dec-Jan 2011/12
Flying to Vietnam with a 21-22 month old – The Flight
This really deserves a separate post but as I’m writing here just about the plane travel, I may as well include it here. It is extensive. When we committed to leaving London for Melbourne, Oz and I decided to break up the journey with a three week holiday in Vietnam. I will post separately about this. As we approached D-Day we started doubting our decision. I fell pregnant in February 2012 and by the time we left was about 18 weeks pregnant and just stepping out of a period of utter exhaustion and spiralling emotions at leaving our friends, careers and lives in London. We were worried about the heat, the food for Maple, the accommodation, domestic transport and so on. But a quick call to Trailfinders confirmed that our flights were non-refundable, the route was non-changeable but the dates were flexible at some cost. This confirmed that we would forge ahead. The cogs shifted in our minds, and it quickly became obvious that these three weeks in Vietnam would be our salvation, our therapy, time to assess this momentous decision, time to dive into something adventurous and new and to challenge ourselves to continue with our love of travel together with our daughter. We are so, so pleased that we stuck to our guns. It was an enlivening experience and a true adventure and we felt proud of ourselves to have achieved it without incident and with such wonderful memories and images to take with us. But I will start with the outbound plane journey which I hope never to repeat.
We were under no illusions that Maple was likely to be a total nightmare on this plane journey. TOTAL NIGHTMARE. We were flying to Saigon with a two hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur. I honestly don’t care to remember the number of hours spent on the plane, save to say that it felt interminable. This experience, combined with the domestic flights within Vietnam and then our final journey to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur, I think qualify me to pass on what worked, what didn’t and what we learnt along the way. We had prepared ourselves within an inch of our lives.
Let me list the things we packed in our hand luggage specifically for Maple:
- Two changes of clothes (thank god because she shat everywhere as soon as we got on the plane). (We also packed a light change of clothes for us just in case.)
- Nappies, wipes, nappy bags, and spare plastic bags for rubbish or dirty clothes.
- A cloth bag full of snacks; some old favourites and some new exciting bits and bobs for treats; little bags of Ritz Crackers; Ellas Kitchen puree pouches; some Goodies/Organix crisps; a punnet of blueberries, strawberries, grapes; mini-bell cheeses; fruit bars and her favourite fruit straps which I found in the fab new fruit and veg shop opposite Whole Foods on Stoke Newington Church Street (oh I miss you!).
- A thermos containing two hot meals, which I prepared the night before the flight and heated just before we jumped into the cab for the airport; a risotto and a pasta dish. I bought the thermos in Sainsburys for about 6 quid and it is the greatest purchase ever. Food stays hot for hours and hours and can hold a huge amount of food.
- A plastic bowl, her catchy bib, and some plastic cutlery.
- Maple’s milk bottle and some Cow and Gate milks. They made us taste one of these when going through security but they were pretty good with everything else.
- Maple’s sippy cup.
- A cloth bag full of new books; four sticker books (a hit) and four other new books, also hits on the journey.
- A new soft monkey which Oz found in John Lewis and an old favourite toy.
- A wee Kath Kidston handbag (I bought online) filled with fun. I went to a little toy shop in Stoke Newington and filled the bag with gimmicks which entertain her still, including a purse filled with plastic cards I no longer need, wind up snake, a wooden boy, little animals, a clip on butterfly, a compact fan and so on. We slowly introduced these on the flight.
- We also bought an iPad just before the flight and loaded it with apps which had been specifically recommended by friends, and with episodes of Peppa Pig, The Night Garden, Abney And Teal, Tinga Tinga, Sesame Street, Dora The Explorer and so on. Some of these she had never seen, and she most certainly had never seen the ipad before…more on this later.
So how did we go? We flew with Malaysian airlines and managed to check in far too much luggage without incurring any further expense. Oz and I had a rucksack each also containing Maple’s clothes; a small bag contained food just for Maple which we thought might make our journey easier given that two of our accommodations were self-contained apartments which meant that we could cook for her; a travel cot; and our car seat. Our carry-on luggage was well over the weight allowance so the check in lady encouraged us to juggle things about, and told Oz to remove his laptop as that could be eliminated from the weight of his luggage. We got there in the end. We had decided to travel without a pram as everything we had read suggested that pavements in Vietnam were generally occupied by restaurants or street vendors or didn’t exist at all. So we bought ourselves a Bushbaby (Elite) back carrier instead. A great move. We were able to take this to the boarding gate with us as we would a pram.
The Bushbaby Elite back carrier. A genius piece of equipment.
At the boarding gate, we removed Maple from the back carrier, put it in its carrier bag and handed it over to a man who gave us a “special delivery” tag to use in Kuala Lumpur when we went to retrieve the carrier at the door of the plane. I waited for him to attach a tag to the Bushbaby bag and emphasised the importance of needing to use the carrier when we got to Kuala Lumpur, and he assured me that he was just about to tag the bag and bring it to the plane door for loading with the other prams and so forth. You know those moments in life when you bite your tongue cos you think you’ve already made your point? But you get the distinct feeling that someone just isn’t on the case and it feels somehow inevitable that you’re about to be effed-over? Well I had that sense of foreboding. I really did. But we walked on and boarded the plane. More about that later.
We were given bulkhead seats and discovered to our astonishment that the seat beside us was unoccupied and we were encouraged to give Maple her own seat. Result! I was so elated by this I nearly cried. In retrospect I just cannot imagine how utterly hellish the flight might have been had this seat not been free. Now that she’s two we will have to buy a seat for her in the very distant future when we dare to fly again, so it was nice to receive it gratis!
What we could not have prepared for is that Maple seemed to hit the “terrible twos” upon boarding the plane; such a tricky time to travel with a little one who just wants to run and play and socialise and not be hemmed in and buckled up. She was so agitated and uptight and immediately pooed everywhere. Thankfully we had two changes of clothes to cater for this. We got stuck into the books and the sticker books. The new monkey was a hit. The handbag was wonderful and we slowly eeked out the accessories which kept her occupied for ages. The snacks went down well, and thank goodness I made a couple of hot meals for the thermos, as the kid meal which I had ordered for the plane, was actually a baby meal and they delivered jars of puree which Maple has always spurned and were no good at all (I sorted this out for all of our remaining Malaysian Airline flights by emailing Trailfinders directly and letting them know. They ironed out the details.).
We would not ordinarily have bought an iPad primarily for our child to use, but the plane journey seemed like an extraordinary circumstance! We kept the iPad until the very last minute when Mae was bursting out of her seat desperate to rampage. The mistake we made, and something to really bear in mind, is that we had not introduced her to the iPad previously. Subsequently, she had not yet acquired the skill for using her fingers on the screen, didn’t know any of the applications and was unfamiliar with much of the material we had downloaded for her to watch. She had limited patience for it, and this had been our huge backstop. She was ok with the little headphones I had bought for her on Amazon.co.uk and down the track the iPad and headphones made a huge difference to our flying experience. Just not on the huge legs from London to KL and KL to Saigon. Damn!
The stewardess attached the bassinet and Maple absolutely refused to go in it, and then there came a huge meltdown; well two…hers and mine. Desperate to protect our fellow passengers from her outrageous screams, I shoved Mae on the boob, despite the fact that we had virtually completely weaned and I had no milk left. But being a boob-obsessed child, she latched on straight away, and fell asleep for a while in my arms, nibbling excrutiatingly at my nipple. OH CHRIST. And I was pregnant so everything was super sensitive. OH CHRIST again. But our usually sleep-obsessed daughter didn’t sleep for long (perhaps an hour and a half), and kicked off again. Look the short story is, that this flight was an arsing nightmare. Oz ended up picking her up, and rocked her like a mad man in his arms for about forty-five minutes in the aisle somewhere, until she gave up the fight and fell asleep. He managed to sit back down and she slept on him for about an hour. No sleep for us. Not a wink. I think I might have shed a tear or two.
So what happened to the Bushbaby back carrier at KL airport?
So we arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a two hour stop over and a change of planes. We waited at the plane door for the delivery of our Bushbaby back carrier which we knew would be the easiest way to transport Maple around the airport and where she would most likely be lulled to sleep with the rocking motion. Everyone collected their prams. No back carrier. Picture this: we ask various ground staff. They all look concerned and then promptly disappear…for good. We have a flight to catch in just over an hour. After no sleep, emotional about departing the UK, and super hormonal, I finally absolutely lose it and terrify these poor Malaysian men. They looked terrified and the entire plane crew stood there aghast as I bellowed and tears began to pour down my face, Maple was wailing like a banchee and Oz was trying to contain me. However, when he saw that my frustration and concern was well-founded, he supported the public display. So a seemingly friendly chap called Harry, one of our Malaysian ground staff, appeared to make numerous phone calls using the luggage tag we had for the Bushbaby carry bag. He was eventually told that they had located the bag and would deliver it immediately to where we were waiting. I nearly hugged Harry. We waited, we waited, we waited and we waited. Until I found Harry again and asked what the delay was. He made another call to discover that they had no intention of delivering the bag to us because the terminal was too far away, however, they would deliver directly to our next departure gate. Harry accompanied us for the long walk and train ride to the next terminal and to our gate where he proceeded to the gate (we were not permitted) and appeared to sit by a phone and occasionally wander to the window to see if anyone was bothering to deliver our bag. Eventually, I persuaded the customs crew to let me through to speak with him because I got the distinct impression he was avoiding me. He suddenly gave me short shrift, said the bag was on its way but this flight was no longer his domain so he was handing over the reigns to the ground crew for our next flight. Need I say more? He had not handed over anything except utter chaos. We had to start the entire process all over again. We were told that the bag had NEVER been located and that it was likely that it never made it on to the plane in London. But the most frustrating thing was that no-one was bloody well doing anything. Nothing. Just some apathetic phone calls, noises which sounded like obliging understanding, and then shrugging their shoulders. So having found a place of faux calm, I again raised the bar in front of a huge queue of poor Vietnamese and Australians queuing for their flight to Saigon. Maple reached a new high in losing it. She was delirious with exhaustion and walking into glass walls and falling over and screaming her wee face off. I burst into tears and Oz moved into high gear. Suddenly, a bloke who we had both liked the look of because he looked vaguely intelligent, showed some degree of authority and so on, suddenly picked up his own phone, took all the details and disappeared. Three others at the desk took to their phones too. This was two minutes before our flight was due to take off. The Bushbaby bag contained, not only the back carrier, but also our portable high chair and all of our nappies and wipes for the trip. It was all looking dire, when suddenly Ummi, the poor chubby soul who had copped my wrath and grief and frustration and Ozzie’s sudden outburst (along the lines of “so is anybody going to pick up the bloody phone and show some initiative here…”) received a call from the seemingly intelligent guy and said “is your name “Miranda Barber”? I said “yes”. She said “we have a bag with your name on it but it doesn’t have the special delivery ticket on it which London should have attached to it.” She beckoned me to rush with her through to another lounge, leaving Maple on the ground screaming and poor Ozzie in pieces dealing with her. Ummi held my arm as we rushed down an escalator. I apologised for my emotional state and she made noises as though she understood. And there was our bespectacled hero with a trolley carrying our bag. I burst into tears, embraced him, embraced her and then discovered that they wouldn’t let Ozzie and Maple through because I had the boarding passes and passports. That was dealt with and suddenly five people were carrying our bags to the plane and adorning the wayward Bushbaby bag with all manner of tickets etc. We were told that the bag would “definitely” be waiting for us at the plane door on our landing into Saigon. Oh really?
Maple watched Peppa Pig on our laps the entire journey to Saigon (not a long flight thankfully) and then had the hugest meltdown as the plane landed and we waited to disembark. Need I say more?
The Bush Baby was nowhere in sight. Again ground staff gathered and fruitlessly fluffed about the place like they were milling at a crap cocktail party. We were assured that the bag had not been lost but was probably on the conveyor belt with all of our other luggage. We of course now doubted that any of our luggage would be there and rushed to the collection belt, Maple screaming inconsolably. It was all there. All of it. We eventually made it out into the delicious sticky chaos of Saigon and low and behold, there was my name held high by a lovely bloke called Quoc who drove us straight to Somerset Apartments, a great two bedroom apartment with kitchen and two bathrooms and a funny balcony. We could hear the crazy streets in the distance. We had a cold family shower, Maple snapped out of her craziness and was very happy to be in a “home” and not a confined space. She passed out immediately and we all slept for hours and our holiday began.
So what did we learn from the initial nightmare flight and how did we fare on our subsequent Vietnam Airlines domestic flights and the long flight to Melbourne?
Every flight after this one was a whole lot easier. Maple had become a Peppa Pig devotee and was happy to be glued to the iPad for entire flights. (We have done some iPad weaning since arriving in Australia.) We didn’t really have to deal with any outrageous meltdowns and again we received another seat just for Maple from KL to Melbourne where she eventually spread out across two of those seats and fell asleep spread eagle for about three hours. Ideal. Malaysian airlines were great at moving people around to give Maple her own seat because they thought she was too big for the bassinet. Great result.
Chupa chups: Whilst enjoying some pool and beach time in Phu Quoc, a girlfriend who had travelled alone from London to Melbourne with her toddler, shared a few top tips. One of these tips involved having a stash of chupa chup lollipops to hand. Look we hardly ever give sugar to Maple but these sorts of situations are extreme. One chupa chup kept her going for about forty-five minutes and made her the most amenable, happy little camper you ever did see. And involved no sugar crashes that we could detect. We also used a chupa chup on one occasion in Hanoi when Mae started to kick off in the back carrier and we still had loads of the Old Quarter we wanted to see and wanted to eek out the experience for as long as possible. Happy as a pig in the proverbial. And it’s not like it became some nasty obsession which we then had to cater for later. I have only used a chupa chup twice since the long flight to Melbourne, and it was when she had to get chicken pox and Hep B injections to bring her immunisations up to date with Australian requirements. She barely noticed the injections. A fabulous distraction and one that I endorse wholeheartedly.
Little headphones for toddlers: I bought some Urbanz Vibe Light-Weight headphones for Mae for the flights. They only took a little getting used to and in a very short time she was totally happy to wear these when using the iPad which meant that our neighbouring passengers didn’t have to deal with any noise. They also fitted the TV plug-in on Malaysian airlines, and even though she was only getting mono sound, that didn’t seem to bother her. It was her first dose of some of the old Disney films and she was entranced.
Recommended apps for a nearly two year old
These are some of the apps which Maple took to on the flights and during stopovers at airports and the like. She continues to love some of them. Again, I highly recommend you familiarise the little ones with them a little before the flights so that they don’t rely on you entirely to find their way around them and so they are eager to dive into them.
My PlayHome (brilliant)
Interactive Alphabet by Piikea Street (excellent)
Fisher Price Laugh and Learn
Families 1 (great)
Domestic flights within Vietnam
All of the flights were fine and Maple travelled on our laps. Our first domestic flight with Vietnam airlines (all of these we booked online when we were in London and there were no problems with any of them) was to the wonderful island of Phu Quoc. For such a short flight, I don’t think they had ever seen a family check in with as many bags as we did. However, the check-in lady didn’t say a word and it was all there on the conveyor belt on our arrival. On our return to Saigon, the heat got turned up a little as the check in staff at Phu Quoc chose to make a bit of a fuss about things, claiming that we were way over the weight allowance. However, we stuck to our guns, emphasised that the car seat (in its own travel bag) was a stroller and the back carrier was also essential and so on and that no fuss had been made on our arrival into Phu Quoc. So they left us alone. The Vietnamese we found to be very reasonable and amenable in most situations.
In a nutshell?
Flying always involves logistics, preparation, planning, foresight and a sense of humour. With kids it also requires fortitude, tunnel vision, covering every possible outcome, generally expecting the worst and booze. We are now tentatively considering a trip to Thailand this Christmas with Mae and wee Zephyr. Hmmm. It might involve a toss of a coin.