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Half Term Hell?

Feb 12, 2008
After choosing to spend a wet Saturday afternoon in January at an indoor play centre rather than a cosy pub, my partner and I have finally acknowledged that we are bonafide parents. And opting for ball pools and giant plastic farm animals over a nice bottle of wine and a gastro pub lunch means that we finally have to face the prospect of 'the family holiday'.

Our little man is almost 16 months old and now an actual person in his own right. He doesn't just get carted around in a carrier; he has moods, likes and dislikes, and chubby little legs that will carry him wherever he wants to go. We've avoided flights and long holidays for the last year or so, and are now desperate for a proper break. A few days in a Cotswolds cottage just won't do it any longer so it's a last minute winter sun job. But where do we start?

After doing some quick searches online I know we are in trouble. We need to travel during half term. What kind of hellish world are we entering? Partner would already rather eat his own ears than fly with our little cherub, and that's without all the other small monsters unleashed. There is hope though and I have formulated a plan which may well help others in the same boat, or plane.

Firstly I will search for family-friendly destinations and accommodation on websites such as Baby Goes 2, Baby Friendly Boltholes and the travel pages of the Times online. No more cold showers in Amazon huts; we want a bath, travel cot, childcare and other grown-ups for those long bar-less evenings. It also seems wise to avoid most of the budget airlines when traveling with small people. The baggage restrictions, additional charges and stampede to the plane are only for the very brave (or foolish).

The thought of airport security and baggage requirements strikes fear into the heart of any sane parent so I am scouring the Transport for You pages of the Department for Transport website. This details all the latest rules regarding hand baggage and liquids. Bizarrely it does not actually mention formula or milk, just 'liquid baby foods' and water. Luckily little H is well past the three-hourly feeds but if we're flying at night we'll need some milk. Considering we will have to taste the milk to verify its authenticity at security, I think buying or pre-ordering formula at Boots in the departure lounge is the best bet. There are few restrictions on liquids packed in hold baggage.

I still have questions over whether we will be able to warm milk during the flight as well as traveling with a car seat and buggy so will be phoning the airport and airline to check the latest information on all of this. Partner's gung-ho attitude to bringing the buggy on journeys will be ignored - it will be vital for containing, feeding, resting and transporting H whilst in the terminal building. Apparently many airports have special facilities for young children so that is worth checking too.

The American United States Transportation Security Administration website has a lot of relevant information for parents on getting through security anywhere. I particularly liked the advice on briefing your little people beforehand on what to expect at the airport. You've basically got to hope your toddler doesn't learn the word 'bomb'.

Bucking recent trends, I am going to be a super-organised mummy and ensure that our hand luggage is packed in easy-to-reach compartments. There will be no tantrums over a lost muslin on my watch! And I will not let H play with the passports as a distraction during nappy changing.

For once, my slightly obsessive packing of spare clothing and 'just in case' items is the right thing to do. We will have plenty of snacks packed in case of unforeseen delays. All the useful advice online from seasoned, if slightly jaded, traveling parents suggests that I will need to start a collection of unseen trinkets, toys and books to introduce in stages throughout the flight to keep little paws busy. The alternative is medication. Yes, some parents do actually sedate their children for long journeys.

I'm hoping that the airline will be helpful when allocating our seats and consider other passengers by placing us near the front of the cabin and perhaps near other families. H can be entertained for hours by large wheels, flashing orange lights and the moon, so a window seat is ideal for him. Many parents suggest boarding the plane last with toddlers to reduce the time they're expected to sit still.

An airport hotel and pre-booked airport parking is sounding very tempting and actually essential if we want to arrive at check-in with our sanity intact before the real fun begins. There are also meet and greet services available where a driver will meet us at the airport terminal and park the car for us. The nice man will also do the same on our return. We'll need to check with the hotel if cots are available for H and our friends with older children will need to request a family room.

Finally, we will need to allow plenty of time for the journey to the airport and check all the relevant travel updates.

I can't believe I used to just turn up, have a few drinks then watch a film on a flight. But I'm optimistic. It may well be possible to have a lovely first family holiday.
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