x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Baby chicks can still fly

It's misguided to believe you have to boycott foreign travel if you have a baby. The younger a child, the far easier it is to travel with them.

How can so many parents get it so wrong about travelling with their children? A survey just out from Co-operative Travel claims almost half now wait until their offspring turn five before taking them on their first foreign holiday, and 82 per cent stick to short-haul trips to "avoid extra complications". But it's misguided to believe you have to boycott foreign travel if you have a baby. The younger a child, the far easier it is to travel with them. I took my firstborn abroad when she was 10 days old. It wasn't far - just a short flight to Nice in southern France from where we were living in London. It couldn't have been simpler. At that age, I only needed to pack a change of Babygros and some nappies. Breastfeeding means you don't have to worry about sterilising bottles or packing tins of powdered milk. I didn't need a buggy - I just popped her in a sling. She was a soft, warm, portable piece of baggage.

By five, she required far more kit, insisting on packing pencils, pads and her giant favourite soft toy. I couldn't throw her over my shoulder while I wandered around the Prado. By then, she already had plenty of her own opinions on where we should go, and it wasn't to a high art gallery. And she was expensive, as I now had to pay for her separate seat on the plane. There are more subtle advantages in introducing kids to far-flung travel as early as possible. If their first glimpse of a luggage scanner comes at age five, it might come as a shock. But if they've been acclimatised to airport security since before they remember, by the time they're knee-high they'll sail through, popping their bottle of juice into the see-through zip-up bag. Facing travel at an older age for the first can be full of terrors. I have a friend who agreed with the stay-at-home, worried crowd. When she first took her son on a plane, at the far too late age of four, he was terrified of the toilet. Every time it made the big swoosh noise, he thought he'd be sucked out into the sky. This fear lasted for years.

The surveyed families are also mistaken that it's best not to take their precious bundle too far. A few months after our Nice trip, I flew long-haul to Hong Kong with my daughter, who was by then four months old. That was even easier than her inaugural flight. It's the getting on and off that's the most hassle, and short-haul doesn't consist of much else. On long-haul, baby can settle down for the night, rocked to sleep by the turbulence. Back-of-seat screens entertain even small children. And as they get a bit older, an inflight meal - with all its tiny compartments to unwrap - keeps them occupied.

And if those surveyed think that as their children get older it's just going to get easier and easier, here's one warning: wait until they become teenagers. Then, you'll discover how difficult it really is to travel with children. Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae