Traveling with kids: travel hacks for moms on the move

Thando Moleketi-Williams and Shiela Ho share their best and worst experiences when travelling with their little ones

by  Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine

Every mom remembers the first time they boarded a flight with their kids. Entrepreneur and stay-at-home mom Thando Moleketi-Williams, 36, says she took one-year-old Bathandwa on his first flight when he was five months old.  He’s now a seasoned flyer, with just under 20 local and international flights under his … nappy.

Thirty-three-year-old model and café owner Shiela Ho says she first flew with three-and-a-half-year-old Ethan, when he was five months old too.

Both share their worst experiences in transit with Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine.

Shiela says on their most recent trip to Bali with Ethan and one-and-a-half-year-old Kira, she didn’t pack enough formula. Add to that, the kids didn’t like the food there. “I knew it would be difficult, but I never would have imagined that my kids would be that hungry at night and need double the amount of milk as a result.

“On our flight back, we were literally on the last two bottles. It’s the absolute worst knowing all your child wants to do is drink milk and you just don’t have enough to feed them. Next time I know to pack triple the amount of formula. I would also recommend spreading it around into all your various luggage because you never know if and when you will get separated from your luggage,” she says.

Thando says Bathandwa needed a nappy change while they were waiting for their delayed flight from JFK to London. The flight was taxiiing on the runway and they were all belted up anticipating takeoff so they couldn’t move. “In the 30 minutes that was followed by slight turbulence Bathandwa was getting grumpier sitting in his own mess. I eventually took the risk and went to change him even though the seatbelt lights were on … plus the flight attendants were moving around in the cabin so I felt braver. I now know to always keep the nappy bag at my feet so I can change baby on my lap if I need to.

Praying not to get seated next to a parent flying with a baby is always a serious joke among seasoned travellers and despite now being on the other side Thando says, “I still feel very much the same. Trust me; it’s far worse for the parent than it is for other passengers.”

Shiela is the opposite but confessed to getting very annoyed when kids used to cry a lot on flights she was on. “I used to travel quite a lot before I became a mom,” she says. “Since becoming a mom I understand that it’s not in your power, but you can make it more pleasant and easier for not only the baby and yourself, but for everyone too.”

So, the question is how do you to it? Both Thando and Shiela agree that it’s all about what you pack and how you prepare to entertain baby.

“I prepare snacks at home, pack his favourite toys (a rattle, a bunny, a car, and a peek-a-boo toy) and books to read to him. And now that he’s a bit older, I’ll start adding activity sticker books. But in all honesty, the buttons on the handsets and arm sets, as well as the head, sets also keep him pretty occupied,” says Thando.

“I usually make a bag filled with toys for each of my little ones for when they get tired of the onboard entertainment program. Also, just for back-up, my husband and I make sure our phones are fully charged so the kids can play games on them.”

We asked Thando and Shiela to answer the questions they often get asked by moms traveling with young ones for the first time.


What items do you never travel without?

Thando: Ergo Baby Omni 360 carrier, meals and snacks including water; antibacterial wipes; a fully stocked nappy bag that includes the basics plus sunscreen, teething gel, Bepanthen, a wet bag to store wet clothes, a change of clothes, sun hat and swaddle; sample sizes of baby’s bath-time products; NoseFrida snot sucker, medication; and a change of clothes for the parents/caregiver.

Shiela: spare pacifiers, milk (more-than-enough formula), spare clothes in case of an accident, nappies, wipes, a sanitary bag, and their favourite stuffed animal to cuddle.

What suitcase do you use for the kids?

Thando: I have a four-wheeler that I can maneuver with one hand. It’s also lightweight so you can lift it off the conveyor belt with a baby in a carrier.

Shiela: Hands-down the Samsonite Cosmolite family. The quality is exquisite (we travel often) and it’s super light. The kids have their favourite, themed luggage plus a Happy Sammie backpack for each. The integrated TSA lock is also convenient because we’ve lost so many locks in the past.


Top travel hack?

Thando: “Especially on international flights, always do a fresh nappy change just before landing (between 20 and 10 minutes). Just take your time and be methodical about your approach when going through security checks.” Read her Instagram post for more detail.

Shiela: “We use our hand luggage (Samsonite Cosmolite) as a leg rest for our son when he’s going to sleep.”


What’s the one thing you wish airlines would change or implement for parents traveling with kids?

Thando: “Certain international airlines request that parents with young kids board along with assisted passengers before all the other passengers board. This allows us to get settled without having the pressure of someone behind you grazing your butt as you try to pack luggage away while keeping a baby settled. I wish this was a standard for all local and international flights.

Shiela: More entertainment – beyond the screen – for the kids.


Most child-friendly airport?

Thando: Hong Kong airport with all the travellators, that make the walk feel lighter. Any airport with trains between terminals is a blessing for tired feet.

Shiela: Singapore Airport (and Airlines). When I traveled alone with my son, the flight attendant helped me a lot by taking him while I used the washroom. The airport has a garden, indoor jungle gyms, a butterfly garden, a futuristic slide and the biggest indoor fountain called Jewel.

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