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It's a small world, The National, 30.06.2009

Abu Dhabi mothers offer up their tips for journeying long-distance with the little ones this summer. Jo Wadham reports

Summer is irrefutably here. If you are lucky enough to have somewhere cooler to escape to, now is the time to go. The only thing lying between you and a cup of tea in your mum’s garden is the flight. For many, it’s a gruelling, six-hour-plus endurance challenge, trying to keep your children amused in a space no bigger than a small wardrobe. Rather than attempting to fit the contents of the Early Learning Centre in your carry-on bag, consider setting each child up with a Trunki. Famously dismissed by the venture capitalists on the UK TV show Dragons’ Den, the Trunki has gone on to revolutionise travelling with children. This colourful suitcase is designed to be pulled along – and ridden on – by children, but it is also the perfect size to pop in the overhead locker. You can now buy a little padded saddlebag for your Trunki (complete with stirrups), which doubles up as a shoulder bag and a drink holster.

Having successfully herded your offspring on to the plane, now all you have to do is keep them amused. Easy. Most seats come with personal entertainment systems and a huge range of films, TV shows and games. But pity the poor parent who relies on that entertainment system working and has no back-up plan. I spoke to the mums at the St Andrew’s Mother and Toddler Group in Abu Dhabi to get their travel tips.

Boryana Bitar, Bulgarian, a former member of Emirates Airline’s cabin crew. She is currently on extended maternity leave following the birth of Christian, now one.Just carry a small bag with the most necessary things in it: diapers, two changes of clothes (because you never know…), food and lots of water so the baby does not dehydrate on the plane. Put all the rest in the hold. On Emirates flights we have pretty much everything on-board except clothes: diapers, food, baby bottles, rattles, toys and colouring books for the bigger kids. There is also powdered milk and medication for kids too.

Annalisa Clarke, British, has three-year-old twins, Avianna and Evangelina. She has lived in the UAE for 19 years. LittleLife back packs. The children wear them and they have a strap at the back that you can tuck away when you are not using it. Then you can control them in crowds. The children wear them whenever we go out now. If you are potty-training, get hold of a Pottette [a collapsible potty with disposable liners made by Tommee Tippee] or a Toodle Loo [also made by Tommee Tippee], which is like a toilet seat cover and stops them getting their hands dirty on the toilet seats in planes.

Felicity Pick, British, mother of Sophie, four, Jasmine, two, and Charlie, three months. She is about to take her last flight back to the UK after living here for nine years. If your baby is in a good routine it really helps them get over jet lag. We recently took a 20-hour flight with a 10-hour time difference, but if they know that after bath, it’s bedtime, they adjust better. You spend the journey adjusting and as soon as you get there, you try to fit in with the new time.

Also, take a baby carrier like a BabyBjorn. They are really handy when you have a very long walk from the plane to collect the luggage, like at Heathrow.

Louise Davidson, British, mother of Kieran, two, and Josh, five. She arrived in the UAE a month ago and is flying on her own with the children in August. Fuzzy felts. They don’t make any noise but they are good to keep them busy. You can buy ones related to TV programmes; I have the Thomas the Tank Engine ones. They love them.

For toddlers, try to get their car seat on the flight. Some airlines will let you. Certainly at the age of two, the airline seats are too big. If they are in a car seat, they sleep so much better.

Jay Davies, British, mother of Mia, two and a half. She has recently taken a long-haul flight and is staying in the UAE this summer. Last time we travelled we made Mia a home cinema. We made a sort of tent. We put a blanket over the top of her seat and draped it over the seat in front, which was empty, so it was dark. She found it very exciting and it kept her quiet for an hour or so.

Trunkis are great too – you don’t need to worry about a pushchair. When you are travelling on your own, and the buggy doesn’t come out till you get to the bags, which can be a long walk, they can just sit on the Trunki and ride it.

Laura Dempsey, mother to Belinda, three, and Alex, nearly two. She is expecting her third child in four weeks so will not be going anywhere this summer. The lollipop trick. I know it’s not great for their teeth but it really helps when you are going on a plane. You just give them a lollipop and they are quiet. It’s also good when you want them to stay with you at the airport.

Take a portable DVD player. Then you are not waiting on the plane for them to start the films and you can take your own films. Take a big pile of books. Travel-size Etch-a-Sketch are handy and not messy. Also, AquaDraw pens make no mess.

Axelle Bouleau, French, mother to Thomas, seven, Anna, five, and Gabriel, 22 months. She arrived in Abu Dhabi five weeks ago on a 16-hour flight from Texas. The older children have each got a Nintendo DS, but the planes now have such a wide selection of games that you don’t need them so much.

For Gabriel, I try not to break his routine. I make sure I have a little snack for when the plane lands and takes off. When they have to sit on your lap, a little pot of Cheerios will keep them busy.

Tanya Beresford, British, mother to Dexter, 13 months. She has lived in the UAE for two months but before that lived in Shanghai and is used to long-haul flights. Try to schedule a night flight and always pack more nappies and food than you think you will need. Bring some kind of comfort blanket – something that smells of home. Be super-organised and plan for every eventuality. I take Calpol and teething powder in sachets. Always take a spare pair of clothes for the baby but also for you as well.

Jane Williams, Australian, mother to Dinny, 18 months, and Bella, four. She still remembers her trip across from Australia to the UAE in October. Food is the way to go. Keep them well fed and have plenty of snacks. Take them for walks up and down the aisle. It annoys people in the aisle seats, but you’ve got to do it. Oh, and keep in mind that it is going to end.

Magdalena Littrup-Fiil, Czech, mother to William, 19 months. She is flying to Prague next month.

Feed the baby properly – not sugary snacks that will make them hyper, but proper meals, filling things. And take some new toys.

Lorraine Roberts, British, mother to Scarlett, three, and Jude, one. We wrap up lots of little presents and give them one every hour. Things like a dolly, a packet of crayons, or a book. Also give them something that takes a long time to eat, such as popcorn or dried cornflakes. And don’t forget your portable DVD player.

St Andrew’s Mother and Toddler Group meets from 9.30-11.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at St Andrew’s Church Hall in Abu Dhabi. Find them on Facebook: St Andrew’s Mother and Toddler Group Abu Dhabi.

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