Thursday, 10 January 2013

Child friendly travels? Woes of a travelling mother

When the holiday seasons set in especially Christmas, people world over gear themselves for travels in and outside the country to either join family and friends, set out for family vacations just to mention but a few. Those of us with young children however will realize that this is no easy task. As a Kenyan working in Liberia, I set off for a journey to Nairobi to join my family for the Christmas holiday accompanied by 2 sons (6years and 2 months old) as my husband was away on official duty.  Despite being a frequent traveller, It is only when one embarks on such long travels  by air with small children that you realize how child unfriendly airports are and how this heavily impacts on a mother as a care giver physically and emotionally.

To begin with, I realized that there is no check in counter for mothers with small children and therefore I had to queue up with my sons, the older one very playful and the youngest already hungry from our long drive to the airport. Those of us who come from countries in the global south know how ineffective and inappropriate our washrooms can be with no space for tending to a small child such as the change of diapers. So I have to crumble up in a corner and try changing the child lest I offend other passengers with the smell. Afterwards, I have to go through security check with the two children before getting to the boarding gate where my 6 year old is expected to remove his shoes, belt and any other metallic gadget; you understand what it means to dress up a 6 year old boy, lots of distraction.

Despite ordering for baby food and formulae milk during my booking, I realize whilst on the plane that the catering department did not load the aircraft with those that I requested for. Luckily enough I sneaked in some in my laptop bag which my baby can use halfway through the journey and I can only pray that he sleeps throughout the journey so that hunger pangs do not hit him much. Thankfully, the flight has some friendly bathrooms so changing my baby will not be a challenging task.

As I land in my home country, I realize that many other flights have landed especially from Europe as it is early morning and so we are at it again, long queues at the immigration and another 20 minutes waiting for luggage. There is no help for me as I try to load three huge bags, so my older son has to help with the baby, as I do it myself.  My older son will then have to push the baby in his pram as I push my trolley full of bags. Thank goodness, I spot my husband as we move out into the arrivals lobby.

Status quo in the transport system in Africa maybe maintained for a  long time to come, however, I have some tips that would be helpful for all women travelling all over the world. One, ask for help all the time, be it from the cabin crew, next seat passenger, police or guards at the airport, most of them, especially men are very empathetic and will help. Two, confirm your booking details with the airline for any special requests you requested , do it daily until a day prior to your travel, do not assume as you may be very surprised. Lastly, your older child, if travelling alone with the kids will be your partner throughout the journey so be a team player as well as a leader.

By Hellen Mala Owiti

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