Are you planning a long haul flight soon? After receiving lots of requests asking for advice on flying to Australia and New Zealand with kids, Sarah’s here to share her tips with us on how to manage those long haul flight stop overs with kids.
Qatar Airways has just launched the world’s longest non-stop flight, from the country’s capital Doha to Auckland, New Zealand – a trip that covers over 9000 miles and takes around 16 hours and 20 minutes on the outbound (longer on the return due to headwinds)
In my experience – and as an Australian who’s been in London for nearly 20 years, I’ve done a few long-hauls in my time! If you’re going to undertake such a whopping distance in one hit, there are far worse airlines on which you could do it than Qatar Airways: their service standards are phenomenal, even in economy class. And for all of us Kiwi and Aussie expats living in the UK who sometimes take the family home to spend quality time with relatives, it’s easy to feel torn between wanting to get there as quickly as possible vs. wanting to arrive feeling reasonably refreshed and able to hit the ground – if not running, then at least not staggering!
Pre-kids, I thought nothing of flying between Sydney and London, with nothing but a few miserable hours in an airport to break up the journey. But since having the children, I can’t imagine travelling that distance without a decent pause between flights – and Doha is an ideal place to adjust body clocks and recharge batteries. It’s perfectly well-equipped to welcome visitors, with its excellent range of hotels, exceptional food choices and high-class facilities – but not so packed full of ‘things to do’ and ‘must sees’ that you’ll feel frazzled by choice and FOMO. As far as kids are concerned, it also helps that the Qatari people are incredibly tolerant and warm towards children – you’re not likely to encounter raised eyebrows and snooty looks, although, of course, some cultural sensitivity needs to be demonstrated, especially in places like the Museum of Islamic Art, which houses a fantastic collection in an architecturally ‘wow’ space.
A wander around Souq Wasif is, despite its bustle, a relaxing way to spend a few hours – and children love the section devoted to pets, where their excited shrieks mingle with a cacophony of bird songs. Rabbits dressed in little jackets will either having you cooing with their sweetness or tutting with disapproval but in any case, they’re a spectacle that children seem to delight in. Falcons, too, have their own dedicated part of the souk: of massive cultural significance in Qatar, you can venture into shops where craftsmen fashion the tiny burqas worn by the birds, who sit quietly chained, some worth literally thousand of dollars. Nearby, stables house majestic Arabian horses who stretch over their doors to nuzzle at your shoulder – and, despite their worth, no one seems to mind if you wander around admiring them for a while.
Although the whole point of a stopover in Doha is supposed to be about the relaxing – we are talking about traveling with kids here, and for some reason kids seem to have different ideas about relaxing from us (what is that about?!!) – so allowing them to burn off plenty of energy is vital. Time in the pool will go a long way towards achieving this – our favourites are at the St Regis, The Westin and the Shangri-La – but when what they need is a rush of adrenaline to elate and then exhaust them, then Gulf Adventures are the people to call: they’ll collect you from your hotel in a 4WD, take you out to the desert and give you time for a camel ride while they deflate the vehicle’s tyres – and then take you on a roller coaster Dune Bashing adventure, driving at speed up and down near-vertical walls of sand. Keep the windows closed and fasten your seat-belts …
Another favourite route of ours is with Malaysian Airlines, via Kuala Lumpur, where a few nights at the Sama Sama hotel gives us a respite from travelling that’s so incredibly easy that it feels like cheating. The hotel is linked to the airport via a walkway, with buggies zipping back and forth between the two – so immediately, the children are in their element, leaning out at crazy angles as they try to high-five people travelling in the opposite direction.
There’s something about the term “airport hotel” that just immediately puts you – well, me, anyway – in the mind of somewhere characterless and a bit grim. Nothing could be further from the truth at the Sama Sama: the Malaysian humidity literally melts away as you enter the high-ceilinged, air conditioned opulence of the reception area, where huge floral arrangements and smiling staff make the airport seem miles, rather than metres, away. We’ve done the whistlestop version here – a single night stay, with just time for a swim in the glorious outdoor pool, a sumptuous and varied buffet breakfast and a horizontal sleep in a comfy bed – which definitely goes a long way towards making that huge journey more bearable, but if you have a day or two to spare, a few nights is absolutely the way to go.
The point isn’t to accomplish loads in the way of sightseeing but having said that, it’s easy enough to get to downtown Kuala Lumpur via the new Express Rail Link; alternatively the hotel can arrange transport. If nothing else, the Petronas Towers are well worth a visit for their splendid views over the city and skyline. Whilst meals within the hotel are relaxing, easy and delicious, authentic street food at the Night Market shouldn’t be missed. Closer by, there’s also the Mitsui Outlet Park – not that I’d usually put the term “retail therapy” in the same sentence as “with children”, but as they get older, it’s certainly becoming more enjoyable. Generally, though, we just hang out by the pool and make the most of the Sama’s Sama’s other five star leisure facilities – and the children never miss an opportunity to head downstairs to the ballroom and pick up the huge mallet accompanying the gong at the entrance. Fortunately the rooms are a few floors up so I don’t think we’ve ever disturbed anyone!
Some random musings now… obviously being able to travel between two homes is a privilege and it’s one that we don’t take for granted. I’m conscious sometimes that to even vaguely lament the ‘awfulness’ of a long haul flight in economy class with children sounds unspeakably and shamefully spoilt. So to add to, what is in fact, the luxury and freedom of seeing family in distant destinations by breaking up the journey with comfortable stopovers can halt me in my tracks for a reality check. I suppose, though, – as with anything – there are several ways of looking at it. We can’t afford to fly business class, nor to employ the services of The Air Nanny, so this is an alternative that has practical benefits, as well as just being more enjoyable. We have fun as a family, and we arrive at our destination ready to have even more fun. It’s easier on the children, and it’s nicer for those who are waiting anxiously to see them on the other side of the world. Living far away from ‘home’ isn’t easy; neither is long-distance travel with kids. If you can make those things a little easier on yourself, then I think: appreciate it, absolutely – but embrace it, too.
Written by, Sarah Rodrigues. Originally from Australia, Sarah is now settled in London with her English husband Dave and three children Phoenix, Cassian & Leon (plus the Zeus, the Greek rescue dog!) She travels as often as possible and writes between drop-offs and pick-ups. You can follow her on Instagram at @justtwenteen