Monday, January 31, 2011

Planning For Long, Long [Plane] Trips With Kids

"And that's the wonderful thing about family travel: it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind." ~ Dave Barry

In the space of less than three months I am going to be flying over approximately 95 hours (those are hours in the air, not in between) with my two kids. And that is if there are no hiccups or hassles (which there ended up being.) I have been collecting tipsadvice, ideas (pretty cool), links (the comments on that one are gold), horror-story warnings (ugh) and thinking back to the many cross-Atlantic trips I have done myself.

(And aren't all of our moms rockstars when we become one ourselves?! My mom travelled so much with me and my brother.)

Recently we had a three flights (including a cross-Atlantic one from Africa) that were supposed to take just under 24 hours to get us home. They ended up taking just under three days. We had multiple delays and cancellations, we had to be put up in airport hotels twice in the middle of the night and we dealt with a case of horrible food poisoning (my poor husband) mid-flight.

I am super thankful for my kids' ages; I've done some flying with them when they were younger and these trips now are a lot less daunting. (No diapers, no soothers, no strollers. Whew. That was a whole different planning process. My daughter is on the look-out for young babies and toddlers in airports now to try to help their mamas when she can. In one 4.5 hour wait in line she and my son played with a toddler, while the mother balanced her newborn and all her luggage. It helped all of us!)

Never the less, that's a lot of miles to keep the wiggles and melt-downs at bay at any age. (Mine included.)

Comfort, preparedness and distraction are the name of the game for me. Here are some things I am doing to help my seven and nine year old with our long trips:

1. Entertainment

I got these for the plane (really fun), a bunch of books they haven't read yet (I wrapped everything as a present - to be rationed out over the hours - as surprises), a brand new sketchpad each with these, this game, and was given this one by family friends who swear by it for long plane rides. (My son absolutely loves it!)

I also got some of these for take offs and landings (we find the chewing and swallowing helps more than just chewing gum or sucking on a lolli-pop). And I am not adverse to using children's NyQuil or Benadryl to help them sleep on long night flights. (Just make sure they don't get hyperactive from it which can happen for mine with NyQuil. )

I got the soundtrack songs from a movie we recently saw (and loved) to load up on my eldest's iPod with new songs. We get play-aways from our library for them to listen to books on. We make sure both kids have comfortable ear-buds to travel with. We bring extra batteries for everything. And some fun drawing/activity/sticker books.

After that I tell them they are in charge of not whining. And that they are in charge of their own entertainment, it's going to be super long, could be boring, but it will be really fun, too.

2. Necessities

I pack an empty water bottle (to fill after security), fresh jammies and clothes (I use layers and inter-matching things to pack less), toothbrushes and undies, lots of snacks and we order meals for their preferences ahead of time for on the plane (along with bringing some sandwiches and more filling food, too. Hungry kids are miserable kids, right?)

I go to the Dollar Store to get packets of glow necklaces and bracelets (for both car and plane trips) for when it gets dark or the lights go out. We also pack headlamps so they can read whenever they want and cheap (try Walgreens) fleece blankets that I don't care if they get trashed/stained.

We pack chapsticks, purell, gum, wetwipes, lotion for dry air on planes, extra hair bands, band aids, children's motrin, tissues, cozy sweaters and smaller pillows - all where they can grab them in a zip-loc. I bring chapter books I can read out loud to them, sharpened pencils, extra ziplocs (big ones are good to keep handy for queasiness and trash bags,) small packets of nuts or homemade trailmix (protein) and movies for the laptop (and chargers.) I also carry epi-pens, so I make sure they are labeled with their name and Rx.

We pack as though our checked-in luggage may get lost for a few days. (All necessities in their carry-ons, but still as light as possible since they carry their own. They have rolling back-packs now and those are worth every penny for travel.)

3. Safety

We practice going through security and airplane safety a lot ahead of time. I field all their questions at home and then the rule is no questions at the airport until we are out of security. So far they have only been treated with kindness and patience. I am praying for more of the same. (You can definitely tell that security people have recently been trained in emphasizing courtesy and patience with children at passport control in certain airports. They had new "tricks" for making it more kid-friendly and I was thankful.)

I do "pretend" pat-downs with them ahead of time (yes, they have had them) and remind them why they are done, what they can do if they feel scared or unsafe. My personal theory is more info up-front makes things less scary in the moment.

I do a "pretend" walk-through of security with them, walking through the line, taking off our shoes, checking our pockets, not asking questions right then, listening well, saying yes sir/ma'am, putting our bags on the conveyor belt, walking through the scanner behind me so I am always ahead of them and available to be there for them.

We also talk and talk and talk some more about all the details that we know ahead of time. It helps them to feel included and prepared. And I tell them when to make sure they should go the bathroom - before security and on the plane when they smell food cooking - because once those trollies are in the aisles, or we are in line, it can be a long wait!

4. Survival 

When there is any place to move/walk/jump, we do it.

Lots of airports have hidden away playgrounds and rooms I try to google ahead of time. When there aren't, or when they are just fried, I try to give them my full attention (reading to them, hand holding etc.) We also capitalize on the fun of planes and travel and people-watching like crazy. I try to make each trip a learning experience as much as possible, but too much of that can make them a bit heavy on the eye-rolling.

So I've learned that most important is my attitude: they have my care, my attention and my help. And we choose to love adventure and be consciously thankful for the opportunity to travel as a family. It's a gift!

If I am in a plane where each seat has a seat-back TV monitor and our seat-mates have chosen to watch movies that are scary to my kids (yes, seats next to you can watch rated R movies), then I have no problem draping blankets and stuffing pillows into seat-cracks either to help my kids not see violent murders and/or vampires dripping blood from fangs that strangers are watching. (True story.)

Lastly, for me. I carry an over-the-body bag (messenger style bag) with one-hand access to all I need (boarding passes, passports etc), a book for me when the kids are occupied, a charged up small camera, a self-care kit for me (toiletries and feel-good things.) I pack a mega-sized water bottle (empty) because I will be taking them to the bathroom a ton anyways and I might as well be hydrated, too. I make sure I have all my just-in-cases on hand, too (migraine meds, lady things ... every trip is different and you never know what you'll need that could turn into a big deal.)

My biggest lesson so far has been create expectation for delight, plan for exhaustion. If I am expecting fun, my kids tend to. If I am prepared to take care of them, they feel it.

If you have any tips for me, I would love to hear them, too!

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien


km said...

I wish the most EXTRAORDINARY and FUN travels!!! You are beyond prepared--- I bet it will be a breeze! :)

Jennifer Jo said...

So WHERE are you going next?

Hi I'm Sarah said...

We discovered that one of our everyday habits of having a quiet play time during the day where they are limited to a space and a toy to play, was a huge benefit to travel and learning how to occupy yourself with limited means. The boys have special toys for this quiet two hours which are only played with then. They have designated spots and must be quiet in their play. When we travel, they already are prepared for limitations and how to use wisely quiet times. I never planned this as a strategy but we realized after one of our trips that that had certainly given them the practice to be a good traveler.
I love your fun ideas! Thanks for sharing them.

Misha Leigh. said...

Sarah - We said the exact same thing!

Jennifer Jo - New Zealand. My husband's folks are using airline miles to bring us all down - my kids have never been to their "other homeland" nor have they met any of their family there. It's is a very special trip for our family!

KM - Thank you!

Jessica said...

These are great suggestions- and sounds so exciting!!

Donna said...

Great suggestions, all. I have 4 kids and we do loads of international travelling because we're in the Foreign Service, so I think I've tried all of your tricks.

I wrap everything: small toys, lollipops, packs of sugarless gum, new boxes of crayons, small books, etc, to parcel out over time. My oldest kids now have Nintendos, and I usually get them each a new game when we have a really long trip ahead of us. Last summer we flew first from Beijing to Seattle, and later from DC to the middle east, so I spent way too much money on Nintendo games. But it was so worth it - especially when we were delayed for 8 hours in DC, then rerouted through Frankfurt and delayed for another 12 hours! Ouch.

Heather B said...

We are about to embark (oh, that is the appropriate word I guess, since it is by plane!) on our first real travel adventure with our 15 month old. I am not sure which of these ideas in your blog are good for the younger set.

I am thinking --introduce him to crayons for the first time? Pack a gift box with a few new (or not recently seen) items? --he loves opening boxes and closing them. And bring a few trinkets like a bottle with a screw cap, a margarine container with a slit in the top for putting pennies into....

hmm...I guess I have more ideas than I thought.

Thanks for prompting me to give this some brain time and planning time.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

This is the best traveling with kids post I've ever read!! Thanks!

Desiree said...

Very plainly put! I loved your post so much I am referring to it when my kids and I fly this summer!!

nopinkhere said...

Love your tips about going through security (practicing and especially no questions until we're through). I am also a firm believer in planning for your checked bags to disappear. Since our gate-checked car seats got lost one time, we always take the seat and booster on the plane. The booster has to go in the overhead.