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Flight Basics With Young Kids

1.  SNACKS: our arsenal generally looks something like this (when in ideal grocery scenarios) – a bag of Pirates Booty, two bags of a healthy varietal of gummy bears/fruit snacks, a few Lara/Clif Bars,  a few Sabra Hummus Dip and Pretzel combos, a kids water bottle to fill up on plane (especially important when traveling INTO the US, when you can’t bring ANY liquids aboard the plane), a small assortment of *emergency* provisions such as cookies, chocolate, and other non-healthy-kids’ll-be-stoked-on snacks (which often aren’t even broken into – but totally necessary as a back up plan).

2.  CAR SEATS:  after traveling on a few trans-Pacific flights with car seats, I’m a FIRM believer in using them for kids under 5 on long distance flights (don’t get me wrong, I’m still an ergo on the back, backpack on the front minimalist when it comes to shorter trips).  It gives them their own space, prevents the inevitable sleeping riga-ma-roll (and allows YOU to even get some shut eye, imagine that!), and enables you to contain them/strap them in safely (emphasis on the containment aspect).  We have two that are used expressly for this purpose and can surely also be used if renting a car on the other side (though they’re cheap and not the absolute safest, they’re still better than the crap, barely legal seats most rental agencies provide).

My main concern with using them has been the bulkiness.  I am a MINIMALIST when it comes to travel gear.  I’ve learned, however, that you can make your stroller do the work.  Our seats fit PERFECTLY stacked on top of one another, in the front seat of our Phil and Teds Vibe (with doubles kit), and the front stroller seat is still totally useable (with child in top car seat).  They honestly haven’t been a hassle at all, so much that on our last trip from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I easily navigated through the airport, by myself, with the kids (and all of our sh&%).

3.  iPad/iPhone/other electronic device + kid friendly headphones:  while the part of me who was CERTAIN I’d never be that parent who bought a car with a DVD player hates to say it, this is an ESSENTIAL part of a successful flight with young kids.  And DO NOT rely on the airline headphones – they are too big and end up being a huge pain in the ass (and may even make you wish you HADN’T brought the iPad).  We have a pair of Incase Reflex’s (they’re on super sale on Incase’s website right now too!) and a pair of Harman Kardon AKG’s (which are on the pricier side and aren’t at all necessary, unless Mom and Dad want an excuse to buy a new pair of headphones).

4.  Kids Activities:  we fill my daugher’s backpack with a handful of crayons/colored pencils (avoid markers if you don’t want to end up over-reacting to a mark somewhere it doesn’t belong, 10 hours into the flight, patience exhausted, bombs firing), a notebook for each kid, a handful of legos, 3-5 small paperback books, a handful of moving toy vehicles and animal figurines.  I think that having her wear her stuff through the airport and our journey is a good exercise in responsibility and general wherewithall for her.  Buying 1 new toy for each child, especially at the airport if you can stomach the prices, will buy you some quality play time/peace when flying.

5.  Sleep Aids:  my view on giving the kids a dose of Benadryl on the plane is that it’s not worth it.  It *might* get you an hour or two more of sleep, which I honestly have yet to experience (yes, we’ve tried it), but you also risk having doped up kids when you land and are trying to disembark off the plane.  In the end, your flight WILL end and if you’ve traveled somewhere far, it’s the jet-lag that’s going to exhaust you (so save the sleep aids for when you REALLY need them).

I just experienced the EASIEST 14 hour flight yet with our 2 and our 4 year old, all by myself.  Don’t let flying intimidate you; even if it is the hardest 14 hours of your life, it’s ONLY 14 hours of your life, right?

Let’s travel!

Sometimes, You Just HAVE To Resort To Yoohoo

Or, if you’re in Malaysia, Milo.  At least I think the two are one of the same.  Fake chocolate, faux milk, full of crap drink marketed to kids.  Same, same… right?  Good old nestle has a STRONG hold on Malaysia, so much that on an hour and a half hopper flight, Milo was one of three drink choices.  The first time it was offered, I thought to myself, “well, what’s the harm with this one time, especially when the result of which will ensure a mellow flight?”.  When we reached for one, as an alternative to the Nestle crap ice cream bars offered at our jungle lodge, I began to feel guilty.  When I stashed two boxes of it in my bag on our return flight, I felt remorse.

That’s one aspect of traveling with kids that is a DEFINITE challenge: not giving in to treats and media that you normally wouldn’t allow… all in the name of peace and sanity.

A small trade-off, I suppose.  What their bodies are sacrificing in health, their brains are gaining in rich experiences.  When trips are relatively short (especially in places where healthy alternatives are hard to find), it’s a drop in the bucket.  I do often think about what our landscape would look like were we to take an extended (6 months or longer) trip with the kids.  How do perpetually traveling families do it?  Is there an ice cream bar at the end of EVERY long journey?

16 Time Zones Away with Toddlers: A Tutorial

Traveling half way around the earth generally wreaks havoc on the ol’ circadium rhythm.  The beauty of being a brain-washed adult is that we’re able to trick ourselves into believing that we’re tired at 4 o’clock in the morning, when our body is telling us it’s actually time for supper (or a cocktail).  The effing hard part about being an adult traveling with toddlers is that for the love of god, their pure minds aren’t so tricky.  SO, at 2:45am, after only sleeping for 4 hours, forget trying to negotiate.  If you don’t, you’ll end up all shades of irritated (forgive me, I am, begrudgingly, in the middle of the last installment of Fifty Shades of NO PLOT – damn trilogies, I just HAVE to finish them), ready to throw said child off the balcony.  Just give up, give em’ your phone and a snack, hell, give em’ the whole bag of cookies, and let them entertain themselves while you get busy tricking your body that it’s actually supposed to be asleep.  JET LAG, oh, JET LAG, the trickiest and most important part of this tutorial.  Please, read on.

Here goes, my best (albeit a bit sarcastic) attempt at keeping the family sane while skipping over large bodies of water or swaths of land and thus TOTALLY and UTTERLY throwing off any semblage of a routine you had where you came from.

1. Flight Preparation:  movies and sugar.  It’s quite simple, really.  A 14 hour flight can be broken down into 5 movies, 3 packages of Annie’s fruit snacks, a bag of Surf Sweets sour gummy worms, 4 strawberry apple sauce pouches, and all the Knott’s Berry Farm airline cookies you can muster.  Forget the carrot sticks and nut pate at home, folks.  This is about 14 hours of survival.  Don’t feel too guilty, I’m pretty sure that kids can fully survive off of sugar and wheat (sure they may grow up as diabetics with extreme wheat allergies, but who can worry about long term health when momentary survival is of concern?).  You know, it’s also worth CONSIDERING procuring a car seat to trap the child in while they feast on said flight prep.  I’m ALL about minimal travel gear, seriously you guys.  HOWEVER, on our last trip over the pacific, I may have sold myself on the idea of car seat airplane travel for long flights.  And if you get the crap seats (ours were EvenFlo – yup, it turns out they make baby bottles AND car seats – Tributes), weighing in at a hefty 9 pounds a piece (and probably super safe), they’re worth lugging through the airport.

2. Don’t allow for too many hours of peaceful airplane sleep.  I’ve theorized and analyzed and experimented with exactly how much and at what time is best for the wee ones to sleep in order to best adjust to the time change and I think that the answer is that it doesn’t really matter, so long as they arrive plenty tired.  That, AND, the reality is, MOST kids are going to take a few days, if not more, to adjust, no matter how much you try to trick their little brains.  For this reason, see #3 and #4.

3. Save the Benadryl/safe non-chemical cocktail alternative, for arrival, 16 time zones later:  if you prep smart for the flight (and you have super awesome kids like I do), your biggest concern is honestly the fact that when you arrive, bleary eyed and exhausted, that your toddler(s) will be ready to have a jump fest on the sacred flat surface (bed) you’ve been dreaming of for what’s now nearing 24 hours of travel.  You can go about this one of two ways:  a) you can dope em up for a local on-time bed-time and HOPE they actually sleep for more than 4 hours OR you can b) save the melatonin/magnesium for 3 o’clock in the morning, when their body is like “hey, SELF, it’s 11am and you should be running like a banche through the park” and you’re like “hey, body of my child, SHUT YOUR BLOODY MOUTH, it’s 3am and you NEED TO BE SLEEPING STILL!”

4. Repeat #2 for as many nights as your little monster requires.  For our big little person, this barely necessitates 1 night.  For our smaller little person, adjustment takes up to a week (he really commits himself to just about everything, including his circadium rhythm).

5. Keep the important stuff in an intuitive place… one that your sleep deprived, super jet lagged self will be able to place at 4am when your diaper wearing toddler turns up wet or out of nowhere wakes up blazing and needs tylenol/belladonna.

6. Make sure you bring the flavor of the day stuffed friend and a cozy blanket.  My four year old has never had a problem adjusting to new sleeping environments; I like to think it’s at least partly due to the fact that we’ve always brought her familiar sleeping sitch with her.  The 2 year old on the other hand… well… we kinda screwed up with that one, but I’ll save that for another day.

7.  Don’t make plans past 6pm for the first few days.  Especially if you’re like us and you run your kids into the ground being out and about ALL day, causing a crap stroller nap and thus, a child who is literally only capable of staring at a television screen past 5pm.  I’m no advocate of TV stimulus in small children, but dude, in times such as these, it’s just the most appropriate tool, for the sake of everyone involved.

8. Remember that you AND the kids are feeling the looped up jet lag.  So, give little Suzie a break when she whines because the bumps on her socks are just unacceptable.  And more than that, give yourself a break when your first reaction is to scream at her.  One day at a time, things are going to get better.

Follow these steps and I’m hoping that you’ll be ready to take another long-distance adventure very soon.  Though, I make no guarantees.  You’ll know you’ve failed when you arrive at 8pm, your kid (in my case, a 2 year old) finally falls asleep at 11:30pm only to wake up 3 hours later, stays awake for the next four hours (causing your head to nearly explode) and ends up locked inside the hotel bathroom (which may or may not have been a result of your frustration – the bathroom part, not the locked door part), where you have to coach him, while he’s belligerently crying, to get it opened again.  If you do, and you very well may, don’t be too hard on yourself, you’ll have joined the ranks of myself and millions of other jet-lagged parents.  It’s no science, probably not even an art form, but it’s all part of the journey… and it’s worth it.