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10 Tidbits for Tumultuous Toddler Travel

Like anything in life, the more you practice the better you get.  Even flying with kids gets easier the more you hone your practice.   While most of these things are intuitive, I think that I’ve picked up some tricks along the way.  On our last Hong Kong-San Francisco flight, I compiled the following list:

  1. If you’re careful about ripping open the blanket bag at the top, you can reuse the bag for garbage.
  2. On long international flights, they come by twice with a drink service within the first two hours and then not again for another 5 hours or so.  Ask for red wine at both passes and save for when you really need them – 6 hours in, tired kids, achy knees and a serious case of cabin fever.
  3. Snacks like pistachios are GOLDEN for toddlers – opening them takes time, so you get at least four times the benefit.
  4. iPods for the kids, iPads are too large.
  5. Bring baby wipes – even if your toddler is long out of diapers – there WILL be a juice spill or a dirty face, or better yet, a pee incident.
  6. Look at the seatbelt light before you promise a walk about.
  7. Change diapers standing up on top of toilet seat – don’t mess around with the table for kids who can walk.
  8. The little cups in the bathrooms make for great toys (but are wasteful, so let’s limit this activity) and have the potential of making a cabin-fevered tot a happy-water-filling-and-pouring tot.  And it’s fun to see how many people you can cram into the bathroom.
  9. Use earbuds for yourself so that you can still halfway watch a movie while listening for AND attending to the little’s needs/constant whining (you can keep just one earbud in).
  10. On a long flight with kids coming into the US, where you’re not allowed to bring on water  – ask for an entire bottle of water – some flight attendants will roll their eyes at you, but it’s def worth it.  Oh, and bring smaller [spill proof] water containers to fill up.

Deep Thoughts at 35,000 Feet

Despite what you may think, traveling for 14 hours over an ocean with a 2.5 and a 4.5 year old, solo, really isn’t all that stressful.  In fact, I was even able to think private thoughts.  PRIVATE thoughts.  Not only that, but I had the time to type them up on my phone, finger-peckingly-slow and all.

You see, I engage in what I call cheat travel.  And only a few supplies are required.

1) An iPod for each would-otherwise-be-squealing child.

2) Age appropriate headphones per iPod.

3) LOTS and LOTS of snacks.

4) A car seat for each headphone wearer under 5.

And what you get folks, is time to actually watch Will Ferrell do stupid shit on the teeny tiny airplane screen AND to think.  Feeling guilty watching other parents walk the aisles with their children, I even offered to go on a plane adventure more than once but NO! Mom, I’m cool – did you SEE that I’m using my iPod right now?  Oh and I should mention that a key part of this recipe is saving the holy iPod for use ONLY in situations that desperately call for it – such as a 14 hour flight (and perhaps, shorter late night flights and long bus rides and car rides and in a nice restaurant) – my point is that it must be kept sacred.

Mostly, the flight proceeded smoothly.  Below are a few musings, cataloged into my phone during the flight and cut and pasted here [and rainbow colored] for your reading enjoyment.

All was going as planned until the somewhat recently toilet-trained toddler woke up abruptly from his nap, because of PEE!!, and then proceeded to pee all over me and my seat (and later my bag – back spray) before successfully (mostly, save the back spray) releasing his flow into an empty water bottle that the universe had not found a garbage for at the airport (he was in the window seat with a sleeping sister in the aisle – lucky mommy in the middle with an overflowing tray table – so getting out fast enough was NOT an option).

What’s up with United giving peeps in first class an extra safety strap?  If you pay more, we’ll keep you safer?

Why do I always end up with the seat with the broken recline (and I’m not even going to mention the broken, sagging into my knee seat pocket)?  And a pissy princess in front of me, reclined [with a huff] to the max?

In an inconceivable way, I kind of like the very forced intimate time you’re made to spend with your kids on a long flight – but on second thought, maybe it’s because they are watching movies and eating sugar the whole time, so they’re a hell of a lot sweeter.

Interesting fact about me:  most often as we’re taking off, I actually rehearse our  last moments were the plane to crash.  It’s not an act filled with anxiety but more that I would want to be as at peace as possible, so in some morbid way, I want to have it planned.  I don’t like to be in control… nope, not. at. all.

WHY does United consistently show the only kids movie of the flight last – when it’s 9pm for them and they only have three hours left to get some much needed shut eye?!  Come on, it’s a HUGE deal.  Nearly ruined the last quarter of my flight experience.

The End.

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.