Over the past ten years we've done our fair share of long haul flights with the kids. Through trial and error, I've come to discover what it takes to set our family up for success. Here are some tried and tested ideas to relieve stress and effectively get your family from A to B via airplane:
Get a grip on your own travel anxiety...
If the idea of flying with your kids makes your heart race and your palms drip with sweat, try a few (or all) of these childcare-friendly ways to relax yourself:
a) Abuse lavender, eucalyptus or any other relaxing essential oil. Put it in a small roll-on or mini spray bottle. Sniff it like a drug and you will reap the benefits. Breeeeeathe in the calm. Releeeeeease the stress.
b) Consume 1 or 2 glasses of wine (or the beverage of your choice). White wine or light colored bevies are ideal in case they get spilled.
Note* the effect of just one glass of wine is quite remarkable.
c) Make: "Fake it 'til you make it" your motto. Knowing that the kids are watching and taking cues from you can help you stay calm. I find shouting "woo hooooooo" or "weeeeeee," as we bounce around during turbulence, somewhat effective. If your face and your words exude "good times." then the kids won't worry and when the kids are cool, half the battle has been won.
Put yourself in flight mode...
If you are flying with kids between the ages of 1 and 2.5, plan for it to be quite full-on. You aren't likely to be catching the latest film or reading any novels but you never know! I've been caught before with some time to myself and no book or magazine to read because I'd dismissed the possibility.
Here are a few ideas to help get your head into flight mode:
d) Prepare yourself mentally for very little reprieve but have a magazine or book so you can live it up if you do score a break.
e) Let go of the idea that that meals need to be eaten in their entirety. Let the kids graze. We all know that plane food isn't always very tasty and tummies are sometimes unsettled when flying.
f) Be flexible with nap time. You can try to encourage naps with a cuddle and a story but in my experience babies and toddlers will try very hard not to sleep. They'll fade a bit, rest their heads, and then a burst of energy comes from nowhere and they're playing peak-a-boo with the people behind you. Try not to stress. It tends to go in waves so just ride the energy wave with them, trying to keep them content and entertained along the way. They usually just flop without warning and then they're out like a light.
Pack your carry-ons to ensure that "good times" can be had...
Get your kids their own carry-on with wheels. For toddlers and young children, just put a few things in there (i.e. a book, a snack, and a favorite soft toy or blanket). Let them make the most of what's in their carry-on before unleashing the items in your secret stash, which can be kept in your own bag.
A backpack is ideal as it keeps your hands free. And, as we parents know, two hands aren't even enough so don't waste one carrying or pulling a case. Imagine the flight as a very, very long play session and make the most out of each activity.
Here are some items and ideas to keep the kids entertained:
g) an empty sticker book to fill with a variety of easy to peel stickers to put in it
h) coloring/activity books
i) printed coloring pages from the internet
j) "Special pictures" which simply involves taking plain paper or printed pictures and mounting them onto colored construction paper. The idea is that they can become gifts for people when you arrive at your destination
k) crayons (or markers if your kids are older)
l) stencils and shapes to trace
m) a lap tray with a beanbag bottom is very useful for toddlers (and even pre-schoolers) as they can't easily reach the plane trays
n) a few take-out containers, the rectangular ones, to put crayons, stencils, and stickers in (this prevents you from having to climb around searching for things under seats. It also decreases some of the giant mess that will accumulate around your feet)
o) letter paper, envelopes & post cards for older kids to write to their friends
p) lined notebooks for story writing
r) snacks (we even pack sandwiches in case the kids don't like the food) Note* Make sure to order kids' meals online
s) technology (get your ipad loaded with new movies, games, and Baby Einsteins etc.)
t) Dollar Store treasures (ie. a mini tea set is fun for little dolls to use, foam letters, or farm animals can go inside a cloth bag for babies and toddlers)
u) favorite toys from home (hide them for a few weeks prior to the flight so they will be more excited to play with them)
Pack your carry-on with practical bits...
Some of these are essential while others are just helpful. Have a look and see if any would be useful for you.
v) Bring medicine (i.e. Tylenol) for the kids and for the headache you may develop and some stick on heating pads for backaches.
w) Bring wet wipes, even if you don't have bums to wipe. They come in handy for a variety of reasons.
x) Bring empty drinking bottles or sippy cups and have the attendants pour drinks into them. This prevents spills and allows kids to keep a drink on the go even when their tray is down (useful for take off and landing in case they feel pressure in their ears).
y) Bring a back up outfit for little people in case of spills or accidents. And, it doesn't hurt to throw in an extra top for yourself. A few years ago, turbulence struck just after we'd eaten. My husband ended up wearing our daughter's dinner. He had no option but to go topless underneath a woolen coat with toggles. You could see his bare chest underneath and he was itchy from the wool. It wasn't pretty, though it was a tad funny (to me, anyway).
Note* this only happened once in ten years, so fear not!
z) Which leads me to my final practical tip: bring a few empty grocery bags. They're good for packing up your garbage at the end and for wet/yucky clothing.
Travelling with kids is exhausting but it doesn't have to be a nightmare. Sniff some lavender, enjoy a glass of wine, and get out that secret stash. Opportunities to travel are priceless so try not to stress. It'll all be worth it when you get there.
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