Friday, January 25, 2013

Babies On Board

I realize this is nearly a month overdue but my sister-in-law asked for some ideas on how we handled the little people on our long flight.  I wanted to post what we did before my subconscious blocks that entire experience from my mind.

Does this sign come in Boeing 747 size?  And do they make it in plurals?  

Or since we were on an Asia-bound flight, perhaps the bad English of the somewhat disturbing sign you find on cars here would have been more appropriate.

Whether good English or bad, the announcement is what I was in the market for when we made our trek across the planet.  As if it wasn't obvious enough from all our junk and all the noise, I wanted anyone and everyone to know that we were attempting international travel with three kiddos aged 3 and under.  Maybe knowing would inspire them to help as much as it certainly inspired them to stare and make helpful comments such as "Bless your heart" and "Your family should get a dog."  (Not even joking about that one--from a sweet South American woman in the LAX international terminal.)

In an effort to be equal to the task of carting my brood on a 14 hour flight, I put together an assortment of plane prizes for them.  The idea was the every hour, they got a present to open.  Inside was a cheap toy that would hopefully entertain them for at least 10 minutes.  I didn't care if it got lost.  I didn't care if it got broken.  I didn't care if they launched it across the plane and hit the unfortunate people sitting near us (though I'm sure those people might have cared).  I just wanted a few minutes of entertainment and something to break up the time.

I happened to be at Target when they were having a 30% off sale on their dollar aisle.  I loaded up on activity books, erasers, stamps, a mini-stapler, books, and puzzles.  Knowing from this experience that Micah enjoyed tattoos and they also make a great identifier for lost children, I picked up a cheap set from a sporting goods store.  I also packed our lacing cards and a few of our toddler busy bags.  (If you're interested in making your own set of busy bags, here is a great blog for that.)

To heighten the excitement of a plane prize and to extend its usefulness of providing entertainment to my child, I wrapped them all with fancy wrapping paper (read: free used newspaper).

The great thing about having illiterate children is that I could write directly on each present what was inside.  That way I could make sure each boy was receiving the same thing in order to reduce sibling rivalry.  Because don't we all remember that one time when we got jealous that our sibling received a crappy stapler and we didn't?

My kids both love books but I knew I couldn't pack our entire library in our carry-on bags.  So I chose books that would bring the most bang for their weigh in how much time they would consume.  I chose a puzzle book and search & find book.  

I also purchased Richard Scarry's "A Day at the Airport."  In typical Busytown style, Scarry gives a grand tour of the airport and the process flying.  Though my kids are certainly familiar flying, this book could definitely be useful to alleviate anxiety for little ones who have never flown before.  My goal with this book was to read it during our long layover in LA and play a search & find game of our own in the terminal to see if we could locate the things featured in the book.  As it turned out, we spent so much time going back & forth between terminals that we didn't even get to play.  

I have boys.  Boys have energy.  An obvious statement that needs to be emphasized when traveling with kiddos of the male persuasion.  I wanted to make the most out of every single minute of our layovers to bleed as much energy out of them as I could.  So our airport prizes included balloons, koosh balls, a football, and a mini-airplane.  We found an empty gate and let the boys run wild.

Let's not forget snacks.  I usually try to make relatively healthy choices for my kids, but on travel days, if eating 9 packages of fruit snacks will help them avoid utter melt-down, 9 package of fruit snacks they will have.  I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get my idea.  I picked up their favorite snacks, divided them into individual bags, and made each boy their very own snack bag to draw from.

I packed it all in a separate, easily accessible travel bag and voila!  In addition to a few iPad and Kindle apps and free reign over the plane movies, lots of hours of entertainment for my little travelers.

So to summarize, here are all the tips I've learned from experience or received from other well-traveled families and have come to rely on for traveling with kids:
  • Anything goes.  I'm not advocating disobedience or children running amuck up and down plane aisles, but travel days are hard on everyone.  While limiting screen time or snacks at home is fine,  my top priority on travel days is just to make it through the day.
  • Don't expect to get any sleep, read any books, or watch any movies.  This is always the attitude that Kevin & I go in with.  Having low expectations is helpful for us.  Granted, we usually do end up getting a little bit of all of those things.  
  • Do whatever it takes to get on the flight attendants' good side.  Be friendly.  Ask them their names.  Learn about them (flight attendants have fascinating things to say!).  Tell them your story of why in the world you're traveling across the world with so many children.  Try to connect with them before you start needing things.  And by all means, don't let your kids push the call button!
  • Respectfully push boundaries for your sanity.  They tell you not to let your kids sleep on the floor.  They tell you to keep your infant buckled in the bassinet and to take him our if there's turbulence.  My perspective on this is that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  
  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for preferential treatment.  Ask for early boarding.  Ask if you can go to the head of the security line.  The worst answer you'll get is no.  I've found that Asian & African airports are much more child-friendly than American.  We are often zipped through the fast line at immigration.
  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for help from random strangers.  More than likely, they'll be happy to lend a hand.  People have pulled our luggage for us.  I've had Chinese grandmothers watch over my boys as they slept to make sure they didn't fall off the seat.  When we brought the boys home from Ethiopia, I forgot to bring enough formula for Sam.   After Kevin nearly strangled me, I marched up and down the plane asking every single person I could communicate with if they had any.  Thankfully, Chinese kids drink formula until they're nearly three years old, so I was able to find a nice woman who gave me some in a Pringles can.
  • Make as many laps around the plane with restless kids as you want.  Kids don't like to sit still.  And that's fine!  International flights are great because they actually encourage you to move around.  
  • Pack substantial food.  I have a friend who once got stuck on the runway for hours, yet the flight attendants would not serve food.  A hungry child is a no fun child!  Having a small meal on hand is key in situations like that.
  • Buy individually wrapped snacks.  If you don't want to spend the money, just put them in zip-loc bags.  This will free you up to take care of other things while your kid handles his snack on his own.
  • Have a sack for trash and a box of tissues readily available once you're on the plane.  It might not be a lot of space, but it's your space for the next 10-15 hours, depending on your flight time.  Life will feel less stressful if your area remains somewhat clean and you don't have to use your sleeve to wipe snotty noses.
  • Pack at least one change of clothes for each family member.  I know that carry-on luggage space is tight but it's worth it not to have to wear nasty clothes during those unfortunate vomiting or pooping episodes.  On our last flight, Hudson was on antibiotics, which made for some un-fun diapers.  In our early parenting days, Sam had a glorious blow-out and no clothes to change into. Lesson learned!
  • Reserve the bulkhead row if you can.  This will probably mean arriving at the airport early to check-in.  Do it.  The extra leg room is worth its length in gold.
Surely, this list is not exhaustive, so if anyone has any other hints or tips, please share!  
Happy travels to all!


Brandon and April said...

this is worth it's weight in gold to me...especially in a few months. bookmarked the link, too. :)
you up for helping me round up tattoos at the XiShiChang?! :)

Rachel said...

Such a great, fun post, Beck! You needed all the tricks up your sleeve when you got sick--good thing you were so prepared! Great ideas! I would just add a couple of medical related ones--I always travel with infant tylenol, (and while you're at it, throw in some pain reliever for the adults too) because you just never know when you might have a sick kiddo and when a little tylenol would just help everybody. Once on a trip I didn't pack it, thinking, "well of course, I can buy that at our destination if we need it" but of course that was the one time that I really did need it and it was a big hassle to go out and get it the moment of arriving. Also, all of my kids, once getting to be four or so, were responsible for rolling their own carryons. That helped the overall load and the logistics of getting through airports. Plus, they thought it was fun! My final piece of advice isn't as much kid-related as just family related--after having lived through many travel days, I know we did better as a family when we had a plan going in as to who would wrangle what. It was always John with the luggage, me with the kids, but I also learned to be very quick to respond to him in the transitions and stresses of travel. He is taking ultimate responsibility that we are going to get where we need to go, and a travel day is NOT the time to get super sensitive and let myself get irritated about little things. If he leads, I need to follow, especially on a travel day! So there's my three bits (have you ever had a comment this long before?) and thanks again for a great post! I will be referring others here, for sure!
Love you friend,

Carrie said...

I feel like all the most hopeful hints have been mentioned for sure! You did a great job. I agree with Rachel too on dividing responsibilities. Brad does all the airport decisions. I wrangle. Another helpful thing would be to go through security wisely.

1. Fold up the stroller first and get it through the scanner.

2. One parent take the babies through and get them strapped back in quickly.

3. That parent can then catch the things coming out of the security scanner, get shoes back on, and wait for the rest of the family off to the side.

4. We also stuck a pink slip on the page where our visas are located. That helped finding that page easily.

5. Get a small piece of paper and tape it to the back of the passports with each persons name so that you don't have to shuffle through them.

6. I wrote down the passport info on a small piece of paper and stuck it in my wallet. Then when I have to fill out 5,000 departure cards, the info. is all in one place.

7. Take large stacks of arrival/departure cards home with you and fill them out before you get to the airport. Restock each time you fly.

8. Stop through Starbucks to refuel at every leg.

I would AMEN all of yours too! Great job getting these down.