Get Out and See the World: A Post about Travel
When my first daughter was three months old our little family took our first trip from Hawaii to South Africa, making a few pit stops to visit family along the way. It was over 40 hours of flight time. She’s six now, I have three more children and we have been on over fifty flights with them. In the beginning, jetsetting with children felt adventurous but also daunting. There was so much advice floating around- everything from “medicate them on the flights” to “don’t travel with them at such a young age”. Over the years we have found our families travel “groove”. We have tried to provide consistency in the ways that we have done it. Although travel can be unpredictable, having a few set things that we do every time helps to give our kids confidence in what to expect. Here’s what works for my family.
Know your airports.
Even if you have never been to a particular airport, a quick google search or asking friends local to the area can help you to feel prepared for where you're leaving from and arriving to. For instance, flying from Hawaii, the airports are all open air/outdoor. Taking off shoes is often not required and fresh fruits and vegetables are not permitted to be taken off the island. It makes a big difference to know these things when preparing for how much time to allow yourself for security and what snacks to pack for travel.
Certain airports have more complicated security measures, some offer complimentary strollers for you to use for your children during your time in the airport and some have amazing child friendly play centers between gates. Select airports even have conplimentary nurserys with dimmed lights, quiet music and little “pods” with cribs and cozy seats for parents. Doing research about your airports beforehand can help you to be prepared, less likely to be disappointed and make your trip the best that it can be.
Packing your carryon.
The ages and needs of your children will determine what and how much you can pack in your carryon. You can find way more thorough packing lists on Pinterest but in addition to the obvious (diapers etc.) the things we find most helpful to bring:
- Passports or identification in an easy to access compartment.
- Any relevant travel documents (visas, some countries require an affidavit for children traveling with just one parent or birth certificates for the children etcetera).
- A change of clothes for everyone. I had one flight where my oldest daughter who was a toddler at the time got sick and projectile vomitted on me and my husband for 17 hours straight. We didn't have a change of clothes for ourselves and since that day have always packed a change that folds up small. Even if you don't have a puking child, sometimes it just feels great to put on fresh clothes during a layover or on a long flight.
- A quality travel pillow. Most of my flights over the past six years I have held an infant on my lap for the whole time. A travel pillow that supports my neck is the only way I get any sleep on a flight.
- Hand sanitizer.
- Wipes. So many wipes. All the wipes. Wipe butts, wipe armpits, wipe hands, wipe germs off tray tables and surfaces.
- Energizing snacks for you and kids. Flying can be so taxing and nourishing your body is essential to sustaining energy and stabilizing moods on long travel days. Some of our favorite travel snacks include: packets of nutbutter, fruit and veg squeeze pouches (foods like these are considered liquids and need to be under 3oz to be carried on the plane. At some airports food and drink for kids will be tested with a swipe test where the swipe the product and make sure you're not smuggling bombs masked as applesauce), energizing bars, sugar free (because we don't want to deal with sugar crashes in confined spaces), treats for dire situations that require bribery (like long customs lines).
- Depending on the age of your child, an ergonomic baby carrier that you will be comfortable wearing for a long time.
Being a fun parent on a long haul flight.
Putting yourself in a confined space where you get to breathe recycled air for many hours with multiple children is not always a cake walk. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your kids. Nourish your body. Start out rested. pack yourself a favorite snack. Here’s how we roll:
The kids that are old enough to, carry their own backpack filled with an empty water bottle (to be filled up on the plane) age appropriate activities, a few toys for the flight. This is another area where doing your research comes in handy. Certain airlines (particularly international airlines) will hand out activity books, crayons, toys, blankets and pillows for your kids to use and keep. If we are flying with such an airline, we pack less stuff. There have been seasons of traveling where we have packed lots of little surprises and wrapped them in wrapping paper for the kids to open along the way and other flights where we haven’t packed a single thing and just let our kids peruse (or tear to shreds) the inflight magazine. Besides the obvious joy of receiving multiple gifts, unwrapping the gifts took up time and provided and activity in of itself. Whenever you are packing toys on a flight, make sure its not something that you cannot live without. Sometimes when a toy is dropped in an airplane, it sinks into a black hole of oblivion amidst a sea of safety cards and life jackets, never to be found again. This situation can be made worse if it’s a toy your child is very attached to or something you spent a lot of money on. Even the most put together parents and responsible children can not be held accountable for keeping track of items left in seat pockets sleep deprived while 35,000 feet in the air.
How do I pack effectively but not excessively?
Can you buy what you will need in the location where you are going? (diapers, wipes, sunscreen, snacks, medications, toiletries etcetera) If the answer is yes, don’t pack it. There are options in many places to order items that you will need ahead of time and have them delivered straight to wherever you are staying.
Even if we are traveling for a few weeks, we typically pack a weeks worth of clothing for each person with the intention to do laundry. If you are packing for multiple seasons, try to only pack items that can be layered. Can a top be worn as a summer dress and then add leggings and a sweater to make it a winter outfit? Strategy is the key when packing. I always have to resist the urge to find hidden “gems” in the back of my closet that I haven't worn in years and swear, “I will wear on this trip”.
How do you help a child not get sick on a flight?
-Supporting your childs immune system long before a flight can be so helpful. Look out for a post specifically about this on the blog in the future. I like to bring a blanket/towel/scarf specifically for laying down on changing table areas, laying over seats, laying down on the floor in an airport. There are so many germs on almost every surface in airports and on airplanes that minimizing direct contact with them is such a simple way to avoid sickness.
-Lots of hand washing and hand sanitizing, as well as wiping down surfaces, pacifiers, drink bottles etc.
-Keeping your childs diet as healthy and steady as possible during travel.
How do you manage high stress environments/grumpy travelers?
Airports and airplanes are crowded and noisy. Rushing from gate to gate, trying to keep kids comfortable and cared for, sleep deprivation…these can all be factors for a really hard day so simple remedies to keep yourself centered and aid in relaxation can be essential to making or breaking your travel experience.
Some products that I like to bring along for relaxation are:
-Lavender and Cedarwood Oils (calming, soothing, promotes natural melatonin production which means makes you + children sleepy)
-Rescue Remedy (designed specifically for traumatic or stressful situations. A natural remedy that helps you relax and focus. Sold in drops, sprays, tablets and more)
-Simple toiletries like toothbrush, lotion, chapstick. These basic products can feel like luxuries during a long travel day.
We have gotten some very interesting responses from fellow travelers when boarding a plane with four young children. Needless to say, we are not always popular even if our children are sitting quietly for the whole flight. You and your children have as much of a right to be traveling the world as the passengers around you and people who think otherwise would have probably found something else to complain about had they not been seated next to a row of toddlers.
I approach these situations with the mindset that my primary focus is to take care of my children and help them to have the most comfortable travel experience possible. It is not my responsibility to help manage the moods of those around me, whether on an airplane, in the checkout line of the grocery store, at a family reunion or anywhere. Peoples moods and responses to your well behaved child or your jet-lagged, out of their minds tired children are their own responsibility. Read that through again a few times and really let it sink in.
How do I overcome jet lag like a boss? (I may have paraphrased that question a tad)
A few days ago I flew with my six and four year olds from Hawaii to South Africa with a pit stop in New York. We are currently in a twelve hour time difference and the jet lag is ruthless. Some of my go to’s for overcoming jet lag are:
Vitamin D. Get outside in the sunshine.
Grounding (sometimes called earthing). Basically, get barefoot! Taking off your shoes and getting your feet (and hands) in the grass and dirt literally recharge you at a cellular level. It can help to balance stress horomones and improve sleep and immune response.
Gentle detox (a whole post about this is coming to the blog very soon).
Epsom salt baths (for babies a few tablespoons of epsom salts, for older kids and adults a few cups in a warm bath) dry brushing (starting with circular motion toward your heart, from the bottoms of your feet all the way up your whole body, brush your body with a dry brush before or after a shower or bath) and drinking lots of lemon water can all help you and your child to feel refreshed and more “normal” after long flights. I have heard that it takes one day for every hour of time difference to kick jet lag and this has seemed to prove true for us. Try as much as you can to sleep with the sun and keep yourself going without crashing for long naps in the middle of the day. Easier said than done with young children sometimes.
Wear shoes that are comfortable and slip on easily. Especially if you are traveling with a baby in arms, getting your shoes on and off in a security line can be tricky. Make things as easy as possible on yourself.
Depending on the ages and sizes of your children, you may qualify to book a seat that has a bassinet on an international flight. Check with your airline for specifications.
If you are nursing a baby on a flight, remember to wear something that is easy to nurse in.
Some airlines require you to remove your child from a baby carrier (like an Ergo or Sling) during take off and landing.
Carseats, strollers, bassinets, pack and plays, travel high chairs...all the baby things check for free but you will need to sort it out with an agent at check in. When we check our stroller, we pack it in a bag specifically designed for travel. Most airlines do not assume responsibility for items that are checked at the gate. Car seats that are brought on board must be FAA compliant and you must have purchased a seat for your child. In the event that there are seats available on the flight, you can check in with the gate agent to see if you and your lap infant can be given a row with an extra seat.
The paper toilet seat covers in public bathrooms (and airplane bathrooms) double as blotting papers for oily skin.
After all the bags are packed and the jet lag wears off you will find yourself on a great adventure. Stay centered, have fun and get out and see the world!