Here are my tips for traveling with kids on the long journey from America to China...or China to America...(or substitute any destination)
- Mentally prepare the kids to travel. Weeks before getting on the airplane or train, we tell the kids, "In ___ days we're going on an airplane. What do you do on the airplane?" The kids should respond. "Sit, seat, sleep." We sometimes add the additional line "Do you poop on the airplane?" hoping to train the kids not to poop in their diaper because who wants to change a sticky diaper in the tiny bathroom.
- Don't expect them to sleep on the plane. They might, but usually mine don't. If I go in with the expectation that they will sleep, I'm frustrated the whole time trying to make them sleep and wondering why they won't. Even if it is a time when they would normally be asleep, the airplane is very fun and interesting to them, so their adrenaline is going and sleep isn't always possible in that sort of situation!
- If they aren't going to sleep, what in the world are they going to do???? We bring lots and lots of interesting snacks. When they get restless (especially during take-off when you're trying to keep them happy so you don't get kicked off the plane before it even takes off...) we let them choose a snack from the super exciting bag 'o snacks. (and I love that when we're leaving from China our snack collection is so Asian now)
- Before the trip, we go to the store without the kids and pick out a fun, brand new and exciting toy for each of them (something small and good for travel like a new toy motorcycle or army guys). Then, at about hour 5 on the long flight when they've seen all the kid stuff on the in-flight entertainment screen and gone through all the crayons and coloring pages, we get out the new toy. Buys a few more hours. Caution: lots of new things is not a good idea because then they expect a new thing every hour. So be sure to explain this is the only new toy in the bag!
- Think of the long flight in terms of climbing a mountain. (I do this even when traveling without kids). Divide the total flight time in half. On a 14 hour flight, I think of the first 7 hours as a slow climb to the top of the mountain. At the mid-point of the flight, I throw a little party and celebrate the fact I made it to the top of the mountain. Then, after the celebration, I imagine that I'm now descending the mountain...7 hours downhill. It's all a mind game :-)
- We don't like to let our kids walk up and down the aisle much because then they think they are free to roam about the cabin, and that gets old.
- We call ahead or go on-line to choose our seats. If we have a lap child, usually we request the bulk-head row. If not, I at least request that our seats are together. Some airlines offer kids meals, but you have to pre-order. Call ahead for this. Kids meals are handy and more exciting than foil-wrapped rice dinners.
- We download some new apps for the iPod touch before the flight and don't let the kids notice the new ones until an opportune time. We try to keep them entertained with stuff like new sticker books (books where you have to hunt to put the sticker in a certain place) or coloring or drawing or matchbox cars or army guys or dinosaurs or snacks for a few hours before we're worn out and hand them the technology
- If they sleep, we sleep.
- I mentally prepare myself. Traveling with kids over the ocean can be arduous. I tell my brain that for the next 24 hours or so, I am on-call and that's all. The trip is not about me being comfortable and relaxed. My job while traveling is to keep the kids happy. While traveling, happy kids equals happy adults. I am usually a parent who keeps my kids on a time-sensitive routine. As soon as the traveling starts, the time-sensitive routine goes out the window. And it won't return until a few days after traveling. If I remind myself of this, I don't stress as much when they won't nap at 1:30 pm or go to bed at 8 pm or they're awake on an airplane at midnight gleefully watching Super Why.
*this is the one I struggle with the most. I'm selfish and I want to watch newly released American movies on-demand while crossing the ocean, but I most often find myself changing diapers and pretending to be extremely excited about stickers.
- Pack an extra set of pants for each kid. Even if they are potty trained, accidents happen and they are a lot less stressful if they're is a dry set of pants handy. When traveling with kids under 1, I pack an extra shirt for myself as well.
- We bring along "Take n Toss" straw cups with lids. The flight attendants will fill these up with juice or milk or whatever and they have lids so the kids don't spill them everywhere! (unless you have sippy cups and don't mind milk in those...) We use these straw cups everywhere in China, not just for traveling.
- Make the kids sip water on the way up and down so their ears will adjust to the pressure. If you have ear troubles, look into "Ear Planes." Little inserts you put in your ears that help the pressure problem. I've used them before while flying with sinus problems, but I've never used them for children. You can buy them in most any drug store.