Tips on travelling long-haul with little kids

As we prepare to take a trip back to NZ for Christmas, I’m looking back at this post again (originally posted in March 2012) to refresh my memory on what’s useful to take and what to do to make life easier when travelling long haul with kids. It’s been a few years since I’ve posted this, so I thought I’d repost it in case it can be helpful to others!

I recently travelled from New York to Christchurch, New Zealand to attend Jeremy and Lillian’s wedding with Marica (4) and Esther (2). Without my husband. Many people have asked how the 26-hour trip went, and as I thought about how anxious I was before the trip, and how many other people are in that same boat every day, I thought I’d do a little post on some things that made our trip easier for anyone out there who might benefit from it. I am not a seasoned traveller and I don’t claim to have all the answers,  but here are some things I recommend:

  • Talk with your kids about your upcoming trip. I found reading books like this one very valuable to familiarise them with what to expect. We did role playing where we went through pretend security, we sat on the couch as if we were on the plane seats, did pretend take-off and got sore ears. I wanted them to know to expect sore ears, even if I was going to do all I could to help with that!
  • Get them excited about the trip by buying some special toys and (colouring) books. I showed some to them, and kept some as a surprise. I found this colouring book and this little sticker book provided a lot of bang for my buck.

Be prepared in your own mind:

  • Get a good attitude about your upcoming trip. Your kids will feed off whatever vibes you give off — if you’re excited, they’ll be excited, if you show your anxiety, they’ll be anxious. I found lots of prayer helped, as well as some specific Bible verses to help me focus on the fact that I’m in the hand of the Creator of the Universe. That puts a little plane trip (and all those ‘what if’ worries) into perspective really quickly!
  • Read about what other people have found to be helpful or good. I found deliciousbaby.com to be a wonderful resource. It’s so good, I don’t really know why I’m bothering with this post other than to give my own experience!
  • Look up the layout of the airports you’ll be visiting, and know how to get from one terminal to the next. You don’t want to have only a couple of hours to transfer between terminals (like me) and have 3 sets of people tell you 3 different ways of getting to the next terminal. I got there in time, but it added extra stress I didn’t need.
  • Know how long each flight will be, and whether or not the flight will have in-flight entertainment. If it does not have in-flight entertainment, you’ll want to pack accordingly (more on that soon).
  • Find out whether or not you get complimentary food on the flight — if not, you’ll want to pack snacks. The snacks and food on the plane are ridiculously expensive. More on that soon too.
  • Don’t expect to fly as if you’re alone. Serve these little people, not yourself. Even if you’re flying long-haul, chances are that you won’t get to watch a whole movie, and that’s okay. Be patient with them. Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Chances are you want to know what to pack, and how much. The what I’ll list below, the how much I’d answer with however much you can fit into one backpack. You want your hands free to deal with your kids — whatever you do, please don’t try to maximise on your carry-on luggage allowance. You’ll get frazzled trying to get everything through security and down the narrow airplane aisles on top of trying to carry a kid (or two) who just had a melt-down. Don’t even go there. One backpack is enough.

Having said that, I did find it useful to take an empty canvas shopping bag with me. What went in here were our winter jackets once we were through security (we were flying from mid-winter to mid-summer) and my camera. When we were about to board, I would also put a few activities in there to get us started for the flight, and that bag went under the seat in front of me while the backpack went into the overhead compartment.

Here are some things to pack, regardless of the length of your flight:

  • Pack empty water bottles for your children. These can be filled once you’re through security. It’s easier for them to have drink bottles on hand when they need them, and they’re less likely to spill than those little plastic cups. Even if you don’t have something for them to chew or suck during take-off and landing, drinking some water might help their ears not to hurt so much.
  • Pack a spare set of clothing for each of you. You might not need it, but you sure will be glad to have a fresh shirt to change into if you get vomited on (I didn’t, I’m just saying). Pack each set into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and push all the air out to make it more compact. The ziplock will also come in handy if you have stinky poopy pants that need to go somewhere (that I did have).
  • If your child has a special toy and/or cuddly, make sure you take it. Same goes for a pacifier (they’re very helpful for take-off and landing too).
  • Chewing gum or chewy candy or lollipops for kids to chew and suck during take-off and landing to help their ears pop and get used to the changes in air pressure.
  • Pack plenty of diapers and wipes. Think how many diapers you need in a worse-case scenario, and then add a few more, just in case. Wipes are so versatile — wiping the tray in the seat back in front of you, wiping dirty faces and hands or runny noses, and of course little bottoms!
  • Pack some tylenol and band-aids, just in case. I also pack sinus medication because I tend to get infected sinuses when I fly.

We had 3 flights from New York to Christchurch, and the hardest one was not the 12 hour flight between LAX and Auckland as you would expect. It was that cross country 6-hour flight between JFK and LAX, and we were flying United. The in-flight entertainment consisted of bad TV shows on those little screens hanging from the ceiling above the aisle, so it wasn’t even an option for the kids. There was also no complimentary food on the flight, though the drinks were. These things are a mild nuisance that aren’t a big deal if you’re flying alone. When you add kids into this equation, however, you need to come prepared for pretty much full-time, hands-on entertainment/distraction.

If this is how you’ll be flying, you should pack:

  • Fun snacks. Things that have protein, like nuts, cheese sticks or beef jerky. This will tide you over better than just carbs. Animal crackers turn eating into a game of talking animals, goldfish swimming into your mouth. Take your time eating. Get some special treat snacks like small snack-size bags of M&Ms, or candy in the shape of something that could become some sort of character in some sort of story you’ll make up on the spot. It will be ridiculous and it will be wonderfully fun for your kidsIf you have to pack a lunch or dinner, be practical — make sure it’s something that’s not messy and that they love to eat. Nutrition is not your biggest concern for the next few hours, just relax about that. When you get to your destination you can eat properly again.
  • Fun activities. You know your child best — don’t pack things they don’t enjoy doing! Here are some ideas that worked for us: new colouring-in books, paint-with-water books, wiki stix, small pottles of play-doh, finger puppets, polly pockets, books with multiple stories and lots of pictures, an etch-a-sketch, a notebook just too doodle in. For more ideas, check out this page.

If you’re crossing time zones, or flying during or past bedtime, be prepared for tired children. Chances are they’ll do better than you expect, but chances are there will be some grumpiness and crying. Do what you can to comfort them (or to get them to sleep!) but realise that it probably is going to happen and relax about it. If you get all uptight, it’s not going to help your kids stop crying. People on the plane are usually pretty good about it, especially if they’ve seen you interacting with your kids in a good way during the rest of your flight. You might get some dirty looks, but those who give them are probably single and just have no idea. Their day will come too.

If you’re flying long-haul, there are some extra challenges (like the length of the fight), but also some things that make it easier. The cabin crew are more understanding and helpful, you can request snacks for your kids pretty much any time during the flight, there are change ‘tables’ in most of the lavatories, there are in-flight entertainment screens with kids’ shows and games on the seat in front of you, and kids are usually given some sort of activity bag. Yes, the flight is longer, but that means that your kids will probably get to the point of exhaustion and want to sleep. Here are some things that can make long-haul flights easier:

  • Fly at night. This helps reduce jet-lag and hopefully guarantees some sleep.
  • Give your kids plenty of physical exercise on the day of your flight, or if you’re in transit, let them do star jumps or such things to get some wiggles out. I packed a small container of bubbles for them to catch during transit (not for on the plane!) and they loved that. Just make sure it’s less than 100ml, though.
  • Try to keep a bit of a bed-time routine. I packed the kids’ pajamas, a small bottle for milk for Esther (the cabin crew are happy to give you some milk in reasonable quantities), and of course their cuddlies and special toys, and a dummy/pacifier for Esther. This showed them that it was now time to sleep.
  • This next one’s possibly going to be a bit controversial. Two different friends who are nurses recommended Benadryl to me. I’ve never been one to give my kids medical sleeping aids, and I was reluctant to try it, but one of my nurse friends is a pediatric nurse, so I felt comfortable with her advice and went and bought our first ever bottle of benadryl. I talked to her about dosage so I wouldn’t overdose them (!) and then I tried it out before our trip. Benadryl can make some people hyper, and I didn’t want that happening on the plane. It worked beautifully. When we put the kids’ pajamas on for sleep time, I gave them a little Benadryl, gave Esther some milk, and soon enough they were asleep. They slept for about 6 hours, which I thought rather fantastic under the circumstances, and were not drowsy than usual when they woke up at breakfast time.
  • Sleep when your kids sleep! There might only be a few hours where both kids are asleep at the same time, so make the most of it. That is NOT the time to watch a movie. You might be able to squeeze in a movie while they’re watching something too.
  • Go for little walks down the aisle, but not while everyone else is trying to sleep, or when the cabin crew is trying to serve a meal.
  • I know they say keep your seatbelt on even when the light is not on, but seriously, who can do that with a 2-year-old? Let the kid stand up on the seat or look out the window or drape herself over you for crying out loud. Of course, you teach them that the seatbelt has to go on when the seatbelt light goes on and that is non-negotiable. Include that in your role playing beforehand.
  • One of my big questions beforehand were what to do if you need to go to the toilet?! Well, if they’re both asleep you just climb over them and go. If they’re both awake, you can do one of two things: 1) Try to cram all of you into the cubicle. Good luck. 2) Ask one of the cabin crew to stay with your kids. They’re usually happy to do this so long as they’re not in the middle of serving dinner. Oh, and just another little note on the airplane lavatories — warn your kids that it makes a very loud noise when it flushes, they can really get a fright if they don’t know to expect it.

And lastly, if time allows, ask one of the cabin crew if your kids may see the cockpit once the plane has landed and most people are off the plane. I had talked with the kids about the plane’s layout and so they knew what the cockpit was and that the pilot flew the plane. They were very keen to see it and thrilled to be allowed in there. This pilot was particularly nice and even allowed them to sit in the pilot and co-pilot seats. They also got a little card with the details of the plane on it, and a pilot’s badge for kids.

I’ve surely left some things out, but look around at some other sites. Remember that even a long-haul flight is only a short time in the scheme of things. Make it a short time your children will remember fondly, even if you won’t!

Reflecting on a year

Laurelin Grace, our youngest, turned one recently. The first year of her life has been an eventful one for our family. She was born 3 weeks early, induced in a bit of a rush. For the first 5 weeks of her life, she nursed every 2 hours or less and developed strong lungs from all her colic-induced crying. Somehow, through all her struggles, my wildly fluctuating (high) blood pressure recovering from pre-eclampsia which took 4 months, and two older children who needed mummy (and school pick-ups, and dinner, and owies kissed, and stories read…) we survived. Probably only because of the generous help of many friends and family members, and the flexibility Ben had working from home.

A few months after her birth there was talk that Oyster would be selling to TripAdvisor, but it was all secret, so we couldn’t talk about it. But we knew that the prospect of moving back to the States if Ben was offered a job with them was a real one. Ben was super excited. I encouraged him, not knowing how I’d manage a move. Again. With a baby. Long term.

I think perhaps I was too tired to think too hard about it all, and just dealt with one day at a time, doing the tasks set before me. Organize furniture removal company. Fill out immigration forms. Try to get the household back on its feet with me doing the work instead of helpers. Just doing the next thing. We packed up, we moved back to the States, found a rental apartment, moved in; and we’re slowly finding friends, getting into extra-curricular activities and learning where to shop, all over again.

And somehow, day after day, God’s grace sustained us. I’ve learnt a few things this past year. I’ve learnt that whatever strength I have, is His. My health is a gift. I have been blessed with so much. So many lavish gifts… and it’s all grace. I had to have a little chuckle looking at the drafts folder here on the blog of things I thought about writing 2 years ago, when I felt a bit more like I had things under control in the whole motherhood zone. I am now much more aware of my weaknesses, and am learning to be a little less hard on myself. And on other mothers! And, more importantly, less hard on my kids, especially Marica who was starting to feel like she was never good enough. I realized that if my daugther was feeling that way at 7, I’m doing something majorly wrong.

So we’ve been lowering the standard a bit around here. I’ve been working on showing more gentleness and grace. How can I lavishly receive God’s grace and not in turn show it to my children? It’s been bearing some good fruit, for the most part. Seeing them as people with their own ideas, hopes and emotions instead of robots who only need to be trained to obey helps too. Obvious if you think about it, but somehow hard to implement.

This past year has been tough in many ways. Many days still are — raising kids, practicing contentment, missing friends and family, etc — but it’s been a good year. A year of growing in grace.

Whimsical

I love this photo — I took it when we were in the Smoky Mountains with the Holders.

Consider this a teaser until I get a post up with the rest of our photos from our time in Knoxville. I’m working on it, it’ll be up in the next day or two, I hope! We are currently in Tyler, Texas, and hope to travel to Dallas tomorrow. The Hoyt reunion was absolutely fantastic, and we had a lovely time visiting with old family friends in Ben’s birth town of Atoka, TN before we came here. It’s really great hanging out with the family here — I wish we were here longer than just two nights!

 

The 3-step guide for mothers who want to Do It All

Yes, you too can Do It All! Small children? A big workload? Stack of dishes in the sink? Pile of bills to pay? No problem! Just follow my easy 3-step program and soon you too could be one of those special people who can Do It All!

1. Marry a millionaire.

2. Hire a nanny, cook, housekeeper and gardener.

3. Put yourself, your dreams and ambitions before anything or anyone else.

I was asked recently to give a talk at a women’s Bible study about “something I’ve learned from life as a Christian woman/wife/mother with the other women”. I thought they got the wrong number. Uh, I’m not sure I’m the right person for this… I tried to get out of it, but as I prayerfully considered it, I thought there might be something I’ve learned. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m currently learning this lesson: How Not to Do It All.  Since giving the talk a couple of weeks ago, I’ve thought of all sorts of edits to make and ways to say it better, but I’m in the thick of getting ready to pack my life in the US up into 4 suitcases, so it’ll just have to do as it is. Below is the written version of what I talked about.

So often we think or even ask the question of someone else: “How do you do it all?” It’s a perplexing question, but I think I’ve come up with 3 answers to it:

1. Nobody does.

2. At different times in life, and by working hard.

3. With good planning.

I’ll come back to those things soon, but first I have to deal with the question itself. More often than not when we ask (or think) such questions, it is because we’re looking at Exhibit A’s mothering/cooking/sewing/housekeeping/job/everything skills and feeling like we don’t measure up.  We women are far too good at comparing ourselves to others, and we do it far too frequently. The problem with comparing yourself to someone else is that it seldom turns out well. Most of the time you either:

a) inwardly cower in shame because you think you don’t measure up and you’re left wallowing in a cesspool of misguided guilt, or

b) you feel just a little too pleased with yourself because you’re not struggling like her. At least your kids don’t behave as badly as her kids. Pure unadulterated, stinking pride.

So, why do we have this strange idea that there are real superwomen out there? The kind of woman who has done her Bible study and run a few miles before her kids are even up, who cooks everything from scratch and always has an empty laundry basket, who is nicely groomed and is always entertaining visitors, whose children love her and obey her and never embarrass her in public… the list goes on. (In that vein, here’s a funny poem I read recently. It’s written in a Mormon context, so some of the references are a bit foreign, but I definitely think that on the whole this is something many Christian women can identify with.)

To come back to my answer to that strange, strange question: “How do you do it all?”:

First off, no woman “does it all”, and if she’s making it look that way, she’s either faking it or has some serious help.

Maybe we have this idea in our heads that such a thing is possible because we take all the great qualities we know of all the women we know and think we should channel all those qualities. Or perhaps it’s the Perfect Proverbs 31 Woman who makes us look at ourselves and cringe. (I’ll talk more about that Proverbs 31 Woman soon.) Or maybe we are concerned with this because at some root level we are desperate that our lives here on earth be meaningful and not wasted, and for our lives not to be wasted we have to do everything and do it well? Or maybe it has subtly become a great big idol taking over your life.

Here’s a little exercise: think of someone you actually know (not someone you only know through her writing) and of one or two qualities you really admire about her. Let’s say, for example, that you think she’s a really good cook, because the one time you’ve eaten at her house the food was fantastic. Now you have this idea in your head that this is the way she always cooks for her family and that eggs on toast for dinner or a hot dog slapped in a bun with some ketchup and mustard hastily squeezed on would never appear on the menu at her house. Guess what — 5 o’clock melt-downs quite likely happen at her house too. You’re not the only mother in the world who has served a hasty dinner on occasion that had no vegetables in sight. Now, if this happens frequently, you have some work to do, but don’t beat yourself up and compare your hot dog meal with that woman’s 3-course special meal that she planned 3 weeks in advance.

To be realistic, there are some things that you’ll do more naturally and some things need to work at a fair bit. But do just that — work at it, don’t mope because you can’t do it the first time you try.

Some women love to knit and crochet. Yes, this is a great thing, but it’s not for me. I’ve tried. I’ll probably keep trying when I have some more time, but that time is not now. I once tried making a quilt. It looked like an 8-year-old made it, but Marica still loved it. I think quilting is something I’d enjoy when life has mellowed me a bit and I have a bit more patience. :-) I love to cook and I love to spend time with people, so our family puts a lot of emphasis on hospitality. Just because you aren’t a good cook isn’t a good reason not to be hospitable, but don’t feel like you have to put on a feast.

In other words, look at yourself realistically, and know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Look at your situation in life realistically and decide where you should spend your time and energy. Pray about it, and get your husband’s useful input — men can sometimes see these things more clearly.

Secondly,

As you go through life, your workload will have some ebb and flow. You’ll always have work to do in, around and outside your home. Do it cheerfully and well.  The work you do when your kids are little is going to look different from the work you do when they are teenagers, or when your nest is empty (that day looks unimaginably far away to me, but people keep telling me it comes quickly!). Life brings different chapters, and in each chapter of life you’ll have different challenges and different things you are really on top of. Be realistic — know what chapter of life you and your family are in at the moment and think about what your main priorities are. Focus on doing those well, and anything extra is a bonus. If you’re saying yes to being on committees at church or your kids’ school because you think you’re supposed to, but it frazzles you out and it means you snap at your kids and you don’t get your laundry done, then scrap it.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself constantly busy, and working hard. This is a good thing. You should work hard, but your workload should be manageable.

Have you got a house full of little ones? Then know that your time and energies are needed and wanted at home, and that all you’re pouring into them is so, so valuable. You don’t need some sort of ministry or special calling outside the home — your ministry and calling is right there in the high chair and it has squishy cheeks and needs a clean diaper. When you’re out of this busy phase of having little ones, you might look into working part-time, or volunteering somewhere or joining committee X.

If you have a look at the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll notice that she works very, very hard. Yet it would seem impossible for one woman to take care of her household and still do all those things, even with servants. People have suggested that she’s an ‘idealized’ woman, making up good qualities from many different women. Or it could be that she does all those things, but at different times in her life. While it is very valuable to look at what she does and try to do the same, perhaps you’re not the kind of person who’s going to start making stuff out of flax. I think it’s more valuable to look at how she works: she works with eager hands, she does it vigorously. She’s described always doing: she gets up, she considers, she makes, she speaks, she watches. Use your time wisely, and work hard, be a blessing to your husband and children; all to the glory of God.

My kids know that they should obey straight away, all the way, and with a happy heart. Think of yourself in relation to the work you need to get done in the same way. If you don’t have a good work ethic, read good books to help you cultivate it, or talk to someone who can help, encourage and even mentor you on that front.

Thirdly, plan! I just mentioned using your time wisely –you can not expect to be very productive if you spend a few hours every day checking out Pinterest, Facebook, the news, twitter, or even really valuable blogs and articles out there. Spend not only quality time with your children, but quantity time. Your kids are more important than “getting things done”. (Boy am I preaching to myself here!) If you have thought about what your priorities are, then how you spend your time should reflect this. Now, life happens and if you don’t actively plan for your priorities to happen, they might well fall by the wayside because let’s face it, when you’re tired it’s easy to slip in to time-waste mode, and mothers are often tired!

Here are some things I find helpful:

Plan to read the Bible and pray. You might do this while nursing the baby, or if things are desperate, lock yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes. Take time to look around you and be thankful for where God has chosen to place you. If you’re in the thick of mothering, you might not be at a stage in life where you’re spending an hour on Bible study every day, and that’s fine. But don’t let it slip completely.

Do not neglect your relationship with your husband. Fiercely guard your time together to talk and reconnect. Plan to have date nights regularly, even if you have to make them in-house date nights where you put the kids to bed and then order in some take-out just for the two of you.

Plan to sleep. If getting to bed at a decent hour is not a priority that you fight for, then chances are you won’t get to bed at a decent hour! I find that I function badly without sleep and am a lot more prone to sinning when I’m tired, so I need lots of sleep, sometimes even an afternoon nap.

Plan to carve out time for things that rejuvenate you as well — little pockets of precious time of figuratively (and sometimes literally!) taking a deep, cleansing breath to get you ready to jump back in with a happy heart. Exercise. Sing. Skip down the road with your kids, or splash in the puddles with them. I try to meet up with a couple of good friends at The Chocolate Room (a dessert place where everything’s chocolate) about once a month. We talk our heads off and come out feeling heavy in the stomach and light in the heart.

Use a diary! Anyone who can operate without a wall planner and/or diary is either amazing or highly disorganised. A diary is your friend. Plan things out, even housekeeping chores that should happen on a weekly basis (though it’s a good idea to plan for more thorough cleans every few months too). If you’re really in the thick of life, then writing down things like ‘sweep the floor’ and ‘clean the bathroom’ every week in your diary is a totally acceptable. Recently it took me an entire morning to strip and remake the 3 beds in our house, because I was being interrupted the whole time with little people and little problems, many of which involved bodily fluids. This is normal if you’re in the stage of life where you’re living with little ones, though there are days it can feel discouraging to get to the end of your day and wonder what on earth you did all day — you know you were busy the whole time, but what were some actual things you did? If you can then go to your to-do list and tick off ‘fold laundry’ and ‘read to kids’, there is a sense of satisfaction, as silly as it seems.

Plan your weekly menu, and shop accordingly. Not only will it save you time and money, it’s good for your sanity because you don’t have to get to 5 o’clock and wonder what on earth you’ll feed people tonight.

Read literature that will challenge you, but also encourage you. Read books that will help you and encourage you in your marriage, in mothering, or other areas of life. Read some fun fiction too in between or about other things you’re interested in!  I’m not in a stage of life where hours of sweet quiet reading time is available to me, so I’ve taken to reading short stories, or books with short sections that I can read just a little bit at a time.

I could go on, but you get the idea. To wrap things up, remember that God created you with your own unique set of talents and abilities and situation in life, so don’t try to compare yourself to other women. Work hard at things that are a priority in your life, plan your time and use it wisely, and work cheerfully.

Some helpful articles, if you want to read more on the topic that people much wiser than me have written:

Preschoolers and Peace: Drowning in Home Management Part One and Part Two. (And plenty of other articles on that blog.)

Femina (you should just read the whole thing, and everything in the archives (I’m not kidding), but here are a few recent ones that I found very helpful): The Littleness of Motherhood, Domestic Kindness, You make me feel so guilty!, and False Comfort.

Clover Lane: I don’t know how she does it all.

The Power of Moms: Your children want YOU!