fear of flying (with little kids)
I recently returned from a month long trip back to the states with my husband and 20 month old son. We've traveled quite a few times with our son including internationally, but now he's a toddler. That's a whole new ball game, and quite frankly I was worried. I knew how my little guy had cried and fought sleep on the last 12 hour flight back to the states when he was 9 months old. I remembered how we had to revert back to our infant tricks of bouncing him to sleep and covering his bassinet to hide the light from the windows. Yet, I knew that this time he was fully capable of dozing off himself and could get along fairly well with properly planned activities. Still, you never really know how they'll respond to the environment until you actually go through it.
If you've got little tots, I understand your frustration. You worry about the entire plane of people glaring at you and the flight attendants coming by to ask you to quiet your child. You know you'll be extremely exhausted by the long international flight, and you can't imagine having to deal with your tired toddler on top of your own exhaustion. Add to this the possibility that someone in your family could get air sickness, and you've got a perfect storm for the worst vacation ever. These are the headaches that make so many of us apprehensive about traveling with our kids so much so that they stop us in our planning altogether. It shouldn't, though, because it's just one small part of the entire experience of traveling as a family. And you know what, you get through it.
In our case, my son did have a difficult time getting to sleep on this recent flight. Once we figured out what he needed, he did fall asleep and slept for most of the flight amazingly! Thanks to some thoughtful planning and preparation, we were ready to deal with that and turn the flight into no big deal at all. You see, here's the thing about it: you can identify all the things that might be headaches before getting on board and have a plan of action ready to go for once you see how they do react. That's how the trip becomes no big deal, and you all save your sanity for a great family vacation. So let's go through a few biggies that'll keep you from pulling your hair out.
Plan the best arrangements for your comfort.
Your seating arrangements on the plane can go a long way to making you happy or irritable. I know that when my son was still breastfeeding having a bulkhead seat was actually the worst decision we could have made. There was absolutely no privacy as people were continually walking around us for the bathrooms or the flight attendants were walking through their work areas in front of us. Even though it was nice to have the leg room and space for a bassinet (which we barely used), I would definitely have preferred the privacy of side seats. In addition to the location of the seats, you should get an extra seat for you child whenever possible. Having their own seat (even if it's to put their car seat in it) will feel so much better than having to hold them on your lap for hours on end. Trust me when I say that you will all need your space as the journey progresses. If you can afford to get another seat even if your child is young enough to be on your lap, then definitely make your life easier and go for it.
Think about your child's normal schedule and daily tendencies.
You know your child better than anyone else, and you know what makes them tired, cranky, happy, and engaged. Think about these things beforehand to get a sense of how your journey will progress. It's important to see where your flight will fit into your regular schedule so that you can be prepared for when they get hungry, need a nap, or just want to be entertained. Planning it out in relation to where you'll be on your journey is key because your mind will be elsewhere as you wrangle your bags at check-in, fight the security line, and figure out your way through the airport and onto the plane.
If you're usually having a snack followed by reading time in the morning, then maintain that consistency as best you can to keep the little ones on track. It will help them to deal with the stress and exhaustion of travel when they know a bit of what to expect. Plus, this will keep the emotions in check! The key is to be proactive in knowing when to feed them, give them space to sleep, and break out the toys (just as you do at home but in a much more deliberate way).
Stay organized from the start.
The day before your flight prepare a carry-on for yourself and another smaller one for your little one that they can carry if necessary. Have a larger clear baggie filled with healthy snacks you know your child will always eat and will keep him happy. You'll also want to make sure you have something small on hand for their breakfast if it's an overnight flight or you'll be skipping many time zones. This way you'll have a comforting food they're used to when they wake hungry. Add in some napkins, wet wipes, a couple straws, and a toddler spoon. In a separate large baggie, store a sippy cup for water and any additional bottle for milk. These food and drink bags should go in your carry-on since they will be a bit heavy and will need to be rationed throughout the journey.
In your little one's carry-on, you'll need to pack a few toys or activities that are their favorites and you know will keep their attention. Plus, you should take along at least two new items that they haven't played with before to keep them engaged. Don't go overboard with the toys. Even for really long flights, you'll only really need a few small items to keep them occupied. The people and things around you on the plane will keep them busy as well. As for comfort items, it would be best to keep it to one item such as a teddy bear for nighttime. We've found that changing the little one into pajamas on the flight doesn't work well for us, and we'd rather just do a shorter bedtime routine without changing his clothes. However, I always pack an extra change of clothes for the him along with the pajamas just so that we have them no matter what happens along the way.
Have a meltdown plan.
You know it's going to happen at some point in your long journey. When it does, you can feel prepared by having an idea of what you will try to get your child to settle down. Going into the bathroom, walking them around the plane, or just giving them a snack are all options that can get them moving around or distracted enough to provide some comfort. If you decide that you want to bring along children's dramamine or tylenol, please test the correct dosage on your child beforehand to ensure that you know how they will react to it.
You'll also need a meltdown plan for yourself. Yes, I said it. When the kids are crying and you're tired out of your mind, then you won't be thinking clearly enough to work yourself out of it. Just ask yourself what helps you calm down in stressful situations and how you can get a small dose of that in the moment. This is where having your spouse or travel partner with you makes things so much more bearable. If it's just you, though, don't worry. You can always ask the flight attendants for assistance if you need an extra hand.
So there you have it. Yes, it's a challenge. Yes, traveling with kids requires a lot of planning, but it's all totally worth it. The adventure that you'll share with them will completely make up for any hair-pulling moments you have getting there. They'll open your eyes to things you'd never otherwise see along the way. They'll get people to open up to you and be friendly more than they ever would without a child by your side. Plus, this is the time you get to shape their lives and give them an experience they'll be grateful for later. Forget the fear of flying with your kids and start getting excited to show them how big the world is and how they fit into it.