Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Coloring the Barf Bag.

We just returned home from a family trip to Aruba, where my extremely gracious in-laws allowed us to come along with them, with our children, and enjoy a little island time. My friend Steffany at the Sassy Times blog asked me to blog some tips for flying internationally with little kids, so, here you go! While I have zero tips on how to survive super-long flights with kiddos (I have yet to join the ranks of Mom Heros who take their kids to Europe), I can offer a little advice on what it looks like to prepare for a trip that takes you, with your small children, out of the country. We've made the journey four times and every time, we've had our kids with us (depending on who was born, ha). Our trip includes a two-hour stateside flight, followed by a four-hour international flight. Give or take a few minutes, depending on the wind, of course. And the amount of time it takes circling the airport when there's no space to land. Stuff like that.

(I am going to go ahead and bullet-point these tips, since I am nerdy like that and bullet-points make me feel organized. So, here you go! Oh, and I'm including a few pictures that I took with my phone.)

1) Plan For The Day You Return. Yes, this is a biggie for me. Before we leave, I'm already thinking of what is waiting for us when we get back--dance class, school, bible study, etc. It's important to realize you will have traveled with kids and life is going to be ready for you to hit the ground running when you get home, no matter how tired you might be. Make it a little easier on yourself by freezing some lunches, laying out clothes to wear the day after you get back, picking up the house a bit, and stocking the freezer with some frozen pizzas. Even if your kids do great on the trip, you will be tired! Kids who are great while traveling means the parents did their part, too. (And kids who freak out on trips give their parents a run for their money, and thusly the parents will be extra tired. If you think your kids might freak out on your trip, freeze a cake. And don't share.)

2) Make A Packing List. I type out a list and after the items are packed, I highlight them. I'm painfully thorough with the listing. In our case, we have to pack swim stuff, too, like, say, puddle jumpers. Have you ever tried to pack a puddle jumper? IT TAKES UP THE ENTIRE SUITCASE. But our girls love to swim with them, so, they come with us. Think through what a day will look like on your trip, morning to night, and make a list of everything you think you will use. If you know there will be a washer/dryer available, go easy on the clothes. I always overpack clothes and I always regret it. Oh, and to pack our clothing, we lay our shirts flat and pile them in one stack, and then roll them up, jelly-roll style. We do the same with our pants/shorts, too. It's a space-saver. Even for those of us who overpack, ahem. Also, think of any medicine that you might want to bring with you, that may not be readily available at your destination. For example, we have unexpired prescription ear drops and eye drops that our kids have needed at various times, so we throw those in our bags. There's nothing worse than waking up to a kid with a goopy eye. Especially when you are a few thousand miles away from home. And your doctor.

3) Utilize the Carry-Ons. Okay. So, this depends on the ages of your kids, but if your littles are big enough to bring their own pack, like a Skip-Hop pack or a small backpack, let them. I tried to stuff all of our airplane activities into my carry-on purse/bag/tote ... and the straps broke. Sweet. After I did a little separating and dispersing of items in each of the kids' packs, it lightened my load and gave them something to be responsible for. Each of their packs had a blanket, a few activities, a small surprise toy, and a change of clothes in a Ziploc bag. Our littlest had a little accident on the plane that required a change of clothes, and it was handy to have not only the change of clothes, but the Ziploc for the dirty clothes. You never know what the day will bring, so a change of clothes is a must! Also, pack an empty sippy cup/water bottle/cup-with-a-lid to fill up after you go through security. Drinks in the flimsy cups they serve on airplanes will spill easily. Especially when it's fruit punch.

On that note, don't forget the wipes.

4) Get Creative. First, repeat after me: It's okay if your kid zones out on the iPad while on the plane. It's okay. You aren't a bad parent. Even my most die-hard we-don't-own-a-TV friends will say that on a plane? Anything goes. It's for a short amount of time (all things considered). Their brains will not melt, they will be okay. BUT, if you don't want screen time, or if you want to have a little variety, or at least postpone inevitable screen time, some crafts and activities are good to have on hand. For us, this includes small puzzles (make sure the finished product is small enough to fit on the tray-table on the plane), coloring pages and crayons (I printed tropical fish/coral reef/colossal squid pages for the kids, to fit the theme of our vacation...or they can color the barf bag), a necklace craft using dental floss and Cheerios (BIG hit with Lydia), building blocks from the Target dollar aisle, and lots of stickers. I packed Scotch tape to tape the coloring paper on the kids' trays and included a small stack of their favorite books, too. Also, packaged snacks are fine to take with you in and out of the country, so keep that in mind. They will frown upon unpackaged fruit. And illegal parrots. When you're packing fun things to do, remember that there could always be a flight delay that requires more time in the airport than you anticipated--activities and snacks aren't just for the plane ride!

5) Make It An Event. My kids have all flown a few times, but we still build it up and make it a really big deal. We lay out "nice" (but comfortable) clothes for day we fly. For the girls, this means cute sundresses, and for Cub, it means a cotton polo shirt and comfortable shorts. For us, we're trying to send the message to our kids that flying on a plane is something that grown-ups do, and it's a privilege for them to experience it, too. "Nicer" clothing helps to communicate that, and also helps to define our behavior expectations for them on the trip. International trips require lots of lines--security, customs, security again, customs again ... so we try to prepare them. While we were going through customs, we explained to the kids what was going on--Aruba needed to let us out of their country so the United States could let us in, for example--so they could kind of get a grasp as to what was going on. Also, the past few times we've flown, our kids haven't had to take off their shoes while going through security, but, just in case, slip-on shoes or sandals might be a good idea!

1) Passports! You will need them, ha. A child's passport expires after five years, so be sure to keep your passports updated. If your kiddos don't have a passport yet, you can fill out the paperwork here, and print it out. You can get a pic taken cheaply at Walgreens, too, and they can have it ready in a matter of minutes. Both parents must be present when applying for the passport of a minor, so it's helpful to have all of your ducks in a row before you actually turn in your paperwork!  We've found that storing them in our carry-on in a Ziploc bag WITH A PEN works best for us. Note that I typed WITH A PEN in all-caps. This was on purpose. At some point on your journey, you will need to fill out immigration documentation, and it's nice to have a pen handy, so you're not waiting on someone to get one for you while your three year-old is asking for a snack and your toddler is writing on his or her forehead with a marker and the four year-old has to go potty. Anticipate that the time to fill out documentation may be an inconvenient one, and this is an easy way to prevent digging through your purse when the time comes, whether you're on a plane or standing in line at customs. Keeping a pen with your passports will help it go more smoothly.

2) Expect the Unexpected. Here's the deal. No matter what, there are going to be variables that are out of your control when you travel. No matter how much you prepare, no matter how many hours you spend creating the perfect in-air craft or how neatly you've organized your travel-size games, ultimately, there are bigger variables out there that you cannot control. Flight delays that leave you sitting in the airport, flight delays that result in short layovers that result in running through an airport, flight delays that leave you on the runway with barely any A/C while your captain optimistically tells you that your plane is only the eighth in line, a stubborn seatbelt that snaps your well-dressed toddler's finger and makes them hysterically scream...while you're stuck on the amount of edible crafts or cardboard books can prevent those things from happening. Go into the trip with low expectations, and try to relax. Give yourself, and your kids, grace.

Traveling with kids is doable. It isn't always easy, but it isn't always hard, either. And the older they get, the easier it gets. And the vacation is always worth it. Keep it in perspective--two days of flying, with however many days in-between of making memories, enjoying a different culture, and spending lots of time together. If you plan ahead and take care of the things you can control, it will be a lot easier to handle the things that you can't control. And it's always okay to arm yourself with Starbucks for the journey.

Have a lovely day, friends!


  1. great tips from a great momma. : )

  2. You're a GREAT mama and I feel privileged to have gotten to witness all of this for myself. She's the real deal people and her kids really are that precious. And cute. And smart. I love your sweet little family.
    And just a side-note...that starfish is as big as her head!

  3. We're going to be traveling to Bulgaria with our seven year old son in the near future to pick up our new daughter and bring her home. We'll have about 24 hrs of travel both ways, and it makes me a bit nervous. I've decided that even if they both meltdown and nothing goes right we'll eventually make it home as a family of four, and that's all that matters.

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