The world is beautiful. Imagine massive lands of waterfalls, historical monuments, towering mountains, and adorable villages. Imagine the hundreds of beautiful languages you haven’t heard sing. Imagine seeing the stars from the opposite side of the world. For many, this is a dream that continues to be a dream once a child joins the family. I’ve lost count of numerous times I’ve heard people say they don’t want children because then they won’t be able to travel. Or how about the countless of families that settle for trips to Disneyland or the nearest lake instead of embarking on an adventure and exploring a different country or even state because “it would be too hard with the kids.” Don’t get me wrong, Disneyland and lakes are great, I mean I’m a fan myself, but why settle for seeing the world from a little pink power boat when you can become a part of it. I’m sure this topic has been around for years, but I feel our society has completely warped the idea of traveling with children into a negative and absurd idea. So here I am, as a mother of three, to tell you that it is possible and totally enjoyable!
Last year we decided to do the unthinkable and set out for Europe for 5 weeks. I remember my husband, Anthony, and I sat down and stared at a map for about an hour trying to decide on where we wanted to go. I wanted to do Scotland and Italy, he wanted to do Paris and Spain. We kept going back and forth until I yelled out “let’s do all of them!” For a minute he just sat there and stared at me like I had spoken in some alien language. After all, I did sound crazy at the time. I mean silly of us to think we could travel to 6 different countries in 5 weeks with a 5 year old, 15 month old, and me being 5 months pregnant at the time. We were clearly crazy and I was the instigator. But then we got to really thinking and realized it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if we planned it right. There would be multiple airplane (8 to be exact) and train (5 total not including dozens of metros) rides, which scares all parents, and to be honest it scared us too. Not because we would be ascended hundreds of miles in an aluminum tube with our entire family, but because what if “the kids get fussy.” Now if you’ve been following me for some time, you know that our middle child, Xander, is not a walk in the park. Since he was an infant, he had terrible tantrums which consisted of unbearable screaming and aggressive behavior. So he was definitely our biggest concern. How would we get him to cope with an 8 hour flight? How could we entertain him on every train ride? What on earth would we do if he did have an episode mid air above the big blue? And so the search for all these answers and parent tricks began. After hours, days and weeks of research I had a solid, simple, and straightforward list of 3 tips that I would follow and put together for our adventure. Now before I share the golden secrets of parenting with you, let me make a small disclaimer. All kids are different, so some of these may not work on your child, but hey, you’ll never know until you give it a try right?
1. A tired child is a sleepy child.
If you have a morning flight or train, wake the kids up when the sun rises, or if you have an evening take-off, then no naps allowed! Pair this with tons of physical activity to exhaust them. Get to the airport early and walk them up until your the last ones to board the plane. Have them run around at the park, do jumping jacks, climb stairs, any form of exercise that will tire them out will be worth it. Yes they might get a bit fussy since you’re essentially sleep depriving them for a few hours, but trust me, you’ll thank me when your kids are the only ones snoozing on that dreaded flight over the clouds! Needless to say, Xander slept for the first half of our very first 8 hour flight (que applause!) Even Addy slept for several hours and trust me, she hasn’t napped since she was 2. Anthony and I even got to enjoy some movies while the kids napped! Feel free to double pat me on the back.
2. The lollipop that failed.
On one of the flights, I remember a little girl that wailed uncontrollably for about 3 hours straight a few seats to the right of us. When the little girl first started crying, after she had finished her apple juice box, a passenger in front of her offered the mother a lollipop. Do you think it worked? It sure did, for a whole 3 minutes! After the lollipop had been devoured, the little girl pumped with sugar and strapped to an airplane seat exploded into hours of unconsolable tears. See here’s the thing, imagine drinking 3 cups of coffee then being buckled into a chair for more than 4 hours without being able to get up and walk. Do you see where I’m going with this? So, we completely avoided all forms of sugar for the kids before boarding and while on the plane. No juice, no candy, or fruit. Instead we packed snacks that were high in protein which contains tryptophan, a natural sleep and calming amino acid. For example, cheese and crackers, peanut butter, nuts, greek yogurt, and milk. This worked great for us, because not only did the snacks keep the kids happy and busy for a while, but their temporary diet kept them calm 98% of all our travels.
3. The funmergency kit.
Okay, here is the bread and butter of my advice to all traveling parents. Pack a fun kit and put some real love into it. It may take a few days to put together, but it will be worth every minute when your kid starts to get the fuss bug mid-air. Here’s the breakdown of what our fun pack consisted of.
- Backpack : Each child had their own. One bag carried all the snacks and the other bag carried all the entertainment. The bags are lightweight and lasted without any tears the entire trip.
- Headphones : Each child had their own to avoid sharing disasters. Lil Gadget has great child friendly headphones for a reasonable price. They lasted us the entire trip through drops and tugs and endless traveling.
- Tablet : This one was tough for me because I am not a big fan of putting kids in front a screen for hours at a time, but let’s face it, when traveling, it can definitely come in handy. My husband downloaded several kid movies and cartoons on both our laptop and cell phones. Remember not all planes and trains have kid friendly movies or games so it’s totally worth bringing your own just in case.
- Coloring : I bought 2 small coloring books and 2 sets of Crayola Twistable Crayons. I didn’t have to worry about Xander breaking them or eating them which is always a bonus right?
- Stickers : What child doesn’t love stickers? One sticker sheet alone kept Xander busy for at least 15 minutes. You can tell stories with the stickers. You can have them stick the stickers on the plastic cups they hand out on the planes. The possibilities are endless with stickers really.
- Play-doh : Now I know this makes a lot of parents cringe, but there’s no denying kids love it. Yes they do allow it on airplanes as long as it’s in the small container and I’d recommend only taking 3-4 colors. So many online articles claim it will get confiscated but out of all the flights we took, we were never so much as questioned about it. However, this was an activity that we did together in order to keep the mess to a minimum and avoid play doh snacking.
- Pipe cleaner : This one was my absolute favorite! It took me less than 3 minutes to make and kept Xander busy for 20-30 minutes at a time. I also did another version of this with a cream cheese container. All you do is cut a few holes on the lid and buy a bag of colored soft balls from your local craft store. This one was also a big hit with Xander. Even Addy played with it several times. Double win!
- Mini presents : I went to the dollar store and bought about 5 different little toys ranging from cars, to little characters. Think small and fun, like shopkins and hot wheels which I wrapped in colored tissue paper. Don’t tape it just in case security wants to look at what’s inside. This never happened to us, but better safe than having to unwrap all your parenting tricks in the middle of the airport security check line. I handed one to Xander whenever he started to get bored or fussy and it was like Christmas on the plane! Not only does it take time for them to unwrap the toy, but then the new toy keeps them busy for a while as well. Momma 7, Xander 0 that’s right!
- Bandaids : Yup you read that right. Bandaids are like a sticker’s cousin and kids love them! Period.
- Cheerios: Buy some string and bring a small bag of cheerios. Have your child put the string through the cheerios to make a necklace or bracelet. Then it’s snack time!
- Post-it pads : They can color on them, crumble them, stick them, etc. We’ll call this one sticker’s uncle.
- Book : Don’t forget your child’s favorite book.
And there you have it folks! I mean there’s tons of activity ideas out there on the web, but some require a lot of time consuming creating on your part or start to add up on cost. All of this, excluding the headphones and tablet, totaled to less than $30 which in my experience was the best investment I ever made! It even came in handy when we visited museums and cathedrals.
We only had one small tantrum which lasted a whopping 5 minutes on our final flight back home, so I’d say we were pretty darn successful! Sure, maybe next time won’t be so smooth, but then again maybe it will. One this is for sure, we will keep exploring the world with our 3 little adventurers and I challenge you to as well!