…Short Answer…MOST OF THE WORLD. Americans don’t travel with children internationally as often as everyone else in the world mostly because of how freaking far away the USA is from everything else…AND we have FIFTY states to visit that are all so different – seeing them all is something every American spends a lifetime trying to do, much less go ACROSS THE POND. Also, let’s face it – it’s expensive to fly internationally from the USA for one person, much less, adding a bunch of kids to the bill.
Growing up in the middle of the continental U.S., flights are not very long in comparison to an international flight. I think the longest flight I’ve ever been on in the States was three and a half hours. When I was a kid and flew to see my Dad, (he was in the military and my parents were divorced) the flights never bothered me. Luckily, my Dad got me a Walkman CD player so that I could listen to music to pass the time and I remember belting out Shania Twain on the way to San Francisco and I couldn’t hear how loud I was because he had gotten me some badass leather-cushioned headphones (before BOSE was a thing) and I couldn’t hear shit. Not until my grandmother tapped me on the hand and gave me this little smirk did I know…Hopefully I sounded GOOD.
But those were before the days of the immediate gratification that my children are accustomed. (Wonder what they’ll call their generation…?) Now, kids don’t even have to watch commercials (which was kind of fucking awesome until they discovered the weird world of grown ass adults playing with toys on YouTube..that’s basically an entire episode of a “commercial…) they can just literally be like, “Oh I want to binge on Wild Kratts and I want to see the episode where they help the tiger…” This reality is NOT flight friendly. Sometimes not even when you fly business class on the world’s most luxurious airline, because although the airline has done their duty to put Paw Patrol on their amazing entertainment system…little spoiled shits have already seen that entire season and they don’t want to watch it and canNOT understand why the new episodes with Everest aren’t an option. But I digress.
I have three kids. Each 3 years apart and my youngest is 2.5…so I have an array of expectations to fulfill. Most importantly, the toddler. He’s fucking insane. He requires a dungeon of darkness to sleep…so he doesn’t sleep on a plane…and then my middle child isn’t that great at reading yet so he has to have extra help, too. My oldest is a survivor (Bless Her Heart) and I don’t have to do a thing with her…
BUT – no less, here are my tips on traveling from my experience traveling back and forth from Texas to Dubai with the brood.
1. Preparing for the Flight
One of my biggest bouts of anxiety when we first had to travel with the kids was airport security. Trying to imagine how all three of my kids would deal with mommy and daddy having to take out every single thing and put it into the bins and take our shoes off and then how would we walk through so that we didn’t lose a kid…
First, pack smart. Do not take ANYTHING on that plane that you don’t need. Every kid gets a backpack for their crap (books, crossword puzzles, iPad, toys, a few legos, a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, snacks, sippy cup, etc.) because an International Flight for Americans means that you’ll be on the plane for a whole day. Snacks. When you think you haven’t packed enough – pack more. My kids do not typically eat non-perishable food, but for flying, I make an exception for my sanity. Just like grown ass adults, boredom hunger strikes every five minutes. (Especially when you see that stupid airplane icon still has 8 more hours to go until you’ve reached your destination). For whatever reason, eating passes the time. The food on our flights to and fro are excellent, and the kids like it…but there are several hours in between each meal. This is where goldfish, crackers, protein bars, etc come in handy.
For myself I take a backpack or a crossbody instead of a handbag so that my hands are free and I have a change of clothes, the diapers and wipes, my laptop, and makeup. My husband takes a backpack with his junk…and then we take ONE carry on luggage because I have really expensive camera equipment that I don’t want to check. Tip: I always pack a change of clothes just in case our luggage gets misplaced.
Oh, and obviously – get there WAY early.
2. What do you wear?
Leggings! DUH! We really take advantage of athliesure-wear for flights. I wear a black leggings, Nike’s, a comfy top –>but not a workout top, and then I dress it up with a cardigan or vest so that I don’t look too much like I’m about to go to the gym. Hubby wears about the same thing. I put the boys in cool little boy sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt, usually, for day flights, and then I pack their PJs. For the tot, he needs a couple of extra shirts because he ends up with food all over him….For middle of the night flights, I put them in their PJ’s most of the time and then pack the reverse.
Side note: a lot of people like to fly in sandals so that they don’t have to spend as much time taking off their shoes in the security line, but I do not want to walk on the floor barefoot…and when we’re traveling that far with kids, I want to be in some comfy shoes because there will be a lot of walking involved. And airports are always COLD.
We have a lot of bins…one for each laptop, 5 backpacks, two teddy bears, and the carry on…plus mine and hubby’s shoes. (The kids don’t have to take theirs off.) But we start removing clothing and shoes well before it’s our turn…we have a really good system.
We put one adult in the front, the kids in the middle, and the other of us at the back…so that one of us can receive the kids through the security checkpoint and one can keep an eye on them to the forward. When the tot was a baby we did have the stroller and they took it through separately and I carried him with me. Now, he just walks through the xRay machine himself. It’s always gone rather smooth and we’ve never taken up too much time. The most stressful part is the putting things back on while the kids are standing and putting things back in their bags…because we’re just sort of watching the kids out of our peripherals!
4. In Flight
So, the hardest part is SLEEP. A LOT of people suggest giving Benadryl but I really don’t care for that method – I tried it once out of desperation and all it did was send my toddler into a state of high – like he was on speed. I’m not a big fan of medicine at all. We have it but we don’t use it anymore. HOWEVER, like I mentioned previously, my toddler WILL NOT sleep on planes. Our flight is 16 hours and I have to have some sleep to function for the other two. You’ve got a couple of options, 1…tag team your husband and take turns. 2. Liquid Melatonin. I did this a few weeks ago and it didn’t make him sleep 8 hours, but it did chill him out and let him have a long 4 hour nap (at the very end of the flight.) I was a zombie but it at least kept me from re-seating him every 5 seconds like previous flights. The older two just watch movies and eat the whole time. Pretty easy to fly with the 5 and 8 year old. (Even since they were a few years younger also.) It’s the toddler that’s hard. We put him by the window so that he is sort of trapped. He plays with Hot Wheels and legos and will watch about 20 mins of TV/MOVIE.
5. Getting Off.
The easiest part of all. My kids are always excited but also scared, so they’ll be hyperaware of their surroundings since they’re in an unfamiliar place. I sit with the kids while my husband retrieves all of our luggage and the stroller…we play “I Spy” or talk about our plans after the luggage gets around. It’s not too stressful.
Hope your international flight goes as smooth as a baby’s bum!