Traveling With Kids: Lessons from a Part-time European
I love living in Texas, but I like to spend a few weeks out of the year back home in the Czech Republic. When it was just me making the trip, it was no big deal – having family in Europe means you get used to travel. Two kids later, traveling overseas takes a lot more planning, to say the least. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way to keep your sanity intact.
Before you start your trip, you need to be prepared for 15+ hours of boredom, hunger, runny noses, spills and the various other calamities that children stumble into. I prepare a kit of ‘emergency’ supplies for myself, and then each of my kids get a backpack full of activities, so they can entertain themselves for the longest time possible.
Here are some of our favorite airplane activities and most vital backpack supplies.
1) Get creative
Art supplies are perfect for keeping kids occupied for a few hours. In the boring off-white world of a plane, a few colors and some sheets of paper keep the imagination humming. I recommend crayons because there’s no danger of permanently adorning an airplane seat with you child’s masterwork. You can bring coloring books, but be careful not to get one that’s too heavy, you may end up carrying it!
2) Avoid airborne germs
The travel backpack doesn’t just fight boredom – it also helps fight infection. I make sure to bring plenty of wet wipes. Wet wipes are helpful for sticky hands, but we also use them to wipe down armrests and tray tables. Remember, if there are germs around, your kids are going touch them (and probably put their hands in their mouths right after).
3) Go digital
We like to keep our kids away from too many electronics, but an airplane is the perfect place to take out the tablet and let the little ones zone out. International flights usually have a few kids movies and games built into the headrest, but they’re often too complex for young children to follow. A few pre-loaded games and movies can spare you hours of distraction – if they’re educational, all the better! Be sure to bring earphones, the entire plane doesn’t want to hear about the adventures of your kid’s favorite cartoon character.
4) Everyone loves toys
Kids are pretty uncritical when it comes to toys, as long as it’s new, they’re going to love it for at least a little while. Before a long plane ride, I go to Target and pick up a few little things for my kids to play with – nothing fancy, just some inexpensive figurines they can make-believe with. You should already know this, but don’t get anything with small pieces that can pose a choking hazard – no one wants to deliver a Heimlich maneuver 3,000 feet over the Atlantic.
5) Fight off hangryness
Airline food is already a dicey proposition and when you add kids to the mix it’s pretty much game over. We make sure to bring plenty of snacks that I know my kids will eat. That way we can avoid a hunger induced tantrum eight hours into the flight.
6) Keep warm
Sometimes a little piece of home is all it takes to soothe a fussy kid. I like to pack a blanket from home (and when my kids were smaller, I’d bring a Baby Ota) for them to snuggle up in. When things get chilly, a well-loved family blanket is also a safer bet than the thin one the airline provides (plus, who know where those have been?).
7) Stay dry
Airplanes are a perfect storm for a disastrous spill – tight quarters, lots of liquids without lids, and the ever-present threat of boredom. When the inevitable happens, you want to be prepared. Pack a change of clothes and ensure that one spill doesn’t ruin everyone’s flight.
8) Zip it
The humble plastic bag can help out quite a bit, they can hold the aforementioned snacks, wet clothes, used wipes and toys – saving space and sparing the airline crew from tackling a small mountain of leftover kids activities when you finally land.
Hopefully you can borrow some of these techniques to help on your next long trip! Share your own tips in the comments, I know I can definitely use them!