People told me I was crazy... or brave, I didn't think much of it. We wanted a vacation, and we were going to go gosh darn-it. It has been a particularly long winter being somewhat cooped up in our house and a warm weather destination was just what the doctor ordered. So we booked our tickets to Florida about 6 months in advance of our trip. We sort of knew what we were getting into, we knew that the Twinstroms would be about 15 months, the same age that the four-year-old was when we took him on his first airplane ride. Traveling with a young one wasn't a foreign experience to us. Traveling with two really young ones and another young one was a completely foreign experience. So, I started visualizing the trip early. Troubleshooting, if you will. I imagined every moment of the vacation from the arrival at the airport until we were dropped off safely at our front door. It would be an entire week. I am nothing, if not prepared.
So, after months and months of preparation (it’s like Thanksgiving dinner. It takes a whole day to prepare, and only 20 minutes to eat) we did it, and I learned a lot from the experience which I want to share with you, should you find yourself or a loved one planning to travel with small children.
1. Be over prepared. The more prepared you are, the calmer you will be, and the calmer your kids will be. If you think you have everything under control, they will trust that you do (even if it turns out that you don’t.)
2. When picking a flight, try as best you can to fit it into your children’s schedule. If you want them to be sleepy, maybe get an early flight so that you will have to wake them early in the morning, and they’ll still be tired. Or if you can sync it up with a naptime, even better. If they tend to be crabbier later in the day, perhaps that won’t be the best option. I have to be honest, I searched for a flight that would work on our schedule before I searched prices. In the end it was a difference of about $100, but I honestly think it was worth the pain for us. If you’re taking a road trip, take the same things into account.
3. When you check in for the flight, ask about seating. I was surprised to find out that while we originally had booked three seats across in a row (intending to have one twin on each adult lap and our four-year-old in the center) we could not all share a row. There are only four oxygen masks in the row. Ask lots of questions; are the seats around us taken up by individuals or groups (indicating families vs. individual or business travelers)? Can we pre-board? Have we accidentally been placed in an exit row (everyone in the exit row has to be over 18)? Ask any question you have to anyone with a name badge and some wings!
4. Make sure that you have squirreled away some new toys, ones that have never been seen or played with so that your kids can have something new to be fascinated with on the flight. And when at your vacation destination, a few days before the return, grab something new and exciting for the return trip. You won’t be sorry…
5. Pack food. Lots and lots of food. For a couple of reasons: If you, like me are meticulous about foods that contain potential allergens, you can only control the foods that you have with you. So, pack your own foods, the snacks that you KNOW are safe for you and your kids. Also, I have found that favorite snacks can be excellent for behavior modification. (That is a fancy way of saying “bribery”, but when you are at umptifoo thousand feet, you’ll do what you have to do…)
6. If you have very small children, talk to them as much as you can about what to expect and what you expect of them. Answer questions as honestly as you can, and start talking about it weeks in advance of the trip. Getting them used to the idea will only help you in the long run. Pretend that you are flying for the first time, and tell them everything that happens. Talk about going through security, let them know that they will have to take off their shoes, tell them about the lines, and the metal detector, tell them what take-off feels like, tell them what landing feels like, get them excited about what kinds of things they might do during the flight, EVERYTHING you can think of. Talk about it often, as often as they want you to. The more prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. Even if it’s not their first time flying. They may need to be reminded.
7. If you have very small children, choreograph the coming and the going. Who is going to sit where? Who is going to lead and who will bring up the rear? Who is carrying whom or what? When you leave the plane, are you going to hop up ASAP? Or wait until everyone around you has gotten off the plane? Who is responsible for which bags, or any other things that were brought on the plane?
8. Most importantly: COMMUNICATE! Calmly and directly with each other. It can be stressful to travel without kids. Children bring another element to air travel. Remember that no matter what, you will get to your destination, you will either do it with a calm child, or a distressed child, but you can remain calm and COMMUNICATE with everyone around you about what you need and what is happening. The calmer you can be, the calmer those around you will be.
In the end, the Lindstroms had a very positive experience traveling with the whole fam damily, and we’ll do it again (though, not any time soon)! It was exhausting, but the benefit of getting away and having time as a family was well worth the effort we had to put in.
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