If you have small children and you love to travel, just do it! I know it seems scary but it's never, ever as bad as you think it will be. Plus, you get all these amazing pictures of your kid having a great time and discovering new things. Look, I know I'm biased and partial to my own kid, but you have to admit, the pictures below show some really great memories! And if you're thinking, "well he won't remember it, he's too young!" that's probably true but he'll always have these pictures that you can revisit and talk to him about. We've even been back for two weeks now and I'm still hearing "go to Queenstown, Mommy?" "Go to Christchurch, Mommy?" "Sheep haircut, Mommy?" "Helicopter, Mommy?" "Go on airplane again, Mommy?" When I tell him we'll take another airplane trip to Lake George in the summer he goes "Airplane again this summer, Mommy?" Seriously, you may dread a long flight but if your kid is anything like my kid, he loves the plane and I secretly suspect it was his favorite part of the trip. Below I'll explain why!
I suspect most of you want to know about the flight, more than anything. I know it was my biggest nightmare before we left. Turns out I way over-prepared for it and really didn't need as much as I brought. Lee had a backpack for his diapers, extra clothes (at least 2 pairs... between food stains and potential blowouts, you'll use them!), and toys. (Backpack pictured above on Matt). We wanted to keep it to just one carry-on, which we did. But it was majorly heavy so if I had to do it again, I'd leave a few things at home.
I bought a bunch of new books and a few new toys for the flight. The books were good but in reality I only needed the thin, light ones I bought (set of 5, 3 of which are pictured below). I could have left the thick cardboard books at home although when he was smaller he loved the lift the flap ones. I also bought a ton of sticker books but the biggest hit was the airplane sticker book (pictured below). It was relevant to what we were doing, had stickers, and he even asked for it as a bedtime story! It's still his favorite now that we're home! As far as toys go, I bought him some small trucks (set of 6, a few pictured below), something I noticed that he really liked at his cousin's house. I also added 2 paw patrol pups since that's his current favorite show. I did not let him play with or even see these before we left. So once he started getting cranky I could pull out the new stuff and he'd be thrilled! Worked quite well. I also brought along the mess free coloring books and markers (pictured below). This wasn't as big a hit since he's used them before but it gave him something different to do when he wasn't feeling anything else. For the next flight, these will probably be all the toys and books I'll bring.
Ok, so now you're probably thinking there's no way my 1-2 year old would be occupied for 12 1/2 hours with just that! And I'd say, yes, you're right. Our other go-to was the iPad. Not only did we find some really great age-appropriate games that he loved but we downloaded Moana and every time we needed him to sleep we'd let him watch it and he'd nod off. A word of caution, though. Lee was watching the iPad on a windy road in the car and he puked everywhere! He gets slightly car sick on really windy roads when reading or watching a screen (something we discovered when we went to Mammoth last year) so we should have kept the iPad out of his hands in the car but we didn't... lesson learned... again! After that we'd rotate who sat in the back to entertain him. Before we left we also started playing "I Spy" with him on our walks. Since it was something he was familiar with we could sometimes distract him with this game in the car. The other car game he loved the most? Taking off his socks and throwing them at Grandma like he was playing baseball. She'd throw them back and he was entertained for a crazy amount of time! Amazing what simple things can keep a kid occupied!
Another tip for the plane: let your kids walk the aisles as much as they want (when it's safe). Rotate parents (and hopefully grandparents) if you have them. If the kid is happy, no one will care that he's running up and down the aisles! In fact, Lee gets a lot of high-fives and we get to talk to a lot of new people.
Finally, my last piece of advice for the plane would be SNACKS! Bring lots and bring favorites. I wasn't about to argue with him about eating vegetables but I did pack lots of fresh fruit. I wanted to make sure he had the fiber, to avoid tummy troubles, but it also had to be something I wouldn't have to force into him. Keep in mind they will confiscate any fresh fruit that's left over when you arrive, but that wasn't a big deal for us. We just wanted to make sure he had more than enough for the plane.
So, you must be wondering how the flights actually went. Well, the flights were the easy part! Lee had only 2 major meltdowns. One could have been avoided with better planning and the other one was completely out of our hands.
Lee slept 7 1/2 hours on the first flight and woke up relatively happy. He napped the whole 2 hours on the connecting flight and was in good spirits. Not his usual amount of sleep but enough to keep him from falling apart. He was pretty uncomfortable sleeping on our laps (and so were we!) on the plane so if you have the budget I'd recommend getting your little one a seat of his/her own and bringing along their car seat. I bet Lee would have slept more soundly. But I totally understand that travel is crazy expensive so not paying for a seat is ideal. Lee still slept pretty good, so I can't complain. His first meltdown came during the last hour of our 5 1/2 hour car trip directly after we landed. We had decided to land in Christchurch and immediately drive to Queenstown. He slept a few hours in the car but couldn't get comfortable the last hour. I felt horrible for him. With better planning we could have flown into Queenstown and avoided the meltdown. But we also got to see some pretty epic scenery driving (although that's not much of consolation for a mother thinking she's horrible for putting her kid through all this just so she could see the world and not leave her kid behind to do so!).
And now the time change... we are lucky on the West Coast because the time difference is only 3 hours. This amount of time is not that big of a deal to adjust to. We got a little screwed on the way back because Daylight Saving Time made the difference 4 hours but it wasn't too bad. My philosophy with the time differences is: let the kids sleep whenever they want, including little cat naps. They will slowly adjust on their own and if they sleep when they're tired you can avoid meltdowns and tantrums. I've found that Lee wanted to be awake when it was light out and asleep when it was dark. In fact he slept through the night every night (I couldn't believe it!). He didn't sleep his normal 10-11 hours, though. It was more like 9-91/2 but with all the distractions during the day it didn't make a difference in his temperament. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I would suggest that if you're having them sleep in the car or strollers almost every day, take a day every three days or so and let them sleep at the hotel or rental to get some good quality sleep. You'll know when they're hitting their limit of so-so naps and they really need a good one.
That brings me to accommodations. Get an Airbnb or a VRBO. It's been such a lifesaver for us when we travel. We've been able to afford places with a separate room for Lee (which we could not afford if we stayed at a hotel) and they usually include a kitchen and some even have washers and dryers! Not eating out every meal made it much easier to avoid public meltdowns. Especially at the end of the day when we pushed him too hard. It's a lot easier to let your over-tired kid run around a rented apartment while eating dinner than forcing him to sit still and eat at a restaurant. It's also cheaper to make a grocery store run and eat in every once in a while, especially since your group is much larger now that you have a kid or two!
Now you're probably wondering about the unavoidable meltdown. That came in the customs line when we returned to the U.S. Lee didn't sleep great on the return flight so he was tired. He kept it together on the plane and was a little angel. Once we got off he naturally wanted to run around. Unlike other countries you are shepherded immediately into the customs and immigration lines after exiting the plane (no time to let off steam or even go to the bathroom). So we had to contain our overly tired toddler. Not good. The other problem? You aren't allowed to use electronic devices in line... so that meant, no iPad. The last problem? There were only 3 customs officers for 2 international flights! We waited in line for almost an hour before a customs officer let us go ahead because of our screaming child. We endured screaming, hitting and kicking for a good 45 minutes. So, be prepared. There are just some times when a public tantrum is unavoidable. In this instance, everyone felt the way Lee was acting and no one gave us dirty looks... just sympathy looks. Everyone was pissed. So I found some solace in that fact!
Another little tidbit. We've traveled to a lot of places with high altitudes. If you're staying somewhere at a higher altitude than your kid is used to and you can't figure out why your kid isn't sleeping, try a humidifier or turn on the shower for a few minutes. We found the dryness of the higher altitudes kept Lee up because he was uncomfortable. Took us 2 sleepless nights in Mammoth last year to realize this! Don't make the same mistake we did!
Last but not least, you know your kid better than anyone! You know their limits and, even if you're in denial about them like I am, you know your own. Listen to your instincts. You've got this!
Now onto our adventures! Enough words, already, c'mon Carra!
For more on the specifics of our adventures, stay tuned for the next few blog posts. Please leave any comments or questions if you've got some! Happy to share my experiences and advice! Good luck to you all and may you have safe and happy travels!