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June 21, 2010

Flying with kids...

Over the next three weeks, we'll spend more than 28 hours on an airplane with two squirmy five year old girls.  We've done long flights like this several times before and survived pretty well but it's never something we look forward to.  It's stressful and uncomfortable and exhausting (I never sleep on planes).  Sometimes the only thing that knocks the sharp edges off of my misery is 2 or 3 plastic cups of delightful airline brand Chardonnay.

The girls are veteran air travelers but a lot of thought goes into keeping them happy during a flight this long.  I always make sure they have plenty of snacks and art supplies or games to get them through the flight but it seems like I'm constantly called on to retrieve dropped or stowed items.  Just when I get comfortable, someone's iPod falls off the tray table or someone wants some Cheetos... or their 'lovey' or their purple crayon or some gum or a tissue.  Or I need my computer or my reading glasses or something that is always more than an arms length away from me.  And these search-and-find missions are made more frustrating by the extra challenge of reaching around and under kids legs and dealing with tray tables and the reclined seats of the people in the row in front of us. 

By the end of the flight, I feel like I've flapped my arms all the way across the Atlantic.

I can't tell you how many times I wished there was something I could attach to the upright tray table.  Something that would organize all of our stuff and keep everything at our fingertips.  I really needed to solve this problem - even if I had to invent something myself - so I was thrilled when I found this:

20100621zenclass6656

It's the Nirvana Travel Organizer by Zen Class. It's designed to fit over the upright tray table on the airplane.  You just slip it on and lock the table in place.  I couldn't wait to test drive it so I hung it over the back of my kitchen chair and started filling it up.  Man, it holds a TON of stuff!  Including a bunch of things you can't see in the photo.  It even holds a large laptop computer! 

When the flight is over, the whole thing folds in half (minus the laptop, of course) and zips closed to make it easy to tote.

20100621zenclass6626

There are so many extras on this that I'm sure we'll use it for every flight.  Even (gasp!) when we travel without kids.   So far, the only downside I can see is that you can't really use it when the tray table is in use (down) but we plan to figure out a work-around to solve that.

I bought two.  One in black and one in brown.


More Tips & Tricks

First, we learned that we should ALWAYS try to get the bulkhead row and bring our travel car seats.  The kids are seasoned veterans of sleeping in car seats so this is the easiest way to travel with them.  However, you can't use the car seats in any row other than bulk head (unless your child has no legs) so it's not always possible to bring them.  In that case, preparation is your best friend:

  • You need to bring as many distractions as you can and plan for every possible crisis.  That means bringing a total change of clothes for her AND you.
  • If you can't bring the car seats, bring your child's pillow and a small blanket from home.  I can easily squish two pillows and two baby blankets into a carry on that fits under the seat.  It might seem bulky and inconvenient but if it helps your child sleep, it's more than worth it.  When they're not sleeping, they can sit on the folded pillow to prop them up higher so they can see the in-flight movie.
  • Bring Pull-Ups too because sometimes you can't get up to use the toilet and young kids can't always hold it until the Captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign.
  • Make friends with everyone around you (buy them a glass of wine if you need to) and apologize in advance to the person directly in front of your child for all of the times their seat back will be kicked during the flight.  They'll almost always smile and say "no problem" and they'll be a little less annoyed when it does happen. 

Every time we have a big trip planned, I starting thinking months ahead about what we'll bring to help us get through it.  It's always different for each child and each age but some things have remained constant:

  • Stroller and/or carrier.  Jet lag is hard on kids.  If you have a schedule to adhere to or if you're part of a travel group or tour, you really need to figure out where you'll put your sleeping child so that you can keep moving.  Unless you want to carry them, a stroller is essential (here's our newest)!  This is even more true for older kids because they're heavy and harder to carry for long stretches of time. 
  • Toys:  New stuff that they've never seen before and old favorites (like iPods and DVD players and Leapsters that are small and compact.   I keep a tote bag that is full of fun little treasures and only use it for trips.  That way, it's always new and exciting for them.
  • Food:  We usually travel with a bunch of Pediasure.  Especially if we're in a foreign country where our picky eaters can't be certain to find familiar foods.  Our kids love Pediasure so we bring enough for one meal replacement per day (and spread it out between all of the suitcases.  Since it's gone by the end of the trip, we have extra room in our suitcases for souvenirs!
  • ID Tags - with our child's name and our cell phone numbers written in English and in the language of our host country.   Including the phone number to the US embassy.  We use a cute luggage tag and attach it to our child's belt loop with a sturdy elastic hair band.  We also make sure our kids know their full name, country, state, city, area code and phone number and quiz them frequently.  It always amazes me that kids know the whole ABC song years before they know their own area code and phone number.  We put our phone number to a tune and sang it to them and they learned it almost immediately.
  • Beds for kids:  If we're sharing a hotel room with the girls, we travel with Aero Beds (for the kids).  We've saved hundreds of dollars doing this so the beds have paid for themselves over and over again.  We also use them when we visit relatives.  Two beds, pillows, blankets and a favorite stuffed animal easily fit into one medium sized suitcase. 
  • Noise Machine.  Hotels are horribly noisy and sleeping in the same room with your kids is noisy too.  White noise is my best friend!  Don't forget to bring a night-light too because hotel rooms are very dark! (we store these items in the suitcase with the Aero Beds so it's always packed and ready to go)

Just to clarify... we don't take ALL of this stuff on each and every trip.  It depends on where we're going, where we're staying and how long we're staying.  I could probably go on and on but this is already long enough! 

If there's something you always take with you when you travel and it's made your life easier, I'd love to hear about it! 

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