Currently these are my thoughts based on several international trips with our now two-year-old (one child only). Our typical trip is 3 legs (2 transfers) and between 20 to 26 hours long. Some trips have gone better than others, but thankfully, all long trips eventually come to an end. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
– There is a ridiculous book called A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry. I think reading it with my son before the trip was great for getting him familiar with the airport.
– If you require a special meal, don’t forget to request it with the booking or over the phone at least a couple of days before your departure date.
Input and Output (Feeding and Diapers):
– Extra diapers and changes of clothes for baby as well as extra shirts for the adults. The younger the child, the more extras to bring. (Think blowout diaper on a flight and extra clothes for the adult that needs to take care of “business.”)
– If you are bringing milk/liquids onboard (this is allowed, just let security know that you have liquids for a child and take them out at security), do not pack them in milk bottles or sippy cups. Put the liquids in a screw-top water bottle with a small ice pack in a lunch bag. I used to carry milk in insulated sippy cups but stopped because they would leak milk when the air pressure decreased on the airplane. I pour the milk into the sippy cup/bottle when needed. Do not depend on the plane for milk for your baby, they often run out on long flights (ask me how I know ;)).
– Bring a small bottle of liquid dish detergent and small brush (optional). You can fill any small bottle with your regular detergent. This makes it easy to clean bottles/cups/pacifiers in any airplane or airport bathroom.
– Food pouches are great for feeding while traveling and work great for ear-popping during takeoff/landing. Also, pack snacks that your child is familiar with and will eat. Flights are not good times to introduce new foods. I also am sure to pack enough snacks for the hungry adult companions.
– Pack a bib. I don’t, and I regret it every time.
Comfort and Ear-Popping/Ear Pain:
– If planning to nurse during take-off wait for the pilot to say the magic words, “Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff.” This happens when the plane is next in line for takeoff. Sometimes the message varies, “Flight attendants take your seats for takeoff.” I can’t count the number of times I messed up the timing and baby was done feeding while we were still waiting on the tarmac. I stopped trying to nurse during take-off because my son seemed fine and saved my energy for the landing instead.
– Chewing and swallowing helps ease ear pain. The methods I use are 1. Sippy cup (with milk, juice, or water) 2. Applesauce food pouch 3. Fruit snacks 4. Soothie/Pacifier. In a pinch, a small moistened towel would work also.
– If my son indicates that his ears hurt, I give him a small massage in addition to having him chew or suck on something. I gently pull down and outwards on his earlobes and rub his cheeks (near his ears) and temples with my thumbs. I have heard of people blowing into their children’s ears, or putting hot water-soaked paper towels in cups and putting the cup over their children’s ears but I have not tried these two methods.
– When traveling internationally, I always carry age-appropriate ibuprofen for everyone; ibuprofen in suspension when he was under 12 months old and chewable ibuprofen now that he is a toddler. This stuff can be hard to find overseas (or just when you need it) and is a life-saver.
– Baby carrier. Our son would sleep long hours in the baby carrier while on the plane. We were never able to use the bassinets in the plane either because they were unavailable, dirty, or not well attached to the wall. We stopped bringing the carrier along at age 1.5 when he stopped wanting to be carried in it.
– I made-up a nifty way to attach a car seat to my carry-on luggage using a $2 bungee cord from Home Depot. Makes carry a car seat a breeze.
– I hate crayola markers for flights. I got the fancy color wonder paper and markers for the last trip and the markers were rolling off the tray table every couple of mins because they are perfectly round. I prefer a real pen (ballpoint without a cap) and a small notepad. My son is not really interested in writing/drawing yet but he loves telling me what to draw.
– We don’t watch much TV at home but my son gets to watch as many programs as he wants on the inflight entertainment system while we are on the plane.
– I pack a few small toys (cars and plastic dinosaurs) that are not his most beloved. There is a good risk that they might get lost, and I do not pack those for flights. Airports and airplanes are fascinating. Cups and straws and ice and other people are also interesting. We have been able to get away with packing just a few small toys when we travel.
– Books. On our last trip we brought a couple of lightweight Curious George titles.
– A small bottle of bubbles can be a lot of fun while waiting in the airport. Just remember to pack it in a ziploc bag because these make messy spills.
In a pinch:
– Juice = Milk
– Cups, straws, and ice can be the best toys. Also, any small paper scrap with a face drawn on it becomes a finger puppet.
– Adult’s clothing = Kids clothing (so pack adult clothes in your carry-on)
General travel thoughts:
– My son is particularly susceptible to coughing, diarrhea, and diaper rash when we travel. Perhaps it is the junk food we feed him and differences in climate (we typically visit hot humid islands to see our extended families there). Adding diaper rash cream to the “must carry” list of items and making it a point to use it prophylactically. (And praying he’ll be out of diapers before our next trip.)
– Also yogurt is great travel food. Good for the stomach, doesn’t spoil easily, and easy to find in most countries. Should make it a point to continue feeding yogurt while traveling.
– I haven’t found a good solution to jet lag and time zone differences. It typically takes us about a week to fully adjust back to our regular schedule. I try as much as possible to avoid starting back at work within 24 hours of returning from a big trip.
– Broken routines and rules. For this one, I typically just go with the flow while on vacation and then try and break any bad habits upon return.
If you were totally unprepared and had an edge-case outlier disaster, you would have a great vacation story to tell everyone when you got back.