International Flight with a Toddler (eek!)

6 Mar

We are counting down the weeks until our Japan vacation! As much as I am looking forward to the trip, I am also dreading the time change and the 17-HOURS WE’LL BE FLYING A PLANE. If you include getting to the airport early, boarding, the layover, etc, we’ll basically be traveling with our two kids for 24 HOURS STRAIGHT (and that’s just one way). That thought is enough to make me want to hyperventilate.

I’m not too worried about our 4-year old. She can watch movies for hours on end, loves to color, and can be reasoned with. Our almost 2-year old on the other hand…He is a good boy, but very fidgety with a short attention span. He doesn’t enjoy TV yet, so the in-flight entertainment won’t do much good.

I am determined to do absolutely everything I can to make our flight to Japan as smooth as possible. Here’s my plan of action, and I would love any suggestions.

UPDATE August 2012: Now that we are back from our trip, I have written about my post-trip thoughts in GREEN below.

AIRPLANE LOGISTICS:

1. I’ve called the airline and made sure we are sitting in the back two rows of the plane. CONS: We are right by the bathrooms, which might be noisy. We’ll be the last to get off the plane. PROS: In the back (at least on our plane), the rows are 2-across instead of 3-across, so nobody else will have to sit next to us. My boy and I can sit in the very back so if he kicks, he’s only kicking his sister’s seat :). It’ll be easy to stand up in the back if necessary, and we’ll never wonder if the bathroom is available or not. (Even though he’s still 1, we bought him a seat. Having him as a lap-child would be hell.) We’re also flying overnight, which means that (hopefully) our kids will sleep for at least 10 hours of the flight).

This was a great idea, but the airline messed up our seats on the way to Japan and we ended up sitting in the middle of the plane 3-across, and one person in business class. It ended up working okay. My husband sat in business for the first half of the flight and got some sleep, then we switched so I could sleep. There were a few moments when I had both kids by myself that got a little crazy (like, when they both decided sleeping was not necessary!).

2. I’ve agonized over this next decision, but we are bringing the toddler’s car seat. CONS: It will be a pain to carry around (we are considering getting the Kidz Travelmate or the Car Seat Accessory to turn the car seat into a “stroller” for the airport), and extra luggage of any sort is not convenient in a place like Japan. PROS: Toddler Boy (let’s call him “Goro-kun”) won’t be able to escape out of his seat belt, he’ll be more comfortable, and may even fall asleep. Since we’re bringing the car seat, it’ll be difficult to bring a stroller on top of that. We’ll probably buy a cheap umbrella stroller once we get to Japan.

At the last minute, we decided to NOT take the big car seat and rent the CARES seatbelt. We are glad we decided to leave the carseat at home. We already had a lot of luggage+2 kids, and adding something else to lug around would have been hard. Not having a carseat meant my kids could sleep with their heads in my lap or like this. The CARES seatbelt was somewhat helpful on our domestic flights. BUT on ANA, we were told by multiple people that we were not allowed to use the CARES system, which was a bummer. Even if it was allowed, I don’t think it would have worked well with the TV screens on the backs of the seats.

3. A smart dad at parents.berkeley.edu suggested: “before I buckled his car seat in, I took one of the big blankets that the airline provides and anchored one end under the seat and tucked the other end into the seat pocket, creating a “sling” in front of his seat. That way when he got tired of a toy and dropped or threw it down, I didn’t have to repeatedly unbuckle my seat belt and wedge myself into the tiny space between my seat and the seat in front of me and wrench my back trying to reach the toy on the floor, but instead I could simply pluck it out of the sling.” Good idea. I’ve heard other people say to use the blankets as a “tent” above the car seat to create darkness for your child who wants to sleep.

4. A good tip from CNN.com: “If two parents are flying with the child, Feddersen suggests sending one on the plane early to “get your sails set up.” Meanwhile, the other adult can wait with the child in the gate and board as late as possible.” You’ll be surprised how long you have to wait at the gate sometimes while everyone boards. The kids get fidgety, fast.

The time between when you board the plane to take off seriously feels like ETERNITY. Be prepared for that.

STUFF TO DO ON THE PLANE (that’s not big, messy, noisy, or too sugary)

1. With the In-Flight Magazine: Play “I Spy” and “Peek-a-boo”.

2.  Put lots of pictures and videos on your camera or iPod. Goro-kun loves to watch videos of himself so I put together a mini-movie of him doing his favorite things and put it on my iPod. If you don’t have an iPod or something similar, you can make a photo album of your child’s favorite people, places, and things.

The iPod was GREAT. An iPad would have been even better.

3. Save the cups you get with your drink on the plane. My son loved stacking them, and rolling an ice cube back and forth between the two cups.

4. Memorize a lot of finger rhymes. Finger puppets don’t take up a lot of space and are entertaining too.

5. SNACKS! Lots of it. When all else fails, “Do you want some fruit snacks?” usually does the trick. I plan to put small portions of different food in the snack-size Zip-loc bags. I’m bringing goldfish, pretzels, gummy snacks, dried fruit, etc.

We actually didn’t end up eating most of the food we brought. ANA brought us food quite frequently and was well-stocked with extra snacks and fruits in-between meals too.

6. Decorate the barf bag with stickers.

7. Bring their favorite stuffed animal. My son had a lot of fun pretending to “feed” his stuffed monkey.

8. I plan to consult my pediatrician first, but if all else fails, I plan to have some Children’s Benadryl on hand. You never know, your child may suddenly become sick on the plane, so it’s nice to have some handy.

Our pediatrician recommended Children’s Advil, so that’s what we took, and I think it helped.

9. I’ve heard of people wrapping every toy and snack in wrapping paper, then bringing one out every hour or something. This is a good idea because it will be exciting and take up more time. BUT I wonder where all the trash (wrapping paper) goes, and how this works with airport security?

We did not do this.

10. Stick to the bedtime routine. When it’s time to sleep, I’ll brush their teeth, get them in pajamas (maybe they should even just start out in PJ’s?) and read them a book.

11. Bring a new paperback book to read. (or a lift-the flap book… those are always a hit with toddlers)

12. Create animals and other things out of play-doh.

I wasn’t brave enough to get out the play-doh.

13. Lots of moms say masking tape is great. You can put it on your face, use it to piece together paper, wad it into a ball, make train tracks with them on the tray table, etc. The great thing about masking tape is, they peel right off.

We didn’t end up using the masking tape.

14. Use this time to teach new skills, like taking shoes on and off, zipping zippers, doing buttons, learning the names of body parts, counting, colors, etc.

15. Easy sticker books. We got THESE. We got 4 different kinds in the series, so they ended up being about a dollar each.

16. When your kids are bored and you’ve run out of tricks, take a “field trip” to the bathroom or walk down the aisle once or twice (make sure not to bother other passengers).

We walked up and down the aisles a lot!! And hung out in the very back of the plane where there was some extra room.

17. I’m bringing a small car. I can make roads with t he masking tape I’ll be bringing and he can drive it around his seat.

18. Bring pipe cleaners and cheerios. You can string the cheerios and make a bracelet or a wand. You can also make glasses with the pipe cleaners.

This was entertaining for about 5 minutes.

19. Color Wonder or Water Wow. These are markers that won’t damage anything and write on special paper. I love these.

20. Fun apps on your phone or iPad.

21. I loved what a commenter, “Toni”, said on 5minutesforamom : “The KEY is definitely DEFINITELY to pull these items out one at a time. And I need to back up and say do not bring out even one item until you have completely and thoroughly exhausted every single entertainment item on the aircraft that stirs your child’s curiosity. For starters, just keep her looking out the window and watching the baggage handlers while on the ground. Point out the moving bag belt. Count the bags riding on the belt. Try to wave at the handlers. Oooh and aaah over planes moving on the tarmac. Move to opening and closing the window shade when she gets bored of just looking out. Move to the air flow knob overhead. Get breeze going and make a big deal about feeling it. Move to the magazines. Scrutinize the pages together. Find the toys in the onboard shopping magazine. Make believe you’re using them (ie. “Mommy’s going to ride down that slide. WeeeEEeee!”) Find a magazine photo of a full face, tear out the lips and put it over your face like a mask and talk through the torn hole. She’ll crack up forever over it. And when you’ve done all you can do with the plane as entertainment, THEN begin to bring out the guns, oh so slowly. And even a trip to the bathroom can be a distraction.”

OTHER ITEMS TO BRING ON BOARD FOR YOUR TODDLER:

1. Sippy cup (you don’t want to deal with spills!). I make sure my toddler is drinking from his sippy cup at take-off and landing to help his ears not hurt. Definitely bring  a sippy cup.

2. Waterproof bib (I like Bumkins brand)

3. More diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, and rash cream.

4. A change of comfortable clothes YES! One for the kids, one for you.

5. Mini first aid kit

6. Hand sanitizer/wipes

7. Headphones (if it doesn’t come with your flight) ANA had headphones, but not sized for kids.

8. A trash bag to put stinky diapers in (like THIS)

9. Patience, TONS of it.

10. A sense of humor!

OTHER WEBSITES WITH HELPFUL TIPS:

1. Deliciousbaby.com

2. Babybites.com

3. Formulamom.com

4. Wikihow.com

When we land in Japan, I am going to give myself a HUGE pat on the back. Then devour the nearest cream puff. Have I mentioned that our arrival time is 5am? Oh my. We are in for a loooong day.

I don’t know if I ever want to arrive at a foreign destination that early again!! A lunchtime arrival would be perfect!

Other tips: Smile and be nice to everyone. Expect the unexpected. Wear layers (it’s cold on the plane). And if possible, travel internationally when you don’t have a toddler.. ha! :) Just kidding, kind of! It is definitely the hardest age. BUT it IS possible. Good luck!

Even though preschoolers are easier, flying internationally is still hard for them (and you). Another post dedicated to flying with preschoolers is coming up next.

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33 Responses to “International Flight with a Toddler (eek!)”

  1. Sharon March 6, 2012 at 3:48 PM #

    Just wanted to say that last time I flew to my parents’ house in the east (I live in the west), it took 15 hours due to a storm over our layover city. I was alone with an 18 month old who absolutely won’t sleep away from his crib. We had timed the flight to work with his sleep schedule as much as possible but that obviously failed. He slept maybe 1/2 hr the entire time and then was very fitful that night after we finally landed. I was exhausted BUT we both had so much adrenaline that it was fine. I did a lot of the things you suggested but learned some new tips. Thanks! I would suggest that you really evaluate how you pack everything, though. That was definitely our biggest issue. You will absolutely want to do these things but you will also need to think about how you can quickly stash it, keep it organized, have access to necessities ($, tickets, ID, diapers, food), and still be able to carry it. The worst part of the trip, for me, was trying to hold a baby on my lap (no prob there for you–wise!) while trying to dig into an overstuffed, messy diaper bag wedged at my feet on board. Between flights, I had to haul a few heavy bags by myself while pushing a too short (for me) umbrella stroller that had no cargo room. With my stiff airplane muscles, it was intense. Maybe take turns at your layover watching the bags vs. watching the kids but also try to get in some stretch time. And if you figure out how to pack all those on flight necessities so they can be easy to carry while staying organized then please share your ideas with us because I, for one, still don’t know how to do it. Oh, & if you or your husband are tall, you can purchase stroller handlebar extenders so you aren’t constantly hunched over & kicking that umbrella stroller. I wish I had known that!

  2. Sharon March 6, 2012 at 3:48 PM #

    P.S. Your blog is so wonderful. Thank you!

    • Hiragana Mama March 6, 2012 at 5:52 PM #

      Thank you Sharon! I’m hoping we don’t have any unexpected delays… that would be awful! Our layover is only 90 minutes, so we plan to let the kids run around as much as possible during that time. I’m lucky I’ll have my husband around to help with all the luggage. We are going to check as much as we can. I’ll do another post on how I’m going to organize everything in our carry-ons for easy access (basically, Zip-loc bags are my best friend!). My husband is really tall… we’ll have to consider that when looking for a stroller!

  3. AdelaideBen March 6, 2012 at 6:38 PM #

    Well first off, congratulations on your upcoming trip back to Japan… it must be exciting for all. And secondly, well done on such a comprehensive compilations of strategies and ideas. There are some really nice ideas in there. You may also want to think about bringing particular ‘sleep’ items, whether it’s PJs or a toy that they associate with sleep.

    I have to admit that we have it pretty lucky – ok, VERY LUCKY. Our son was always a fantastic flyer… admittedly the longest flight we have to Japan is about 9.5 hours (and virtually no time change), so that helps. But he also is quite happy to sleep on the plane. Day or night. So we don’t have to over think too much. Of course, there’s always the occasional flight where nothing goes right… and they truly are hellish. Still, it’s important to remember that it’s only 1 day, and if you’re dreading it too much, this can be picked up by children. Good luck and tell us what worked best.

    PS – stickers are definitely our sons favourite distraction. That and a new small toy that he can play and explore with.

    PPS – a parents worse nightmare is a crying baby on a long flight (and this goes for the other passengers as well)… however, you soon find out that most of the people on the plane have had children and know exactly what you’re going through. It’s never nice when children are unsettled on flights, but also never quite as bad as we fear.

    • Hiragana Mama March 6, 2012 at 7:06 PM #

      Thanks Ben! I’m going to try my best to stay relaxed (and get a lot of rest before the flight) and have a “come-what-may-and-love-it” attitude. My kids are usually great too on planes, and awesome sleepers at night, but 17 hours is just so long :( I am SO jealous you don’t have much of a time change. For us, night and day will be completely flip-flopped.

      I’ll definitely report back after the trip and share what worked and what didn’t.

    • Hiragana Mama March 7, 2012 at 8:28 AM #

      Ben, btw, congratulations on your new arrival, she is adorable!! (the past few times I’ve tried to comment on your blog, it won’t let me).

  4. Jay Que March 6, 2012 at 7:37 PM #

    Well, well! I hope the little one appreciates all you are doing. My suggestion IF you have a backpack, is to stuff a small down comforter in there and pull it out after the first 3 hours, and cocoon whoever is most deserving; its so warm, gives all sorts of possibilities for creative posturing so you don’t have to rely only on the flimsy pillow-ettes and mini-blankets. There’s alwas a time on the flight when it seems to get really chilly and people start sniffling and sneezing. Time to pull the comforter over your head! A small comforter can be compressed tightly into a plastic “space bag” to minimize the space before taking it out, and later to stick it back into. Believe me, I you are in coach and not Biz class, it makes a big difference. I’ve done the Naria to JFK trip 13 times and I have learned to love small comforts and small comforters! ok, thats my 2 yen. Enjoy and travel safely! Joe Q
    Ps-I don’t have a toddler but consider myself a kid so, I guess my comments have some validity.

    • Hiragana Mama March 7, 2012 at 8:23 AM #

      I was on the fence about bringing a blanket, but now I will! I think we’ll all wear our jackets on-board too. Thanks, your comments made me smile :)

  5. Soybeanlover March 6, 2012 at 8:10 PM #

    Oh, let me know how the back rows go. We always do bulkhead for the extra space, but I’ve contemplated the back row as well. The car seat is a fantastic idea.

    We tend to take a walk every hour. The flight attendants expect it, and a few turns around the fuselage get some of the wiggles out. I’m excited to try the masking tape idea this summer.

    Good luck! Oh and bring some melatonin for jet lag once you get here. It’s a life saver.

    • Hiragana Mama March 7, 2012 at 8:25 AM #

      Bulkhead would be nice too (I wouldn’t have to worry about kicking!) but I don’t think were available for our flights :( I’ll let you know how the back goes. I’m not sure what melatonin is, I’ll have to look it up. A vitamin, maybe?

  6. Az March 6, 2012 at 11:39 PM #

    I recommend happy meal toys. ( do NOT show them to your kids until your trip day.) Because you might lose the toys in the plane. I bought magnetic puzzle one time. That was awesome, I agree. But my daughter dropped the piece and I could not find it. I know you are not comfortable this idea because it is really ‘ material girl’ way. But do NOT bring your favorite toy in the plane.

  7. EasyMemories4Life March 7, 2012 at 12:22 AM #

    Be sure to get some video of your toddler on the flight and throughout your trip. My wife and I have 5 kids, and we really enjoy watching old videos of them when they were toddlers. So funny at that age!

  8. Bicultural Mama March 7, 2012 at 11:36 AM #

    Good luck with the flight. You’re prepared (great lists, by the way!). We went to Hawaii for my brother’s wedding when my DD was 3 months old. It was about a 10 hour trip in total. It was not fun – she threw up in the plane, had poop blowouts – everything you can imagine. However, you get through it and breathe a sigh of relief when you’re at your destination. You’ll be fine because you have thought of everything!

    • Hiragana Mama March 7, 2012 at 12:18 PM #

      Thanks for the encouragement! I hope Hawaii will be our next family vacation :)

  9. margaret March 9, 2012 at 2:57 PM #

    You should reconsider the car seat and check out the Kids Fly Safe CARES harness seatbelt. Here is the website: http://www.kidsflysafe.com/ It will keep the young one in his seat and you won’t have all the extra gear (it only weighs one pound!)

    • Hiragana Mama March 9, 2012 at 3:18 PM #

      I have been reading about the CARES system A LOT online!!! I’m losing sleep over taking the carseat vs CARES. There are definitely pros and cons to each. A car seat will be much more comfortable for a 17-hour trip, but it is also bulky and he won’t be able to use the seat table. CARES seems like a great alternative to the carseat, but since my toddler is on the small side, I fear it will not fit him right and won’t be comfortable enough to fall asleep in. Not to mention, it is quite the investment.

      Do you have any tips for getting a toddler to sleep comfortably while using CARES? That would be great.

  10. Jen March 10, 2012 at 2:57 AM #

    I am so excited for you! Too bad you are not visiting Kyushu.

    The one toy that is a winner on our long flights (36 hours door to door!) is an I Spy Bag. The kids now have their own, and I like the cute shape ones. I bought mine from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/thosegreathousewomen?ref=seller_info

    When in Japan, don’t forget to check out the 100 yen shops for new toys for the way back! Lots of 100 yen books aimed at little kids. Also, the glow in the dark bracelets keep my kids and husband occupied for a while.

    I don’t know if you are flying on a Japanese airline or not but if you are you can get them to lend you a carseat. Japanese carseats are not made for airplanes so this is what we always do. They set it up for you and everything, just call ahead.

    • Hiragana Mama March 10, 2012 at 8:17 AM #

      Thanks for the link to the I Spy bag! They are adorable <3. Also, I didn't know some airlines will lend you a car seat. We are flying ANA, I'll have to call and see if they have any.

      Are glow in the dark bracelets allowed past security? I just bought a whole bunch, it would be great to take them!

      We will DEFINITELY be stocking up at 100-yen stores. I love that place!

      • Lauren July 15, 2012 at 6:56 PM #

        Did you find out if ANA loans carseats? We are taking our 2.5 year old to Japan in August on ANA.

        • Hiragana Mama July 15, 2012 at 8:46 PM #

          Hi Lauren! I would call ANA and ask them directly. They are usually really good about answering their phones right away.

          I need to update this post… We actually ended up not taking a car seat and we were so glad we didn’t. It would have been difficult to deal with a car seat on top of all our luggage.

          We asked ANA if we could use the CARES seatbelt, and they said no.

          Good luck!

  11. jabailie September 17, 2012 at 6:07 PM #

    THANK YOU!

  12. caroline April 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM #

    WOW! I’m so glad I found this site, we are travelling to Japan with our 2 year old boy in a couple of weeks from Brisbane via Sydney! That info was so helpful, thanks :-)

  13. Suzi Hansborough May 21, 2013 at 8:21 AM #

    This is such great information! We are thinking of flying to Chile from the US in a few months with my two girls (then 6 yrs and 18 mos). My biggest challenge is the toddler — of course. Thanks for all the tips for keeping her entertained. :)

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