Monday, February 28, 2011

Traveling with kids: 5 tips on how to keep it together

Going on a long-haul flight with young children can't exactly be described as relaxing, especially if you're traveling as the only adult with more than one child. However, it can be done and if you're lucky, you might even keep your sanity the whole way (bonus!).
Surely someone this cute can't cause problems, right? Right?
 If you're unlucky, you could end up with an infant who won't go to sleep on board and cries for hours, a toddler having a mega-meltdown at security in the airport, or a preschooler refusing to put on his seat-belt before take-off and screaming about it. All three scenarios have happened to me, and I still think I've been blessed with a relatively easy run when it comes to flying with my kids.

Here are my top 5 tips for making it through to the other side in reasonable shape:

1. Mental preparation
Sounds lame right? But it really does help. Mentally prepare yourself for the lack of sleep, the uncomfortable seat, the bored children, the lineups at the airport. You know it's coming, you know it'll be an ordeal, but you also know it'll be fine and you will eventually get to where you're going.

2. Use the mantra
If it gets bad on board or at the airport, if you're doing everything you can to distract and entertain them and it's still not working... repeat this mantra to yourself (maybe to fellow passengers as well): This too shall pass. Because it will. Eventually your child will sleep, stop whining, find a movie they like, or make it through the metal detector without crying.

Yes, it sucks if your child picks travel-time to act up. Maybe they're doing it because they're tired, anxious, hungry, uncomfortable, or simply because they're a kid. But try not to sweat the embarrassment of it too much: anyone who is a parent has been embarrassed by their child's behavior at some point. Come prepared, prepare your kids, and then just deal with and contain the behavior the best way you can.

3. Sleep if you can
If your kids are sleeping on board a long flight, take a nap. Sure, you could watch a movie on that tiny little screen with those jiggly head-phones, have a drink that won't taste as good as it would on the ground, or read that fascinating in-flight magazine. But really, in my opinion, sleep on a long-haul flight is always the best option. Even if it's a 5 minute power-nap.

4. Allow reasonable amounts of crazy
If your kids go a little nuts when you're walking through the airport to catch a connecting flight or when you're waiting to board, then consider allowing them to run around somewhat wildly. As long as they're not messing with other passengers, going into no-go security areas or causing an international incident, it might be just as well that they are allowed to run off some energy.

Sitting on a plane for eight or nine or more hours is hard for most kids. And while traveling there are many situations when you have to control their behavior quite strictly, so allowing them to goof around a bit might just take the edge off for them. In airports, try to find a relatively large and uncrowded area if you can so they can move around without bugging others.

5. Relax!
Yeah, not so easy, right? Especially if your children are climbing their seats and dumping apple juice over you. But try anyway. Years and years ago I used to get stomach problems and sore muscles when flying. Then I realized that this was mainly caused by me (unknowingly) tensing up in all sorts of strange ways when sitting on the plane, and even from the travel anxiety I had before going on the flight.

These days I try to be aware of how I sit on the plane, and catch myself if I'm tensing up my stomach muscles, feet, neck, shoulders and so on. Then I try to relax those muscles before it starts to really bug me. Wearing comfy clothes (especially comfy pants), taking your shoes off on board, and bringing a neck-pillow can help too.

Some of my earlier tips for how to handle long family trips like these can be found here:

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