Leaving our homes for vacations or family visits is something that many of us do during the summer. The weather is cooperative, the schedules are freer, and the open road is calling! I personally have more experience with flying with infants and toddlers, but I think that a lot of this information would apply to a long car ride as well.
Just like so many other things in our parenting lives, being prepared is truly half the battle.
Before You Leave
:: Make sure you have all the necessary travel documents.
:: Allow plenty of time for applications and renewals if you are traveling abroad. Domestically, it is a good idea to have proof of age for your children.
:: Of course, if you are flying, check the airline policy for baggage. Most of them have changed in the past year or so and they all offer different allotments for children’s tickets.
A well-packed bag can make the difference between struggling with the overhead compartment and finding that beloved toy with ease. Make sure you pack at least one change of clothing for you and your child. I have a friend who flew from Cairo to Japan with sticky juice-stained pants. I also pack soapy washcloths in baggies for when baby wipes just won’t cut it. Pain reliever is also a good thing to have on hand.
I have learned that traveling with a baby, and now a toddler, means that I don’t really need anything to entertain myself. A book, laptop, knitting, etc., just took up space in my bag and I never touched them. I now stick to an ipod and maybe a small knitting project, but honestly if I have a minute to myself I usually end up indulging in the in-flight movie selection! I have an added challenge of traveling between climates. When I leave Cairo in December it is often in the 60’s, but when we arrive on the East Coast, there is typically snow on the ground. I now have my parents bring along coats, hats, and boots when they pick us up from the airport so I don’t have to pack all of those bulky items.
Do your best to travel when your children are asleep. Timing trips during a nap or better yet, nighttime sleep, will allow more of a chance for your child to stay on a schedule upon arrival. I always put my daughter in her pajamas as soon as we board the plane so that she understands it’s time to sleep. A bed time book is helpful, too. Now, there are different schools of thought on the “Baby Benadryl” topic. I personally do not medicate my daughter when we travel. I have friends who do, and who swear by it. I manage just fine without it.
The question I am asked most often about traveling with a baby is, “What about her ears during take off and landing?” There are parents who tell me that their child screams during these times on a flight, although mine never has. I have casually researched this topic and my understanding is that the ear canal isn’t fully developed enough to be affected by pressure changes until about 18 months. I’m sure there are differing opinions on the matter. If you are concerned, just nurse or give a pacifier during take-off and landing.
I jokingly tell people that my parenting style on land is very different from my parenting style in the air. Although my daughter and I have flown together almost 20 times, I can still get intimidated by other passengers. It can make you feel vulnerable. Your parenting is on display, and in close quarters. You will inevitably encounter a grumpy traveler who is not amused by your child’s water bottle squirting on his head. (I had no idea those things were so pressurized!) But most of the time, people are kind and willing to help.
The key to happiness is novelty. Before a trip, I do a little shopping and crafting to ensure there will be some fun and exciting items for my daughter. As she gets older, I plan on packing a special bag that she gets to open on the plane. For now, I pull out an item when she seems to be getting a little cranky or antsy. I want travel to be special for her. Something as simple as a new tablet and pack of crayons can do wonders.
Special snacks are also a great idea. Let’s be honest, airplane food can be as dissatisfying for kids as it can be for grown ups! I try to pack food for all of us, it’s typically almost 24 hours of travel when we fly back and forth from Cairo, so I try to cover all the cravings: sweet, salty, and crunchy. Making a fun picnic on the seat-back trays is a lot of fun. I get a lot of mileage out of the word “special” when we’re on trips. Special seat, special toys, and special snacks all go a long way and make the trip more fun. If you are traveling with a partner, tag team so that you both get a break. Have one person take a walk to the back of the plane, while the other has a quick nap or snack.
The other question people ask is “What about jet lag?” I have found that traveling west is easier than traveling east, in terms of jet lag. My daughter, husband, and I are typically just tired a little earlier in the evening and wake up a little earlier in the morning. Coming back to Cairo is a different story; my daughter will usually go to bed at a normal time, but then wake up a few hours later and stay up for at least two or three hours. This usually lasts a week or two. Because we travel for such long periods of time (at least a month), I think jet lag hits a little harder than it would if we were just taking a short trip. My best advice is to adapt to your current time zone as quickly as possible. Eat meals and sleep when you’re “supposed to.”
Traveling with your children puts both of you out of your comfort zone a bit, but it is a wonderful chance for you to grow and learn. Just remember, if you hit a rough patch, the plane has to land eventually!
Jenna Wray Dworkin is an Ashtanga yoga instructor in Cairo, Egypt. She is a knitter, baker, quilter, wife to Ira, and a new mama to baby Ramona. To say hello to Jenna and learn more about her life in Egypt, visit her blog, Cairo Yogi.