We just returned home from 1 glorious month in Central America. I thought I’d share some of our experiences and advice from our travel days- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Mentally prepare your children.
The day before our flight we played “Airport”. Although my kids are seasoned fliers, it is a really good idea to go over expectations and talk about what is going to happen ie. getting tickets, walking through the X-ray machines, going in the tunnel towards the plane ect. We teach them “airplane etiquette” and talk about how it will feel on take off, how many line ups we will go through, what we can and can’t do on the plane. We use kitchen chairs, our travel bags and whatever else we are thinking about bringing along to “set the stage”. Preparing kids (and yourself!) for new experiences can lessen the stress and the fear of the unknown.
Quick tip- The Telus World of Science has a great hands on exhibit for younger children if you want to spend an afternoon there before a flight playing “airport”.
Consider the travel days all part of your adventure.
Most people loathe travel days but with a tiny shift in perspective, travel days can become part of the fun and adventure. Our first flight down was great- the systems we had in place from packing worked perfectly. Everyone was wearing their comfiest clothes, we had packed efficiently (I posted HERE about that), and well slept.
Quick Tip- Eat a good meal and run off all of your energy before boarding. Eating healthy and filling meals before you get on a plane is so important- kids only get more off their schedule as the day goes on, sometimes only eating an abundance of healthy snacks for the entire 8 hour flight. One solid meal is a good way to start. We actually spend the (absurd) money to eat at the airport. Simply because we leave the house at least 3.5 hours before our flight, then if our flight is 4 hours long that’s 7.5 between “real” meals. And once you leave the plane at your destination there’s still customs, getting luggage and catching your ride. That can add a couple hours onto the time before you’ll eat again. If we eat a solid airport meal then at least that’s cutting out a few hours and then hopefully snacks will get us through. I never count on airplane food to be appealing to my kids and I still find it’s cheaper to eat at the airport instead of the in the air.
I kept the girls engaged on our whole trip by including them in everything- finding our gate number, finding our seats, looking through flight maps to figure out where we were along the way and handing their own tickets to the gate agent. The more they feel like they’re an important part of a smooth travel day, the more well-behaved they are. Violet takes her job of “helper” very seriously. I give them notice of everything we will be doing before we do it in order to ease into the transition. “5 more minutes till we line up” or “next we will have to take off our shoes for security, how can we all be ready for that?” and “when the lady says ‘group b’ then we have to go stand in that line, can you listen for that to help me?“.
We had purposely booked an over night stay in Houston to break up the long travel and have a more relaxing trip down. We loved having a break in our travel day. After a 5-hour flight to Texas, we had the evening to go out for dinner (Tex-Mex!!), to go for a refreshing swim in the pool and the girls got a good sleep before our 10am flight the next morning. If this is a possibility when booking a long haul flight, go for it- it may seem that it’s adding wasted time onto your trip, but a longer overnight layover can actually be an extension of your holiday and can even allow you time to explore a new city. Most airmiles programs will allow a “free” stopover, if possible take advantage and spend a day or two in transit seeing somewhere new. Remember, it is about the journey not just the destination.
The next day we took our shorter two and half hour flight to San Pedro Sula. Everyone was excited and happy to be “almost there”. The girls took turns on the iPad and spending one on one time with me. I know lots of people dread even the thought of flying with kids, but I really felt a “mental switch” when I started thinking about flying time as uninterrupted time to spend with my girls- playing x’s and o’s, writing stories, reading books, playing games (it is all about perspective). Imaginative play is big for us on a plane. Once I stopped mourning the days when I could read a book or watch a full movie on a flight and started embracing the idea of spending incredible one on one time I became grateful for the opportunity to fly with my girls.
Quick Tip- Double check your water bottles. I brought our favourite Camelback water bottles. I love them because they’re leak proof and have straws…. unfortunately they also explode mid flight. The pressure on the straw while airborne was quite a fun surprise! Maeve opened up her water bottle and not only our row but the one behind became drenched. The poor ladies behind us called the attendant in panic thinking the plane was leaking. However mortifying, the photographer in me couldn’t resist taking an iPhone snap before helping her 😉 . Lesson learned: pack a straw-less bottle that won’t build up pressure as easily. After talking to a flight attendant I learned that this is quite common- and a lot more messy if it’s something other than water in there!
Remember to prepare for the flight home.
I always find that the getting home is always a bit worse than the getting there. The excitement that carried you through your first travel day is gone, the vacation is over and it is time to return to reality. You’re also generally less prepared for the travel day home and more likely to try to squeeze it into as short of a trip as possible. Our journey home was no exception.
Our day started before 6am with a long bus ride before our first flight at 1pm. We had barely gotten 30 minutes in when Maeve started getting motion sickness. I do have an emergency kit, but since we were in Honduras for such a long period of time the kit had been used, things had been taken out and not replaced…. therefore no Gravol. (Quick Tip- double check that you’ve brought any meds you may need in your carry-on.) 4 outfits later I was grateful to have packed extra large Ziploc bags for hauling the smelly clothes home. Having extra plastic bags on hand for all sorts of uses has saved me so many times. Having wet ones easily accessible really helped the situation too. Luckily she was feeling better by the time we arrived at the airport.
We had 3 planes to catch on the way home- 19 hours of travel total with us arriving home at 1 am. Exhaustion makes even the most simple of tasks feel like climbing Everest. My thought when I booked a 19-hour travel day was that at least we were getting home in a day, but by 10pm I was wishing for an overnight stopover (I should have taken my own advice here!). I have come to think of these grueling travel days as just a bad day at the office. We’ve all had those before, right? It took some patience and my boss might have made me crazy, but I was polite, got the job done and pushed through. That’s worst-case scenario for a long travel day- your tiny human is the boss and you just keep on smiling and nodding.
My “big” plan for our travel day was to embrace a movie marathon. I brought out the snacks and was hoping for a long but simple day. Unfortunately the iPads died by lunch, but I still love the idea of a movie marathon for our next long haul day (we are thinking Harry Potter, Toy Story, or the Madagascar series). However, I will also bring a portable charger (our older plane didn’t have plug-ins) or an external battery pack. Thankfully we had lots of activities to keep us busy, but I was so tired I could barely think let alone play elaborate imagination games. Violet had to resort to making a puppet out of the motion-sickness paper bag and Maeve entertained herself for an hour opening and closing the window. I had been up way too late packing (every mom always is) and it was a bad idea to attempt such a long travel day with 5 hours of sleep.
Obvious tip- Get more sleep before flights. I never seem to be able too, so good luck with that 😉
I had also set up a reward system for our long day. We had talked about each airport that we would be visiting and something fun we could do after security at each one. We found quiet parts of the airport and burned off energy running around playing games. I promised we’d stop for Blue Bell Ice Cream after going through the worlds longest customs line in Houston. Having incentives (or call them bribes, your choice) can keep them excited about the next stop. Also, half way through the longest flight they each got to open a small toy as reward for good behaviour, you would have thought these new dollar-store Polly Pockets were THE GREATEST toy every produced by mankind. I was so happy to have hidden those little packages for our whole month away. Novelty is the best boredom buster out there. If your kids never get a 6 hour movie marathon, let them indulge! I promise you that one flight of spoiling your kids, giving them only the food they like, letting them choose a treat from the flight attendant or letting them watch 15 episodes of Paw Patrol won’t turn them into demanding monsters for the rest of their lives. However, it may save your sanity (and the sanity of those a couple rows back!)
Quick tip- Remember to wash your hands often. On the way down we utilized the hand sanitizer at every turn. On the way back we were in relax/tired/survival mode and I wasn’t as diligent. We all have stuffy noses now, which I’m sure is from sharing so many germs while on route. Keep the hand sanitizer out or in a top pocket so it can be used before any snack, and every time you change airplanes or go through a security line. I actually saw a family with disinfectant wipes totally going to town cleaning their row, and thought that was a very smart idea- and bonus, keep those kiddos busy for 15 minutes of “work”.
Remember that things that seem like a big deal when they’re happening are the things you laugh about later.
When I look back on our travel days I’m so grateful for the adventures and the experiences- good, bad and ugly. It’s all part of the journey and it’s all a part of your memories. Violet just gave a wonderful presentation to her kindergarten class and I was so proud of her talking about the differences between Honduran schools and her own, explaining about the different foods and language, and sharing her adventures snorkeling. Watching your kids take in every little thing when you travel is a wonderful gift.
We are so grateful to be able to travel and to be able to share our experiences here. It’s not always perfect, but we love the adventure.