A day before our US trip, I texted my group of mom friends asking for what I should bring on the plane for the thirteen-hour flight. I thought I’d casually throw in my bag a couple of books, some crayons and papers and call it sufficient, but their awesome replies reminded me how out of touch I was with traveling with kids! So thanks to all the suggestion, here are what I ended up packing:
- A drawstring bag which doubles as a “mystery bag” that they can dig in for more goodies.
- Crayons and a small notebook
- A couple of small play-doh tubs
- A felt quiet book*
- Her favorite little animals in a bag
- Colorful tape rolls
*I once spent four hours the night before the flight day to make a quiet book, getting all ambitious with Pinterest ideas and a stash of felt. Really, to make FOUR pages!!! My book ended up being ignored on the plane because it was so flaky – the pieces fell out easily because I used some cheap fabric glue and velcro tapes to slap things on (if I’d use a glue gun and stitches it’d probably take eight hours…) 😦 I vowed never to do it again, my sleep is more precious. Pinterest are for the fast and crafty, if you are not one of them best to outsource. If you feel the same way, you can grab a beautifully done quiet book from my shop, they are made by a team of crafters with professional sewing machine, all kinds of glues, scissors, cutters, etc. at amazing quality and price that won’t break the bank. Save you hours to spend with your baby, pack, go to the spa, or just rest before the flight. Talk about the beauty of outsourcing!
In addition, to ensure a good sleep I brought the First Class Kid cushion, her favorite sleep pillow and melatonin (a friend had suggested baby valium to control the fit that may occur during take-off, but I opted for this milder option instead, just to make sure she had some sleep when I needed her to).
The result? The little one spent about ten minutes with the stickers (alone), about 10-15 minutes with play-doh (alone), about 5-10 minutes drawing and creating collage from the tape rolls (with me). About five minutes on each of the other things in the list. About six hours of sleep, and three hours total on the screen in front of her. We had the best flight ever because she was able to keep herself occupied or was asleep most of the time, no screaming nor drama (though there were some instances of strong seatbelt protest which had to be resolved by bribery).
Here are some lessons and tips that I hope will be helpful to other moms:
- Pack a variety of toys: Obviously, I did not have to pack all of the above. But having more than one favorite toys would help with the kid’ short attention span (I would not have survived with just crayons and stickers!). One thing I forgot to pack but wish I had was the post-it notes (recommended by a friend). I thought it was a great idea. Post-it notes are much easier to peel from chairs and tables than stickers without leaving a trace or chipping your fingernail polish, and can double up as canvas for some drawing masterpiece too! (see mine below which I drew for her on our first jetlagged night in Seattle).
- Pick games and quizzes within, or below their current level: the keywords are “easy” and “mind-candy” (or “eye-candy” may work too)Pick a fun, easy, eye-candy quiet book… that you don’t have to make yourself! You can pick up a quiet book at my shop
I learned this the hard way: it broke my heart a little that Bean did not take to my awesome quiet book that I had spent four long hours to make L But I could see the reason and it was totally understandable: I had made puzzle pieces to be put together – a type of game she’d never played with before – and was a bit beyond her level. While I thought it was a cool idea to do something new so she wouldn’t be bored, I suspect she was like any of us on the plane, tired and trapped in the air. The last thing she wanted was a new challenge to her brain! (would you like to solve the New York Times crosswords or read an Elle magazine on the plane?). I would have had better luck with simpler games like shape sorting or color sorting… or fun, eye-candy things for her just to look and touch.
– Use the airplane’s screen whenever possible: I believe the screen is a lifesaver at critical moments on a flight (like, the plane is taking off and baby refuses to sit down let alone buckling up!) – so iphone, ipad, Peppa Pig, favorite apps… are to be loaded up and ready for these moments. But we avoided using our own devices as much as possible, instead deferring to the screen in front of our seat as the default distraction. It turned out to be a great strategy!
Bean, as many other kids I supposed, couldn’t figure out how to maneuver the new screen’s buttons yet, so she had to just focus on what was there (her fifteen-minute kids’ music show, over and over again). The airline screen was also placed farther from her eyes than a device, and the backlight can be dimmed, so her eyes were not as stimulated as having an ipad held close to her face. We didn’t even buy her a special earphone – we just plugged the adult earphones into her ears and lowered the volume to almost inaudible level so as to avoid any sudden loud noise that may damage her eardrum.
The result? She sat slouching on her chair watching her show from a dim screen, half-listening to the video sounds as the earphone buds kept falling off her tiny little ears. Next thing we saw, her head flopped aside and she had fallen asleep! I’m sure we wouldn’t have such luck if she was glued to her Peppa show on my phone!
- Aversion to buckling up? Prep it. I found it helpful during pretend play at home (lifting her high on my legs while laying on my back, pretending she’s on the airplane) to always ask her to buckle up. It instilled the idea that buckling up is a non-negotiable part of flying. Though I can’t act out the threat (you’ll fall off the plane and hurt yourself!”) on the real airplane, I could rely on this approximate understanding to make her fasten her seatbelt voluntarily. Most of the time…
- Finally, First Class Kids cushion and melatonin are our best friends. Many praises have been given to the First Class Kids (don’t be fooled by the name, FCK works for the economy seat too) and its twin Fly-tots. Suffice to say it lived up to the expectation, giving us a much more pleasant time and space on the plane so that the thirteen hours did not turn out too bad.
Melatonin is what I’d trust to take with me on the next long flight too, especially when traveling to a drastically different time zone. We were able to induce a six-hour sleep (in one stretch!), so that by the morning arrival Bean had been well-rested and was to go. (It goes without saying that you need to check with a doctor before giving it to your kid, just to be safe – but it shouldn’t be a problem. The drug can be obtained OTC – our pediatrician gave us approval in a text message!)
Do let me know if you have other great tips to share. Have a great flight home and an awesome holiday!