Flying to China with toddlers
Yes, we took our 3.5 yr old and 1 yr old on a plane from Chicago to Hong Kong and then roughly 4 modes of public transportation to Guangzhou. We did this with 4 pieces of luggage, 2 strollers, 3 carry-ons, and oh ya TWO little kids. What did we do right, and what did we do wrong?
To make this type of trip a success there are a few things that you need. We learned some of these the hard way, so take our advice and have a great trip.
What are you thinking??
Before you even start preparing for a 17-hour plane flight with toddlers & babies you have to have the right frame of mind. Don't think of this flight as a good time to sit and catch up on the latest movies or finish reading those last few books. When was the last time you read a book at home in peace and quiet for 17 hours...probably not since your precious little bundle of joy was born, why would you be able to in a very confined space for 17+ hours with your bundle of joy. Is anyone excited?
We received a book about airports and airplanes from a family friend and had the opportunity to look at it with Lupita before going. It was a great way for her to see and learn about the airport & plane before we actually got there. Here are a few that I suggest: Airport by Byron Barton, My Plane Trip by Cathy Beylon, and How to Fly by Natalie Windsor. Talk about safety, crowds, and the unexpected things you might encounter. We also reviewed stranger danger and what to do. Teach your child to scream FIRE if they are in trouble. Everyone listens to "fire," but very few will respond to "help." We have also taught Lupita to scream "FIRE" if someone is trying to hurt her brother, an extra set of eyes is never bad.
Check the airline's website to see if they allow a carry-on bag for your infant even if you aren't purchasing a ticket for them. We flew Asiana and were allowed 4 carry-ons. This can be extremely beneficial if you have a very young infant and need to pack extra diapers, wipes, changes of clothes. We all know how much a little person can go through in a 24 hr period...right?
Lupita got her own princess carry-on that she was responsible for carrying. She did a great job and was very excited about having some big person responsibilities. Not sure if she will enjoy these same responsibilities at 16...we will see.
What food/liquids can you bring on the plane? All airlines should allow you to bring breast milk, purified water, and food for your child. Have it all packed separately, and it should be stored in containers that represent the substance. For example, don't bring your breast milk in a canning jar. This looks suspicious, and they won't believe it is necessarily breast milk even if you have the baby as proof. We bought Medela breast milk storage bottles and filled them with regular milk (I was done breastfeeding) and put them in a thermal lunch bag. I had it out and ready for security to look through at each checkpoint. All they did was take a quick peek inside, and we were on our way.
Security the easy way...unless you want the hard way?!
Always were slip on shoes. Don't have your kids were shoes that need to be tied.
Look for the family security line. Some airports have specific lines for families and handicap...use this line. The staff is much more friendly, and we have found them to be very accommodating.
Take your time. Don't try to rush if you don't have to and don't let others rush you. Ignore the craziness and try to keep a calm composure....we know this can be stressful.
Pack your laptop or other electronic items in compartments that are easy for you to access.
Layering your airplane clothing is better than wearing a jacket of any sort. Security may ask you to remove a jacket, where they won't ask you to take off your 2 long sleeve t-shirts. No striptease necessary.
Keep your passports and boarding passes in a safe, yet easy access location. There are lots of cool products out there that will help you with this.
Know how to use your stroller. If you are buying a new stroller figure it out before you get to security. Some checkpoints will make you fold it up to go through their scanner, and some will let you stroll through the body scanner with it. I suggest asking the security agent before going through the hassle of folding it up. If they say no need, then you just saved yourself from the hassle.
Again, keep your cool and leave enough time for a little delay. You don't want your kids to dread every time they go to an airport. This is an exciting time for them, and you don't want them to remember mom or dad losing their cool.
My favorite to make things a game. If you have older toddlers, who can participate more try to make things fun. "Who can be the first person to take their shoes off and put them in the bin?", "Who can march the fastest to gate number 5?" "Who can find number 5?" All of these activities make the adventure a lot more fun than work.
In your carry on I suggest to only bring a change of clothes, your electronic items, and medicine. You never know when your little ones could get sick and if your luggage was lost... let's just say that would make things more difficult. Bringing our medicine in my carry-on was very important to us because we were moving to China and I knew I wouldn't be able to find the same reliable medication once we arrived. Waking up in the middle of the night not knowing what I could give my kids for their fever or stomach ache was just something I didn't want to experience.
The days of bringing books and things to keep you busy are gone. You now have a child that will keep you thoroughly occupied. :) Smile!
Depending on the age of your child ask for a bassinet seat. There are a few seats that are in the front middle of the plane and have bassinets attached to the wall. We didn't know about this when we checked in but were lucky enough to have one bassinet still open. However, Zeek had to go up with Abe and sit in the one empty seat while I stayed back with Lupita. Then you are near other families, and everyone is ready and expecting a little baby noise. You feel much less self-conscious when your baby isn't the only one whining.
When checking in, they will give you tags for your strollers. You are able to keep your stroller with you up until the time you are entering the airplane door. At that time a crew member will ask you to fold up your stroller, and they will store it under the plane.
When you land, your stroller will be waiting for you right outside the door. Step out of the way to unfold your stroller and strap your monkeys in, we did have one airline ask us to put the stroller in a plastic bag. We had two strollers, so apparently this took a little more time for us, however having a stroller is a good thing, you never know when you will need one.
Play areas at airports
Most airports have kids play zone. Some are nicer than others, but they exist. So use them. Letting your little monkey stretch their legs is so important....for everyone! Research your airport play areas before you go if you can. They usually are near the gates and have a nice sitting area for parents and some fun activities for the kids. Don't be too paranoid about germs at these play areas, yes you are in an airport, and yes I am sure they are not cleaned exceptionally well. However let us imagine you don't let your child play...then they might be sucking the airplane carpet for the duration of your trip. Let them play and wash their hands when they are done. Everyone is happy. We have taken full advantage of these play areas in Chicago, IL, Seoul, Korea, and Amsterdam, NL. Here are some more play area locations at favorite airports. When traveling the globe, why not choose a kid-friendly airport for your layover. Who knew that someday a 4-hour delay in Amsterdam could be the answer to everyone's prayers.
Now you are on the plane, and you have found your seat...and what are you suppose to do for the next 17 hours??? A few tricks that helped us get through the day, night, or whatever time it was...who knows.
Our kids were at different stages, our 3.5 yr old enjoyed many different activities than our 12-month-old. What one enjoyed playing with the other enjoyed sucking. Packing dilemma!
We had Lupita bring her own bag full of lots of different activities for her and her brother. Abe's carry-on only contained his essentials; food, milk, clothes, diapers, wipes, you get it. I found lots of little fun toys that helped keep her occupied, for him it was much harder because he had just learned to walk and wanted to conquer every inch of our seats. We only purchased three places...he didn't get one.
Suggestions to make everyone happier
Don't take all the toys out at once. They will get bored with all of them at once, and you are in big trouble for the next 16.5 hours. Take one out at a time and put the others away.
If you can buy some toys that are new and leave them in the packaging. This helped eat up some of the time by opening up the packaging and taking out the toy. Lots of fun for all of those around.
Don't give them candy!!! This might be an easy way to keep a kid quiet for about 30 minutes, which at that time might feel like you need it. However, remember that at the end of thirty minutes they are going to have to sit still now after having lots of sugar. No fun!!
Cut your kids some slack. Try not to worry about them making too much noise. They are kids and if people can't understand that children make noise then let yours give them a short lesson. We did feel bad for those that might not have enjoyed our kids' screams and crying at some points in the flight, but hey what do you do. Our kids did pretty well.
After an activity let them walk around the plane a little. This is good because it gives them regular exercise and will combat them getting too antsy. This way you also take frequent bathroom breaks and don't have your 3 yr old screaming that they have to go to the bathroom when the food cart is blocking the passage.
Be prepared to be creative. As much as you wish your kids would just love all of the activities that you packed and be thoroughly entertained for the entire flight it might not go down that way. I am just saying.
Although we packed lots of great toys and fun activities, both our kids mostly enjoyed making a fort between our three seats and playing on the floor of the airplane. They had their toys, their little snacks and were having their own little adventure down there. It is a good thing that kids are small and that they felt that was enough room for their little activities.
Our favorite toys that we brought.
PlayDough...yes both kids love it. Although our 12-month old tried to eat it every now and then, it was a big hit, and we will forever pack a new pack of play-dough until they are 15. Play Dough is non-toxic and probably a lot safer than most things our son has managed to stuff into his mouth.
LeapFrog activities. This isn't the one we have but is very similar, and you can have lots of games with very little storage.
Doodler, we all love this game. You can also play iSpy with it.
iSpy books, our kids love iSpy
Paper Doll activity book. We found a great paper doll activity book. You get to dress your doll and put different stickers on them. Lupita loved it. Then when you are done...they go in the recycle. Love those types of activities.
Kai-Lan Coloring Set, this was a present from Nonna Penny, and we love it.
Various rattles for Abe.
As you can see, there isn't a lot to bring for a 12-month-old. So trying to make every activity last as long as possible and be as entertaining as possible is the real key.
Confessions...from our journey
Our little bundle of joy...Abe had about 6 hours that he didn't want to sit or sleep, all he wanted was for his dad to carry him. He wouldn't hold still for anyone else. So Zeek walked around holding Abe for almost 6 hours. We didn't get a lot of sleep on this flight however we made it okay. No tantrums, no screaming for long periods of time, only a little fussing, and a little crying. Neither of us slept much, and I don't think the kids had a great nights sleep either.
We loved our layover in Seoul, South Korea!! I actually prefer layovers or stops because you get a chance to get out and stretch your legs. We were able to use an average size bathroom, change some clothes, and eat some good food. We also took full advantage of the very cool play area there. You also get cheaper tickets and a little excursion in the middle. At hour 12 everyone is ready for a change of scenery.
How did our flight end?
We were pleased with how everyone behaved during the trip. No meltdowns, no fights, nothing extremely crazy happened. Everyone was in one piece, and it had been an adventure. However, upon arriving at Hong Kong, we opened one of our checked luggage pieces to find that Zeek's work laptop had been stolen. Never ever check a computer!!!!! We knew this but had been instructed to do so by the counter in Chicago because its weight was too heavy. We should have argued and not checked it.
I am sure in a few years we will laugh at how silly we were and look back and see how much we have learned. It is still a bit of a sore topic if you ask Zeek. I will let you know when that happens.