Traveling Abroad with Kids

I have a quiet evening all to myself. In case you didn’t read that correctly, I’ll repeat: I have a quiet evening all to myself. Spring has decided to stay and everyone has a little bit of rose in their cheeks from the sunshine. My girls are in bed and Lois and Abby are chattering and tickling and oh, I’ll just let them carry on. Sometimes I just let them talk and play and, let’s be real, develop a relationship. Their little whispers are filled with mischief and imagination and sisterhood. I love it. With five siblings, I know just how important it is to develop that relationship. It’s one that never goes away. It’s one that doesn’t disappear with distance and it is one that is given to us by God.

Back to that quiet evening…

My mother-in-law told me a while back that I need to write a list of everything that I did on our flight from China to America to make it easier. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve made that flight a few times, and this last time we had two toddlers and a baby. My plan of attack when it comes to flying has been slowly developed over the last few years. It is the product of trial and error as I’ve tried to find what works best. It is not perfect and it is not for everyone. It is simply an agglomeration of suggestions and in many ways a note to self for future reference. If you’re interested, continue reading. If it does not apply to you or interest you, I hope you enjoyed my sentiments in the first paragraph!

The Game Plan

  • Book the afternoon flight. This was the first time that Neal had booked us an evening flight. We were always getting up at three or four in the morning to catch the eight or nine o’clock plane and it was brutal. Pulling sleeping babies out of their bed and patting their cheeks to try to wake them up is just hard. Arriving at the airport already exhausted is hard. The evening flight was amazing. I let the girls sleep in and get completely rested. They got up and got showered and fed and we arrived at the airport, rested, full-bellied (it is a word, maybe) and clean! Starting the trip on the right foot can make a huge difference. This flight isn’t always an option, but when it is, I highly recommend it!
  • Get some sleep. When packing for a trip of this magnitude, it’s easy to get caught up in last-minute details and work into all hours of the night packing, cleaning out the fridge, getting the house in order and a million other “must-do” things. However, flying with kids is draining and it’s worse when you arrive at the front end of the trip exhausted.
  • Make a list. Have a list of things to do and grab before you head out the door and don’t lock that door behind you until those things are done. You don’t want to walk out the door without your stroller!
  • Bring a stroller. Oh, it’s a hassle. Of course it is. But it is also a bed for your infant when you’re waiting at your gate for two hours. It can also be a life-saver if you have to make a mad dash for your gate with three kids in tow. It can also be an extra place to store the diaper bag or your kids’ backpacks when they get tired. In some cases, it is even a cup holder.
  • Bring a kangaroo. Not the animal. I’m talking about those things that you strap to yourself and then stick your child in and then clip a million clips to secure them. This might be extreme. However, I found that the stroller and the kangaroo both had their purposes and I thoroughly appreciated having both. With the kangaroo, I could carry Naomi close to me and Abby could sit in the stroller if  we had to walk all the way through the Chicago Airport (who am I kidding, we always have to walk all the way through). Also, the kangaroo keeps your baby right up close and attached to you if you doze off at the gate or on the plane. It also will free up both of your hands to purchase a cup of coffee.
  • Drink a cup of coffee. Enough said.
  • Bring a backpack. Bring as many backpacks as you have able-bodied packers! Lois and Abby both carried little backpacks on this last trip and it worked out beautifully. They were the perfect size and they both had a free hand to pull a mini carry-on and tuck a blanket under their other arm. I had a backpack and Neal had a backpack. It’s just another way to keep two hands free.
  • Have a seat bag and a stow bag. The girls used their backpacks for everything they would use on the plane. Toys, sippy cup and slippers. The small bag fit perfectly on the seat next to them while the roller bag is stowed over-head with the “emergency items”. No one wants to get up and down pulling heavy suitcase from overhead. However, those suitcases are necessary in case of spills, soiled clothes or an unexpected overnight stay. Also, if that little backpack can fit inside the carry-on then while you’re walking through the airport, you would have less bags to think about. Then, right before you board the plane, pull out the back pack and you’re good to go.
  • Pack sparingly. Lois and Abby were each allowed one toy, one stuffy, and one coloring book. Keep in mind that what you bring heading “to” will also have to come back “from” that place. Don’t worry about your kids being “too bored”. It doesn’t matter how many toys and activities you have for them, they will always be bored of all the activities (whether three or ten) within the first thirty minutes. Or maybe my kids are just “special” and everyone else’s children have thirteen-hour attention spans. Anyone?
  • Bring a sippy cup. Remember that I’m talking toddlers. When the airplane beverages come by, they always come in plastic cups that are placed on a little, wobbly fold-out tray. Anyone else smell a disaster? We spill every time. Again, it might just be my kids. However, no-one likes a wet seat, or clothes, or blanket. So, when drinks come by, have those cups ready and kindly ask the attendant to pour the water in. My cups have little handles on them that hook right onto the pocket of the seatback and the girls can continue coloring or playing without having to clear a space for their drink. It’s beautiful.
  • Drink water. I try to avoid letting the girls have sugar drinks while flying. Every mom understands that and I know that’s a no-brainer!
  • Let them sleep. Letting yourself and your children get a “head-start” on overcoming jet lag sounds great in theory, however, it is not great. No matter what you do, you will have to fight the jet lag battle when you arrive on the other side of the world. No exceptions. So, instead of making your children stay awake for thirteen hours of being buckled to a seat, just let them rest and fight that “stay-awake” battle once you’re on the other side. Two of my girls slept for ten hours of our first flight. Abby slept for eight hours with a short break in the middle. That left only a few hours of awake time in which they played with their toys and ate a meal. It was quiet and we arrived in Chicago rested. (Another reason to get that evening flight… you’re flying during everyone’s bedtime!)
  • Smile and stay calm. There are people who love you on the other end. Pouting and getting worked up only makes things worse.
  • Sleep some more. Once you reach your destination, let everyone get to bed and sleep for as long as they will. That first night will be a long one and your kids will be tired from the flight. They will probably sleep deep and long so, let them. The next day, keep everyone active and awake until the second night and that’s when jet lag shows it’s true colors. When my girls wake up in the night, I go to them, make sure they know I’m there and keep the lights off and keep everyone still. They might not sleep, but if their bodies are at least resting, it will help. Don’t let them get up and play. Don’t turn the lights on. Just stay with them. A few nights of brutality and a few days of staying busy and only allowing for half-hour naps will be well worth it. Don’t drag it out for weeks and weeks, just hit it hard on night two and within a week, you should be basically swapped over.


Lois got invited to try out the pilot’s seat. Big day.

Now, the evening is almost over and the girls have drifted off. Naomi (who is growing way too fast and can now crawl!) is down for the count and I’ve checked something off of my to-do list! All good things. Now, after talking about sleep so much, I’m tired and I think I’ll sleep.