In 2008 my husband, 3 year old daughter Vivi, and I spent 3 amazing weeks in China. This was no ordinary vacation- though we would be sightseeing and playing tourists for some of the time- this trip was to bring home our new 3.5 year old son from faraway Urumqi. I am re-writing our journal here, adding in travel tips for parents traveling with kids. My goal is to inspire families to travel together- even with kids!
We flew directly from Chicago to Beijing, and it “only” took 13 and a half hours to fly the 6500 miles. It’s funny to leave in the morning on Wednesday, cross over the international dateline, and lose a day as we land Thursday at 3pm. My dad had been doing this for years as a commercial airline pilot and I was always confused as a kid when he would come home on a Sunday morning, and tell us he already had eaten breakfast on Sunday morning.
This was not our first trip abroad with Vivi: she had been to Ireland and several times to Mexico. But this time we would add in another 3.5 year old, who wouldn’t understand us, and whose temperament was a mystery so far. Three year olds get a bad rap- but if you start them young, they can get used to it and travel pretty well. Well-prepared parents are the key to a successful trip!
This is what our 13+ hour flight looked like with a 3 year old: snack, walk to potty, read books; snack, walk to potty, put stickers in in-flight magazine, color; snack, walk to potty, play dough, play peekaboo with neighbors; snack, walk to potty, beg Vivi to snuggle and rest for a bit (to no avail). In addition to preventing deep vein thrombosis, the countless trips to the back of the plane past rows of sleeping people (and kids!) finally wore Vivi out and let her sleep about 3 hours. Here’s what our “Bag-o’-Fun” looked liked- not only for the flight, but for the 3 week trip:
* Crayons, coloring books, a tracing book, and a blank notebook: Kumon makes great little workbooks that have colorful graphics and keep even 3 year olds busy! The “Let’s Color” and “My First Tracing” seen above are both from Kumon. Now that my kids are a little bigger, we like doodling coloring books such as this, or this one.
* Stickers are essential. This huge sticker book is a great side-by-side book for parent and child on an airplane. I also bought $1 sticker packs from Michael’s or JoAnn Fabrics that have tiny stickers. Vivi loves to put these over people’s faces/eyes in the in-flight magazine (weird, but she loves it!)
* Look and Find Books are also great activities for kids- like I-Spy or Where’s Waldo, but for younger kids. I scored this Elmo one at a garage sale for 50 cents! They come in all of the favorite characters: Dora, Diego, Princesses, Thomas, etc, and ask kids to find certain pictures within the colorful and detailed scenes.
* Little tubs of play-dough (with a plastic knife or other random toy) were really popular- Vivi actually went to sit by another girl on the plane for a bit and they both played play-dough together for almost an hour!
* Schleich animals: Vivi is a huge animal-lover, and is in that imaginative state where she makes everything talk in a high-pitched voice:). These little animals go everywhere with us and she never tires. They are a bit pricey, but Target has them on clearance every couple of months. These are the only animal figures we have found that don’t lose their paint when kids chew on them (true).
* Ikea mini-stuffed animals: I picked up these new, very cheap little animal buddies because I wanted to thwart the crisis of losing a favorite stuffed animal, and the ensuing meltdown.
* Snacks galore!!!! Snacks are worth their weight in gold. (fast-forward a couple of years and I will say a DVD player is worth its weight in gold, but we hadn’t discovered that yet). I feel like you can change any unhappy, whiny, crabby child into a little angel with some carefully chosen snacks (especially those that are normally limited or forbidden, and probably include sugar). Remember that on the flight you can bring any food you’d like: just consume or throw it away before customs. We had the omnipresent goldfish, but also carrots, blueberries, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, applesauce and cheese in case Vivi didn’t love the airplane food. 13 hours is a long time for a 3 year old!:) In MY carry-on, far from prying, curious hands, I hid some lollypops which saved us later in the trip. Used sparingly, sugar bribes really do stop meltdowns in their tracks.
* Empty sippy cup- to be filled after security. Starbucks will sell you cold milk for the price of a steamed milk (and nice employees will just fill the big sippy for that same low price), and McDonald’s also sells smaller containers of milk. Also, in-flight the flight attendants will fill with milk, water, juice, etc.
* An extra set of clothes, in my carry-on. Murphy’s Law says you’ll only need them if you forget to pack them, so we made sure to carry extra undies and a lightweight outfit in my carry-on, in case of accidents. We were traumatized on a flight returning from Mexico one winter when Vivi had rotovirus, and will never, ever forget extra clothes for our kids!
My last pieces of advice for the flight: do your best to keep your kids form practicing kung-fu on the seat in front of them- happy passengers are more likely to help when they are not getting beat up; screaming tantrums can be transferred to the plane’s rear bathrooms where the engines muffle the noise better; if all else fails, have a sense of humor: your flight does end at some point, and you’ll probably never see these passengers again!
We made it to Beijing in one piece- tired but SO excited!
Do you and your kids have any favorite must-have items for trips?