Now that we've been back from our Roman holiday for almost a week (it's seems like yesterday and also forever ago that we were there), I thought I'd share some tips about what made flying more enjoyable for Bunny and Wallie, who are 7.5-years-old and 5.5-years-old, respectively.
The first best thing we did was to book a flight that left in the afternoon from San Francisco. This meant that once on the plane, the girls did some activities, ate dinner, brushed their teeth, then settled in to sleep for the night. I do need to add one GINORMOUS caveat in that we flew business class (thanks to Tata), and so the girls were sleeping on beds, but bear with me. The timing of long flights is super-important. We've done plenty of 5-7 hour flights in coach that we timed with nap or bedtime to make sleeping (for the girls, anyway) easier.
Be sure to dress them in comfortable clothes (like sweatsuits or leggings and cotton dresses for girls) and bring along anything (yes, blankies and stuffed animals) that will help them sleep better.
THE BEST SUITCASE FOR KIDS
Another thing that my mom did was get the girls real, adult-sized (but small) carry-on suitcases, the kind with the four independently-turning wheels (aka "spinners") that you can push along with just a finger. Rather than having to lug heavy backpacks full of coloring books and snacks that you end up having to carry anyway, the girls (mostly) happily wheeled their suitcases along. Another bonus, they were easy to get open to find whatever it was they needed, and they were roomy enough to shove jackets (and any Duty-Free items you happen to buy!) into.
FUN KID ACTIVITIES FOR AIRPLANES
The fact that the suitcases were rolling meant that we load them up with plenty to do. Into each suitcase went:
- new coloring books
- grade-level activity books
- homework (for Bunny)
- a book of sticker "paper dolls"
- one of those giant sticker activity books
- blank journals (one for each)
- a "learn how to draw" book
- two chapter books for Bunny (could have brought more, she finished one on the plane and one within two days of landing)
- 3 "I Can Read" books for Wallie—Miss "I Can Read It All By Myself" is all about the Level 2 books, and thank god they are skinny, plentiful, and cheap.
- a box of crayons
- a pack of markers
I also packed:
- An Italian word book for kids
- Changes of clothes for both girls
- Snacks (kids often get hungry at times when there is no meal service)
- A hairbrush
- Extra hair ties
- A toiletry kit which includes soap and lotion (I brought this one from Noodle & Boo, which was sent to me for review and it was fabulous. Perfect for my kids' sensitive skin.)
- Toothbrushes (which we didnt need thank to the Club World "tuck kits"
- An empty spray bottle (to fill on the plane and hydrate--the air is so very dry)
IPOD TOUCH SAVES THE DAY
Each of the girls has an iPod Touch (with headphones) and I have to say, for travel, it is worth every penny. Not only can you load them up with their favorite movies, TV shows, and music, but there are tons of kid game apps (many of them free) to keep them occupied. I polled my Facebook friends to ask for suggestions and immediately downloaded all of them. The girls had five pages of games from Cooking Mama to Ms PacMan to keep them occupied. The nice thing about the iPod Touch is that it is a small, self-contained unit. You don't need to bring game cartidges or a separate device for movies. Again, can't say it enough, worth every penny.
And just in case their iPods ran out of juice, I also got them extra battery packs. Those came in handy as well, and I highly recommend you go that route too.
A WORD ABOUT DRY AIR ON PLANES
It's no secret that plane air is dry, and it's important to stay hydrated. I find it hard to sleep on planes mainly because it feels like I am inhaling sand. I always wake up to drink water which I recommend keeping on hand (in bottles) for kids.
We used empty travel-sized spray bottles to spritz ourselves and the air around us regularly. I know there is some controversy about whether this helps, but I feel better when I am spritzing (and the girls have fun doing it) so we'll keep on keeping on.
Another thing I did, on my mom's recommendation, was to bring along washcloths that I could dampen with water and hang up on/between our seats. Yes, I did feel a little "The Clampetts Go Traveling," but when the thing goes from wet to dry in an hour, you get an understanding for how dry the air is. Bunny even took one damp washcloth and laid it over her face to sleep. I do that, too, and it feels really good. If you don't want to lug wet washcloths around, bring some cheap (or really old) ones that you won't mind throwing away.
Lastly, as Bunny has a tendency to get bloody noses, I shmear the insides of all our noses with unpetroleum jelly (squeeze some into a little travel container). That helps to keep the dryness at bay as well.
I find plane rides are a great time to work on manners and independence with children, since most of the time, flight attendants are asking the kids directly what it is they'd like to drink or eat. Usually when we are on a plane that's the time the girls can have a (caffeine-free) soda or any juice, so I let them order, and remind them to say "please" and "thank you." Neither kid really loves the airplane nuts, so that is an opportunity where they can speak up and say, "No, thank you," rather than whining to me about how they don't want their macadamias.
Another point of independence is letting them go to the lavatory by
themselves. They get lots of coaching about what to touch and what not
to, how to work the sink, and how NOT to leave the lav a mess. Wallie is afraid of the loud
flush, so I usually stand just outside the door and flush for her, but Bunny is a champ when it comes to the airplane bathroom.
JUST HAVE FUN
After you've prepared for every inevitability, just have fun. I'm a terribly fearful flier, but even I can appreciate that planes are awesome. If you have the chance, walk your kids around and explore. (Not during service times, though.)
Once at your destination, try to get them in rhythm with the time it is there, not the time it is at home. Kids are pretty adaptable--they don't have all the mental hang-ups about sleep that we have. If they need to nap, keep it short, then get 'em up and moving, then get them to be at bedtime. Day two will be much better if you do.
Enjoy your flight!
P.S. I am planning to write a post about Rome with kids soon, so watch this space.