Summer is here and that means festivals, beach time, eating cooling foods like shaved-ice and finding other ways to beat the heat. It can also mean travel time. Many AFWJ members take trips back to their home country to escape the summer heat or to take advantage of the longest school holiday. As much as it is lovely to return to our home countries to visit family and friends, a long day of travel on each end of the trip can be exhausting and stressful. Especially for members travelling with small children or babies! Do you dare take a 10 hour plane ride with a little one in tow? It may be difficult but it is doable and here are 10 things you can bring to make travelling a little more comfortable for you and your family.
#1: Extra clothes
You never know when spills, vomit, diaper blowouts, etc. might happen so have a set of extra clothes in your carry-on (which can also save you if your luggage gets lost). It is also a good idea to have some layers to add once you get on the plane or even at the airport - the summer is hot in Japan and planes can be cold. Small towels are also handy, not only for wiping drool or sweat, they can be used in a variety of ways. Once I wet a small hand-towel to give to my friend who wasn’t feeling well on the shinkansen, she used it as a cool cloth on her head and it eased her discomfort. I also gave one of my towels to a mum seated behind me on a flight whose daughter was vomiting during turbulence (the flight attendants were strapped in too - keep your towel handy).
#2: Clips or Clothespins
As I mentioned in the above tip, you should keep your towel handy, so using a clothespin to clip it to the seat pocket will ensure it is there when you need it. Clips can also be used to pin wet clothes to the seat pocket. Even though you have packed a spare set of clothes, you might want to do some impromptu laundry in the airplane bathroom if you have more than one spill. The air on the plane is dry so if you clip clothes or towels up, they will be dry and ready to use again in no time. You can also use clips to fasten garbage bags to the chair, or even make a fun little hanging playstation for little ones.
#3: Plastic Bags
Bring more plastic bags than you think you’ll need. They are small and light and easy to stuff into your carry-on. They can be used as garbage bags, vomit bags, laundry bags, stinky diaper bags etc. Even though I know this tip and my son is well over diapering age, I still never seem to have enough plastic bags.
#4: Something New
Novelty will keep small ones entertained a little longer than their usual toys. You can pick up a few things from Daiso, or even dig out some old toys that they haven’t seen in a while from the bottom of their toy box. A new colouring book or activity book can also keep some bigger kids entertained for a while. You don’t need to break the bank here, especially because things get dropped or lost during travel. Having a few new novelties around might also encourage your kids to keep their favourite items tucked away safely in their bags so they don’t get lost. Some internet mums suggest wrapping up a bunch of new toys as presents so the kid will spend some time occupied unwrapping and then playing with them - it is not something I have tried due to my aversion to having to deal with more garbage, but it sounds like a fun idea! Don’t forget to include a new book or magazine for yourself too - you can’t always rely on the inflight entertainment and your electronics may run out of batteries.
Although I have found the meals on airplanes generally offer enough variety to please even picky eaters, you can’t always count on them. Plus kids get hungry at inopportune times, like in the airport waiting to board or when the seatbelt sign is on. Throw in a huge time change and hunger can become unpredictable once you arrive at your destination, this goes for kids and adults alike. Try to bring easy to pack, somewhat healthy, appealing snacks. I like granola bars or something like that - filling enough to almost be a meal and small enough to fit in your carry-on without being crushed into crumbs. Don’t forget to buy some water or fill your empty bottle after passing through security so you have a drink ready for the airplane. Having something to suck on or snack on during take-off and landing can relieve some of the pressure on little ears and make for a smoother flight.
Long flights can be drying and wearing a mask can guard against your skin and nasal passages totally drying out. I hate the feeling of having a dry nose so I love to wear the masks that have those little pouches for moist-pads in them, they come in child sizes too so you can buy a set for the whole family. I don’t think masks offer much protection against airborne germs themselves, but keeping your nose moist might.
#7: Hand-sanitizer and Alcohol Wipes
Speaking of germs, you are sure to encounter many on your journey through airports, and on trains, planes and automobiles; the last thing you want to bring with you on vacation is a cold or worse. Keep a small bottle of hand-sanitizer ready for a quick clean on the go - especially if you have kids that insist on touching every single surface within their reach at all times. A pack of alcohol wipes can be useful for wiping down surfaces like tray tables or airport tables before you enjoy one of your snacks.
A nice not-too-greasy lotion can be used to perk your skin up once in a while on a long flight so you don’t arrive at your destination feeling like a dried-out raisin.
#9: A Mini First-Aid Kit
You already have some sanitizer and alcohol wipes to clean a scratch or cut, but don’t forget to throw a few band-aids, some tissues, and maybe even some head-cooling patches into your carry-on. Having fever-reducing, headache, and stomach medication for you and your children can help if someone starts feeling ill during the trip. Eye-drops and nasal spray are also good to have on hand to alleviate some of the discomfort that dry air can bring.
#10: Patience, a Good Attitude, and Anything Else that will help you and your family arrive at your destination smiling.
All in all, international travel isn’t the most pleasant experience. Long flights, long lines and long waits can make for cranky travellers and family fights. So I say bring whatever you can to make it a more pleasant journey for you and you family. If that means letting your kids have hours and hours of screen time during transit, and watching 5 movies in a row yourself, go for it! If you are not responsible for any kids and you can take something to help you sleep the flight away, yay for you! Whatever makes travelling a little easier and more pleasant should be enjoyed guilt-free. Just be careful not to enjoy too many snacks or alcoholic beverages - you don’t want to end up with an upset stomach.
Bonus Tip for Parents of Wee Ones:
One of the best things to remember about travelling with babies or small children is knowing that they will only be ‘this small’ for one trip, by the next trip they will be bigger and easier. When my son was just over a year old and I took him on his first trip back ‘home’, our returning 10-hour flight was a couple hours delayed, so I walked him around the airport and thought he’d sleep most of the way to Tokyo...boy was I wrong! We were in the same row as another baby who seemed to wake up and cry every time mine was about to sleep. To make matters worse, that baby’s poor mom was suffering from some sort of illness and dad had his hands full trying to comfort both baby and mom. Luckily my son wasn’t too crabby, but needed to be entertained for 10 hours in a small space. That plane ride seemed to last about a thousand years, but it eventually came to an end and that is one of the most important things to remember on a hard trip - this too shall pass. Now travelling with my kid is a breeze, he is a better traveller than me! At 9 years old, he has the airport procedures down pat, plays a few video games, watches a movie or two, sleeps and arrives on the other side of the ocean refreshed and ready to cruise through customs and immigration. I on the other hand...well I still arrive a tired grumpy mess.
Whether you’re travelling far and wide or staying home, we at AFWJ hope you have a safe and lovely summer!
By: Sandra Suzuyama