Sadly, finances and schedules prevent us from being in a perpetual state of planning our next big adventure.  So, when I was half-way through my last pregnancy, we agreed to not plan any trips until Spawn 2.0 arrived and we had a chance to settle into our newly expanded family life. 

Luckily, I had another project to occupy me: a "big boy room" for JR.  Since he was being shunted from the bigger room and was losing the undivided attention of his parents for pretty much the rest of his life, I was determined to make it really special.  You know, bribe him.

After some deliberation, I decided on a travel/vintage airplane themed bedroom.  Planning his room turned out to be almost as fun as planning a vacation! I got a lot of inspiration (read: full-on stole ideas because I loved it so much and am totally not creative enough to think of this stuff on my own) from this great blog.

I'm super happy with the results!  And so is JR.  He especially loves the balsa wood models Daddy made for him and loves blowing on the propeller to "make it go".

Have you done a travel-themed room for your kids?
But what if that journey involves a 1 year old, two flights totalling almost 18 hours and a 7-hour layover?  Is it still about the journey?  Um, maybe not, but you better be prepared unless you cherish the idea of a confined, grumpy toddler on your lap for 25 hours.

Last month my husband and I arrived at the airport, toddler in tow, to begin our 25-hour journey from Toronto to Vietnam.  Every person we spoke to about our trip said "you're so brave!"  To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it.  We'd been to Southeast Asia only three years earlier, so we knew the lay of the land and there was never a moment when we hadn't considered taking our son.  (Okay, time for full disclosure already:  there was *one* moment when I asked "should we leave JR with Grammy and Grampy instead?"  My husband wouldn't even entertain the thought, so that was that.)

And you know what I learned?  That we often underestimate our children. My son cried for a total of 15 minutes in the 14th hour of our first flight.  And only then because he had finally fallen asleep to be woken up by turbulence - enough to make any of us cry!  And I would venture to say that, as long as you come prepared, the journey can be half the fun. 

Top Tips for ENjoyinG the JourNey

Chillaxin' with Daddy en route to Hong Kong
1. Now, I'm a self-professed gear junkie, so maybe I go a bit overboard, but trust me when I tell you that sometimes, that gear will make the difference between calm and chaos.  The two pieces of techie stuff we bought in anticipation of this trip were an iPad (my son already knows how to use it better than I do!) and the toddler headphones by Califone, pictured here.  We got several compliments from flight attendants on these headphones and they helped keep JR engaged in the in-flight entertainment. When your mini globetrotter gets bored of the airline's movie selection, break out your fully-loaded tablet. There are tons of great apps for kids out there - click here for a list of some great ones.

2. If your journey involves a long flight, believe me when I say that those bulkhead seats are worth every. single. penny.  My husband is 6' 3", so we've been finagling those seats ever since we started travelling together.  Throw a toddler into the mix and those few extra inches quickly become essential.  The extra space meant we could spread out our belongings and set out a little play area for him.  He even slept on the floor at our feet when it was nap time.  Another bonus of the bulkhead seats is that the touch sreen TVs are either mounted on the wall or the arm of the seat -- which means that those pudgy fingers won't be pounding on the back of someone else's seat, and that's one less dirty look you have to endure.  Lord knows there's enough controversy these days about kids even being allowed on planes in the first place!

That bulkhead seat is worth every penny!
3. How you board the plane will set the tone for the rest of the trip.  Families with small children are usually allowed to pre-board.  If you're flying with another adult, the best solution we've found is to get one person to go ahead with as much of the luggage as they can handle and set up the seats, while the other person lets the child(ren) run off as much energy as possible before boarding the plane.  (And don't forget a last-minute diaper change too!)  When you do board, talk to a flight attendant as soon as possible to get the low-down on the lavatories.  Some airlines require you to put the diapers in airline-issued bags and then handed to a crew member for disposal.  Others just tell you to put them in the bathroom garbage.

4. Never underestimate the power of the treat.  Most airlines are good about bringing snacks, drinks, and small toys for the kids, but packing your carry-on with treats means you're not relying on a (hopefully) empathetic (and available) flight attendant.  Before a long flight, I visit the local dollar store and find a few toys that I think JR might enjoy.  I also pack his favourite lovey, a roll of painter's tape, some stickers, juice boxes and a few never-fail snacks (rice crackers, puffs, etc.).  I wrap the toys and hand one over whenever he seems to be getting restless.  The painter's tape was probably the smartest item in our bag of tricks.  JR loved ripping pieces off the roll of tape and sticking them all over us and the seats. It served a dual purpose as we soon discovered:  after JR had pressed the "Call Attendant" button a dozen times in five minutes, a piece of tape nicely covered the button, erasing that innate toddler need to press all visible buttons.

5. Go with the flow.  A detailed plan for the journey will end up in the same place as your birth plan: lining the bird cage.  Be prepared, but don't have expectations.  The best strategy is to be flexible, because you may find that your mile-a-minute pre-schooler wants to do nothing more than sit on your lap and watch cartoons, while your normally sedate 11-month old wants to run up and down the aisles.  Your fellow passengers aren't the enemy and are usually happy to smile and coo to your children as long as they see that you are genuinely making an effort to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your family.

When you're relaxed, your kids will read that and take their cues from you.  Remember - a journey of a thousand miles...begins with a little preparation.

Do you have any secret travel tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them!

A version of this post appeared on the Suitcases and Sippy Cups website as part of Wanderer Wednesdays!

I know that when thinking about memorable meals and traveling, it usually conjures up images of crammed night markets with all manner of protein on the grill in Souteast Asia, or a steaming, gooey pot of cheese fondue in the Alps, or a romantic candle-lit Mediterranean dinner overlooking the ocean...but I've also got some vivid memories of air "fare" - and not all of them are horrendous.

I'll never forget the first time I did a solo backpacking trip to Europe and was given a gift of enough air miles to fly first class!  I flew Alitalia and, let me tell you, they fed me nonna-style:  constantly.  And it was divine.  And that was AFTER I had spent three weeks in Italy eating some of the freshest most amazing food I'd ever tasted.  To this day, every time I step on a plane I have my fingers crossed that we'll be served some of that delicious pasta.

Or the time I took a short-haul flight on Air Canada during Oktoberfest season and had a tasty sausage and spaetzle meal.  It took me years of asking my German friends what that "kinda crunchy, tiny, kinda pasta-y" dish was.  I now own a spaetzle maker, thank you very much.  I know what you're all thinking: "Food - a HOT meal - on a short-haul flight??  No, no, my friend. You are mistaken."   Trust me, it was nearly 15 years ago when times were good. 

I realize that those two experiences may be unbelievable exceptions to the rule, but last month when we flew to Vietnam on Air Canada, we experienced a new low in air "fare".  The first leg of our journey was a 15 hour, non-stop flight from Toronto to Hong Kong.  We departed at 10am and about an hour in, they served lunch. 

My 1 year old son, who is a fantastic eater, gobbled his with gusto. I sat back and began to relax, thinking that the next 12 hours or so would be just fine if the rest of our meals were like that.  A few hours later the flight attendants started wheeling out their carts and I heard them say to the passengers across the aisle "Soup and sandwich?" Huh.  Soup on a plane?  An odd choice, I thought, but JR was getting antsy so the timing was perfect.  Just then, the flight attendant looked over at me, with JR on my lap and as I nodded to her,  she gingerly placed a . . . CUP NOODLE . . . on my tray. Um, I was about to object, but honestly, what choice did I have?  Now, I know I didn't pay as much as the people in Business Class, but over-processed, MSG-laden Cup Noodles in a styrofoam cup?! The same Cup Noodles that desperate university students by at the dollar store?? I was handed a pair of chopsticks and left to my own devices.  My son thought me trying to feed him impossibly long, curly noodles while he sat on my lap was a riot.  So too did my fellow passengers when he started wearing the noodles. Meanwhile,  I was silently outraged and furiously wrote a strongly worded letter to the CEO in my head. 
The opposite of Cup Noodles.
Now, I'm not expecting filet mignon in my economy seat or anything.  But is it really too much to ask that a little thought and consideration go into menu planning?  It would seem to me that serving hot broth, filled with noodles and questionable "meat" products in a large styrofoam cup to people squeezed in to a very tight space would not be a good idea for obvious reasons, not to mention the complete lack of nutritional value and the horrible taste.

I would have loved to pack my own meals, as this NY Times article suggests, but "pack 24 hours worth of meals for two adults and 1 toddler"  just didn't make it on my to-do list...I'll know better for next time!

Misery loves company, as they say, so tell me about your worst air fare!

Just a quick note to say that we survived our epic journey to Vietnam and Singapore with our son.  After more than 38 hours on planes in less than two weeks, I have to say that I am more in awe of my little guy than ever before.  He was such a trooper and I've learned so much about traveling with young children - and can't wait to share all the tips and stories with stay tuned!

So, I put my son to bed 20 minutes ago, but the TV is still tuned to Treehouse that weird?  Am I the only one who finds kids' shows mildly entertaining and, frankly, better than almost everything else on the air?  It serves as great background noise while I go over our packing list.  As our trip to Southeast Asia nears, I go through moments of sheer terror at the prospect of having our highly active 15 month old on our laps for 15 hours to moments of pure excitement!  My husband and I did a fair amount of travel BB (before baby), including a 7-week trip through Southeast Asia.  It was the trip of a lifetime and being able to share a small part of that adventure with our son is so exciting!