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!


12/5/2011 12:33:40 am

Aww he looks so comfy lying there, great idea:)

12/7/2011 02:40:23 am

Thanks! That extra bulkhead space was invaluable!

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