I feel like I’ve said it a hundred times already but every vacation day with kiddos is about four rolled into one after you factor in excessively early mornings, naps, meltdowns, snack stops and costume changes post-snack stops. So as I’m sitting down to write I’m already realising that this will probably need split into a few posts. Looks like I’m embarking on a series. Go me.
Anyone reading – hi Marky! – will probably know we recently took a trip to the west coast of America. We’ve been so many times before, both together and separately, it’s fairly clear SoCal is our all-time favourite. It’s our happy place. Our heaven on earth. Our soul home. It’s also twelve hours away across the Atlantic on a tin bucket with two tiny humans under three.
Curiously, I never felt nervous about the actual act of travelling. Or the holiday in general to be honest. Childbirth and everything that has come since has prepared me to cope with most inevitable curveballs. Mainly the fairly rapid lesson that you have no choice but to be flexible in your approach if you want to retain a shred of sanity.
The closer we got to the departure date, the more people would pull concerned faces. And I would always respond the same way. ‘It’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.’ Which we were. I’m not saying the kids weren’t mental. And I’m not saying no one cried. I’m just saying I didn’t. And that, to me, is an achievement in itself.
First things first, as much as we threw ourselves into a big trip head on we didn’t do it blindly. I wasn’t expecting to watch a single movie on that plane, I wasn’t expecting a two and half year old to sit like an obedient dog for one hour let alone twelve. I was expecting him to be a bit over-excited, to eat little to none of the airplane food and to have a bit of a melt down before finally crashing and falling asleep. And that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t awful. It was our normal routine within a four foot square space surrounded by strangers wearing headphones.
I think that’s what scares people the most. The limited space and the people staring. So what helped?
Forget the People
As soon as the initial ascent is over, 98% of those people you’re terrified of annoying will have their headphones glued to their ears. So if anything, be jealous not apprehensive!
And if the kids lose their minds a little before that point? Which, let’s be fair, they might after patiently making their way through check-in, airport security and the long wait at the departure gate only to be pinned down and buckled into a seat or your lap against their will. Just breathe. Do not look around you. Focus on your kiddos and stay calm. It will pass quicker than it feels.
Do Your Research
A few months before we left my best friend told me about her sister’s recent trip to South Africa where she’d used an onboard bassinet seat. I had neither seen nor heard anything about these seats before so was a little sceptical, but after a quick Google I fired an email off to Aer Lingus anyway. I got a response nearly immediately and we were secured this option for both the outward and home leg of our trip.
Bear in mind, this mightn’t be for everyone and you definitely want to be clear of the seating formation before you commit. On paper it would have been Lucas & I beside each other with Milo on my knee or in the fold down bassinet on the wall in front. Mark was then technically seated behind, flying solo, lucky duck.
Given the energy levels of both boys I’m not sure how I would have felt if this had actually been the set up, but we were fortunate enough both ways to have the third seat in the Bassinet row free so Mark could join us and essentially pin Lucas in.
Either way it is absolutely worth looking into as Milo spent most of the return journey in his box, only getting up to feed every couple of hours. Hands free mama got to watch a few episodes of Billions and have a coffee. Who needs First Class? Oh, me. Oh, please me.
I’m not even going to pretend that having one bag each with everything you need for yourselves and two kids on a twelve hour flight is an option. If you have achieved this then you deserve global recognition and I would like you to get in touch with some tips.
We were that family manoeuvring the airport with three cases, five carry-ons, two car seats and a double pram. I like to think we did it with ease and finesse, but I’m pretty sure we looked like National Lampoon’s Californian Vacation. (Just a point to note, we saved over $400 by bringing our own car seats so if you’re trying to travel big on a budget this is a must, baggage permitting.)
Once the cases and car seats were checked in the load was lightened immensely, but the key was to have the remaining hand luggage organised to a tee. I know that seems a fairly obvious statement, but once you start digging around for passports and snacks and you’ve had to empty your make-up and emergency pants out at security things can go a little awry.
We had pouches and sleeves and folders galore. There was nothing loose. Dry make up in one, liquids in another, mobile and electricals bundled neatly up together. Passports were in a easy-grab folder, snacks and bottles bagged and ready to whip out at the slightest whimper. We had a zip up toy bag to keep the crazy contained and teddies and sucky rug were all tucked up in Lucas’ bright orange Foxy bag so there was zero chance of that getting left behind. Because can you even imagine?!
Do not under-estimate the power of preparation when it comes to keeping your cool with kids.
With snacks, with tv time, with sleeping. Forget your usual limits, anything is on the table if it means buying yourself a half hour of relative down time. FYI: this will also apply once you arrive when it comes to letting your toddler eat only chicken nuggets for a fortnight and not losing your mind over it. But that’s another post.
Booze Before you Board
Or caffeinate. Or whatever your liquid vice. Because the chances of this happening are not guaranteed. I’m not saying you won’t, but you mightn’t. Each leg of the journey was different. On one momentous occasion I actually managed to order and drink a few sips of cider before the tiniest woke up and proceeded to empty the entire tin down the aisle.
We made blanket forts under the bassinet, we used our armrest TVs to cage in the kids, we listed all the characters from Paw Patrol a thousand times and played I-Spy with the onboard magazine. That one though was a real tease. How many times can you hungrily I-spy a cheese toastie before wanting to actually eat your own arm off?
Don’t Bring Mr Potato Head
I knew when we were away there was going to be down time in the hotel room every morning and evening so I had small list of toys that would be coming with us. A few of his favourites that I know can consume him for an hour at a time. Puzzles, Potato Head and a small selection of building blocks.
But what I was bringing for the hotel was not applicable for the flight. Because who in their right mind wants to adopt the brace position every ten seconds to fish Potato Head’s eyes from under your life jacket or try not to wake the dude behind while you stealthily scoop crayons out from under his hairy toes?
No, I thought not. Pack smart. We took a magnetic drawing pad with a firmly attached pencil, his favourite stuffie, a new kids magazine with stickers (and swiftly removed crayons) and, of course, the iPad.
And so, dear reader(s), not only did we survive, but we were fine. I never sleep on long haul flights and am generally bored as hell, watching impatiently as that tiny airplane moves at a snail’s pace across the tv screen while everyone around me sleeps.
This time was no different. Except for the fact that it was. This time there was the added thrill of travelling with my best guy and my babies, seeing their excited little faces experiencing new things. Slightly older, slightly wiser, much poorer but happy as clams just to be together.
All photos from my Instagram over on @kittylarouxx