I'll be honest, our trip to Tokyo wasn't the best.
We've had series of meltdowns - toddler and adult kind (in hotel room and public places), lost subway tickets, we got burnt out of negotiating, and were pushed to the limits. HASSLE!! I never would have gone if it weren't a family trip. The last time we flew to Bacolod, he was 15 months old; not yet too assertive and tantrum-y, but I was certain, Atlas isn't the kind of toddler you could just tag along as you wish.
So when Ate Evitha booked the ticket months advanced, my initial reaction was, WHAT!! But since it was going to be our first trip whole family trip with Atlas, game on! Anyway we've done this before. I read articles like 10 Expert Tips From a Globetrotting Mom, What to Pack and Leave Behind by SMART Parenting, Tips for Traveling with a Toddler by People among the many materials I voraciously read through, reviewed the Packing Shortcuts I wrote and I also started packing 3 days before. But if there's one thing I learned from this, it's that, no matter how well you prepare, it's not going to turn out as planned.
The next best thing is to make sure you keep your sanity all throughout the trip! Not sure I kept mine but here I am writing a blog. Perhaps it's all good.
Here are some of my HIT and (shouldn't) MISS (next time) list that I would certainly keep in mind for our future travels:
1. CHECKING IN / BOARDING / IN FLIGHT
When traveling with a group, check-in early, better yet, do it online. The earlier you do, the higher the chances you get of getting seated together and choosing your seats. I've read numerous flight horror stories where a specific airline assigned kids to be seated far from their parents inspite of paying extra for pre-selected seats. Well I hope this won't happen to us, ever!
Another perks of checking-in early is the chance to score our preferred seats. Window or aisle? Back for fewer people to disturb (but noisier and busier are), or front for legroom (but without storage underneath)? If tagging along a little one, it's also important to inquire about the seats which have extra oxygen masks. Just in case of emergency.
Be the last one to board - Make use of the waiting time to get your tot exhausted: the more energy they spend on the ground, the less they’ll have while in-transit. Who knows, you can get them to nap just right on time with the take-off and save yourself an hour or so. If in case you need to race for extra space in the overhead compartment, divide and conquer! Let the husband board first.
[This I've read several times but failed to execute] Write notes for fellow passengers especially if what you're bringing along is a spirited child. You are commuting with hundreds of passengers 20,000 ft above the ground for hours. It sure won't be complete without a scene so build your rapport and do the niceties. Small treats will be nice! It'll make fellow commuters nicer and your whole ride more pleasant.
2.SNACKS, TOYS, ACTIVITIES -
plan, plan, and plan some more and
don't forget to share this with your toddler
"Be a slave to the (circadian) rhythm" totally. As much as possible, flight schedule should be in sync with nap or bed time. That could help save us a few hours of needing to keep a toddler happy on board, and maybe we can enjoy our hot meal in peace as well.
Strategize tours - in addition to following nap times, make sure to plan tours that go with their timetable. You don't want them to miss their nap unless you want to unleash the beast.
Start packing 2 weeks before - Trust me, one week won't guarantee you won't forget a thing. Especially if you're going to be away for a long time or visiting a colder country which requires more stuff to pack.
Practice - I read an article before about how little kids like routine and dislike not knowing the direction they are headed for the day. It also stated the importance of talking to children to prepare them for something unfamiliar. Since then, I have been briefing Atlas whenever he needed be, and true enough, it works. Somehow for this flight, that's one thing I missed. #Notetoself: Let them know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen like when they are expected to sit still, fasten their seatbelts, wear a bonnet, put on gloves, etc. That's a good way to encourage them to behave accordingly.
Arm yourself with snacks aka the ultimate toddler flight survival weapon and make sure they are neatly organized in ---
3. THE PERFECT CARRY-ON
Consider a backpack for hand luggage, period. It has to be big enough to hold these in-flight necessities :
Voila! BooBoo Balm Heal all salve for minor booboos, dry skin, insect bites
Voila! Diaper Spray - doubles as a sanitizer and toy cleaner for each time he (intentionally) drops his toys and plays on the floor.
Clothes - extra change of clothes for your child and for yourself because you can never tell.
iPad - While some aircrafts have built in entertainment systems housing a few cartoon shows for your kids. others don't. JAL has an excellent lineup of shows, but Atlas didn't like them. He's not much fan of screentime. Had I loaded the iPad with Robocar Poli and Tayo the Little Bus, we would have gotten a good 30 minute quiet time. Told you, 3 days packing is so last minute.
Wipes, Wipes, Wipes
First aid Kit stocked with any prescription medications your child needs. I made sure I brought along our oil blends for immunity and sniffles, and vitamins to boost his immunity.
Snacks - enough to fill an aisle at Healthy Options. This bright brands filled with Kiat Kiat and Veggie crisps didn't do by the time he was fussy even though they were his favorites. To be safe, pack an assortment of snacks.
Water Bottle with straw (or sweets if you prefer) to help with the pressure change during take off and landing. And to keep him hydrated during the flight. I worried about bringing > 100ml drink for Atlas and sipped it down to 95ml without knowing many airports including Narita allow baby milk and baby food to be carried through security in containers.
Sunblock for babies - This I forgot! Atlas got sun and wind burnt because we were mostly outdoors. Good thing we have the boo boo balm. Next time, will make sure to apply sunscreen every two to three hours from 9:00 am until about 4:00 pm.
Child bag which you can bring anywhere. We made sure it's small enough to fit our carry on, and big enough to hold our little's must haves.
4. MANAGING EXPECTATIONS
IN FLIGHT - Even the most well-behaved toddler can get fussy when asked to sit still for extended period of time. These little humans are so eager to explore and move around so our task is to provide entertainment to keep them happy on-board. But if the clouds outside started to bore them and counting the passengers is too mundane, consider walking with them in the aisle. They might just be itching to move. As for Atlas, we had a mini tour of the aircraft as I chase after him with my big and heavy pregnant belly. Good to have his tito and tatis (tita) substitute for me.
ON TOURS - You made plans, drafted a list of things you want to see and experience with your family. But please know toddlers are most of the time (if not always) uncooperative. Mine is. But that's the thing, they don't care about schedule or plans. Expect to be uncomfortable and exhausted but keep in mind they feel the same way too. So do yourself a favor and just go with the flow. You have to be flexible and accepting that you're not in charge anymore.
5. Take care of yourself out there and HAVE FUN
Between all of the planning, packing, pre-dawn wake-ups, strategising on-site logistics, and pouring extra efforts into managing your child's behaviour, make sure you don’t forget about yourself. Stay well hydrated, do lots of leg movements; stretch, and relax.
Traveling with a toddler sure can be stressful, and you might get cold feet doing it again (I did) but it's through travel that we fill up the moments with meaningful memories. Plus, would you rather be missing out on this kind of magical parenting experience?
And like all things with parenting, the joy of it all outweighs the difficulties!
Don't worry, you’ll be OK, and everything is going to fall into place. We made it home alive and in one piece with extra beautiful memories to cherish and you sure will too. So go, enjoy yourself. Trust me, your kid is going to have fun no matter what.