Growing up, there was an unwritten rule that you could not arrive with any moment to spare for a flight. In fact, as we entered our teen and college years, it was almost a competiton of who could get there latests and still get on the flight. But when Pia entered my life, things changed. You can't check in online with a baby and if there's anything we've learned over the past year, it's that you don't loose anything being early. You do, however, loose out if you're late. We've started heading to the airport three hours in advance of a flight. For one thing, getting there early means that you get the pick of the parent seats. Airlines will block seats for families. You either get a bulk head seat or you get a blocked seat between the parents. (Unless by freak chance the flight is acutally completely full, in that case, may God be with you). As we're among friends, I'll tell you you my secret: you definitely do not want the bulk head seat. Why a family want to sit somewhere where you cannot store the toy chest (ahem, trunki, we'll come to that) at your feet is beyond me. Arriving early for your flight will almost undoubtedly ensure you receive a blocked seat instead AND the extra time in the bright, loud airport will over stimulate the bejeesus out of your child allowing you some peace of mind while s/he sleeps on the plane.
2. The inventor of the trunki is a genius
If you don't already own a trunki or you don't know what one is, don't ask any questions, just click this link and order your favourite design NOW and then, and only then, may you continue to read:
The trunki is a treasure chest of entertainment. It converts from a ride on toy, to a pet on a leash, to a literal trunk of toys. I couldn't have dreamed of a better travel companion. My husband was concerned that we'd be carrying the trunki along with the child and the hand luggage by the end of the trip, but (even though that happened for part of the time) the trunki more than made up for it's fare. For a few days leading up to the trip, fill it with toys, books, anything to entertain and then get excited each time you see it so that your toddler knows the magic that awaits inside. And, almost as important as having it in the first place, when you're not on holiday, hide it in a closet so that it's new and exciting every time holiday comes around.
I won't lie. I'm more of the grab and go lazy mama kind of girl and the idea of packing my one carry on with food for a 10 hour flight seems really lame when it can be bought enroute, but I've learned. You can't expect airports to have open food stalls and certainly not to have toddler-healthy food stalls, so you need to BYOF, Bring Your Own Food. Don't get stuck buying a 3 day old bagel from the only dodgy little food stall open in the middle of the afternoon during a four hour layover. Plus, a little treat is amazing distraction in a time of need: take off, landing, the 19th hour of travel. Be smart, bring substance, but bring special treats too. When in Rome.
4. Something new, something old
When you're packing your trunki chest of toys, bring some old favourites so they feel comfortable in all the new surrounds, but be sure to pick up some new toys too. Keep in mind how and where you'll be playing with them. Little parts are not fun to chase down the aisles. I find box sets of books helpful. You can read them, learn pictures in them, and play with them stacking, shoving in the box, etc...
5. Everything is a toy
The creative kid in you will come out when you travel. No matter how much stuff you manage to cram into your trunki, you'll end up going through everything else as well. So pack smart. Bring useful things in your own carryon that might be exciting. A sparkly lipstick instead of dull colour might just be 30 minutes of entertainment in an airplane seat. Landing cards? Emergency instruction manuals? All kinds of exciting.
6. Embrace technology
Airlines are pretty forgiving to families with kids. They allow you your normal luggage, full allowances for kids, plus 3 additional items for check in (supposedly a 'pram', 'carseat' and 'cot' though we've taken all kinds of additional items in place of those things), and an additional carry on baby bag. So all in all for a family of three (two adults and one child under two who only had to pay taxes to travel) get 6 check ins and 7 carry ons. If you think you're going to max that out, I think you may need to reconsider traveling.
8. Sherpas aren't forever
When I got married, my family would laugh at how my husband (and anyone else around me) would become my personal sherpa as I travel. I'm not the most organised packer and I'm always on the go picking up various items I forgot I needed. Inevitably my stuff ends up in everyone's suitcase/pocket/bag. My prince of a husband would end up schlepping 3 bags on his poor shoulders while I walked effortlessly bag-free next to him. Ah the good old days. With a kid in tow, you will end up carrying the child at some point. Maybe for extensive distances when you need to run due to a delayed connection. Just don't go overboard on what you carry on as you'll still need to be able to carry it, the child AND keep a smile on for the little one. Even though we're allowed 7 bags to carry on, we only take 3, trunki included. And we stopped attempting travel with a buggy as the airplane drop off service varies per country so you're not even guaranteed to see the pram again until baggage claim any number of hours/days later. If you're bringing a pram to the plane, remember to ask at check in when you'll see it again and even then don't think you can trust it. We've been burned before with 6 hours and too many carry on bags in Doha.
9. Our parents did it
We travelled a lot as kids. We outnumbered the parents 3:2 and it was almost always by car. And they were long journeys. Our parents did it without the iPad and the trunki and all the modern day luxuries of travel. It isn't impossible and I think the thing they were smart about was parenting by shifts. One slept while the other drove. It means that there is always a parent that is at least mildly bright and shiny and able to manage the chaos should it come. It's not easy to do this on a plane, but by all means try.
10. This too shall pass
That's it. Just remember, at the 26th hour (yes we've done that distance with an infant), when no one has slept and the baby is crying in your ear and you're so tired the gravity in the ground seems to be delusional, remember, this too shall pass.