Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 quick tips when you're flying with kids

Taking your kids on a flight, or a series of flights if you're doing some long-haul travel, can feel rather daunting when you're a parent. Here are 10 quick tips from me to make flying with kids a little easier, and a little less stressful:

1. Always bring antibacterial wipes & use them
I keep repeating this advice to others and myself for one reason: it works. We used to always pick up some kind of germ or another in our travels, whether a stomach bug or a cold or the flu. Using the wipes after each bathroom visit and before each snack- or meal-time really, really helps. Anti-bacterial gel works too, but the wipes are handy and are not considered a liquid, which makes them a bit more convenient to bring on the plane.

2. Use the bathroom when you see it
I still try to hustle my kids into the bathroom whenever I spot one at the airport, even though they're older these days and usually able to tell me they need to go before it becomes an emergency. However, when you're going through an airport with young kids, it is a good policy to take them into the bathroom when you see a bathroom. Otherwise (if you're luck is anything like mine) you will be standing in some eternal lineup for immigration, check-in, boarding, or security when your child needs to go. And by then, all bathrooms might have magically disappeared...

On board it's a wise policy to take your kids into the bathroom before landing. My kids always seem to have "emergencies" right as we're approaching the airport, or when everyone is standing up, waiting for the doors to open. Not ideal for relaxed bathroom visits!

3. If your child can stand up, bring pullups rather than regular diapers on the flight
Diaper changes in an airplane bathroom are never fun. Yes, there are change-tables, but in the extremely cramped quarters it is never easy to change a diaper in the air. With my kids, I found it to be a lot easier to change a pullup than a regular diaper. Even if you don't usually use pullups, it might be a good idea to bring some on the plane, once your child is able to stand up.

4. Always look back before leaving
I got this advice a long time ago in my youthful backpacking days, and I still live by this rule. Whenever you've stopped or sat down for a break, a snack, to make a phone call, or whatever reason - look back as you're leaving to see if you've left anything behind. It's saved my sanity several times, because I've spotted dropped toys or blankets, or a cellphone or wallet.

5. Wear comfy pants
Few things make me more uncomfortable on a flight than tight pants. Anything that pinches at the waist is awful. I don't like tight pants at the best of times, but when you spend hours sitting in a cramped airplane seat, and feel your body bloat and swell from the pressure... well, a loose-fitting waistband is a lot better than a tight one. I'm not the world's biggest fan of yoga pants, but if there was ever a place to wear them, the airplane is it.

6. Chocolate + kids + planes = bad news
Chocolate covered snack-bars, or candy is not a good idea for a flight. At least for my kids, we always seem to end up with chocolate everywhere, and that's not great when you're on a plane. Anything that "melts in your mouth, not in your hand" is a better snack-choice.

7. Apps, games, and e-readers are great ways to pass the time
Plan ahead and get some kid-friendly apps and games for your electronic devices (new ones if possible, to further battle travel boredom). If you get stuck at an airport, or on any long flights, it is a good way to pass the time. I always make sure I have some go-to kids' books on my Kindle as well.

8. Pen & paper is a must
Entertaining your kids when you're on a long flight, or waiting for a long time at an airport can be a big challenge. And electronic devices will only last so long: I find my kids get bored with them eventually, or the devices may need recharging when there is nowhere to recharge them. Pen and paper, that old-school form of entertainment, can help. Draw pictures, write stories, play simple games like tic-tac-toe or Hangman... you can always do something with a pen (or pencil) and some paper.

9. Don't forget your charging cables
It's easy to remember bringing your electronic devices, but sometimes (and yes, I am speaking from experience), it's easy to forget the charging cables. Bring them along in your hand-luggage: some airports and airplanes are starting to provide places for recharging.

10. Pockets are good, and waist packs
When you're traveling with kids, there are always things you need to keep track of: pacifiers, tickets, toys, snacks, money, cellphone... A waist pack or a good travel-purse can be a life-saver (and will hold your most important travel-documents securely), but it's also good to wear clothes that have pockets. Sweaters or cardigans with pockets is a favourite travel-gear of mine for this very reason.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tips for shopping on board when you're traveling with kids

Shopping while you're on the plane can be a lot of fun: there are some great deals to be had (especially if you're on an international flight where the goods are truly tax-free), and it can be a nice way to buy presents for people you know or yourself. However, when you're traveling with kids it's not always easy to find the time for shopping (or anything else), with the frequent bathroom trips, boredom, potential tantrums, sibling fights, kids experiencing ear-pain from the cabin pressure, and so on.

These days, most airlines let you browse their sales catalog online, and that can definitely be a big help. Another great service provided by several airlines is on-board delivery: you can shop online for the items available in the on-board shop, and then have those items delivered to your seat during your flight. This makes the shopping experience a lot more convenient for parents. A sample of airlines that provide this service is:
  • Iceland Air's SagaShop  - also has some great items for sale that are made in Iceland, and feel kind of exotic to anyone who isn't from that country.
  • KLM's Shop@KLM - offers on-board delivery if you're flying out of Amsterdam
  • Lufthansa's WorldShop - offers airport delivery at Frankfurt airport, rather than on-board delivery.
Shopping at the airport can be one way to pass the time, but parents traveling with small children might not feel that comfortable browsing in a fancy airport shop with lots of expensive and fragile items on display. Still, those airport shops can look pretty enticing, and again, if the deals are truly tax/duty free then it can be a very good buy.

However, even if you do find a good deal, there are some things to think about when you purchase things on board or at the airport.

Do you have space in your bags?
If you're traveling with kids, your hand-luggage might already be rather full and heavy. Adding extra items, even if they're a good deal, might make your load even harder to carry to the next gate. Also consider how much your hand-luggage weighs: airlines don't usually weigh your carry-on (a lucky thing for me when my kids were babies!), but it does happen. And if you're over the limit, those new purchases could be a real problem.

Will you be able to bring it on your flight/s?
If you buy any kind of liquid products on board or at the airport, and are planning to bring them on your flight, you have to consider the airlines' rules about liquids on board. A container of liquid - for example lotion, perfume, wine, or beer - usually has to be 3 ounces/100 ml or smaller to be allowed in your hand-luggage. Sometimes, airlines do make exceptions for products bought on board, or at the airport of departure if the purchases are in a sealed plastic bag. However, if you have other connecting flights later on in your travels, you might have to put larger containers in your checked luggage.

This did happen to me once: I bought a bottle of body lotion in Amsterdam and was allowed to bring it on my flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm. But: when we went through security for our domestic Swedish flight with SAS, I was not allowed to bring the lotion (in a sealed plastic bag) in my hand-luggage on my next flight Luckily I was able to put the bottle in a bag and check that bag as an extra piece of luggage; otherwise I would have had to simply leave the gift at the security checkpoint.

Ways to avoid this problem:
  • Purchase items on your last flight/last airport stop.
  • Ask about the policies before you buy.
  • Put the item in your checked luggage.
  • Buy products that are no larger than 100 ml/3 ounces each.

Are there any customs restrictions?
Depending on where you're traveling, customs might have something to say about your purchase. This is especially true for alcohol: many countries restrict how much alcohol you are allowed to bring with you across the border. Check the rules before buying too many bottles of wine!

Friday, January 16, 2015

10 favourite books for my growing, traveling kids

My kids are turning 8 and 12 this year, and I can hardly believe that they are so grown up. They have been traveling since they were babies, teaching me a whole lot about air-travel, parenting, and both myself and themselves in the process. They both really love books and stories, and through the years we've gone through picture books, fairytales and all sorts of other tales. Here are 10 of their current literary favourites.

1. Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
My daughter is absolutely in love with Tolkien's world already. She might end up a bigger Tolkien-geek than I am, though time will tell... This story works for younger kids, teens, and adults, and has truly become a modern classic.

2. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
This trilogy of fantasy books is probably better suited for kids age 11 and up (and I mean up to adult age!), and Pullman has really created a fantastic and very original world. Great for reading out loud, or by yourself.

3. Animorphs, by K.A. Applegate
This book series is a new discovery in our home, even though the books are several years old by now. A group of kids fight back against an alien invasion, and can morph into various animal shapes. There are apparently 54 books in all!

4. The girl who loved wild horses, by Paul Goble
This beautifully illustrated book tells a very original and captivating story about a young native American girl and her love of horses, and the horses that come to love her.

5. 125 True Stories of Amazing Animals, by National Geographic Kids
Non-fiction books are a big hit at our house currently, and this easy-to-read book is one of the favourites.

6. The Ice Dragon, by G.R.R. Martin
Written by the author of "A Song of Ice And Fire"-books (made famous on TV as "Game of Thrones"), this is a book for children, young adults and adults. It's beautifully told and illustrated and very evocative. It's not for the smallest children, but definitely a fantastic story.

7. My Noisy Body, by Liza Fromer
Another non-fiction hit at my house, this book teaches kids a lot of true, interesting and rather hilarious facts about the human body. A great read for kids who will get a chuckle out of it for sure.

8. The Dog Breed Bible, by D. Caroline Coile
We got a dog this year, and the kids love looking at pictures of and reading about dogs. My daughter has become very interested in learning about various dog breeds. This books has lots of great pictures, and even though the text isn't written for kids, it still works great if your children already have an interest in dogs. 

9. Adventure Time Vol 1, 2, 3, and so on, by Ryan North
The crazy world of Adventure Time has become one of my kids' favourite TV-shows, and these comic-books are also popular reading. Get ready for the awesome weirdness of the Land of Ooo!

10. Weird But True!, by National Geographic Kids
Easy to read amazing and weird facts about various creatures and phenomena in the world: perfect for new readers to read by themselves. Get ready to learn some of those weird facts as your child follows you around and reads them to you (this might have happened to me).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My 5 favourite travel gadgets

The world is overrun with travel gadgets. Some of them are rather amazing, some seem more interesting than useful, and some seem fantastic but are way out of my league price-wise. I do have some favourite gadgets that I always bring along my trips, and that really help make my life and traveling with my kids easier.

Here are my top 5 travel gadgets.

1. An e-reader with a good cover
Books are a must on any trip, anywhere, whether I'm going solo or with the kids. Reading a book is a great way to put the kids to bed at the end of the day, to pass the time at the airport, or to just relax my own brain when I get a moment to myself. My Kindle is loaded with books: fiction and non-fiction, books for me and books for the kids. Being able to bring a whole stack of books without it taking up hardly any space is a blessing.

A sturdy, zip-up cover for the Kindle makes it even easier to travel with. There are lots of e-readers out there (plus the apps you can use on other devices for the same purpose) - and I highly recommend this gadget to anyone and everyone.

2. USB/regular charger & adapter
Chargers and travel adapters are a must for international travel. I LOVE my new charger/adapter from SKROSS: it has two USB ports to charge various electronics, and can also be used as a regular adapter. One thing to look out for: not all adapters allow for the use of three-pronged plugs, and some devices require that feature (my laptop, for example).

3. Suitcases with wheels
After many years of international air-travel with my kids, I've come to the conclusion that every suitcase should have wheels. Small, big, soft-side, hard-side, duffel-bags or otherwise... everything is more convenient to handle when it has wheels. Sure, most airports have luggage carts, but sometimes they can be hard to find, and you also have to move around your luggage at other times: at hotels, at home, to and from a car, etc. Wheels just make things easier. My son loves tugging along wheeled suitcases, and that's another bonus of course.

4. Good tablet-covers
My kids were lucky enough to get a Samsung tablet each a while back, and they have been in use on all our trips since then. As anyone who has used a tablet knows, though, you need a good cover for a tablet in order to use it comfortably. We use silicone covers for regular, everyday use and a fold-up, leather cover when we travel in order to protect the screens.

5. Pen and paper
Yes, old-school gadgets are sometimes the best. No batteries, no chargers, no cables and totally wireless. Pen and paper works great for taking notes, doodling with the kids, writing down crazy ideas, playing tic-tac-toe and other "offline" games. If you pair the paper with a pen AND some crayons, you have an even better way to pass the time.
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