27 December 2013

Part 3: (After) Flying with Young Children

So the plane has landed. Congratulations! If you're like me, once the landing gear touches the runway, you feel like you've just completed a marathon. And in a way, you have.

Although adjusting to the new time zone, surroundings, and influences is not as intense or concentrated as the flight time itself, these parts of traveling can also bring on stress. Be proactive about arriving too; here are some tips to help you settle.

1. Beat jet lag with activity and routine.

Our family jumps time zones several times a year. We beat down the jet lag giant with these three strategies:

  • Live in one time zone.
  • Keep your routine of activity and rest.
  • Give your kids and yourself grace.

First of all, set your watch to the new time zone when you board the plane and start to live that way. Don't play the mind game of adding or subtracting hours for the next few days to figure out what time it is "back home." Live where you are--in that time zone. Set your mind to it, and your bodies (yours and your kids') will adjust faster.

Second, abide by the routine with which your kids are familiar. What is the usual order of their day? Do your best to keep it in that order. If it gets swayed by an unstoppable nap or a must-have meal, then jump back into your routine as soon as you can and do your best to stick to it.

If your flight arrives in the daytime, keep your kids active until night. Take them outside, especially if your trip has introduced them to new weather conditions. My friends have taken their toddlers from Thailand to Washington--then bundled them to play in the snow upon arrival. Our recent trip did the opposite, transferring our three winter-geared-up kids to a tropical island, so we put them in shorts and took them out bike riding. They were having so much fun that they forgot how tired they were--and pressed through those difficult first few hours of jet lag.

Coby and Kona Mae get some sun on their winter-ed skin.

But through it all, give grace. Remember that the general rule for jet lag is that it lasts for as many days as there are hours different. So a time change of 7 hours may take 7 days of adjustment.

2. Highlight the familiar amidst the changes.
Again, a routine is so important for your kids as they adjust to new surroundings. All around them, they're struck with new sights, new smells, and a new culture--so let them hold on to something familiar in it all: keep your routine as close to normal as you can. Prioritize nap time. Enforce regular meals and a decent bed time. Keep the usual mealtime and bedtime routines (i.e. prayers, manners, etc.).

Along the same lines, do your best to treat your children the same as you would at home. When criticized or even flattered by relatives and friends, it can be hard to remain consistent with discipline. Remember, though, that our children are our priority. They need us to keep the same rules, encourage the same behavior, and praise the same obedience as we have always done. Appeasing other adults may be tempting, but the major side effect of confusing and frustrating our children is detrimental.

If you will be staying in a few different places during your visit, consider bringing along familiar items for children to hold or see at bedtime in each place. This may be the same item brought on the airplane (as discussed in the previous post), but whatever it is should help your children settle down to sleep even as their beds change frequently.

My friends bought a tent like this one for their toddler daughter to sleep in during their month of summer travel. During that time, she slept in a living room, a cabin, and even a closet--but each time she was in the same tent that was dubbed her "room." It helped tremendously.

3. Be proactive about outside influences.
Do you have certain restrictions that you foresee being challenged during your visit? Do you have rules that others will not help you enforce? How will others discipline your children, if at all?

Instead of fixing these errors as they happen, you can prepare others for your arrival. First, talk to the adults. Tell them about food preferences (like no junk food or no toys at the table) and discipline strategy (like exactly what to do or whether you'd rather do all the discipline). Inform them of some struggles your kids are facing (like TV addiction or questions about death) to warn them off certain subjects or prepare them to help you train your children toward truth and good decisions.

Second, talk to your children. Having talked to the adults first, you should know how much support you will get in your new location. This will tell you how to prepare your children for your stay.

As uncomfortable as this all may seem, it could save you from a more uncomfortable situation of miscommunication--of good intentions gone awry.

4. Arrange things for your return.
Before you head back home, there are a few things you can do to make your next trip easier (if you plan to return):

  • Buy/Gather baby gear and clothes.
  • Inventory what you leave behind.
In the first post of this series, I mentioned arranging baby gear at your destination. If you know you'll return to this place again several times (a home town, for instance), buy the baby gear and store it there. If you don't mind used items, check thrift stores and CraigsList. Buy secondhand clothes with a future date in mind (a year ahead in kids' sizes), which will save you a bunch of packing on your next trip. 

Before you leave, make sure you inventory what you leave behind. Make an online list (a Google Doc) that details what will be available for you later. You may think you'll remember, but I never do, even if it's only been a few months. Our online list has an inventory of clothes, shoes, diaper sizes, packs of wipes, number of carseats and sizes, stroller(s), and kids' dishes and utensils. I also list what is "missing" and must be packed for the next trip. For this trip (which I'm on right now), I specifically needed to pack swim shorts for my son and hats for all three. 

5. Lastly . . . enjoy.
Traveling with young children isn't easy. While others naturally relax when exported from normalcy, parents tend to do the opposite. We can tense up and overanalyze everything because our children are not in their safe and familiar home.


My sister-in-law showed me this picture she took of my youngest with my grandmother. There are 90 years between them, but a bond gathers them close for snuggles. In my urgency to unpack, I almost missed it. These moments make all the traveling worth it.

God bless you all as you travel with your young children. Prepare, pray, and give grace. Hold them tight and show them the world.

Do you have advice to add about adjusting during a visit? Please leave your comment below!

Other posts in this series:

1 comment:

  1. That picture is so precious! Number 3 is a really good idea. I haven't done it but seems like it would really help.


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