Having not really travelled that much with our two children, we decided to throw ourselves in at the deep end. We went to Japan. On a 14.5-hour flight. With a 22 month old and a 3 year old.
I’ve got to say, now I’ve done that, and survived a week alone in a city where I knew no-one and could understand precisely 0% of the language (while my husband worked), I feel as if I can do anything and go anywhere with my kids. They napped on the go, we ate when we found food, we made extensive use of public transport, and we went anywhere we wanted.
It was supremely liberating.
So, here are some truths that I found out about long-haul travel with kids.
Before the trip, the part I was most anxious about was the long flight – 1.5 hours to Amsterdam, a 1-hour stop, then 11.5 hours to Tokyo. And in reverse for the way home. People told me: whatever you do, don’t do a day flight, it’ll be awful, only do night flights. Well, we didn’t have the choice, so we had a night flight on the way there, and a day flight on the way back.
I packed a gazillion snacks, magazines, and changes of clothes, and paracetamol (for them and us). I was worried.
I needn’t have been.
Honestly, the kids coped really well with both the outward and homeward journeys. But whoever said don’t do day flights, what planet are you on? The return, daytime flight was by far the easier of the two. Maybe that was because they’d already done one big flight, so they knew a little more what to expect, but maybe it was also because we didn’t care if they slept or not, so we were less stressed about the whole thing. Sophie (3.5 years old) watched films, coloured her book, ate snacks, and built dens using the plane blankets for the entire journey. Admittedly, TV is a bit of a novelty for her as we don’t watch much at home, but even so I was so pleased with how she just got on with the fact it was a long flight. We had primed her lots beforehand, which I am sure helped. Matthew (22 months) spent his time walking around the aisles, eating snacks, and having a glorious 2-hour nap on my lap during which I got to watch an entire film. (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, if you’re interested. Yeah. My film taste is pretty lowbrow.) Given that I had taken a book with me to read on holiday, and had read zero pages of it, this came as a welcome surprise to me!
As for the night flight on the way there? They were well behaved, but did they sleep? Nope. Actually, they did, but only about 3 hours each, at different times, meaning little or no sleep for us parents. Add to that the fact that when we arrived in Tokyo it was 10.30am (2.30am to us) and we had a whole day to get through before we could crash out again (see more about jet lag below). Ugh. That was not pretty.
So my survival tips for long-haul flights would be: be permissive. As much TV, and as many snacks (healthy, low-sugar ones), cuddles, magazines, and walks around the plane as they want. And if you’re doing a night flight, good luck!
Japan time is 8 hours ahead of UK time. I have to say that going there, the jet lag was tough. Arriving at the airport, waiting for luggage, carrying a toddler each (both had fallen asleep in the backpacks as soon as we stepped of the plane) while wheeling said luggage through the airport, collecting train tickets, hauling luggage onto plane (we are a family of 4, we had a lot of luggage), taking 1-hour train ride, then subways across the city, finding the apartment, and then finding food – not good on almost no sleep, when you think it’s still the middle of the night, and you know that when you try to go to bed at 7pm Japanese time it’ll feel like 11am to you and your kids, and there’s no way they’re falling asleep at that time even though they slept about 2 nanoseconds on the plane.
So yeah, it was tough. Also, the first night we got there, we were semi-delirious, and didn’t put the air conditioning on properly, so it was H.O.T.
The second night, they slept all night. And I think by day 4 we were fully adjusted. Which meant we had a full two weeks to enjoy ourselves before we did the jet lag thing in reverse.
Travelling west is so much easier. Kids fell asleep in the taxi home and went straight to bed, even though it was only 5pm UK time. OK, so they were awake at 3am the next morning, but that only lasted for a couple of days before we managed to get them to stay asleep until 6am.
Exploring the World
What can I say? The whole experience of taking little ones to explore a new country and culture was amazing. They enjoyed (almost) every second of it, and we wandered around without a care in the world, with barely an agenda, taking it all in at their leisurely pace. I guess I would have preferred it if both of them were a little older, so that the younger one would need less carrying and not need a daily nap, but to be honest little ones that age are fabulously portable and adaptable, and they do force you to slow down and appreciate each moment.
I wonder where we’ll go next?