Traveling with children can be a delight... or a disaster!
Two friends of mine were flying on medium length flights across North America today. One was on a full flight with a large amount of elementary school kids. The other was held up in an airport lounge on a delayed flight with several babies around. Both were having their nerves tested - including the friend with three kids of her own at home! It made me think of my own experiences with kids on planes.
I really believe that kids should travel. We need to do our best to raise the next generation of globe trotters and wordly citizens. As well, I also believe the majority of parents really do have the best of intentions when traveling with their kids. No one wants to have their children misbehave and few parents are oblivious to the discomfort of others. Finally, there are websites galore that detail how to make baby and kid travel a success. I’m not the best judge, not having children myself, but Journey Woman has a great selection of articles on how to have fun on the road with the little ones.
Instead, I want to focus on what happens when you are forced to spend close quarters with children (likely not your own) when you’re flying, busing, train-ing, etc… As a coffeecan financier, you want to maximize every moment on the road to have as much enjoyment and relaxation.
I've written before about different ways to make an economy flight feel more luxurious. But all those little tricks of the trade mean nothing when the child behind you is kicking your seat, or the child in front is whining and crying. It doesn't have to be intense in order to irritate the heck out of you!
On a recent trip from Vancouver to Maui, the plane was filled with newborns, babies, and toddlers. (Side note: why are so many families bringing newborns on such a big trip??) While there were no huge freakouts, there was a constant hum of family noise for the entire flight. It made me feel so restless and on-edge. Whilst disembarking, I was surprised to hear several families independently remark how “good” the babies had been. Uh, good would have been if the babies were mixing vodka tonics. They were perhaps normal, not demonic, but just normal. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Babies and kids cannot be silent and still the entire time. So what’s a girl to do?
First of all, if something is bothering you, speak up early and often. A kicking child can usually be controlled with a pleasant word to mom: “I’m sure it’s all the excitement about the big flight, but you little guy has been accidentally kicking the back of my seat. I need to catch up on my sleep. Would you mind speaking with him?” Use this even if the kicking is deliberate and the cause is malice, not excitement. If it dies down and then restarts again, speak directly to the little monster. Try “Could you be careful not to kick or hit the back of my seat? My back is sore and I need to rest to feel better.” This should be enough to guilt the kid – and parent - into better behavior.
Secondly, focus on the long-term outcome, not feeling right or entitled in the moment. It’s true that you, the well-organized, savvy traveler, should not have to pick up the (literal or figurative) slack of a chaotic family. I confess, I’ve often breezed by the struggling, disorganized parent. After all, they knew what they were getting into and we both made our choices in life, right? Well, standing firm in your principles will not clean the aisles of the plane or fetch a toy from the bin for a fussy child. If 30 seconds of your time, consideration, or good attitude means the plane will be quiet, cleared, or clean that much quicker or longer, swallow your disdain or displeasure and take one for the team.
Of course, even the most helpful traveler must have boundaries. Never hold a strangers’ baby for them – imagine if a moment of turbulence caused you to fall or stumble! Make sure the seat pockets are stocked with sick bags and call for an attendant if someone is unwell, but don’t be afraid to ask for an alternative seat if you are placed next to a barfer or even a bad cougher. Bodily fluids are crossing a line.
Finally, have a contingency plan in place for when you are stuck in an unhappy situation (kids or otherwise). Promise yourself a nice drink if you can survive the first hour cheerfully. Look through your guidebook and plan an unusual or exotic outing for surviving the second hour. If circumstances allow, walk several laps of the plane and do some yoga poses. And, if push comes to shove, make yourself a promise to invest in the commercial grade noise cancelers for the next flight. In fact, why don’t you have them already?
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