Monday, November 30, 2015

Flying with Toddlers? Our Tips and Tricks to Make the Skies Friendlier

Air travel with little kids can be stressful. I have flown solo with one child probably eight times and have flown with three toddlers, two of whom are lap children, twice (with the help of my mom). I am about to embark on this endeavor a third time despite the fact that I still have a post-traumatic stress from the last time. What I have learned thus far is that traveling with one child is relatively easy and traveling with three is exponentially harder. I have also learned that it gets infinitely easier the older a child gets (for example, Isla, our three year old is a piece of cake. Our twenty month old twins? Notsomuch). Flying with three kids age three and under is no small feat but I am here to tell you it can be done and with some strategic planning, it can even go kind of smoothly. I am going to share my tips and tricks with you in the hopes that I save a few gray hairs from sprouting on a fellow momma's head.

Tips for Flying with Toddlers

  1. Pack and Prepare EARLY. I am a little nutso about preparation, and maybe with fewer and/or older kids you can be more "fly by the seat of your pants" about things. But me? I go through our travel day in my head like Tom Brady prepping for a Super Bowl. I envision every possible scenario from illness to blowouts, from hold ups to cancellations. I make a spreadsheet packing list well before we leave, strategically pack our diaper bag with everything we might need and try to be 98% packed at least 24 hours before we depart.  
    This is a spreadsheet/checklist that comes with Apple Pages (Mac's version of Word). Super simple.
  2. Baby wearing is your friend. I am a huge advocate of baby wearing. Whenever I see a mom struggling in the airport (or grocery store, or bank or anywhere) holding her young child/infant while wrestling for something else, I want to reach out and say, "Honey, there's an easier way!" Baby wearing is it. We bring our two Ergo Carriers for the twins, and it's much easier to throw them on our backs when we check the travel stroller. Most infants also sleep really well in carriers, so they are great for smaller lap babies when in flight. 
  3. Invest in a great travel stroller. This right here is what I am MOST excited about right now. We have an amazing double stroller to get our girls around the airports that is only slightly larger and heavier than a SINGLE umbrella stroller. Our Kinderwagon Hop is the bomb. It can be checked at the gate (at which point we 'wear' the twins) and will make getting from gate to gate and killing time during our layover much easier. When I travelled solo with our first, I learned that a baby carrier was amazing, but when we were delayed for over ten hours, I WISHED I had a small stroller to push her around in as well.
    Kind of crazy about this stroller. 
  4. Pay to check the bags. Just do it. Three kids and schlepping around your stuff? Insane.
  5. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Food is your friend and when all else fails, a yummy snack will distract a child for a bit. They key is in EASY snacks, things that your little ones can hold and feed themselves. We have snack traps that we fill with cheerios or goldfish. We bring lots of "goo goos" (food pouches) and graham crackers are in our diaper bag. A few special "sweet" treats (organic fruit snacks) are also good in a pinch.
  6. Travel with children's dramamine. This could get me in trouble, but a little dose of children's Dramamine (for Isla 1/2 pill, for twins, 1/3) will knock your kids out cold. Sleeping children are quiet children and this little trick (that I learned myself just from sailing with the kiddos) works wonders for me. How long they will sleep all depends, but it will definitely chill them out. Melatonin will also work. (Note: I am not a doctor, please do your own research regarding drugging your children.)
  7. Invest in toys that will only be seen on the plane. If it's new, it will capture your child's attention, period. I bought a few new toys for the girls that will be big surprises when the "old" toys we have handy lose their luster. Hit up Target, the dollar store, wherever - but a few new things will certainly distract the littles.
  8. Travel with a spare set of clothes for each child. Most moms already know this trick, but it bears repeating. I will never forget the time I was flying home from St. Lucia with Isla. The taxi to the aiport was a solid hour of crazy island roads and driving and immediately when our taxi stopped in front of the airport, she vomited all over me and herself. I was grateful that I a) had layered and b) had a whole new outfit for her.
  9. Bring a few gallon size ziplock bags. These will be helpful in the aforementioned scenario and for diapers. 
  10. Enlist help if possible. I would feel confident (but not excited about) flying alone with my three girls when they are age three and over, but right now? Hell no. I am so lucky that my mom (a travel agent) usually flies with us and her extra set of hands has saved our day and my sanity more than once!
  11. Don't over-do it. Try not to overpack or bring too much gear in your carry on/diaper-bag because don't forget, there's not much room to get to all that stuff when it's jammed underneath you (or, worse! in the overhead compartment) and you have a baby on your lap. Try to be strategic about what you bring.
    We have always (knock on wood!) been lucky with amazing flight neighbors who love the girls.
  12. Burn energy at the gate. All kids are different and for two of my three, sitting still on an airplane is not that hard. But our Haven is a game-changer. She is a tornado - full of energy, smiles and noise. We try to let her loose when we can to burn off energy so she's not wanting to do it on the plane.
  13. Board as late as possible. "I can't believe they don't let mothers and kids board first anymore!" one mom lamented during our last flight. Me? I wait as long as possible to board because every minute that I don't have to try to restrain my kids sitting in an airplane is one more minute that they are better behaved en-route!
  14. Take a deep breath. No matter how experienced or prepared you are, traveling with toddlers can be stressful. Flights get delayed, kids get fussy, illness strikes and bags get lost. Take a deep breath and try to be mindful of the fact that you will probably never see any of the people around you again. "This too, shall pass."

The gear we're rolling with:

  1. Ergobaby Performance Carrier - I have tried many baby carriers and love them all for different reasons, but this carrier is our go-to. Great for bigger babies/toddlers and easy to get on and off. In a pinch, I can easily wear both my twins in these; one on front, one on back.
  2. Kinderwagon Hop Tandem Umbrella Stroller - this stroller is amazing. Light, compact and sturdy - I am seriously so excited to have it I cannot even begin to tell you. Perfect for traveling parents.
  3. Ubbi Tweat Snack Container - I love these snack traps, mainly because they have a lid so you don't end up with a bunch of cheerios in the bottom of your bag when the kids aren't using them.
  4. Kickee Pants Baby Girls' Pajama Set - I am kind of obsessed with this brand of kid's cloths. It's made from bamboo which not only makes it crazy soft, but they are also very thin and pack super small. Our girls travel in Kickee's and we have a spare set in the diaper bag just in case.
  5. Melissa and Doug Water Wow's - These are a fantastic travel toy. The pen fills easily with water and after a child colors the pages, they dry and can be used over, and over, and over. Mess free!
  6. VTech Touch and Swipe Baby Phone - because all kids are obsessed with phones. (This is one of the 'surprise' toys)
  7. VTech Click and Count Remote - because all kids are obsessed with remotes. (This is another 'surprise' toy)
  8. Fisher-Price Smart Stages Tablet - another engaging toy that is simple, entertaining and a (little bit) educational.
  9. Children's Dramamine - to take the edge off ;)
  10. Sailor Bags Back Pack - Every time we fly, this bag is our carry on of choice. Enough room to carry all the baby gear and then some, but not so big to be cumbersome.
  11. Mini Look and Find Books - these little travel books were recommended to me by a fellow twin mom. Lots of things to "look and find" in the pages to help keep older toddlers engaged.
  12. LilGadgets Children's Headphones - ear buds just don't really work for little kids and now Isla can listen to the games on our iPad or watch a movie comfortably. (This is Isla's "surprise" inspired by my friend, Genevieve, who got something similar for her daughters pre-flight)
  13. Melissa & Doug ColorBlast Mess-Free Books - another great travel toy, mess free coloring.
  14. Apple iPad Tablet with BUDDIBOX® Case - the iPad comes with us because we have loaded it with educational games with Isla. The buddiebox keeps it safe and easy for her to hold.
We also travel with a mini medical kit containing: Similisan ear drops (for ear aches and ear pressure relief), Children's Motrin, Children's Tylenol, a thermometer, Vicks Vapo Rub and bandaids. We also travel with other incidentals like: antibacterial hand spray, diapers, wipes, and pacifiers.

I hope this is helpful! If anyone else have any tried and true tricks and tips for successful air travel with toddlers, please share in the comments!
Our Sailor Bags Square Duffels all ready to go!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

There is Beauty in the Ordinary when You Carry it Within

As I prepare our girls for our move back to Tortola, my mind a frenetic ticker tape of thoughts, reminders, to-do's and lists, I also find myself reflecting on our time home and thinking of all the things I will miss. There seems to be this overriding thought in the cruising community that land life is sub-par in many ways; that it's predictable, mundane, lacks 'adventure'...etc. I've probably been guilty of perpetuating this idea as well and I'm sorry for that. I've even heard some cruisers say they'd "rather die than move back ashore", which strikes me as a tad dramatic. As someone who has had the luxury of being able to keep one foot in both worlds, I have a unique perspective and have learned that there is, indeed, beauty in both if you chose to see it that way.

Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to get back to our boat, it is what I prefer. I love living a 'life less ordinary' in a sailboat on the ocean and living in the sunshine amongst other cultures where the pace of life is slower. But I also understand that it's not the only way. I know for a fact some people couldn't be paid to live on a boat like we do, that many people really enjoy their 'ordinary' lives and the communities around them, and that many landlubbers might go positively mad living on 'island time'. A friend came over the other day and was so excited for us to head back to the boat. "It's great what you're doing!" she said. "It's such a better life!" she exclaimed. "You'll be so much happier!" she continued. It was obvious she had romanticized living aboard and, being the kind of person I am, I had to stop her and remind her that our life on the boat is far from perfect. "Oh, I know" she started, "But don't you think people here are just so...miserable?"

I didn't want to squash her obvious excitement or be rude, but I also had to be honest. "No" I answered. "I don't."

Because what I have learned after spending this past summer home is that 'ordinary' life is beautiful too. Sure, the scenery might not be as dynamic as that of a tropical paradise, but true beauty is so much more than a visual. It's making connections with like-minded moms who I meet during swim lessons, at the park, or in the library. It's seeing the excitement on our kids' faces as our neighborhood "big girls" come over, load our littles into the wagon, and take them all to the park trailed by giggles. It's old friends who, when they hear your kids don't have winter clothes, get together and collect some for you. It's packing a cooler of beer for an afternoon beach outing with family. It's spontaneous drinks with neighbors during a power outage. It's getting together with old girl friends and gabbing about life over wine and dinner. It's play dates with cousins who turn into best buddies. It's backyard bonfires with close friends and s'mores. It's rigging up a tire swing from the old black walnut tree. It's having a slumber party with your best friend of almost thirty years and laughing and crying about the craziness of life. It's a walk in a forest preserve to see the fall colors. It's skipping stones onto Lake Michigan. It's grandma and grandpa showing up every morning for coffee and playtime. It's the holiday traditions, village tree-lightings, toddler reading groups, summer concerts, and the birth of your dear friend's baby. It's about family and friends and fun and love. 

Right now, our life is taking us to the islands very much by choice. I do prefer to live somewhere warm and visually spectacular. I do prefer to avoid a Chicago winter at all costs. I do prefer to live on a boat as opposed to in a house. Believe me, there are absolutely elements of a suburban land life that are not for me, but there are elements of the island-hopping cruising lifestyle that aren't great as well. We make the beds we lie in and everything is a trade off. Community, friends, proximity to nature and honest relationships...these are the things that really matter to me, and as long as I can find them - I know I will be happy wherever I roam.

One things for sure, I will always, always enjoy coming home.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, November 27, 2015

Prepping to head Back to the Boat

This new chapter calls for a new piece of Patrick O'Brien art on our walls.
The girls and I head back to the boat and our new home of Tortola in four days. I have been single-momming it the past two weeks (a whole blog post in and of itself!) Scott has been on the island getting our boat ready and finalizing our work situation. My mom and dad have also been out of town, leaving me little time for preparation as solo-parenting three toddlers is a full-time job. Luckily, we've done this back and forth thing a few times now so we know the drill. But still, it's daunting and a little stressful. No matter how experienced you are, international travel with little ones is not for the weak of heart.

What makes this particular trip a little different is the fact that we are, in fact, moving to the British Virgin Islands. We will not be "cruising" per se, but we will be living on our boat (at the incredible Nanny Cay Marina), and will continue to sail and island hop when our work schedule allows. Lucky for us this is not hard to do in our chosen home where you can be at another incredible island in an hour or two if you wish. Long weekend? Let's go!

So how are we preparing for this move?

First of all, our boat is pretty well kitted out since we made the "big move" onto it last January. We shipped two boxes of goods via Tropical Shipping like we did last time. This was easy and painless - our boxes have already arrived in Tortola - and will make it so we travel a little bit lighter when we fly.

Times have certainly changed and instead of boat parts and such, we have shipped mostly household goods and children's gear. What's in our boxes? Take a peek:
A. Rattique Shelf Basket- I got three of these (in three great colors) for boat storage. They are plastic and durable, and will be great for holding our Turkish towels on deck and other items down below.
B. Sorbus Foldable Storage Drawer Set - I already have a small set of these on the boat and wanted one more for the shelves in some of our rooms. They are great at organizing small items and still looking nice.
C. Melissa & Doug On The Go Water Wows - I've written about these before and we love them. A simple, portable, and CLEAN 'on the go' toy.
D. Spielstabil Sand Toys - there is seriously no brand of sand toy superior to this one. We are thrilled to partner with this company and have a bunch of sets that will replace all our broken, mega-cheap sand toys. Because we use these daily - a quality item is important.
E. Cacala Turkish Bath Towel - my love of the Turkish towel is well known and we've turned quite a few people on to them. I got a couple more for our galley and one more large one for showering and the beach. Can never have too many, right? 
F. Vidalia Chop Wizard - This is one of my most beloved galley gadgets and, after four years, ours finally broke after I chopped down on a veggie a little too hard so I wanted to replace it.
G. LEGO DUPLO Box of Fun - our girls LOVE legos. The ones we currently have on the boat are generic and have lost any and all of their grip power, so I got the girls a nice deluxe set that works. They love them.
H. Brown Bear & Friends Board Books - We love the Brown Bear series of books and I found two more at TJ Max for a steal. Had to grab them.

A. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Mini-Puzzle Pack - the twins love puzzles but space being at a premium, I wanted something small. I found these sets at TJ Max for mega cheap and decided to given them a try. 8 tiny puzzles that take up hardly any space and come in their own little storage rack.
B. ClosetMaid Collapsible Storage Cubes - we keep all the girl's toys under our nav station in these stylish storage cubes. They fold flat, are super light, and not expensive so I grabbed another color to brighten things up.
C. Living on Twelve Volts With Ample Power and Get Your Captain's License - Scott had these reference books here at home and wanted to bring them down. The Captain's license book has some great information on marine laws and such, and the 12V book is also full of great power information.
D. Melissa & Doug Cube Puzzle - Another great TJ Max find, these amazing cube puzzles solve the problem of loosing thin, flimsy puzzle pieces by using CUBES! The girls LOVE these challenging puzzles and the best part is that one set provides six puzzles. We love to work on them together.
E. Roger Priddy Wipe Clean Toddler Workbooks - these wipe and clean work books come with a dry erase marker and are fantastic for the beginning homeschooler. We are going down island with a bunch of these and Isla loves working on them with mommy.
F. Re-Play Divided Toddler Plates - I wanted to get some new plates for the girls since the ones on the boat were getting yucky, and found these whose color scheme I love (Our boat is very colorful!) The fact that they are made of recyled plastic and are super cheap was a nice bonus.
G. Usborne Touchy Feely Books - these books are fantastic and every time I can grab one, I do. The twins LOVE them and they are great for introducing sensory skills to beginning readers. We probably have ten of these.

A. Swim Vest with Safety Strap - of course we have life jackets (and puddle jumpers) for the girls, but I wanted something very low-pro that I could use in a pinch when on the beach or pool that would provide enough flotation but not be super cumbersome like a life vest. We'll see how these work.
B. TubTrugs - very proud to partner with this company who's flexible (and mega-durable) tubs will be awesome for everything from doing laundry, to lugging items to and for, to toy storage.
C. Pre-Washed White Quinoa, 5-Pound Bag - Groceries are ALL expensive in the BVI's, but Quinoa really broke the bank. $25 for a small bag! We eat a lot of quinoa so I sent 10 lbs of the stuff down!
D. Plan Toys Nuts and Bolts - we are very interested in the Montessori method for educating our girls, and these toys are well aligned with the theory, teach dexterity and small motor coordination as well as take up a small amount of space.
E. Spielstabil Sailboat Set (and extra water can) - we will be at the beach every day. A nice array of quality sand toys to help enjoy it are key!
1. Green Toys Tea Set - our girls LOVE playing "tea party" and when I saw this set for $10 at TJ Max, I had to get it.
2. Deluxe Duplo Lego Set (in lock-n-lock bin)- Already wrote about the legos, but I chose to store them in a lock and lock bin to deter legos spilling all over the place when sailing (this happened a lot with our last set!)
3. Sailor Bags Back Packs - I cannot sing enough praise about this backpack. We love and use it so much we have TWO!
4. 2-Quart Teakettle - I wanted a replacement water kettle so opted for this 2 quart model. I love the color and the size is perfect for our little galley.

So that is the bulk of what we shipped. The rest of the stuff is mostly clothes and toiletries.

My lists have been made and are slowly getting checked off. Three out of our five sailor bag duffles have been packed and we just made a diaper run to Costco to fill a bag with those.

Goodbyes are being said and while it's always hard to come and go like we do, it's nice to know that we will be coming back for visits in the summers (aka "hurricane season) to connect with friends and family. We are also very excited and eager to begin this new chapter of our life. It's going to be a big one! Luckily, Scott has our boat all ready for our arrival (he even stocked up on my wine!) and so the transition will be a little bit easier not having to spend a couple nights in a hotel. We will simply pick up where we left of in our little floating home. We're excited, for sure. Change is in the air and we are as ready as we can be.

For now, the girls are napping and I've gotta get packing! More to come.

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