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Article: The Adventure of a Lifetime (& some travel tips with the littles!)

The Adventure of a Lifetime (& some travel tips with the littles!)

Last month, when my husband suggested taking the girls to Japan for two weeks, I immediately shut down the idea. In my mind, the best age to start travel internationally with kids is when they turn four. Four-and-a-half is even better. I thought that because our older daughter June was exactly 4.5 when we flew her to Japan for the first time, and she was a dream to fly with!
So, needless to say, I had wanted to wait just 6 more months to a year until Caris is 4 or 4.5 to embark on this adventure. But, I could also understand how badly he wanted to get away, since overseas travels were practically undoable during the pandemic the last several years. So, reluctantly, I said "Yes". But in my mind, I was doing it for him and the kids. I felt like I was just along as the "nanny", making sure little Caris was taken care of and all her needs met. 
My #1 biggest fear was actually the flight itself. It was going to be a 12 hour flight, and we weren't taking a red-eye, so what will we do to make sure the kids were entertained? A close second would be the jet lag - how to best prepare for it? 

Lastly, Japan is a very walking-friendly country and almost everyone takes the subway train everywhere. So there would be a lot of walking -- Caris had never taken a liking to the stroller since she started walking at 12m old, so we also didn't know how we would manage getting to places with her. 

Anyway, I thought about all the other mommas out there who feel stressed like me or even remotely anxious about traveling with kids, or maybe this is your first time on a long flight -- I have put together a short list of tips, tricks and things I brought with us for the trip, in hopes that it can help some of you to prepare for a big adventure!

1. Snacks, snacks, snacks on the plane

Caris chowing down happily on strawberry puffs, just 1 hour in...

- I went to Target, Trader Joe's and a Japanese-"dollar store" called Daiso, and filled a carry-on backpack with small packs of snacks that Caris and June hadn't had in a while, or that I knew they would like. This included animal crackers, apple sauce pouches, rice crackers, some cut up fruit, and also a couple of lollipops for a potentially rough landing (Caris was slightly congested and I worried her ears would feel some pressure) - lollipops help a lot in this case. 

The girls and I, still in good spirits, shortly after landing and getting into a cab. This ended up being a very grueling hour-long ride to our relative's home in Tokyo because Caris was so overtired and hadn't gotten any sleep on the flight.

2. Activities for long flights
- Sticker books: Caris is really into stickers right now, so I brought a booklet of stickers I found at Target, and a booklet from home, so that she can go to town with it. 
- I also bought a small container of play-dough for an easy activity that won't get too messy. I avoided markers and crayons that would roll away easily on a flight and cause frustration.
- a small whiteboard and mini dry-erase markers. The girls had fun with this one for a while, even though it was still challenging because the markers would roll off. 
- a small children's magazine: we get hi-lights magazines for Caris so we brought one onto the plane. If your child enjoys reading and looking at pictures, magazines are a great light-weight item to pack.
- We bought her some kids' headphones for the flight. Some airlines offer headphones that are like earbuds you put into your ears - those will not stay on for toddlers. So we brought our own. Because the flight was 12 hours long, we did let her watch 30 minute episodes of kids' shows that they had available on the flight. This wasn't ideal for me but it helped us pass some time. 
- iPad for the older child: with an 8 year age gap, Caris and June really don't enjoy watching the same shows. So we pre-downloaded some of June's favorite shows and allowed her to watch some during the flight.
- We packed Caris' lovey and stuffies -- in retrospect a few too many. But she found comfort and also played a lot with her stuffies on the flight. 
3. Things I packed that I shouldn't have brought (oops)
- Admittedly, I packed a few too many extra "just in case" things that were absolutely not necessary, and in retrospect if I really needed them there, I could have bought them there. If you're going to a destination that is a big city, then I would really advise just planning on running out and buying more there. I will list things that I really didn't need to pack extras of: 
• baby wipes - these were everywhere in Japan, and I brought too much
sanitizing wipes - I ended up using a travel sized one and left the big one in the luggage, which added a lot more weight to our luggage
diapers - I packed 19 day time diapers and 19 overnight diapers, which took up half of Caris' little suitcase! In the end, I didn't need half of them because she was pretty much potty-trained (prior to the trip she still needed a diaper to go #2, but was definitely having success on the potty). 
too much clothes - I had packed enough outfits for 9 days (for the girls and myself), and we were only going for about 15. But, I was packing for different weather conditions, like rainy, cool days, and hot days. If you're going to a location where you will have access to laundry, then I would advise packing enough for just 1/3 of the number of days you are going for. I worried that Caris would need extra changes of clothes (accidents while we are out), and she did need a couple of those, but I would quickly be able to wash and dry at the various airbnb's we stayed at.  

4. Bring a lightweight stroller (and rain shield for rainy weather)

 This ended up being a life-saver. The first 3 days of our time in Japan, Caris would conk out in the stroller and woke up happier. Prior to this, she never even once fell asleep in a stroller, and maybe only 3 times ever in a moving vehicle. So this was a pleasant surprise for us. With all the walking we had to do, having a stroller really helped us get places faster. Admittedly, at various points during our trip, at subway stations, it would take us more time to look for an elevator, and sometimes we would have to carry the stroller up and down some stairs...but all in all, it was worth it. 
You can check this in as a luggage or check in at the gate, depending on the airline. 

The girls enjoying their 5th pouch of fresh cut apples from seven-eleven (Caris in the lightweight stroller that saved our lives). 

5. Bring a couple of sleep items for the baby/toddler

I get pretty crazy when it comes to emulating the sleeping environment for the babies/toddlers. I usually pack her little Hatch sound machine, and bring her bedding and humidifier sometimes...and when she was even younger, I would pack a baby monitor, and even ordered a crib and blackout shades to be delivered to where we're going...but for Japan, it's just not possible. Plus, she's older now, and seems pretty adaptable. So, I brought her small toddler pillow and a couple of sleeping stuffies, and on this trip, I realized that I didn't need to worry too much. It took her about two days to get used to the new time zone, and the rest of the time she was so tired that she would even sleep in broad daylight (whenever there were no blackout curtains). 
Caris conked out our first night there with her stuffies and pillow. 

6. How to help your kids with jet lag 
The most important thing to remember is this: it's not going to be perfect. The transition to a new place and time will take time, and it will be rough at times. What helped us the most in the beginning was pushing through the fatigue when you feel like crashing down for a nap. Then night time sleep would be better. But, you must remember to take your cues from your little ones and allow them to take a bit longer as their bodies need rest.

Caris' very first subway train ride our first day in Tokyo. She was thrilled!

June and I had caught a bad cold from my husband who had been getting over a cough for a few weeks before we were leaving for our trip, and I was really anxious that Caris would catch it too. Thankfully she didn't get our cold until just before we were going home. With adequate rest and good eating (nutritious foods whenever possible - I would get them fruits to be home to our airbnb), Caris' immune system was able to stay strong, so even when she eventually caught our cold, it was very mild. We moved from place to place every few days, but whenever we found a good place with multiple bedrooms, I would let Caris sleep separately from us to keep her sleep good. There were nights when she would sleep 13.5 hours straight! 

Caris gleefully picked wild flowers on the side of the road wearing mommy's sample ballerina dress (that is 2 sizes too small).

All in all, I'm grateful that we made the trip. We made some wonderful memories -- and Caris was a lot easier than I had expected. She was just mostly so excited about doing new things everyday that we managed to keep everybody in good spirits. I hope that you will be able to make some sweet memories of your own as well! Please tag us #elestory whenever you take us on your adventures! 

1 comment

Thank YOU, Judy, for taking US along on your trip to Japan! Those lists will be so helpful, especially for those with littles. All those smiles show that you and Craig made the right travel choices!
Love, Mom


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