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Aug 8, 2011

A+ for surviving solo travel with 2 young kids on a 20-hour journey

Sorry for this obvious pat in the back, but I was so relieved after surviving a 20-hour journey by myself with 2 young kids, that I wanted to write about it. Maybe it will help other parents contemplating the same type of trip.

As a background to the 20-hour journey idea, my husband and I had to attend a wedding in France in July, and it was a great opportunity for me and the kids to go and visit family closeby before the wedding (my husband wasn't able to get vacation time during that week, unfortunately). The idea was to spend some time post-wedding traveling to Greenland on our way back. So far so good, sounded like a great idea (and it turned out that our Greenland trip was so worth it). In order to make the trip affordable, though, all connections has to go through Reykjavik (Iceland), so the itinerary ended up looking a little bit like this:
SFO (San Francisco) -SEA (Seattle) -KEF (Rekjavik) - CDG (Paris).
On the way back, the itinerary branched off from Reykjavik to Greenland for a few days and back to the US.

Yes, the first trip included 20-hours of travel with 2 stop-overs. And if you are following my blog, you know that my kids are by now about 3.5 and 1 (with a toddler who just started walking). Yikes, this promised to be challenging. Fortunately, it ended up working out pretty well.

A couple of things that helped:
1) I had 2 iPads with me, one for each kid, with age-appropriate videos and games. I ended up not having to use them much. But knowing that I had this option in my back-pocket, especially if flights got delayed, helped me feel more prepared. And by the way, the iPads were literally in the backpocket of my brand-new, and now favorite travel backpack. Absolutely perfect for this type of travel:
- a lot of pockets of all sizes to carry passports, snacks for the kids, pacifier, pen, etc...,
- specific iPad pocket, easily accessible
- small enough and light weight, so that I could carry it while carrying the one-year old in a baby backpack. I just loved it.
2) I had briefed Daniel a lot about the trip (we had actually started planning for it in February, so it had been a topic for a long-time, probably to Daniel's agony since he was always asking when it would finally happen). He knew what to expect and he really played the big brother role very well, helping going through Security at the airport, watching Charlotte while I picked up food at the food court, using the plane restroom by himself, etc... It helped making things less cumbersome.
3) I had done research about the airports where we were going to have our stop-overs ahead of time, so I could understand what they could offer and how to navigate through them. We had 4 hours to spend at the Seattle airport and I had found out about their awesome kids lounge, where we ended up spending most of the time. As you can tell from the picture, it was a lot of fun there. Between this playground, having lunch, riding the train to our terminal and watching the planes getting ready, the 4 hours actually went by fast, and none of them felt the need for a nap despite the late afternoon timing.


The one thing I didn't do well for myself was setting my expectations around sleep. Especially after wearing the kids out at the Seattle airport, I had hoped they would fall asleep right at take-off, and give me a break as well as ease into the Europe time. Well, it wasn't their plans. Daniel specifically found so many kid movies on our IcelandAir flight, that he didn't sleep until the last stretch. Charlotte was also over-excited and had a lot to explore as well. So my plans of getting some rest backfired because I got so upset trying to get them to sleep with no success. But once I took a deep breath and just enjoyed the fact that they were quiet and happy, it made it easier to handle. I somehow managed to stay awake the entire trip, since they ended up not sleeping at the same time. Sleep is over-rated anyways, right?

Besides the 20-hour trip, the other challenge turned out to be: working with the kids through jetlag by myself. Actually, it was no surprise. I went through the same jetlag adjustment with the kids last year and I was mentally prepared. Although it got much harder physically, coming out of a sleepless trip. It means that for the following 3 days, I only got a minimum amount of sleep since (again!) the kids weren't sleeping at the same time. Fortunately, our vacation turned out to be a lot of fun and just relaxing because of the different environment. So I got some rest, but I have to admit that I at some point missed the time when it was just my husband and I, and we could sleep in as much as we wanted every single day of our vacation. Good that seeing the kids having the time of their lives helped me withdraw these thoughts very quickly. (and yes, the small kid in the back is Daniel on a huge trampoline, completely excited!)

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