Little frequent flyers. Activities and advice for surviving long haul flights with toddlers.

There is nothing more humbling than a screaming child at 37,000 feet. As you “shh” them desperately through gritted teeth and offer them everything from stickers to your kidney if they just cooperate all you can think of is “why the fresh heck did I put myself through this?” Pretty much anyone who has ever flown with a child has been through this and if they say that they haven’t then they are either lying or actually have an angel for a child.

Flying Alone With A Baby

I remember going on my first flight with a baby ALONE. That’s right, in the throws of postpartum fog (not to mention the postpartum anxiety I was feeling) I thought it would be a great idea to head back home to the UK. Honestly, I was so homesick after having a baby I didn’t care. I needed to get out of Canada and to my parents’ house to lounge around in my tracksuit bottoms and be fed wine. So armed with a 4 month old baby and an arsenal of things I was told by numerous online resources that I MUST have, I started the 7 + hour journey to Cardiff. Oh did I mention I threw a stop over in there? Lay overs are not ideal with kids. However we made it and so began a lifetime of flying with kids.

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This is HONEST TO GOD what I thought I needed for a flight with a baby. This is what Pinterest tips tell you to pack when you are flying with a baby. Life hack – you definitely do NOT need all these things. Why did I think I’d need 5000 breast milk storage bags?

Navigating the airport with a million different things and a baby

Getting through security was my first challenge of flying with a baby alone. I had so much stuff, a baby and just two hands. It is unreal how unhelpful people actually are when you’re flying alone. I definitely made a mental note to offer my assistance to others more readily at the airport in the future as a business man pushed past me and dumped his crap into the tray I had put out for myself (I made some other mental notes but I wont go into that). As I struggled to collapse my stroller and get it onto the x-ray machine all while holding my baby I was slowly regretting what I had gotten myself into. We made it to departures, Mummy had a nice BIG glass of wine and snapped the obligatory “we’re going on holidays” passport Instagram photo. Next thing I know we’re walking down the walkway to the plane and I take up my residence in the tiny seat that would be my prison home for the next several hours. Emerson was asleep pretty much as soon as I sat down and I optimistically got out my headphones and book and settled down to smugly spend the flight with a sleeping baby. That lasted until the cabin pressurized and her eyes popped open and she screamed until we were up in the sky and there was no escape. I frantically apologized to all those around me “she’s usually so good”, “she wont scream long” as beads of sweat appeared on my brow. Finally she did stop screaming after what seemed like hours but was in actuality about 15 minutes and she did indeed sleep all the way home.

What I wish I knew before heading on a long haul flight with kids solo

  1. Peeing with a baby in a plane toilet involves Gwyneth Paltrow yogi level flexibility. You have to hold your demon you don’t want to wake sweet sleeping child while pulling down your pants, doing your business, flushing that crazy loud flush that makes you feel like you’ll get sucked out, wash up and leave the bathroom. Trust me, this is no easy feat.
  2. You can’t wear your baby for the whole flight. For take off and landing they must be out of the carrier and on your lap. Fun times if you just got your child to sleep.
  3. If you lucked out and got a bassinet seat, you can’t use this during turbulence. I guarantee this will happen several times when crossing the Atlantic. Cue screaming baby who has been woken up.
  4. If you are in these bassinet seats that you upgraded to people will use your extra leg room to walk through, stand in, do stretches in, .
  5. Collapsing your stroller and car seat combo will be the hardest thing you have ever done when you have a line on antsy people behind you and a baby in your arms. Start practicing now if your flight is in a year.
  6. Your stroller and car seat will likely get lost/broken/look like it survived a tornado.

There’s a lot to learn and I’m sure I haven’t mastered it all but I do have some tips to help you get through what will feel like the longest flight of your life

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Emmy is a little frequent flyer. This Christmas will be her 8th flight at 3.5 years old. Better get her an Airmiles card.

Advice for getting through a long haul flight with kids

  1. Don’t pay attention to all those packing lists, they are totally crazy. For a baby you literally need milk, bottles (pack 2/3 so you don’t have to wash on the plane), a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, antibac wipes, a blanket, a dummy, one toy.
  2. Make a busy bag for your toddler (blog post to follow) with colouring books, stickers (PACK LOTS OF THESE), a small toy, water painting books.
  3. Get to the airport EARLY. I used to stroll through security without a care in the world 90 minutes before my flight but that’s not going to fly with kids (get it?!) You’ll need a lot of time for diaper changes, bathroom breaks etc. Rushing will not help your stress levels which are probably a little higher than usual. Sit and have a beer before the flight and relax!
  4. Take the stroller and check it at the gate. It is a great way to lug all of your duty free items baby crap around the airport.
  5. You will want to get a stroller bag and car seat bag if you value these items at all NO offence to ground staff at the airport but sometimes it looks like they’re practicing for log throwing when they load your items on to the plane. I saw my car seat sitting in the pouring rain on the tarmac at Cardiff and I was really happy I had it in a bag to keep the water off it. I got mine off Amazon and they survived loads of flights. I actually just got new ones for this flight and this time they’re a pretty grey colour! They actually seem a little sturdier than the last bright red ones I had. If you click on the picture it will take you straight to Amazon.
  6. Take advantage of priority boarding. I know it seems crazy to sit on the plane longer but this way you guarantee that you can put your diaper bag or purse above where you are sitting rather than having to fight with the people in row 43 who have thoughtfully filled your overhead bin space with their full sized case.
  7. Your technology rules are going to have to go out of the window here. Take an iPad if you have one for the love of God, it will save you. My husband actually forgot to pack ours last time we flew and I think we set a new world record for how long you can be salty.
  8. Do not pack toys that are loud, roll, bounce, rattle, squeak, are valuable. It’s not fair to those around you if your child is playing with something that is bleating in the middle of the overnight red eye flight. Also planes are black holes and I guarantee you that you will lose something. Honestly my kids played with plastic cups and the headphone wires last time we flew.
  9. Those pacifier clips make great toy clips and stop your child lobbing Sophie at unsuspecting passengers’ heads.
  10. Get some nice big headphones for your kid so they can easily listen to the TV. Earbuds are not nice for littles.
  11. If you’re alone then take your carrier so you can wear your baby as you board the plane and you can strap them to you when they fall asleep. I have also gone to the bathroom with a baby strapped on me but that wasn’t easy or sanitary.
  12. Wear leggings or sweatpants. Yeah like I need to tell you twice. If you are alone with a baby you will probably only have one hand and buttons aren’t your friend in this scenario.
  13. Pack ALL THE SNACKS. Whatever your kid likes, pack it. Favourites are Goldfish, gummies, chips, crackers and granola bars.
  14. Lollipops are your friend. They’re great to pop ears and I am yet to meet a kid that wont step into line at the promise of a lollipop.
  15. Take water or juice for your kids so they don’t have to wait for the drinks cart to come around.
  16. If you have room, pack an extra blanket. Planes are cold overnight and those static polyblend monstrosities the airline provides have the tog factor of toilet paper.
  17. Accept the help of strangers. You will be so surprised with how many people are happy to lend a hand if you just ask. You will also be surprised at how clueless other people can be but focus on the positives!
  18. Know that you might not get a lot of sleep so try to have someone pick you up at the airport if possible or arrange to stay over night at an airport hotel.

Flying with kids can be done!

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy but for lots of us travelling with kids is a fact of life. Don’t ever apologize for taking your child on a plane. I’ve yet to experience a flight with a kid (mine or someone else’s) screaming the entire time and honestly people aren’t as bothered by a kid on board as you might think. Even if they are, you bought a ticket just like them and you’re entitled to travel.

Do you have any amazing tips or tricks for surviving a long haul flight with kids?

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Top 5 things that only a British Expat misses at Christmas

Does the sound of Noddy Holder yelling “It’s CHRRRIIIISTMAAASSSS” ring in your ears every time you think of the festive season? Do coloured Christmas lights and tinsel (the proper kind, not that lamenta shite. If you know what lamenta is extra points) adorn your tree? Are your cupboards stocked with minced pies? Is Christmas Eve best spent in the pub with your mates resulting in the cruel and unusual punishment of having a hangover with young children on Christmas morning? Do you like sprouts? Does your mother shout “not a sausage pricked, not a pot washed?” If you answered yes to many or all of these, you are indeed British. If you spend a lot of your Christmas explaining these things to others, you are probably a British expat.

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Top 5 things a British Expat misses at Christmas

  1. Truly British Christmas songs.
    Cliff, Slade, Wizard, The Darkness to name a few. I just don’t hear these festive classics in Canada and they are one of my favourite things about going home for the holidays. Turning BBC radio 2 on in the car and belting these bad boys out. British festive culture 101.
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  2. The food.
    Good minced pies are hard to come by in Canada and I wont even try to make them after the penis  unicorn cake debacle at my daughter’s second birthday (that’s another blog post).
    Pickled onions. They cost an arm and a bloody leg here ($8.99 for a jar of sweet skins? Pisstake) and they’re quite hard to find.
    Selection boxes don’t exist and that my friends is a SHAME. Remember the joy of a selection box for breakfast followed by lamenting the cost of a freddo?
    Brandy cream is something I’ve never seen here. I’m beginning to think Canadian’s don’t douse everything in booze the same way we do.
    Cadbury’s minature heros. Enough said on that matter.
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  3. The pub on Christmas Eve. Now maybe this is just a Swansea thing but we go to the pub every Christmas Eve, drink too much and then go home for my parents’ annual Christmas gathering. I know at least several other people who silent sob into their stockings and knock back the buckfizz hair of the dog on a Christmas morning while putting on a brave face as their kids push screaming toys into their faces.
    Image result for the inbetweeners pub
  4. The anticipation of a white Christmas. If you’re from most of the UK, Wales in particular, the papers go into a frenzy leading up to Christmas about “Snowmaggedon” and the chances of a “white Christmas”. It never happens but we don’t give up hope each year. That my friends is the British optimism that I love so much.
    love actually come on let it snow GIF
  5. British Christmas TV specials.
    -The Vicar of Dibley when she eats all those dinners. Still laugh every time.
    – The Royle Family – Classic.
    – Nigella. She’s just so saucy in her black nightie scoffing food from her fridge with her plummy accent.
    – Bo’selecta. Now I might be dating myself here but who remembers that show. HILARITY!
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I go back home soon and I am SOOOOO excited for a British Christmas.

So fellow Brits, what am I missing? What do you yearn for the most at Christmas? Other expats join in, what do you miss?

Love,

Jo xxx

P.s I’m holding out for a white Christmas in Wales this year!

Giving up everything for love. The truth about becoming an expat wife and mother.

She’s crying in the British food aisle again

A few days ago I found myself staring wistfully at a jar of pickled onions on the shelf at my local supermarket grocery store. I had an ache inside me that I hadn’t really felt for a long time. It was back again, homesickness. It all sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it, to be tearing up over a British delicacy? However, when I’m in the trenches of homesickness anything can set me off. I moved to Canada almost a decade ago after meeting my husband on a trip in Australia. My husband tried unsuccessfully to move to Wales shortly after we met but the recession and lack of agricultural opportunities meant that he quickly ran out of money and patience from sitting in our flat all day with no car and no where to go. So I stepped up and offered to move to Canada to allow him to return to his dream job farming as I was a bright eyed 23 year old who was eager for adventure and a way out of the omnipresent rain that plagued Wales. So I booked my ticket, got my working holiday visa and after a tearful farewell at Heathrow to my mum I boarded my flight to Canada, not really believing that I would truly become an expat.

Franz Josef Glacier hike

I’m going on an adventure!

When I got to Canada it was the blazing heat of summer and I had a wonderful century farm house to decorate as I pleased. My husband got me a puggle puppy we named Darwin (after where we met) and I quickly got a job at a local gym where I met a few friends to keep me occupied. We got engaged a few months later and married less than a year after that. After returning from honeymoon I eagerly applied for my permanent residency and was excited at the life that lay ahead in Canada. I got my PR (permanent resident) status fairly quickly and decided it was time to set down some roots and a career. I wanted to be a lawyer in Wales but it became apparent that wouldn’t fit with the amount of travel I would need to do and getting into law school here is about as easy as getting a toddler to eat anything that you provide them with for dinner. I decided to head to teachers college and after a few years I got a permanent contract. Sounds like everything went perfectly for me doesn’t it? Honestly, on paper everything is perfect. I have a wonderful job, a beautiful family, a husband who I apparently love so much I’ll move across the world for and a gorgeous home that I could only dream about in the UK. However, I would be lying if I said that late at night when my husband in harvesting late, when I’m shoveling a foot of snow off my car, when I yearn to meet my mum for a coffee and a chat, when I see my friends going out back home that I don’t feel the sledgehammer blow of homesickness. It has been a decade and it is still as strong as when I first came here at times and it takes me by surprise.

 

The harsh reality of being the “trailing spouse” 

Life is hard as the “trailing spouse” (a kind of brutal term for the person in the relationship that moves for love). I miss home a lot, I have found it hard to make meaningful friendships with people that I have things in common with, my British humor is quite often lost on people and I have to repeat myself several times at the drive thru at Tims when people don’t understand my accent (“can I have a croissant please?” “a what sorry m’am, do you mean a chocolate donut?” repeat ad nauseam). Another thing I have struggled with intermittently is finding purpose in my new life. Having children gave me purpose as a mum but I don’t find myself completely comfortable in my new life in Canada all the time. Sometimes there is a feeling of being shoved into someone else’s life and you just have to carve out a little space for yourself.

Here are a few things that I wish I knew before I moved here:

  1. The honeymoon period will end at some point and no matter how grim life was, you will miss some aspect of it at some point.
  2. You will miss your family more than you can put into words and no amount of Facetime will make up for it.
  3. If you have children, you will have to deal with the guilt of them missing out on grandparent time.
  4. Homesickness will strike you hard at random moments. Teary at the pickled onions? Weeping at the sound of a British accent on a commercial? Sobbing over a pound you found in your wallet? Standing out in the rain because it feels like Wales? Watching any old shite that was made in Britain? YUP, you’re homesick.
  5. Snow for almost half the year SUCKS. Invest in a good jacket, boots and a shovel (OK so I don’t shovel too much snow so maybe work on being REALLY busy whenever your spouse walks out of the door to clear the driveway. Kind of like he does when you pick up the hoover or talk about going shopping).But there are positives..
  1. Your children will be international travelers before they are one. What a rich life they will lead.
  2. You get more than one passport which makes you look interesting and important at the airport.
    You will meet awesome people who you would never have crossed lives with otherwise.
  3. You get to enrich yourself and grow as a person by immersing yourself in another culture. I really think meeting people from different parts of the world and living amongst people different to me (you’d be surprised how many cultural differences I encounter) has helped me grow as a person.
  4. Your relationship with your spouse is stronger than most as you rely on each other so much.
  5. You realize how much you truly love your family and make every second count when you’re with them (WOW that sounded like a Disney movie).

So hang in there expat wives, mums and dads. It is a hard journey and maybe not the life you always wanted in some respects but you can do it. Try to remember why you moved to your current country and at the same time honour and celebrate your roots. You beautiful, multicultural global unicorn you.

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P.s in case you have never had the pleasure of a pickled onion I’ll show you what I’m banging on about. Brits, you’re welcome for the food porn.