Friday, October 29, 2010

The best laid plans

Some would say it’s Murphy’s Law – whoever the hell Murphy was – but he has a lot to answer for!

You may remember an earlier mention of our ‘carefully chosen airline’ and our ‘carefully chosen seats’, well… that appears now to be a bit of a misnomer!

Just hours away from departure, I get online to check in and for the fourth time confirm our ‘carefully chosen seats’.  Once on, I discover that we have been seated somewhere else entirely, in what appears to be back in a bulkhead seat with the aforementioned too-short-bassinette.

Clearly the universe was playing some sort of cruel joke.  There was nothing else for it but to ring up our ‘carefully chosen airline’ again and find out what was going on.

Yes, Brian, our helpful sales consultant on the end of the phone, can confirm we have been allocated different seats. Apparently, Brian tells us, that some kind, thoughtful gentleman in Bangkok noticed that we were flying with an infant and moved us back to a too-short-bassinette seat.

Bangkok?  BANGKOK?  What in God’s name has Bangkok got to do with this?  Brian is a little unclear at this point!

Within minutes Brian realises that he has a deranged, stressed-out, tired, soon-to-be passenger on the end of his line.  He quickly admits that our ‘carefully chosen airline’ had stuffed up! He attempts to make some amends by immediately alerting every Emirates staff member (from baggage handlers to check in staff, from Bangkok to Dubai) of their administrative error and that within hours they had better sort something out.  Easier said than done considering our seats had already been taken and the flight was full, with most passengers having checked in already.

By nature, I am a positive and optimistic type…if worse comes to worse we remain in our body-paralysing, DVT-causing, fixed armrests bulkhead seats with the too-short-bassinette thumbing it’s nose at us for 16 hours and 15 minutes.

It could be worse…we could have twins!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Air safety announcements

As the countdown begins in earnest, my mind turns to all the last minute things that we need to do before we get to sit down in our carefully selected seats on our carefully selected airline.

In some sort of perverse way, I am looking forward to hearing the cabin crew recite their safety message before take off.  I will know then that we are finally on our way…

I would like to welcome everyone aboard Emirates flight 246.  If you are heading to the UAE’s exciting city of Dubai, you are in the right place.  If not, you are in for an exceedingly dull and pointless 16 hours and for that we apologise in advance.

You are on board one of Emirate’s A340 where every seat affords you inflight entertainment with up to 1200 channels.  If you can’t find anything to watch, you are clearly hard to please and probably will encounter similar issues with the menu.

In the event of an emergency, you will find several broom closets throughout the cabin masquerading as amenities.  You can locate these nearby to the cheap seats on board.

In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling.  Grab the mask, pull firmly, and then place over your face.  Whilst the bag attached to the mask does not inflate, we are pretty sure something comes out to assist with breathing, otherwise it is a useful device in the event of swine flu or flatulence.  If you are travelling with a small child, secure your mask before assisting with theirs.  If by some cruel joke you are travelling with more than one small child, ask yourself why?

The captain has turned the seatbelt sign on, indicating that he has some sort of idea about all those pretty buttons and lights up front. 

On behalf of the captain and crew, I would like to welcome you aboard once again and wish you a pleasant flight. And to all those travelling with small children...good luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School's in!

Putting together an in-flight activity pack brought the teacher out in me. Probably because I am one.  I mean, if you actually thought about that… if it brought out the astrophysicist in me, the short one wouldn’t be thanking me!

Nonetheless, I digress…

An in-flight activity pack – a must-have for all flyers tots.  

When choosing items for such a pack, you should consider the following:

  1. Is it too big?  (Takes up too much room in the bag)
  2. Is it too small? (Choking hazard, easily lost, not designed for stubby toddler fingers)
  3. Is it too heavy? (Consider weight limits on cabin luggage)
  4. Will I be forever picking it up off the floor of the cabin? (Forget it if the answer is yes, unless of course you can staple it to your infant)
  5. Is it too noisy? (Running the risk of severely annoying sleepy co-passengers ...again...still)
  6. Will it require in-flight topping up, winding up, fixing, sharpening, gluing, inflating, charging, re-charging, re-aligning, re-booting, re-anything else?  (Perhaps reconsider – as you may tire of this before the travelling tot does)

So with that in mind, here is my short list of ideas.  All of these items by the way are new and unseen so the novelty factor remains.  They will be dolled out throughout the course of the flight in the vain hope that she remains engaged and amused!

  1. Sewing or threading cards – lightweight cardboard pictures with holes to thread through
  2. Sticker books – ideally books with reusable stickers on shiny gloss pages so they can create a variety of scenes over and over
  3. Pocket libraries – these are great for book lovers – 6 mini books in a pack measuring only around 1 inch square
  4. Wind up pencils – these are terrific, no need for sharpeners
  5. Small scrap books – regular size guillotined in half is perfect
  6. Packets of stickers – cheap, portable and endless fun
  7. Foam activity packs – these are also cheap, light, portable and a fun activity – you will need glue though so remember the LGA restrictions
  8. Mini-tub of play dough –  again you will need to check such items against your LGA restrictions
  9. Mini-magnadoodles – I found one that is a key ring about two inches square
  10. Cardboard cut outs for colouring - come in several designs - farm animals, little boy/girl, flowers, fish etc
  11. Favourite soft toy/comfort doll – for obvious reasons

Well that’s about it, I think…that should keep her out of mischief for at least a couple of hours…now, just need to think about the other 20…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Travel Doctor

Before any overseas travel it is recommended that you speak with your family GP in order to update any vaccinations if needed, or get any medications or prescriptions sorted out.  Whilst Team O’Connor is generally a pretty healthy unit, I thought it would be prudent to speak with our friendly GP about taking the short one overseas.  Not having done this sort of thing before, perhaps I am somewhat na├»ve.  But when I asked about travel and toddlers, I was thinking what basic first aid should I take?  Are there any extra vaccinations she would need?  Should I take some infant Panadol?  You know, those sort of mundane (yet highly important) questions.

Our delightful family doc immediately adopts a look of seriousness and earnestness and says…'Yes…I think it is definitely something worth thinking about,’

‘OK, what precisely?’

’Chemical support.’


‘I have been known to do it to my children on long haul flights,’ she explains.

‘Do what?’ we ask in chorus.

‘Chemically support them…you know…to help them sleep…you know…phenergan’

'Ohhhhhhhhh, no I don’t know…'

Then she goes on to explain that if we do go down that track that it is always a good idea to try it at home first before you are trapped in the confines of an Airbus A340 with a screaming hyperactive tornado tearing up a cabin for 16 hours with no way of getting out.  Apparently it can have the opposite effect on some kids…well that’s comforting to know.  I can only hope that other travelling toddlers on our flight have similarly well-versed doctors.

For the record…we have decided not to drug the short one. In my experience, phenergan  has long been the brunt of many a joke.  To be honest I had never even considered it…I mean, if the short one had been allergic to airline food, then it may have been worth thinking about!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Checklist

Possibly due to lack of sleep, frantic work pace, unexpected health issues and last minute panic, I admit I have entered the ‘who’s-genius-idea-was-this?’ phase.

So much so, I am convinced I have forgotten something significant.  Child, check; husband, check; airline tickets, check; passport, check.

Now that work has all but become a distant memory (after only a couple of hours), I can begin to take stock of all that remains to be done.  Still that nagging feeling lingers, bringing with it those immortal words once announced by a member of a cabin crew,

"As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."

I mean honestly, who would ever consider leaving family members on public transport? 

OK, OK… I might have thought about it once or twice…alright?  

OK, yes, I did say once that eBay was looking like a definite option…alright, it might have been more than that...BUT I wasn’t serious! Really, I wasn’t!

With a face like this, how could you doubt my state of mind!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one

Leo J Burke
Nothing gets past the short one… I am convinced she knows that something is afoot! Probably not surprising, considering we have spoken with her every waking moment about going in a big plane. While the expressive language is coming along quite well, don’t be fooled by the level of a toddler’s receptive language. It’s amazing how much they really do understand.

To try and help explain all the goings on, I have put together a simple daily chart.  The week’s activities are depicted with photographs of significant people and places.  Each day ends with a photo of a sleeping baby.  The day of departure has a picture of our plane and some of the cabin crew in uniform.  Whilst I thought it was a remarkable teaching tool, the short one just walked around the house with my print out, all the while repeatedly saying, ‘Grandma’.  I think she missed the point!

I don’t think she has missed the point about the sleeping baby though.  Under normal circumstances, the short one is in a beautiful sleeping routine.  But the last few days she has become possessed.  No sleep during the day, and up every hour over night. Either she is possessed or she is trying to acclimatise us to jetlag before we even get on the plane.  What a cruel irony!

Keep that up kiddo, and I might just check myself into that suitcase!

As that wise man, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, 'There was never a child so lovely but her mother was glad to get her to sleep.'

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seats on a plane

(as opposed to that classic cinematic masterpiece ‘Snakes on a plane’)

Once you have decided your chosen airline, it is time to consider seating options.  It is probably just as well that first and business class are no longer an option.  There is so much more choice in economy!

When you find out what aircraft you will be flying in go to by Trip Advisor.  They have over 700 seat maps for over 90 different airlines, including detailed descriptions of all seats and passenger reviews.  Simply add your airline and flight number and you will pull up a seating plan for your particular aircraft.  Whilst, of course, you are not guaranteed of getting your chosen seat, it provides you with some useful information to help you decide on the best seat available.  As a result, we have changed our seating preferences.

Ironically, the short one isn’t short enough for the bassinettes on board Emirates.  Whilst the very helpful and caring crew from Emirates have allocated us a bassinette (even after being informed of her height and weight), I can only assume they have the facility on board to shrink-wrap travelling toddlers.  If this is the case, more power to them.

But, in the cold light of day, the fact is whilst bassinette seats have the added benefit of being in the bulkhead (a wee bit more leg room & no passenger seat in front, except for the entire manifest of passengers parading through your space, all trying to stretch their legs and avoid DVT), it also means that the arm rests are fixed…so if you were thinking, lift the arm rests and stretch out for a bone-paralysing sleep, then bulkhead seats are not for you.

We have found our travel agent and our airline incredibly accommodating when it comes to getting the best out of our flight experience – it is definitely worth the ask! (I also found crying hysterically, while trying to wrestle a manic 20 month old usually helps too!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not all airlines are created the same

Whilst we are under the misapprehension that the trains are all under control, we turn our attentions to the rather larger and more imminent form of transport, the aircraft.

My single piece of advice here is simple…first class… or if your budget can’t stretch to that…business.  Still not an option?  Well, I guess you are relegated to the back end of the plane like the other 97% of the travelling public! 

As I stir from my hallucinating slumber, I realise that unless I have extraordinary amounts of money, to date undiscovered, perhaps in that aforementioned vortex, that this is really not a feasible option.

So with the realisation that this is our lot in life, we can always make the best of it. 

First of all research your chosen airline, BEFORE it is chosen.  The cheapest is not always the best.  Ask around, consider prior experience, read hugely informative blogs such as this one.  Forearmed is forewarned.  I once chose an airline purely on the basis that it was a partner in my frequent flyer program.  Sadly that was my first mistake.  In the short few weeks that I was overseas, the chosen airline had withdrawn from the alliance and my leading frequent flyer airline had collapsed, taking with it all my accumulated points (and no doubt several hundred employees). 

Secondly, and probably more devastating, was the distinct lack of cabin crew service and friendliness.  On our long journey home we were given a beautifully presented menu detailing a choice of delectable chef designed and prepared meals that would be lovingly plated for our palates enjoyment. 

Now, I can preempt what some of my friends are going to say about my next comment, but it has to be said.  Our flight was due to arrive back home mid morning.  Our ‘beautifully presented menu’ promised a culinary delight in the form of a breakfast muffin prior to our descent.  Well, suffice to say, I am still waiting to partake in my breakfast muffin.  I know it was over 10 years ago…but hey!  Promises are promises!  Delectable menu or no delectable menu…it has left a sour taste in my mouth!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mind the gap

With the decision made that we were going to make our way around Europe on the train, my dearest husband thought we should start a familiarisation process with the short one.  Considering we were still on home ground, we had local currency, we knew where we were going, we could speak the local language and we weren’t lugging 60kg of luggage behind us it SHOULD be a piece of cake – he figured if we have issues here, we are certainly going to have issues OS!

With careful online planning, we decided on a 9am train into the city.  Leaving home with plenty of time, we leisurely make our way to the station with great anticipation.  We are greeted by the Station Master who officiously tells us, “The next train isn’t for another half an hour, you know.”  That’s OK – we have plenty of time to sort ourselves out, get our tickets and desensitise the short one to all of the new sights and sounds that make up the suburban train station.

Another family are on the platform trying to navigate their way around the timetable and ticket dispenser, all the while being told by the officious Station Master, “The next train isn’t until 9am, you know!”

Finally, the other novice train-travelling family retrieve their tickets from the high tech dispenser, leaving us to do the same. Fumbling for change, following the myriad of buttons and finally one ticket is printed. With just one more to go, I hear the station master quietly mumble, “Ohhh, there seems to be a train coming.”  I look up to see a train pulling into the station while we are still fighting with the ticket dispenser. Said Station Master makes a hurried exit, leaving us to make a last minute dash to board the train.  Leaves me wondering whether European Station Masters are as time challenged as their Australian counterparts!

Word of warning!
I have fond memories of travelling the tube in London and the recorded announcement constantly telling me, ever so politely to “Mind the gap”.  What a helpful and well-considered community announcement!  The expression is so well known that it has spawned a whole collection of "Mind the gap" souvenirs in the High Street. And really, the gap is nothing to speak of…

Train travellers in Australia however, are not afforded the same consideration.  As a result I would like to make my own community safety announcement, particularly if travelling with a stroller…

“Please mind the chasm large enough for a small bovine to fall down, whilst trying to pull yourself up the foot and half step into the carriage. Have a nice day!”

Not sure whether all that will fit on a T shirt or coffee mug though!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Travel essentials

Another weekend rolls around signally yet again that it’s time to hit the shops for those last minute purchases.

The ubiquitous list is drafted:

  1. Travel Agent – collect travel documents
  2. Woollen socks or tights & scarf for the short one
  3. Lightweight reading material for the short one
  4. Portable toddler toilet seat (yep, that would be for the short one too)
  5. The essential travel accessories - money pouch, power adapters, luggage labels

First item on the list was the easiest.  Things sort of went down hill from there. 

Trying to find woollen anything (unless you’re a sheep) is impossible at this time of the year.  Forget it!

Next…I have a conspiracy theory about bookshops and my attempt to locate lightweight, compact reading materials. All I wanted was a paper back version of a few of our all time favourite board books.  Forget it!  Hard backs or board books, take your pick.  In the end, after visiting 3 bookshops, we gave up. In our distraught state, we stumbled towards our favourite retreat, seeking some consolation…the ABC Shop.  Of course, we should have known better, we should have gone there in the first place.  We discovered the world of Pocket Libraries – at around 2 inches square they fit the bill (or suitcase as the case may be) nicely! And what a comprehensive collection:  Bananas in Pyjamas; Play School; Spot; In the Night Garden.  What more could a nearly 2 year old fanatic book reading frequent flyer want?

A Toilet seat, of course…well, there only seems to be one portable, foldable, cushioned toilet seat insert on the market – so it looks like we’ll have that one, thanks!

Essential travel accessories.  I also have a conspiracy theory about this one.  I swear every time I have gone overseas I have purchased a complete set of ‘essential travel accessories’.  I am convinced that they spontaneously combust immediately upon your return home.  Either that or I have a well-secreted place where I carefully put away things for another time.  This space, of course, is a vortex that contains other seldom used items …wedding dresses, high school year books, ex-boyfriends' Valentine cards, exercise bikes…

Friday, October 15, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles…

Things are certainly hotting up in the O’Connor camp.  All of our travel documents have arrived and we have an appointment with the Travel Agent to collect them all. Finally it is starting to become a reality.

With the itinerary, the flights and the accommodation all confirmed, we started to feel a little more relaxed.  That was until we realised that one has to physically get from one city to the next. Just a small detail that we have overlooked.

Plane travel between European cities, whilst expeditious, is rather costly. 

Automobiles? Well, being that we are in the homeland of some of the most prestigious carmakers in the world this should be a definite consideration… BUT… small detail, they drive on the other side of the road.  I’m sorry but I just can’t get my head around going around a roundabout the other way!

You spot the difference...

That leaves us with Trainsmore to follow

We probably could have considered boating as well, but I wasn’t sure whether that was an option for us landlubbers, though I do believe Captain O’Connor once sailed around the Whitsundays, pre-wife and baby!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Travelling with kids

A number of friends have asked for my Top Travelling Toddler Tips. Below I have posted some of the most useful 'stuff' that I have come across in my "Cochrane Report" (apologies to the Collaboration!) 

  • Travel Toddler  - comprehensive site AND it's Australian which is a huge plus!  Well, that is if you are Australian of course!  
  • Little Gulliver - the commercial arm of Travel Toddler retailing some really useful travel items 
  • Flying with Kids - helpful tips, but not Australian so some content not appropriate/applicable
  • Travel with Kidz - Australian network of Travel Agents that specialise - would you believe - in travel with kids
  • Family Travel - written by parents for parents, lots of useful tips, originates from OS
  • Smart Traveller - Australia's DFAT, provides current travel advice and warnings, as well as a useful PDF for download called 'Travelling Parents'
  • Trip Advisor - for that never ending search for the Holy Grail of accommodation
and probably the best website that I have come across in all of this would have to be
  • Team O'Connor - for its insightful commentary, scintillating content and witty anecdotes!

( have to be kidding me, who writes this stuff?)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dropping the kids off at the pool

Just when I thought I nearly had everything under control, ticked most things off my list…the short one throws me a curve ball.

Anyone who has been to Europe knows full well how toilets operate a little differently there.  If you are in France for example, one has to be careful to choose the right pedestal for the right activity.  If you are caught out away from home, one has to make sure you have small change or you could be caught short. 

It can be a little disconcerting when for the first time you dash into a public toilet in Europe to discover that first you have to get past the wizened old woman with a walking stick and a glass jar sitting on a seat in the hand basin area. You can just tell by her squinting eyes and the way her hand slowly caresses the stick that there is no getting past her until you have given her enough money for a take away coffee. 

No change…no worries…just cross your legs and find the closest McDonalds.

Add a short person who has just discovered what toilets are all about to the mix and things start to get complicated.

Her timing is impeccable!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Six Senses

Rudyard Kipling once said ‘The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.For travel to broaden our minds, our senses must be heightened and engaged to truly experience what lies ahead.

There is great anticipation around the house as the day of departure is imminent.  One reflects on all the incredible sights and sounds that will greet us as we travel around Central Europe. Our Lonely Planets are well thumbed, both in the traditional sense, as well as the iPhone sense.

I have confidence that the short one will soak up all of these amazing experiences; just as she does at home, with great relish and curiosity.  Hearing other languages, tasting different cuisine, seeing famous artworks, touching fresh snow, smelling vast fields of flowers.

But… I suppose one should have common sense and consider the risk of overwhelming culture shock.  For that very reason, I have decided to take a little piece of home with us.  A little something that is familiar, known and provides all Australian travellers with that little sense of familiarity and comfort, far from home.

I have decided to take…


In the infamous words of Lao Tzu, ‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step (sic) and a jar of vegemite’

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Silence is golden

Noise-cancelling headphones.

An oxymoron surely – but no,  apparently a must-have for any long haul flight.  Armed with this vital piece of aviation know-how, we head off to Hardly Normal this morning.  Minutes later, we head out as the proud new owners of a set of travel headphones, complete with their own wee bag!

This latest innovation, my IT husband assures me, will block out all ambient noise, particularly the drone of the aircraft’s engines.  What about the drone of nearby 20 month old infants?  Surely, that is a more appealing and marketable feature!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Joys of the Long Haul

I suppose one of the inevitabilities of living Down Under is that if you want to go anywhere it’s going to take a VERY long time.  Let’s face it, long haul flights are in our genetic blue print.

OK, let’s be honest here.  I hate long haul flights.  By their very nature they are …well…LONG!

I do feel however, that I have done an extensive systematic review of all available research dealing with long haul flights and toddlers.  In fact, so extensive I am considering submitting it to the Cochrane Collaboration.

Here are my key findings: 
  1. Reconsider
  2. Take a collection of unseen compact and light art & craft activities and bring out one at a time.  In desperate situations, bring out everything, spoil them for choice!
  3. Load up laptop, iPhone, iPod, iPad or any other electronic device within a 12km radius with fun apps & endless hours of mindless, speech-retarding viewing
  4. Try and keep some semblance of a routine going – keep one time piece on home time (that one cracks me up)
  5. Take regular walks around the cabin – look for a nearby playground even
  6. Reconsider

Monday, October 4, 2010

Technology is my friend

I read some research once that watching TV during the formative years actually has a negative effect on young children's speech development. In fact, new federal guidelines in Australia go so far as to calling for a ban of any screen time for under two's.

Under normal circumstances I would carefully consider such research and take on board the key messages, knowing full well how critical language development is in the early years.

clearly these guidelines were not written by a parent of a said 'under two', who was about to embark on a 16 + 6 hour flight.  Screen time is our friend and so is the various forms that it takes.  The short one talks just fine, thanks!  In fact...too fine!  In fact...I'm all for stunting a bit of speech development at the moment!

We have successfully converted at least 6000 hours of Play School from DVD to mpeg so that it may be viewed on our laptop, as well as his and her iPhones.  With a bit of research into our airline, we have even worked out how we can feed the viewing through to the in-seat screens as well.  We can have surround sound ABC for Kids! I even found Bananas in Pyjamas on iTunes - the best $2.99 I have ever spent! 

I am forever indebted to the Early Childhood program developers from the ABC.  You deserve every cent of my daily 8 cents!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ear plugs and planes

A helpful friend once told me about ear plugs for air travel.  They are simply inserted into the ear and they supposedly help with acclimatising your ears to the varying levels of compression.  Sounds like a great idea - especially for the height challenged one.

So, I set myself the challenge of investigating further.  I found an article about them and apparently they are available for infants over 1 year of age - perfect.

I then head into the chemist and enquire of the apothecary of such a product.  He walks me to the stand of various ear things (I never knew you could get so many ear plugs for so many conditions!) and proudly shows me the very asked-for product.  He then proceeds to tell me with great alacrity how you simply pull up the ear and insert the said plug into the ear opening and then screw it until a firm seal is achieved.  As he pontificates, my eyes are getting wider at the thought of this mediaeval form of torture. 

I don't know about you but I was always told that nothing smaller than your elbow should ever go into your ear...