Non-Tech Options to Pass a Long Flight

R's window after 10.5 hours in the air.

R’s window after 10.5 hours in the air.

We’ve been home in the U.S. now for almost two weeks, and we’re just about settled back into the swing of things. We’re (almost) all unpacked. The kids have (just about) gotten over their jet lag. The lot of us has rediscovered our love for the true American pastime: Driving cars.

All of this has helped Powerwoman and I glean some healthy perspective on the logistics of our return. In particular, we can’t believe how easy the flight home really was.

Allow me to reiterate: The flight home was 10.5 hours. And our kids rocked it like pros.

Before I share the secrets to our success, it’s worth noting that we are not raising our children to be technology addicts. Yes, we allowed them to watch a few shows on their Kindle Fire devices over the course of the trip home. But this screen time was by far the exception instead of the norm; generally speaking, we used “Doc McStuffins” and “Peppa Pig” as rewards for good behavior at other times on the flight.

For the most part, our strategy comprised three tenets: Arts-and-crafts, story time and geography.

The arts-and-crafts was a no-brainer; both girls exhibited a true passion for creativity during our time in London, so Powerwoman and I made provisions to indulge this interest on the plane. We started with stickerbooks. We moved on to basic coloring (I pre-packaged two Ziploc bags with crayons and markers for each of them so they wouldn’t fight).

At cruising altitude, I broke out the window clings and let each girl decorate her window (we were sitting window-middle, window-middle in two consecutive rows; an intentional effort to divide and conquer).

Later in the flight, when R took the first of her two brief naps, L and I made paper-chain necklaces for each of the flight attendants—gifts that scored us free wing pins, free drinks (Scotch for Dad; milk for daughter) and enough special treatment to make the Big Girl feel like a VIP.

We interspersed art time with story time. This didn’t only comprise books on those aforementioned Kindles; Powerwoman and I took turns telling stories and encouraging both girls to make up their own. Some of this make-your-own-story play was open-ended; we also mined ideas from Rory’s Story Cubes, a product about which I blogged last fall.

Finally, we passed time on our LHR-SFO flight with interactive geography lessons. Using the real-time map feature on the seatback television screens, we prompted the girls to describe what they saw out the window and match it up to where we were in the arc of our flight.

Through this method, L learned once and for all that Greenland isn’t green, and that Nunavut (one of her favorite words to say) is covered in snow. R was able to distinguish mountains from plains.

Looking back on the flight, perhaps the only hiccup was that L didn’t actually nap until about three minutes before we disembarked. With all of these fun activities to keep her occupied in mid-air, perhaps that partially was our fault.

What are your secrets for surviving a long flight when traveling with young kids?

The Best Family Travel Product Ever

We. Love. This. Game.

We. Love. This. Game.

After four years of searching, I have found the single best family travel product in the history of family travel products: Rory’s Story Cubes.

Yes, the game/activity is something that can fit in your pants pocket or a stocking (HINT, HINT). Yes, it comprises nothing more than nine dice (or, in the app, nine virtual dice). But the “Cubes” rock because 1) they are so simple and 2) they spark endless creativity in both you AND the kids.

Here’s how the Story Cubes work. Every side of each die has an image. When you roll the dice, you get nine different images facing skyward. Then you have to tell a story that incorporates each one.

According to the official game rules, it doesn’t matter which image you choose to begin your story, so long as you touch ‘em all before you’re done. And, of course, the wackier the story, the better (which is particularly why 4-year-old L loves this game so much).

The company behind the product, Belfast-based The Creativity Hub, also regularly publishes suggestions from fans and customers of alternative ways to play.

(Also, for the record, the game comes in two other versions: Actions and Voyages.)

Because the parent company is based in Ireland, it’s fitting that we discovered the game at the cottage we rented last week on the Connemara coast. We had plenty of games from which to choose, including Ker-Plunk, Operation and more. Time and time again, we went for the Cubes.

When we returned to London, I purchased the app (for Android; no Apple products in this family). Since then, none of us has been able to stop playing. (Also, since then, I’ve connected with the game creator, Rory O’Connor, on Twitter.)

Because I’m not a fan of unnecessary screen time for kids, I prefer the dice you can shake in your hand and throw. That said, I admit that the Smartphone and tablet versions are great because you can play them in environments that aren’t exactly conducive to throwing dice (namely, on planes during long flights and in cars on road trips).

Whichever version you choose ($7.65 on Amazon.com; $2.25 for the Android app), consider this sucker a must-buy. And have a blast.

What are your favorite games/products to bring along when you travel with the kids?

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