Israel offers a plethora of activities for families from picnics at the beach to cultural ones designed just for kids; such as the Tel Aviv Museum’s family art tour, which brings masterpieces to life. Parents can opt for walks in Yarkon Park where kids can explore play areas, a climbing wall, paddle boats, go on a children’s train ride and see two mini zoos.
Once you arrive to Israel all options are on the table — it’s just a matter of traveling from overseas which can be a challenge. From the United States, flights to Israel are long, and toddlers’ attention spans and abilities to sit still are short. Luckily, El-Al flights are usually packed with kids, so you won’t be the only one. They are well-equipped to help you entertain your little one, from special kid friendly programming on the individual monitors to handing out educational games and kits to play with on the plane.
El-Al also offers a special kids meal that must be ordered at least 48 hours in advance. The meals periodically change but often include; chicken nuggets, fries, hummus and fruit. Additionally, snacks and fruit juices are also available during the flight.
Traveling is a tiring experience, and adding a toddler to the mix makes it a game changer. I’ve set foot on 6 continents and been to nearly 50 countries so I know everything you pack needs to be practical, multi-purpose and as lightweight as possible, especially when traveling with a little one.
Before You Go:
Seeing the world is an adventure, so before we go anywhere, I always tell my two year old about what we will see and do. Going to Israel is a special trip on many levels.
Try introducing the country to your little one with books on Israel. PJ Library has a few options specifically for little ones, such as “Let’s Visit Israel”, “3 Falafels in my Pita”, “The Colors of Israel” and “Ella’s Trip To Israel”. All are great introductions to the country and some come with reading guides that are helpful.
Another option is Shalom Sesame, which has a variety of shows online that can be another helpful introduction and can be saved offline from YouTube in advance.
It’s also great to include your toddler in the preparations. I recently gave my little guy his own super light airplane backpack, a Stephen Joseph design, to get him excited for our trip and to give him a place to pack a few of his own toys.
However, the combination of jet lag and new places to sleep can be unsettling, so, two great items to bring along for your little one prior to a trip that will help him feel secure and help with sleep are a toy that your child is attached to, and the Cinemood.
The Cinemood an ultralight 3-inch portable projector is perfect to use on the folded up airplane tray table or on hotel ceilings or walls. It comes preloaded with kid-friendly content, including 65 hours of stories and videos some from Disney, so no need to carry too many books with you too. Prior to your trip, google cartoons in Hebrew, there are a myriad to chose from and then download a few so you can play on the plane and at your destination too. Try using with the comfortable Buddyphones headsets earphones, which are specifically designed to keep your little ones ears safe with volume-limiting headphones.
At the Airport:
A solid stroller is a must while traveling, and the Jeep Ultra Lite Adventure Stroller is a great option for Israel’s hot and sunny days as it has an oversized canopy with a pop out SPF 50 sun visor. It also has reflective shoulder straps that ensure you can be seen at night and will work well on Israel’s uneven streets.
That said, don’t let your child sit in the stroller while walking in the airport. Instead, put your bags in it and hold hands with your little one and walk as much as possible. The more she moves, the more she will be tired on the plane, which is easier than dealing with a squirmy toddler.
Also try to maximize your fun at the airport, so before you embark on your journey, check out what there is to do or see at the airport. Some airports offer play areas for children, such as Chicago O’Hare International’s Terminal 2, which has the “Kids on the Fly Exhibit”. It is an interactive play area for young kids with a plane, cockpit in a fantasy helicopter and a luggage station.
The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers a few play areas designed for kids called Kid’s Spots. In Terminal 3, check out the spot which showcases a weather-themed play area with crawling equipment and the Plasma Wall, which is a display of colorful arcs that move when activated by sound in the airport.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport, ride the train six minutes to the international terminal, where you can tour an interactive art display. Other airports have aquariums; art museums or viewing decks where you can watch the planes take off and land.
On the Plane:
Make sure everything as multipurpose as possible. For example, planes rides tend to be cold, so instead of taking a baby blanket, wear a wrap sweater. I like the super soft Crane & Lion wrap sweater, as it’s the perfect cover for when my little boy falls asleep in my arms — you can get a similar one at Nordstrom, too. It also can also be used as a nursing cover up. It’s lightweight, elegant, and useful for places in Israel where you might need to have covered shoulders.
Be sure to take extra clothes for your toddler. Takeoffs are often cooler and landing warmer. So prior to landing in Tel-Aviv, change your little one into shorts or lighter clothing,
Organization is key. I recommend the fashionable lightweight Kate bag by MZ Wallace. It features a travel sleeve, six exterior pockets, two side pockets for bottles/sippy cups and it’s water and stain resistant. It’s trendy enough to be used as a regular purse for nicer events and visits to holy places.
Another terrific option which is useful on the plane and for evenings out is the roomy, pocket-filled Be Brilliant Bag which also comes with a large clear plastic insert which is perfect when you go through security.
Alternatively if you have a partner that will help with the heavy lifting, both on the plane and while traveling try the backpack Citi Babies Explorer Diaper bag, as it is also great for hiking and doing outdoor activities. It has ten pockets, a laptop compartment and is waterproof. It’s also useful if you are doing a day trip to places like Tiberias or picnicking on the Jordan River, as it has plenty of room for swimsuits and extra pockets for multiple bottles of water.
A lightweight bag to carry just the essentials such as passports, plane tickets, credit cards and your phone is the Sash bag. It’s a cross-body bag that boasts several pockets to stash your stuff, freeing your hands to keep hold your kids’ hands or drag your luggage. Use it when you are walking through the streets of Tel-Aviv or on the Tayelet with a stroller and don’t need an entire diaper bag.
Plan In-flight Activities
For long flights, the key is to find lightweight items and interesting toys that you can also use on your entire trip.
For the creative child, try ALEX Toys Little Hands Paper Bag Puppets. It comes with 5 multi-colored bags, 260 stickers, paper shapes, and a glue stick. You can continue the creative process by giving the puppets Hebrew names, doing puppet shows on the plane and telling your child about Israel and all the places you will visit.
Another fun option is the Playfoam Pals. These little sticky balls are easy to sculpt with and in each pod is a surprise cute animal. For an older toddler, try a beginner digital camera, the Kurio Snap makes it simple to snap, edit and share fun photos and videos. It has a swivel camera lens easily switches from regular camera mode to one for taking selfies. It’s also a great first camera for your little one to snap photos while in Israel, allowing them to also play tourist.
For the child who likes to build, try the HABA magnet case. It comes with four magnetic backgrounds of four seasons along with a corresponding 90 magnetic pieces for your kid to punch out. One is a summer scene, where you can design a picture and tell your little one about all the summer activities that you will do in Israel.
Another terrific option is Luke’s Toy Factory Cargo Truck, a nine- part puzzle, which is also a working cargo truck complete with stacking boxes. Also, try a Stephen Joseph lace puzzle. These cheerful cards turn into treasures when your little one laces them up.
Extra Travel Tricks:
International flights to Israel are long and I never travel without a small bottle of POOP OPPS AND BARF Remover as in case of a sick child, the spray doesn’t mask the odor rather it uses natural enzymes to eliminate them. It is also valuable on car trips. Some kids are sensitive and get sick from the windy roads in Israel so especially if you are driving in the southern part of the country, it proves to be helpful.
Also, I also always throw in a bar of Citronella soap into my luggage as it makes my clothes smell nice. Since Israel is hot and humid, mosquitoes always seem to find us, when used; it helps repel bugs and mosquitoes.
The best advice for turning traveling with a toddler into a pleasure is the fact that the more prepared you are, the more organized, the easier your travels will be. Bottom line, when your toddler is happy, calm and relaxed — chances are you will be too.
Masada Siegel is a writer living in Arizona. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, The Jerusalem Post and The Toronto Star. Follow her on Twitter, @masadasiegel