Any parent who’s traveled with small children knows this one fact to be true: It ain’t easy.
“One thing we’ve learned is if we take an afternoon flight, it’s easier for us because then they get to be awake and blow off all this energy and then they naturally get tired,” Saldana, 38, told PEOPLE while doing press for her partnership with Japan’s All Nippon Airways.
“Versus a night flight, all of the sudden you take them away, you head to the airport when they’re supposed to be starting their night routine, and then there’s lights, people and by the time everybody goes to sleep they’re wired. Night flights don’t work for us right now,” she continues.
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One way around that? Traveling in the afternoon.
“If we take a 3 or 4 p.m. flight, they play, they eat, they get tired, we put them to sleep and then we’re also able to indulge in a little glass of champagne, read a little, watch a movie, it’s great,” Saldana says.
The Guardians of the Galaxy actress says that despite the extra planning it takes to pack for her toddlers, she enjoys the challenge.
“There’s a lot of preparation, but I find a great deal of enjoyment in trying to crack that puzzle of trying to keep toddlers entertained on long flights,” she says with a smile. “We pack snacks because kids tend to be very particular with their eating and they’re creatures of habit — that way you always have something to fall back on in case they don’t want the meals that are being served.”
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“[For] activities, we pack individual backpacks with coloring books, their favorite toy at that time,” Saldana shares. “I have headphones and we have devices, but we only let them play with them for a certain amount of time.”
“We let them walk whenever the seat-belt sign is not on, so relying on friendly flight attendants is paramount for parents because it means that your kids are able to interact with other people and they’re not so frustrated.”
While Saldana and her family are seasoned travelers who are prepared for most things, the mom of three says she wishes all cultures would embrace children and their occasional unpredictable behaviors.
“We’re looking down at children and we’re seeing children as a nuisance,” she says. “You know when you go to restaurants or you go to a lounge and you’re waiting with your child for your flight, if your child is being rambunctious and being themselves, it disrupts others when, in reality, it shouldn’t.”
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“My husband [Marco Perego Saldana] is European, my roots are in Latin America even though I was born in the States,” she continues. “I have the best of both worlds, and I’ve been exposed to cultures where children are a part of the community and part of the world and they’re welcomed.”
“Also companies like restaurants and airlines take that into consideration, so I’ve been a positive recipient of when people respect families,” the Star Trek Beyond actress explains.
“But we’ve also been negative recipients of places or in groups where it wasn’t as welcoming and it’s very hurtful because you’re going, ‘What’s wrong about what we are and what we’re doing and what they’re doing?’ ”
Saldana hopes that by sharing her own experiences, and encouraging others to do so, that the children-are-nuisances stigma will fade.
“The more that I get to share that families are okay, it’s okay for people to aspire to have families, besides achieving their personal professional goals in life, I think it just keeps us more human,” she says. “And I hope it may compel people to just relax, you know?”