Let’s face it: long flights with kids – be it babies, toddlers, or young children – isn’t exactly a leisurely stroll in the park. Yes, traveling with kids is totally, 100% worth it, but there are challenges for sure. Here are 12 tips for helping you survive the ride.
These travel tips are a good place to start if you have never done a long-haul flight with a baby, toddler, or young kid. They helped on our first flight with our then five-and-a-half month old son from Portland to New York eight years ago, and they continue to help us on every long-haul trip we make.
1. Start packing at least one week prior to your flight. Make a list of items by carry-on for easy access.
I no longer pack this far in advance, but in the beginning it saved my sanity. When I had a baby to take care of, I found it hard to focus on packing, so one week was enough time for me to watch the weather and plan appropriate outfits per day/occasion, back-up outfits, and stop at the store for any additional child and/or adult toiletries we needed. I found that making a list of what I packed per bag was SUPER helpful, especially while we were scrambling through airports and tucked into those tiny seats on planes.
2. Get a separate seat for your baby/toddler.
I know: you’re tempted to save the money and suffer with your child in your lap during the flight. Some of my friends swear they have flown across the country with their babies in their laps and while it was no picnic, they lived to tell the tale. This news may shock you, but airline seats are tiny. Imagine you’ve got a squirmy baby with painfully clogged ears from take-off, who hates any sort of confinement…and a businessman seated next to you flying out to a very important meeting. Long flights with kids is NOT just about you, parents: the hundreds of fellow passengers also want to survive that flight. Grab any additional room you can get, and if that means sucking it up and paying for a seat for your baby, do it. Bring your baby’s carseat onto the plane and place it in the seat so he/she can nap and sleep, and be rocked into comfort in a place that is warm & familiar to him/her.
3. Plan naps, mealtimes, storytimes, etc. based on your flights and layovers ahead of time.
You know your child’s routine best. Travel is hard on their schedules. Look at your itinerary and try to plan your child’s naps, meals, storytimes, and any other traditions in their daily routines as close to normal times as possible.
4. Pack healthy, portable snacks to hand out strategically between meals.
Make those snacks last, mama; you don’t want to be left without a bag of snack tricks during the last hour of the flight when, of course, your toddler decides he’s had it with being on that plane. At first sight of The Snack Bag, your child will want to gobble it all up in one sitting. Resist and distract them with activities. Or, break up snacks into small bags/boxes to bring out in waves.
5. For kids ages three or four and older, create a travel pack based on your destination containing 3-5 quiet activities (coloring, writing, stickers) that can be done while seated.
I started doing this for our kids when they were three or four years old, when they are old enough to do these activities on their own. When they were younger, I’d include mostly sticker books and pages where they could place the stickers (very important! teach them not to post stickers all over the seat in front of them, or worse, the passenger next to them). I create word searches for my kids based on the destination, print out coloring pages with the destination location flags and maps, and, now that my kids are ages 6 and 9, I include a 20 Questions page and several journal pages for each state or country. It keeps the kids busy, and helps get them excited about the trip!
6. Pack a stash of secret surprises (new toys, books, stickers, fun food).
Feeling desperate? Running low on your bag of tricks? Use dollar store trinkets and toys to surprise them with when you sense a meltdown may be coming and you’ve exhausted food/nap options.
7. Pack one set of extra clothes for each person in your family that is traveling in your carry-on.
This is a must for long flights with kids. On a recent flight from Zurich, Switzerland to San Francisco, California, a child a few rows back threw up, and I am pretty sure he ended up wearing some of his sister’s clothes for the remaining 10 hours of that flight. That’s all fine and dandy, but just in case, pack an extra outfit per person. This also helps in case your luggage does not arrive at your destination when you do.
8. Pack extra ziplock bags and plastic bags in your carry-on.
You will need them. Whether on the flight, during layovers, or at your destination. Trust me: you’ll need them.
9. Consider goody bags for fellow travelers.
Before the liquids limitations, I once considered flying with bags of mini liquors for my fellow passengers when flying with my son those first two years of his life. While that’s no longer an option, you can always buy those right around you a drink or two as a thanks/apology/bribe for any screaming fit/vomit/diarrhea/oops-my-toddler-threw-his-truck-at-you-and-cut-your-forehead. Or bring goody bags of extra headphones and bars of the best chocolate. When you’re on a long haul flight with young kids/babies, I say bribery is 100% valid.
10. Download new episodes from your child’s favorite show and make sure electronics batteries are fully charged.
If you are absolutely anti-technology, then skip to #11 right now. Because I am of the travel school where it is A-okay to bring out the big tech guns for flights that are long: I load up my iPad with my kids’ favorite TV shows, movies, and games. Each kid has their own special set of travel headphones so they don’t annoy fellow passengers with their shows. If you’re traveling internationally, many airlines, such as SWISS, have individual televisions where kids can watch a variety of their choice of TV shows, movies, games, and travel facts. My kids love it! They feel so luxurious being able to have full control of their own entertainment.
11. When possible, get up to stretch your legs and walk up & down the aisles.
Squirmy babies and restless toddlers need this. While many airlines will not let you roam the aisles forever, whenever you get a chance, let your toddler/baby stretch his/her legs, get a change of view, and a chance to look around.
12. Check your attitude: turn on go-with-the-flow mode.
I saved the most important for last. It’s also the hardest of all tips sometimes, in the midst of frustration, to remember. Simply put, long flights with kids can be stressful. But your child picks up on your cues, and if you’re stressed, your child will be stressed. Take a deep breath, stretch, and use those badass parenting ninja skills that you know you own deep within and let go. Things will happen, good and bad. Enjoy the ride as much as possible and go with the flow. Believe in your ability to calm your child, to make your child smile, to come up with a creative solution to any in-flight problem. You can do it, fellow traveling parents! I believe in you!
I’ve also created a printable you can download, print, and use as a cheat sheet to help you prepare!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF FILE:
12 Long Distance Travel Tips With Kids
Watch for more on-the-ground long haul travel/international travel tips with kids on this blog in the future. Hope these help get you started during your flights!
Do you have any first flight tips for parents about to embark on their first long haul flight with a baby, toddler, or young child? Please share them below!