Surviving long haul travel with babies and toddlers
Flying with kids can be daunting, especially in the younger years. When they’re young you are just learning how to survive the day at home, so why on earth brave the big wide world and destroy that great routine you’ve spent months perfecting? I hear you, traveling with kids in tow seems crazy to most, but it’s something my kids have grown up with. Having family and friends on the other side of the world has been a great motivator to get out of that safe routine to explore and benefit from a change of scenery. Little Z was just 2 months old when she took her first flight to Australia.
Every parent’s nightmare when it comes to flying is imagining a 12 hour flight filled with unhappy, wiggling children. Will they sleep? How on earth will we keep these tiny people happy and quiet for the whole flight? This thought can cause anxiety in even the most chilled out parents long before check in. However, with a little bit of preparation and a slight adjustment to your mindset - travel with the toddlers and babies doesn’t have to be a nightmare at all.
1. Change your mindset
My husband has a great mindset. Every time someone asks us if we are dreading the 24 hour travel time to Australia, he says “It is only a day”.
Just this little act of reframing already helps to reduce my blood pressure. It IS only one day, and we have an awesome reward at the end of it. I try to think of it as a break from the door bell, phone, and computer where someone will serve me a meal and I don’t have to do the dishes. It’s a time where I can finally sit back and enjoy the time with my kids—something that I wish I had more of down on the ground. Is this reality? Probably not for the entire flight, but just getting myself into the right frame of mind helps ease those pre flight anxieties.
2. Pack with intention
Whatever you do, do not pack too much stuff. It is so tempting to bring as much as your carry on luggage will hold but restrain yourself!
Not only will you regret having to carry extremely heavy and bulky luggage, your kids will most likely only use half of it, if that. I am speaking from experience, folks! I like to reassess what was actually used after each flight, and the list isn’t a long one. There is no room to play lots of different travel games. And no, my kids do not need to open up a nicely wrapped new toy for every hour of the flight. Keep it Simple.
3. What to pack
Think small (and light!) when it comes to packing things that will interest your kids. Every kid is different, so remember this list is what works (or worked) for our kids, especially when they were younger - take inspiration and adapt it to your kids interest.
So what did little Z actually use during her last flight?
- Mr Men or Little Miss Book: These are the perfect size, are very light weight and have pictures on each page to attract attention. We have been known to pass extras out to other parents who are struggling with unhappy kids as well.
- Hand puppets: We once picked up a pack of hand puppets in Singapore and little Z (10 months at the time) LOVED these so much we brought them on board with us. A huge hit, super light and entertainment for HOURS! Also a big hit with other kids on the plane.
- Stickers: Already from about 10 months old, our kids loved stickers. Great as they take up next to no space, can be used to make pictures with some coloured pencils and keep the little ones occupied with sticking them down. We have had much success with those reusable vinyl stickers that often come as a set with a cardboard scene. They can be stuck not only to the cardboard scene, but also to the aircraft window.
- Paper and a small amount of coloured pencils, markers, or crayons: We either print out some colouring sheets at home or just bring plain paper. I also like pencils that are not round, but rather have edges all around. It prevents the pencils from rolling off the small cabin tables, which is really a lifesaver, particularly with the really little kids.
- Baby/kid sized headphones with airplane adaptor: Most airlines provide headsets for the young ones, however often they are too big for the little ones, so we purchased headphones specifically for young kids. They fit little Z’s head perfectly and with the adaptor that we purchased at the airport - we can plug them right into the airlines entertainment system. There isn’t always a lot on offer for the very young kids - but I know that Singapore airlines has a baby channel that little Z found very fun to watch. She had never really watched TV before and so at 10 months was very enthralled with the bright screen.
- Animal figure/Car: figures like the little people animals or a matchbox car or two are also a welcomed addition to our toddlers pack. Bonus, a plastic animal can be used by the teething baby (think Sophie the Giraffe!) for a gum soother and entertainment at the same time. Cars are a super light weight toy to bring along for toddlers too.
- Fabric Busy Book: This book has the potential to keep the little ones busy for awhile. With different activities on each page, these books are a popular choice for travel. We have a busy book about a Farmer, but there are also ones to help with fine motor skills. Cute idea - and very lightweight.
- iPad: Whatever your position on electronics for young kids, an iPad or similar is something to consider for longer flights. My kids know flying is the only time where they have pretty much unrestricted iPad time (but we do turn off before wanting to sleep - see part 1). Our favourite apps for little ones include Peekaboo Barn and the Play School Art Maker app. These two apps are enough to keep little Z happy and she enjoys also watching Peppa Pig, Play School and Blues Clues.
- Snack: yes snacks are very very entertaining, especially if its takes awhile to eat. For teething babies we loved to take along teething rusks or stale bread. For the toddler, fresh fruit such as berries, raisins and small crackers are ideal . They can practise their pincer grip while taking a little longer to eat their snack! Bonus, just in case your kid isn't a fan of the inflight meals, you have food covered.
Other ideas that we have yet to try include
- Playdough: a small tube of playdough could keep the kids busy for awhile. We have never tried it but can see the potential. I am told that play dough is exempt from the liquid carry on quota, but please check with your airline first. If you are traveling in America there is an app you can download sponsored by the TSA which will tell you definitively which items are OK aboard the airplane and which are not.
- Farm in a tin: This is a fantastic option for the older toddler. Adorable mini farm that folds up into a small tin for playing on the go. We have not tried this out when flying, but have enjoyed it with friends at a restaurant recently.
Before packing, reassess!
Lay the items out on the bed which you are considering taking with you, and then REASSESS. I want to make sure that I bring as little as possible, and use this exercise to help me to pare down things which will probably not be used. By the way, this rule doesn’t just apply to the kids—think about your own carry on. With the amount of time you’ll be interacting with the kids, it’s probably not the time to pack all those books you’ve been meaning to read. Put those in your checked bag!
4. How to pack?
You’ve managed to narrow down your entertainment options, now its time to pack. I have found a backpack to be a great option when traveling with kids. A backpack allows you to have two hands to deal with whatever comes your way. And as soon as they are able to, my kids carry their own backpacks. (Z has been carrying a backpack from about age 2.)
We store the kids entertainment options in a zip up mesh bag from Eagle Creek. All items are kept together and it is easy to take it out of the backpack (mine or theirs) so when we get to our seats on the plane, we can easily organise ourselves with little stress. We just pop the mesh bag under the seat in front of them and everything is easily accessible and we still have some leg room to move around a bit. We have a separate one for nappies - but I will address that in the Part 3 in the series dealing with what else you’ll need to bring on board.
Now that you are have the entertainment sorted, you can relax a little bit. Remember it is only a short time in your life. When you are relaxed, your kid is more likely to be relaxed too. Try and enjoy the experience together.