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Top 10 tips for travelling long haul with small children

Husbie and I are actually on a 4 week count down to a big long haul flight for a family wedding in the U.K, so today on the blog it’s all about care in the air. We have taken our son overseas to see the family when he was 18 mths old and although the scars have healed we remember it to be a bit like labour; we have blocked out the prolonged pain and only remember the arrival. Now, with one age 5 and one age 2 we are fully armed with experience and reattempting our epic voyage determined we will have an awesome in-flight experience. So whether your heading to Atlanta or Abu Dabi, to Johannesberg or Geneva we have the essential top 10 tips for travelling long haul with kids. Take note!

  1. Buy-in: prepare the kids as much as you can

We have been playing airplanes ALOT. We practice putting seat belts on and then they we just sit there watching TV for 12 hours. Just kidding! We do actually play airplanes but it’s along the lines of Mr 5 piloting the plane and providing handy in-flight advice like, “can all the passengers please sit down because we are just about to bring out the chocolate ice-cream.” Must be a foodies flight? We read stories about planes, and chat about falling asleep in a chair. We plane spot, draw pictures and colouring them in. The family photo album and regular skypes have the kids looking forward to seeing our relies at our final destination. Mr 5 has written/drawn a list of things to pack which include his soft monkey Norman, his pillow pet, lego and a colouring book. Our destinations were plastered on the fridge and the kids had to pick which ones they wanted to visit.

  1. Scheduling: Time your flights

We have found that taking a night time flight around bed time can be helpful in having them nod off to sleep, given we will be travelling for over 24 hours.We leave on a night flight and arrive in the morning which allows us to get some sunshine and a stretch before we crash out. There is a 2 hour stop on the way but the thought of a short stop over was too much. The thought of transferring ourselves, getting those monkeys out of an airport with luggage and back in was too challenging. Long haul works for us as we are arriving to family and that means we don’t have to be in top form to drive a hire car. Consider your arrival time and the ease of getting from the airport to your accommodation.

  1. Eating: Bring your own food

Children are well fed on a long haul flight but not all of our delightful cherubs eat what’s provided for them. Rather than have them survive on crackers and cheese, pack some of the favourite fruit, sandwiches and snacks in their backpacks. Don’t be shy on how much you include, always prepare for worse case scenarios including long queues at immigration, missed connections and delays. You will probably have to dump the food you don’t eat at the last minute before you leave the airport but as you well know, hell hath no fury like a tired and hungry child. Make the most of the travel strollers available at airports even for the older ones and let them relax back in their chariots with snacks galore. Note on the pram: if you have a toddler just learning to work with an obsession for pushing strollers, go for baby wearing with a baby backpack because they never seem to push those strollers the way you are supposed to be going!

  1. Dressing: Wear comfortable clothes

You can forget an upgrade to business class, those days are long gone. It’s time to bust out the elasticized waiste trackie b’s and sloppy joe and I’m not just talking about you. The kids really need to be warm and comfortable and the aircon can get pretty chilly so layers are the key. For a night time flight you might even want them already dressed in their pyjamas and slippers to encourage them to think that bedtime is imminent. Make sure their shoes are easy to get on and off and maybe pack some soft fold up slippers in their hand luggage. Place 2 changes clothes in their back pack even bring a change as an adult especially if you are travelling with a baby or toddler.

  1. Disaster Preparedness: Bring the 2 comforters

We made it through the 2011 floods in Queensland so we know all about resilience and and disaster preparedness. Nothing is more disastrous is loosing Lukie the dog-eared, one-eyed teddy that is the love of your child’s life.  It’s all about comfort in a crisis! Whether it’s teddy, blankie, bottle or dummy, never bring just one. Make sure you bring two of every comforter and search high and low for them. Be prepared for the scenario where you leave ‘lukie’ on the security conveyor belt and miraculously present ‘lukie’ version 2 to your little toddler as the tears are welling. Change effects each child differently, whether it’s different accommodation, a meeting the relatives for the first time or food they are unfamiliar with, it’s good to keep the things that comfort them close by. You know when you are travelling even as an adult you like your creature comforts. Bring the kids favourite bubble bath, band-aids and soft toys and blankies because it can be just as trying for them as well as you.

  1. Distractions: Take presents to break the boredom

Depending on your children’s age you can have little wrapped presents for each leg or for melt down emergencies. Toys or activities that are quite small or have small pieces aren’t a great idea in a plane incase they get stuck where you can’t get them or lost. Activities that require fine motor skills like threading animal shapes onto a little stick, finger puppets that help tell a story book you have brought with you or colouring ins can all be short distractions. Obviously in-flight entertainment is top notch these days and age appropriate so the kids will enjoy a TV binge.

  1. Strategic eating: Go vege or vegan

Say you have 2 adults and 2 children, have one parent take the hit for the team and go vegetarian to make life easier. Strategic eating is all about prior planning. Children and passengers with special dietary requirements are served first. This is then followed by the rest of the passengers. This allows one adult to have dinner with the other parent free to mop spills, move wires, go to the toilet 15 times, open containers or feed/distract baby. When the whole family is locked down with tray tables and precariously placed liquids you just know it’s only a matter of time.

  1. Moving: Bend and Stretch, Reach for the Stars

Children are not designed to sit, actually neither are adults. Give the kids regular in-flight walks, some won’t literally want to stop going up and down the aisles and you may want to mentally prepare yourself for that scenario. When you are in and around the toilet area where there is a bit more room you could do a little bit of stretching. Get the kids to do a down dog yoga pose, which is hands to the ground making a triangle shape. Get them to touch their toes, stretch to the sky and twist from side to side. They can also sit down with their legs out and touch their toes. These movements not only helps with keeping the blood flowing and ensuring a good snooze but also digestion. Sitting in a chair for too long can build up wind and we all know once they pop they just can’t stop! Another nice one to do before a rest is to get them to put their bottom against a wall and put their feet up the wall, This is a great one to chill them out and prepare for a rest or sleep. Do these stretches often and especially if you have a stop over. Get them to run, stretch, go upside down and have a bit of fun. That energy expenditure is important!

  1. Making In-flight friends: A Book About Me

We are bringing pencils and those stick-on koalas to make in-flight friends and for our onward travel on trains, boats and planes. We are going to spice things up with a bit of kiddie interaction. Our Mr 5 is working on a book all about his life, it’s surprisingly not long at seven pages. It has pictures of his house, his favourite toys, his school and teacher and animals we see locally which are unique to Australia like our lovely little green tree snake which came to visit us in the summer and scared the life out of me when he curled up on the washing line. This can also be helpful for toddlers to sit down with relatives they maybe haven’t met before to share their story and give them something to talk about. You can even use it as a tool for your child to make friends when they visit a country where they don’t speak the language. You can put in pictures of their friends, childcarers, a picture of their childcare centre or family daycare or nanny/au pair. You can include activities they like to do like riding a bike, playing in the mud pit or painting.  Their favourite toys or pets may feature as well as people and places that are important to them. It can be a simple picture or pictures that tell their story. There are a few phone apps out there to make a quick and easy photo book or you could print out the pictures and make it a big activity with an older child, gluing and sticking the pictures on, colouring it in and bedazzling it with glitter. It’s all part of the preparation and a nice momento to keep or give as a present to Grandma.


  1. Expectations: prepare for the melt down

As parents we have talked about how we would handle the in-flight melt downs and psychologically we are prepared for them. The first time we travelled we were nervous but hoped for the best. That didn’t help. You need to talk about the practical things you will do to cope with challenging behaviour. If you are travelling with a toddler or baby on your lap all parents know that when the get tired they are often more hyperactive and uncooperative. If you are travelling with a friend or family member lay out the expectations and talk about scenarios, “what would we do if…?” It’s not about being negative, just prepared. The last thing you want to do 10,000 feet above the pacific ocean is to have mum and dad having an argument through gritted teeth and little Rupert making the most of the distraction trying to break open the cabin door. If you are travelling alone you will often have passengers offering to rock the baby or the cabin crew lending a hand. Take them up on a quick break to have a cup of tea and remember it will all be over soon.

If you have any hot tips for travelling long haul with kids or have made some rookie errors you would like to share, join us for a Facebook chat!

About Rebecca

Profile photo of Rebecca
Hi I'm Bec and this is my my blog Daycare Decisions. I am a mum of 2, passionate about early education, nature play and a parents' transition back to the workforce after having a baby.

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  1. I think choosing an airline with in-seat entertainment is always a life-saver. We travelled to Europe with a 5 and 8 year old and having a TV screen with movies, plus a games console, was fantastic. They also had a book and some magazines on hand, and also managed some sleep (stretched across mum and dad of course). The flights both there are back were so much easier than we had expected.

    • Profile photo of Rebecca

      Thanks for your comment Amanda. Yes, in-seat entertainment is definitely something we are looking forward to. They are both at the age where they are captured by TV:) Wow Europe is an epic adventure with a 5 and 8 year old, I’m sure you have lots of good advice! Thanks for stopping by and I’ll pop on over and no doubt you will have some great tips and holiday ideas for my readers 🙂

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