Gearing up for a long flight with young kids? We’re not going to lie, long-haul travel with little ones can be very trying. We brought in an experienced international family traveler, Gayle Malcolm, to share her tips and tricks of managing an eight+ hour flight with kids. She reveals what to expect and how to prepare you and your family for takeoff.
Image courtesy epSos.de via Flickr.
What’s the biggest challenge on long-haul travel with kids? What were your carry-on essentials for Peyton?
At this age they are pretty easy to manage on the flight because they sleep so much. It’s ensuring that you have enough of the basics—diapers, formula, food, dummies, diaper cream, wipes etc—to get you to your final destination that’s the main challenge. I would always pack at least two, sometimes three more, of what I thought I needed just in case. It is a lot of stuff, but better to carry a little more than run out of diapers in hour six of an eight-hour flight. To help manage the weight, I would pack like I was going camping: remove them from bulky containers and consolidate. If possible use travel size and pack full-sized items in the checked bag (or buy once I arrived). The one thing I highly recommend are those disposable diaper bags to use for soiled clothes, to wrap diapers in and save the plane from a stinky bathroom.
This is the toughest age. They can only focus for about 20 minutes at a time, they want to get up and about and you cannot reason with them. This is when the heavy lifting as far as toys comes in and you feel like a sherpa hauling it all. Here are my tips for making it a little more bearable:
-Stick to lightweight items that will not roll around on the floor (coloring items were my only exception).
-Board books have a very low entertainment to bulk ratio. Skip them.
-Bring a few favorites, and a few new items. If possible, you may want to let them pick out new one item at the airport gift shop. They will be really excited to play with it.
-Multipurpose is key. Every item should be about open-ended play. The Tegu Pocket Pouch Prisms and Lauri’s Toddler Tote are a few toys I’d point parents to.
-Don’t overlook the simple things. Most kids love to crumple magazine pages, and your seat backs have plenty. I also always took a roll of scotch tape. It was totally entertaining for them and mess-free.
-Wipes. For bums, hands, faces and yourself. You can never have enough wipes.
-I also highly recommend the CARES seat belt harness. Safe, lightweight, total peace of mind.
3- 4 years
No stroller, no diapers, no bottles. It all gets a little more streamlined and civilized. The biggest challenge here is really to get everyone comfortable on the overnight and get some sleep. Let them pack their favorite blanket or pillow to help them settle in. As for keeping them entertained, that’s easy: An iPad. Spend the money, buy an iPad and use it for everything: coloring, movies, TV shows, books etc. It is a lifesaver. Then all you need is a pack of crayons, some stickers and a small notebook for landings, take offs and time you want non-screen time, although I say skip the screen rules during long haul flights. The goal is a happy peaceful child and you don’t want to be the family making the flight more miserable for everyone.
How do you deal with jet lag?
We treat whatever time zone we’re in as our time zone. Which means we keep our bedtimes relatively the same. Our daughter goes to bed by eight so when we’re on vacation we get her down by nine or sometimes ten, but all in all just maintaining your home schedule when out of your home time zone has worked great for us.
What other words of advice to have for parents embarking on a long airline flight with kids?
Your goal is to enjoy vacation and not bring your entire home with you. It’s an adventure and kids will follow your lead. They’ll adapt and roll with it if they see their parents doing the same. That said, here are a few other lessons I’ve learned along the way:
-Wherever you are going there will be some version of a diaper, formula, wipes and other basics. Barring an allergy, most children will switch to a slightly different version of formula or baby food without much fuss.
-The same goes for bigger items like car seats, pack-and-plays, etc.. Planes, hotels and homes outside the US are often much smaller than they are here, so look for places that let you rent them, or buy the cheapest version of it you can and donate it to a charity when you leave.
-Don’t forget to have a drink, lolly or gum on hand for kids to suck on during take off and landing (give it to them just as the plane starts to accelerate for taxi) to help with ear pressure changes.
-Lastly, travel with some earplugs and money for drinks and pass them out to nearby passengers if there’s a major meltdown. Just showing you are trying your best to be a good neighbor can make the ride more pleasant for everyone.