My family and I recently moved back to the US from Singapore. The international flight consisted of a flight to Tokyo, a few hours layover, a flight to NYC, a 2-year old, and an 8-month-old.
And now I’m living to tell that story of how to survive a long-haul flight with a baby and toddler.
Here are some need-to-know tips when traveling with two young kids on an international, long-haul flight.
Tips for Long-haul Flights with Baby, Toddler & Children
1. Pick your flight times according to how/when your children sleep
Many people will tell you to book an evening flight that will correspond to your children’s normal sleep cycle. But if they are poor “outside” sleepers (like both of my kids) please don’t listen to this advice. My kids are GREAT at sleeping at home, in a familiar bed and familiar environment. In new places, it takes them a long time to get accustomed to their surroundings. For us, booking an afternoon flight worked better – it gave us time to tire them out in the morning, and also gave them time to get accustomed to the plane before sleeping.
2. Plan scheduled surprises
For a 13-hour flight and an 8-hour flight combined, movies can only get you so far. Some examples of planned surprises: an iPad full of sure-fire shows/games that my child loves, activity boards like a zoo or farm magnet board, stickers (LOTS of stickers), and fun snacks to enjoy. I also packed some cards for my son to decorate and make a “thank you” card for the pilots!
3. Make a plan with your spouse/traveling partner about child supervision
I suffer from migraines and lack of sleep is a major trigger. During a past airplane nightmare, I ended up staying up all night with my 8-month old who would NOT sleep at all for the first leg. Needless to say, I was a mess for the rest of our journey. For our latest trip, my husband and I planned ahead. If one of our kids stayed up through the night, we decided that my husband would stay up with him. We knew he could handle an all-nighter better, and I would take care of both kids in the morning so he could catch up on rest later on.
4. Pack efficiently
It’s tempting to pack a “Mary Poppins” bag to ensure you have everything and anything prepared. But traveling lighter gives you less to carry and also gives you easier access to the things you need. This helps during the “dark” times of the flight when you don’t want to wake your children. I made sure to keep my diaper bag light with all of the necessities I need for the first leg of our trip. I then stored “refillable” supplies like extra diapers, extra snacks, extra activities, back up clothes (in case of a spit up or blow-out) in our carry-on. You can refill the diaper bag during your layover.
5. Bring an inflatable footrest
Invest in an inflatable footrest for your toddler. Make sure it’s one made for kids – not adults. The kids’ version is larger and allows the child to fully lie down. This helps your child get uninterrupted and comfortable rest (which means YOU get uninterrupted and comfortable rest too!). You can get affordable ones on Carousell or Amazon!
6. Be flexible
A 23-hour journey is not the time to enforce every single rule and ideal on your children. You’re all exhausted and it’s not the time to strive for perfection. Go easy on yourself!
7. Prepare for the worst
This may sound fatalistic, but being prepared for the worst was the best advice I received for my long-haul flight with baby and toddler. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. This helped me physically and mentally. I prepared for my “worst” situations: the kids staying up all night, the plane’s media system breaking (it’s happened before), or getting a migraine. Only one of these things happened, and it helped that I was mentally prepared for it. Often the disappointment that things aren’t “going as planned” can illicit unnecessary anxiety and exhaustion. Having tempered expectations helps you take hiccups in stride.
Safe journeys as you prepare for your next family adventure and travels with children on long, airplane flights!