How to travel long distances with little ones (and not go insane)

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Several of you have asked me for advice on traveling internationally with small children – not the vacationing, trip-planning stuff, the actual moving from Point A to Point B stuff. I’m surprised I’ve yet to write about the nitty-gritty behind long, international flights, seeing as we deal with this several times a year.

So today, I’m biting the bullet and sharing my thoughts.

My five-year-old daughter has been to eight different countries so far, and our two-year-old son was born in a country different than his passport. For our kids, traveling internationally is second nature, and they don’t really understand its uniqueness. In their short lives, it’s all they know, really, so they don’t get excited about flying in a big airplane, or dinking with the TV screens embedded into the seats in front of them.

But that doesn’t make the prospect of long flights necessarily easy. It takes about a total of 26 hours to travel from our home abroad to where we visit stateside. That’s painful with two kids who never sleep en route.

We’ve found tips and techniques that work well for us, so when we do have to deal with moving from Point A to Point B, we’ve learned how to jump in, experience the pain, and move our clan around as smoothly as possible.

1. Throw “normal” out the window.

Usually, our kids drink almost exclusively water, they get to watch one TV show a day, and they have set nap and quiet times. Not so when we’re in travel mode. For everyone’s sanity, it works well to hold your daily priorities with a loose grip and have a more “go with the flow” attitude, especially on flights longer than six hours.

Our kids can order apple juice when the flight attendant asks what they’d like. They’re allowed to watch the myriad of shows on the kids channel on the TV in front of them. They get iPod time. And they understand that this is a special treat; mom and dad haven’t lost their minds and are now operating in Lord of the Flies mode. They get that when we’re settled back down, we’re back to business as usual.

Of course, we still hold fast to values that really do matter to us — they can’t watch just anything, they still drink plenty of water, and they’re still not allowed a sugary treat without having first eaten a decent meal. It’s all in moderation.


Do what works, but don’t resort to this. Photo by Ma1974

2. Don’t worry about those around you.

When it comes to your family’s flight companions, I’ve found they can be grouped into two categories — people who understand and are sympathetic to your plight, and people who do care but shouldn’t.

It’s on the forefront of my mind all the time when we fly, but for our sanity, my husband and I have learned that we can’t control how people react to us; we can only control our attitudes.

So we smile at our neighbors. We apologize for rowdiness or talkativeness in a not-guilty way. We respectfully keep our space as neat as possible, and we remind our kids the necessity of physical and audible boundaries. We parent our kids, even when we fly.

But at the end of the day, there will be eye-rollers and scoffers, annoyed to be sitting near a family with small children. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Be as pleasant as possible, but if they still choose to be the victim of your circumstances, that’s their issue and not yours. This season is short. Flying with little kids is difficult. And you can count your blessings when you sit next to an empathetic grandmother or a fellow mom in the trenches.

The best thing you can do? Remember what it’s like in 10 or 20 years, and show the same grace when you’re seated next to parents with littles.

3. Bring snacks.

Feeding times are unpredictable on long flights, and you never really know when the flight attendant will come around with the next meal. That, and you never know your child’s reaction to the next meal. Our kids don’t eat well on planes.

We bring nuts, raisins, crackers, and granola bars on long trips, and it keeps our kids full when you have no real way to feed them a decent meal. We also bring our water bottles, and fill them as soon as we’re past the security gates.


Photo by Alberto P. Veiga

4. Have special “traveling toys.”

There are a few items we break out only on long flights. For our five-year-old, journals with colored pencils, sticker books, and a book of games (connect the dotes, mazes, and the like) go over well. For our two-year-old, we reveal a loved Matchbox car or a gadget (like a calculator) after we’ve settled in for awhile. And family-friendly airlines such as Lufthansa also often have special toys for their little customers.

5. Sleep when they sleep.

It’s just like they say when you have a newborn, right? When you travel across multiple time zones, your body clocks are all off. Kids will not sleep when they’re “supposed” to, and if they’re our kids, they may not sleep at all. So when we do see the eyelids droop and the wiggling fade, my husband and I take advantage of those blessed moments and sleep. It may only last an hour, so we jump on those occasions like white on rice. You’re exhausted, and you need to pace yourself as much as your kids.

I know there are quite a few of you living abroad, or who travel long distances as a family. What advice would you add to the list?

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Comments

  1. #2 is great advice I needed to hear, on a plane or not!
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom´s last blog ..Dear Buff Guy at the Gym, =-.

  2. I love this. I wish I had read this before traveling to Hawaii with a six-week-old. I have to add my own little piece of advice to any moms traveling solo by air: wear something with pockets. A cotton cardigan is perfect for stashing boarding passes, IDs, credit cards, etc. I realized this when I had my baby strapped on the front of my body and diaper bag strapped to my back. With my baby’s boarding pass in it. And my baby was hollering. The other passengers LOVED US.

  3. We have learned – the hard way – not to pack too much in the carry-on bags for our kids. We pack a backpack for each of them with a lightweight blanket and a special stuffed toy, a change of clothes (head to toe), an empty sippy cup, and a couple lightweight books and or games. In total the bag can’t weigh more than three pounds, because inevitably my husband and I end up carrying their bags for them. We carry snacks in our own bags, as well as a change of clothes for ourselves, too – just in case.

    Most importantly, we just stay calm. The more calm we are, the more calm our kids are. If we stress out, they will too. We try to board the plane first, if allowed, and we stay in our seats until everyone else has gotten off so that we’re not holding up impatient traffic. And we profusely thank all crew members on our way out, whether our kids have slept for the entire flight or not. :-)
    .-= Heather @Critter Chronicles´s last blog ..I’ve Seen My Future. It Ain’t Pretty. =-.

  4. Great advice!
    Cutting children a little slack when appropriate can mean theyll live up to our expectations when it really matters!
    I always think preparing kids for anything different is a good idea, especially young children. Children like the security of the predictable. So, talking through an event before it happens can help to avoid some of the more undesirable behaviours that arise when a child feels insecure or worried.

  5. Great advice! We also live overseas, and have a 19 hour journey to get back to the States for visits. Some things that I’ve learned and would recommend to anyone else flying a long way with little ones:
    — What worked last time may not work this time. When we moved overseas, my kids slept the entire way. I was thrilled. Our first home leave, they slept 30 minutes. I was distraught. Now I pack supplies as if they are going to be awake for the full trip. Wrapping up presents that you can dole out at pre-set increments (we do 90 minutes) increases the fun.
    — Bring a change of clothes — some for mom and dad, too, if you have room. Accidents happen. Also, a fresh set of clothes can feel great if you are unexpectedly delayed in an airport for several hours.
    — Check out your seat assignments on SeatGuru.com to make sure that you are near a power port (if necessary) or to find out how far you are from a bathroom.
    — Speaking of seat assignments — bulkhead seats may be nice for the extra legroom, but often the armrests don’t move and you can’t have your bags at your feet. This makes it hard for little ones to sleep and even harder to get to their stuff when they are awake. We try to score a 2 and 2 seat arrangement on our flights, if 4 across isn’t available — this gives us a “sleeping row” and “TV row”, and we put our son who tends to kick right behind his sister.
    — If your kids are big enough, I highly recommend a flight harness like CARES over taking the carseat on to the plane. We once spent 20 minutes getting the carseat strapped into the seat, only to then hear an announcement that there was a mechanical problem and we needed to change planes. Now we check the carseat and use the harness to make sure that the little ones are secure and restrained.
    — If you are a mom (or dad) traveling alone with little ones, it helps to scout out a friendly passenger in the boarding area who might be willing to help out if needed. Introduce yourself, and ask if they would be willing to help you get things on board. On our route, there are usually a few dads whose wives and kids have made the same trip, and they are almost always willing to carry bags or help get things off the baggage carousel — a huge lifesaver while we’re waiting to meet up Daddy or Grandpa on the other side of customs.
    — In our host country, there are pretty stringent H1N1 checks and quarantines. We pack chewable Tylenol and administer it about an hour before landing. Our daughter is very hot-natured and comes off airplanes looking very feverish even when she is perfectly well, and this gives us a little peace of mind that she’ll pass the temperature cameras.
    Happy traveling!

  6. Hi there,
    Very useful indeed. My kids (almost 4 and 2) each get to bring their own little rucksack filled with toys. Lego Duplo seems to be the best choice as it keeps them busy for a long time (you should’nt worry about loosing pieces of course, which will inevitably happen).
    M
    .-= Mindful Mimi´s last blog ..I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world — Sadako Sasaki =-.

  7. With small children, I found that the pram was invaluable at both ends of the trip. Fortunately most airlines allow you to check the pram at the gate (at least in Australia), and not with the other baggage. Then, particularly if travelling without your husband/ wife, try to get the pram off the baggage carousel first (even if it isn’t the first thing to come out) so your 18 month old is strapped in securely and not trying to run off while you get the rest of your baggage (ask me how I know this ;-))
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Activities for 18 months + =-.

    • Absolutely. Even if they don’t want to walk in it, they certainly help for luggage wrangling! We always check our stroller at the gate, and it is a sanity saver.

      • Gate checking depends on the airport, not the airline. Not all airports have the equipment necessary to gate check strollers, as we’ve learned the hard way. My experience living in Europe is that gate check availability is much less common here, even in “larger” airports. Unless it’s a route you’ve flown before, I would not assume ahead of time that you’ll be able to have your stroller all the way to the gate. These are often the same airports that will have strollers come to a “special baggage” carousel, sometimes on the other end of the baggage claim area from where the rest of your bags are coming. Just something to be aware of.

      • I have a friend whose stroller was severely damaged when they checked it at the gate once–apparently they’re not always real careful with them. Before we flew with our then 16 month old we got a used umbrella type stroller (small) to take along–and left our really nice bigger one at home, so we didn’t have to worry about it getting broken.

  8. Great advice!

    We’ve been on an open ended, non-stop world tour as a family since 2006, so we have traveling down to an art now. We breeze through every mode of transportation from planes to cargo ships and even camels in the Sahara! ;)

    Our trilingual & VERY active daughter was 5 when we began and turned 9 this fall. (We started traveling with her & she spent 1st night in hotel at 2 weeks!).

    Packing light is key (along with those snacks & special toys) for us.

    Even when we travel for months at a time in 3 seasons of weather, we only take a small day pack for each of us. Usually that includes at least 1 laptop, homeschool supplies plus toys, snacks, books & clothes.

    Get a duo roll backpack for your kids and let them carry (roll) their own! (You can add some of the family stuff in here as kid clothes don’t take up much space.). We love the basic school knapsack from LLBean. In pink of course & still looks new after 4 years of wear & doubles as her school bag when we winter in Spain.

    Pack clothes that don’t take up much space, don’t wrinkle, multi-purpose, hand wash & dry easy. ie black cotton stretch yoga pant takes up much less space than jeans.

    Easy to handwash with your feet when you take a shower. Kids love it, teach them to hand wash early! ;)

    Always have matching LAYERS as one often goes from hot to cold to hot again on plane or travel. We’ve gotten TONS of use out of a French black sweater & back vest and almost all my daughter’s clothes are in pink &/or black.

    Teach them the tie the sweater around your waste trick early as a great way to get through hot airports with it handy if one gets chilly while waiting.

    Educate them and talk to them about the trip, rules, boundaries LOTS, BEFORE going so they know what to expect. Kids CAN do adult venues as mine has done museums, adult opera & Shakespeare since she was a VERY active 15 month old.

    Keep it an exciting adventure. If prepared even a long trip or starting at 4 AM can be a thrill to a little one. We had that and a 26 hour, 9 modes of transportation journey into Africa that I worried about before hand, but our 6 year old loved it and it was easy. Same with a friend that flew alone with 2 toddlers from Malaga, Spain to Argentina.

    Give them your attention and enjoy the transit time together by playing games & doing things together.

    Think little for toys & books. Multi-purpose & endlessly engaging types.

    Adding special toy or book for destination can add to the fun. ie we brought old fashion paper dolls dressed in native costumes (small book that took little space) when we took first long flight from Ca to Europe.

    Bring or wear PJ’s for long flights. We like Hanna Anderson long johns as they are multi-purpose (can be worn as long johns or even comfy play clothes).

    Do sleep routines as usual ..modified as needed.

    See if flight attendant can give you 1st class over-night kit. Our daughter loooves these.

    As soon as they can walk, let your kids walk as much as possible. That way when you have long walks through airports or while touring they are use to it and do not tire or fuss. We never owned a stroller & have been traveling with our child since she was 2 weeks old!

    Don’t worry, be happy. Travel with kids is easier , cheaper & more enriching than most know!
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Kid’s Art, Creativity & Travel! =-.

    • Love this advice as well. We always pack solid-colored, easy to wash and dry clothes that match more or less everything else.

      Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  9. Parenting and not caring what the other passengers thing is SO IMPORTANT. I kinda was freaked out when I flew alone with my son as he had just learned to walk and I was so nervous it would be awful. But it wasn’t! It was work and I was tired, but he was fine.

    My tips:
    1) pack light. I carry a light diaper bag (if just diaper wallet) most of the time and that has served me well. Try to avoid the other stuff like laptop, etc if you have to. On our return trip, we were given a lot of gifts and I had to carry them home. It was exhausting!
    2) new toys. I made a few small new toys (braided fabric strips and beaded necklaces) for my very oral son. It worked great. Next time, I’ll probably go with matchbox cars, Little People, etc.
    3) food! Nate will always eat and it makes him happy, so I pack lots of snacks and regular food. Yogurt, baby food, goldfish, raisins, craisins, cheerios, animal crackers…anything like that is your best friend.
    4) make the airport fun. I LOVED having a layover with him. It was more work (it’s not like you can sit down and rest between flights), but he loved watching the people and going on the moving sidewalks. Take advantage of the walking and moving to wear them out a bit. A lot of airports have playgrounds if you look for them. Let them use up some of that energy!

  10. I made trail mix purposely placing one item in it that each of my kids didn’t like (raisins for one, cashews for another). Sounds mean, but made the snack last longer as they picked around the detested item.
    Brand-new, never-seen-before finger puppets were a hit with my one and two year olds. As a bonus, they weighed nothing and took up almost no space.
    Bring as little as possible on the plane. I preferred normally to keep my kids in size 4 and 6 disposable diapers, but both could fit into a size 5, so thats what I brought. Lessened the number I needed to carry on to the plane “in case of an emergency” because chances were slim that both kids would have emergencies. And yes my two year old was potty-training and absolutely she wore diapers that day. Airplane bathrooms are no place for a training child.

  11. avatar
    Lenizucchini says:

    What a great post! We live in Asia with our 5-year-old, and have been traveling back and forth overseas for 2 years.
    -I have a convertible stroller/carseat which has been a lifesaver on late-night plane changes. My daughter sleeps much better strapped into the carseat than she would wiggling around in a plane seat, and as a bonus, I can lean on the side of it to sleep too!
    -DD packs her own little backpack, but I bring some things for her in my bag, too. I ration the toys from my bag, only giving something out when she isn’t able to find something to do on her own. I like to pack creative, open-ended toys like pipe cleaners, a roll of yarn, and paper and colored pencils (if you find the triangular kind, they won’t roll off the trays). We also spend time making up stories about the pictures in the in-flight magazines.
    -Free games downloaded on the Ipod were VERY popular on our last trip.
    -Bring gum to help with ear-popping. We call ours “landing gum.”
    -Keep a bag under the seat for your own trash, then hand it to the flight attendant at the end of the long flight. That makes it easy to keep your area clean.
    -When you can smell the food cooking, go ahead and make a toilet run. Once the food is served, it’s really difficult to get up.
    -Check with the airline about child’s meals. They don’t necessarily provide this automatically when you book a seat for a child! We usually order one child’s meal and one vegetarian meal, and between the two we can both find enough to eat.
    -Accept water when it comes around even if you don’t need it at that moment, then pour it into your water bottle!
    -Add a lollipop to the snack bag. 30 minutes of peace on a stick.
    -Bring headphones that will work for your child. The ear-buds provided by the airlines fall out of my little one’s ears.
    -And the “bad mommy” tip of the day: a little Benadryl for her and a little Dramamine for me sure make that long nap easier!!

    Happy trails!

    • Great ideas! The one disclaimer I’d add to your last piece of advice is that this doesn’t always work for all kids. In fact, sometimes it does the opposite — it gets them activated and stimulated. So if this is something you want to do, test it first.

      • Dramamine will also make kids (anyone) a little drowsy. They may need it if they have ever been prone to carsickness. I had one who was always sick in the car and gave her some before flying.

      • In lieu of Benedryl, which has the adverse affect on my son, I give him an all natural magnesium supplement called Natural Calm for Kids(found in any health store). Just as the attendent for some hot water, mix, wait until is cools to the taste. Works great and is organic.

    • What type of stroller/carseat is this?? I am definitely intrigued by that idea!

      • I would imagine she is referring to the Lilly Gold Sit & Stroll. Unfortunately it isn’t very practical for anything except this, and there are cheaper/better options available. IE, for a child under 40lbs, check out the Combi Coccoro. Very small, compact, easy to use, and snaps into a very tiny compact frame to be a stroller.

  12. Great article – I’d love to see a similar one on long drives with young kids!

    I do have one thing I’d like to point out. Please, when you are making snacks for a plane trip, do not put nuts in those snacks. For people with severe nut allergies (both tree nuts and peanuts), even being in the same room with nut products can cause a reaction. In an enclosed space with recirculated air, the danger is greater. Just as we Moms hope for a little extra slack from the people sitting around us, we can be more aware of other passengers’ needs as well.

    Many airlines have begun serving pretzels instead of the traditional peanuts for this reason.

    Thank you!

    • Yes, this is true. However, I’ve found in all my traveling that many airlines still serve peanuts. In fact, on the last domestic flight in the U.S. I had (five days ago), we were given a choice of pretzels, cookies, or peanuts. So definitely be respectful, but also be mindful that not all situations are avoidable.

    • Thank you for posting this info about nuts!

    • I’m the mom of a child with multiple food allergies and I LOVE when awareness is brought to allergies, it helps keep my kid safe.

      However, if a passenger on the flight has allergies, they notify the airline ahead of time and the passengers are notified. So don’t stress too much unless someone tells you the flight is peanut free :)

  13. Great ideas!

    One thing we do when on a long trip is bring a little container of wrapped gift. Just little things – perhaps a small snack, or a forgotten but much loved toy, a pack of crayons, a coloring page.

    Our kids love the element of surprise, so pretty much anything we need, we wrap like a gift. They have SO much fun opening the little gifts (1 every hour or so). And we also use them as a reward. If they’re getting rowdy, we remind them that they need to be calm (well, as calm as can be expected on a long journey) for an hour before they can open the next surprise.

    They love it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s something new, or something old, a toy or a snack, or a fun picture. They get really excited about them all.
    .-= Kat @ Inspired To Action´s last blog ..I Need Your Input! And How To Win A $10 iTunes Gift Card… =-.

  14. I, too, live overseas and a 26 hour trip from where we live to family back in Australia. My tips are:
    – give each child their own rolling backpack that they get to pack with a couple of toys, they have their own change of clothes in there, snacks etc. I don’t let them pack it too heavy and I prefer it to a basic backpack as they inevitably get too tired to carry it on their back but they rarely get too tired to wheel it. On our first couple of trips I made the mistake of packing WAY too many toys and activities to try and entertain them. Between the general movements around the plane, mealtimes coming and going, toilet visits, TV and playing simple games with them (and hopefully some sleep!) you really don’t need to take much at all.
    – plenty of wipes (or a wet face cloth in a ziploc) are helpful!
    – plus, when we sit down I immediately set up a bag to contain rubbish so it doesn’t spread out around us.
    – chewing gum (for older kids)/lollipops/small raisins or something to help with sore ears on takeoff or landing.
    – if you have a child with long hair tie it back with plaits or something as the dryness in a plane causes the sort of static electricity than creates knots worthy of a scout troop.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Sock owl no. 1 =-.

    • We lived in Switzerland for 7 years and frequently traveled back to the US to visit family and friends. Most of the recommendations above are familiar but I would like to add one thing that really works for us.

      Before the trip, I try to collect as many near “weightless” art supplies as possible. Usually I wind up with a toilet paper roll or two, some stickers, some shapes cut out of colorful paper, some animals/cars/whatever cut out of magazines, ribbon or yarn, etc. Then I add a few washable markers, a glue stick or tape, a match box car, a couple of fingerpuppets, and sometimes a bandana. I put all this stuff in a ziploc bag and bring some paper along.

      You’d be amazed how long this collection of random items can keep a toddler busy with a little imagination from mom or dad. We’ve made roads for the car using the paper. We’ve made houses for the fingerpuppets. We’ve played peek-a-boo with the bandana. We’ve made binoculars, jelly fish, etc. using the toilet rolls and ribbon. The best part is we can put it with our trash when we are done so we don’t have to carry it again.

      Another thing we do, is use our snacks to play games. (No, we would never do this at home but at home, we aren’t trying to use up as much time as possible, are we?) For example, if we are eating some trail mix, I give my son a small cup of the mix and then draw some of components on a sheet of paper…and then ask him to sort out the pieces before we eat them.

  15. avatar
    Marie T (in NC) says:

    Like others have said — ask for seats that might work better for your family. When I was traveling with an infant – the window seat was helpful b/c i could lean against it when he was sleeping in my lap. Now that he’s in his own seat – he would like the window.
    Believe it or not — make sure you’re sitting together. I had one six hour flight where we sat in different places (he’s 3 and loved it!) but I was a little nervous.

    A roll of tape can entertain a young one for a long while. So can the maxipads from the airplane bathrooms. (first you get to play w/the little box…)

    In the security line, see if there’s a family line. That part flustered me the most – and can set the tone for the rest of the day if it’s tough enough.

    If the airline loses your car seat in the luggage, they will provide one. If you are in a long, never ending line, ask a police officer to check if they still have car seats to lend. This way, if they don’t you can begin to make other plans. In my case, the airline borrowed one from another airline, but they had a 30 minute heads up, so I waited in line & they rounded it up. But the police officer was happy to walk behind the counter and ask for me.

    Let people help you if they offer — ask for help if you need it.

  16. I’m so happy to have all of these tips as I am going on an international flight by myself with my 3 year old and almost 1 year old in a few weeks. Thanks! I’ll be watching the comments for more tips. :)

  17. This is all SO helpful (the post AND all the comments!). We’ll be spending over a full day traveling home from Ethiopia this summer with our (soon to be) newly adopted 9 and 6 yr old who don’t speak the same language as us. Some of these things I had not thoughts of. Thanks!
    .-= Amy @ Ethiopia’s Calling´s last blog ..It’s All Coming Together =-.

  18. We were overseas for several years and that’s when I discovered a wonderful travel toy. Wikki Stix! They are yarn covered in wax (not as weird as it sounds) that you do crafts with. They can make 3d projects like a zoo, or use the tray table for 2d art. They weigh almost nothing and pack small. You can find them here: http://www.wikkistix.com/

    Thanks for all the great tips! We once flew 13 straight hours from China to France with a 10 hour “break” of no food! Ack! We were out of snacks by that leg of the trip. A kindly attendant gave my son food from his own meal and saved the day. So remember to hold back snacks for the end if you travel from somewhere that you can’t restock well.
    .-= Lee´s last blog ..Heading in the Right Direction =-.

  19. This is going to sound so wrong and superficial that I hate to say it… but over years of international and domestic travel with young children, it has really been noticeable to me so I just want to share it in case it helps anyone.

    When traveling, and tired, and dehydrated on a plane, and busy being thrown-up or pooped on, etc., my personal inclination is to be as low-maintenance as possible with my own cosmetic routines. I want my hair in a ponytail, I want no makeup on, I want glasses so my contacts aren’t drying out, I want comfortable clothes… you get the idea. And all this helps me comfort-wise.

    BUT: I have noticed a HUGE difference in how I am treated by fellow travelers and airline staff alike when I take the time and discomfort to try to “look good”. It’s sad, but truly, with my hair fixed, makeup on, nicer looking clothes than the sweats I’d prefer on a plane, people respond so much more favorably. They smile more, they chat in a more friendly way with me and my kids, and they ALWAYS are more interested in helping me out with the various tasks that are so hard to manage when you’re alone with littles.

    I noticed this the most in Italy, but it has been pretty consistently true over all the places we’ve traveled. I don’t really understand it, and I’m pretty sure it says something negative about all of us, but it’s really true. For whatever that is worth to any of you out there! I always try to be conscious of a balance between comfort and looking like someone people will respond positively toward.

    Has anyone else noticed this? Or am I crazy?

  20. Tsh, great post.
    For me, I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it. People have been so good and kind to carry that car seat onto the plane or hold that baby for 30 seconds while we get it settled in.
    .-= Shilo´s last blog ..Grass Blowing in the Breeze =-.

  21. OMG – this is wonderful. A calculator — Genius! We’re flying with a 15-month-old in two weeks to Malaysia. 24 hours on the plane. Sure there are beaches and sunny weather (we’re in the midst of Chicago’s winter blues) but all we can think about is the flight there and back. Yikes. I’ve dedicated not one, but two blog posts on it. And I have a feeling there will be more to come.

    Our dread: http://herewhereihavelanded.blogspot.com/2010/01/that-baby.html

    Our plan: http://herewhereihavelanded.blogspot.com/2010/02/tv-robot.html
    .-= JT´s last blog ..TV Robot. =-.

  22. thank you so much for this.

    we’re counting down to our first family trip via airplane next month and although our trip will be nowhere near as long as yours, i will be keeping these tips in mind as we plan!

    ~erin
    .-= exhale. return to center.´s last blog ..february on the farm =-.

  23. avatar
    Mother of Pearl says:

    What I’ve found is that you want to do you best to get the other passengers on your side. Smile at everybody and apologize more than necessary. They see that you are trying, they see that you understand their situation, and they become more helpful and more understanding of your situation. Also, once they let you get up and move around the plane a few trips up and down the aisles does 1) lets the kids see everybody and everything (calms the curious) and 2) makes them more content to sit back down, because they were allowed up before.

  24. We have done a lot of international and domestic travel with our sons (now 5 and 2) – since our eldest was 8 weeks old. Along with snacks, drinks, books, magazines and toys our biggest lifesavers have been a portable DVD player (that way we can choose what the kids watch and when – good for cars and airports as well as on planes) and Lavender essential oil (seriously – this acts like knock-out drops! A couple of drops on your kiddo’s sweater when you want them to sleep and it usually works like a dream!). We’ve also discovered that a digital camera can amuse them for quite a while – our sons spend more time looking at the photos they’ve taken than actually taking them but – hey, they’re happy! The lollipops are a great tool too as they last for a long time – as are some little treats that they aren’t normally allowed at home eg. our kids never really get fizzy drinks so when we travel we let them choose these (but caffeine free for obvious reasons!). I think making the whole trip into an adventure rather than a chore definitely helps everyone!

    • Hi Debbie,
      Just wondering about our upcoming trip overseas and taking our baby daughter. How did you take bottles and formula or did you breast feed? And how did you find changing the diaper onboard a plane?

      • When we’ve travelled overseas with babies, either I nursed (I am pretty modest, but nursing shirts are great so nothing is seen even if the whole thing occurs right in your seat!) or I had powdered formula and could get water from the flight attendants. They can warm it up if you need it but we made sure to always give our kids room temp formula so it wasn’t an issue. My husband is champion of changing a blowout diaper on the tray table (they always happened when the Fasten Seatbelt sign was on). Make sure the diaper stuff is always under your seat, NOT in the overhead. And have the extra clothes for baby in there too (you can’t change yourself until you can get up anyway). Bring too many wipes and diapers, it’s much preferrable to the reverse.

  25. These are some great ideas! We’ve traveled across the country a couple of times with small children, and it’s no easy feat. These are some great tips, and great encouragement on how to make the most of what could be a challenging situation. Thanks for the great post!

  26. I’m not bringing my littles abroad but we are driving long distances all over the US. And that is also dramatic at times. one of my little things that we do is buying one small new toy for each of our girls. it goes along with that last tip you had…for us, it’s a lifesaver. I don’t break it out until as late as humanly possible. It usually helps with those last couple of hours
    .-= grace´s last blog ..I’m Just so Proud of These Kids =-.

  27. This came just in time – flying from Ireland to Vienna on Tuesday with a 7 year old, preschooler and new baby! EEK! Definitely feel more prepared now and slightly less freaked. Thanks!
    .-= karen´s last blog ..The boy =-.

  28. We’ve lived in China for seven years, but definitely felt a new excitement in flying after we had kids. Airports are really interesting places with so many types of transportation!

    Since our son just turned 3, I can recommend tips for the wee ones:

    1. Since we don’t watch tv at home, our son (24 months at the time) didn’t want to watch tv on the plane. So, tv may not be an option. Luckily, we packed lots of new books and toys.

    2. At 18 months, our son did not want to stay in our “spot”. In fact, he walked the entire airplane: first class, business, all the way through economy. He made about 4 laps around the airplane before he wanted to play in our “spot” again. For these laps, we gave him a little wooden dog on a leash which he pulled. Many people on the airplane had a smile on their face when they saw our 18-month-old pulling his wooden dog.

    3. Now that he is three, he is allowed TV when we travel. (we’re still holding off on tv at home) Anyway, depending on the sleep schedule, we don’t allow TV until after “nap time” or “night sleep”. This works great for trains and buses as well. “After you take a rest, then you can watch Thomas.”

    4. We have tv/movies on our ipod which are appropriate for him to watch. Sometimes there is a movie I’d allow him to see on the plane, but just in case…

    5. Pack your carry-ons as light as possible.

    6. Bring a stroller for a tired wee one or for all your carry-on luggage.

    7. We read somewhere to pack something “new” for every hour on the plane. We didn’t follow that precisely, but we’ve always brought: new books, small cars, paper (great for coloring or making airplanes), stickers, play dough (yep. awesome), small dinosaurs, etc. For the wee ones, anything small is exciting. We don’t put much money into these toys so if they are lost during travel, we’re OK.

    8. New snacks. Sure, we bring the tried and true: raisins, crackers, etc. But new snacks can be fun too!
    .-= on the eastern journey´s last blog ..Celebrating one week together! =-.

  29. Thank you SO MUCH for this post. I just cam across your blog today, and this post is exactly what I needed. In three weeks, my 18 month old daughter and I will be flying from Denver to Amsterdam… just us! I must say I am a little anxious. Carrying a toddler (yaay for baby carriers), lugging a carseat around in a stroller, dealing w/ my carry on, going through security alone… And did I mention the 5 hour wait I’ll have in London?

    Thanks for making me feel a little better!

  30. I would like to third or fourth the extra clothes for the parent also! I store everyone’s extra clothes in a ziplock so whatever nastiness happens to the original can be ziplocked away. Also do not forget the simple basic games. Our son has loved to play tic tack toe since he was 4 and will play for way longer than any sane adult! The flight is part of the adventure of traveling, not just something to be endured!

    • Ditto on the clothes in a ziplock. Our daughter had horrible motion sickness as a toddler and as we were landing was sick all over herself, her brother and me! Needless to say, having a change of clothes saved the day and we were able to get through customs, recheck our bags and get on the next flight.

  31. Great tips! If you have a child under the age of 2 I feel it is well worth it to purchase a seat and bring your car seat. We did this (after learning the hard way) and my child slept the entire flight. It is also safer.
    .-= Swap Savers´s last blog ..3 blog posts by Cheryl Maguire were featured =-.

    • avatar
      Christine says:

      I second this one! I know people who think taking the car seat on the plane is too much work, but trying to get a toddler to sleep on my lap in between two people is way harder!! :) My kids were used to sleeping in their seats in the car and they always fell asleep on the plane, as well. Most airlines will let you take the car seat on the plane even if you didn’t purchase a seat for the child if the flight is not full. Domestically, at least. For most international flights you have to purchase a seat for the child, anyway.

    • I know this is an old post but I just had to comment. My son hated his carseat and absolutely would not sleep in it. He screamed hysterically as a baby in the car and refused to nap as a toddler. We flew to avoid the carseat. However, he was a wonderful flyer and would happily and easily nurse to sleep in my lap and then nap for a good long stretch. Harder on me, yes. Just some input from a family you won’t see hauling a carseat.

  32. As a Flight Attendant who sees lots of families traveling, you’re advise is spot on!

    The key theme to all your suggestions is parenting. You continue to parent your child on the plane, rather than abdicate responsibility or throw up your hands and tell someone else to do it. How refreshing! It’s a choice that will serve you all well — while traveling, and for life skills they’ll need as they get older.

    One thing that I’d add (or maybe modify) on your list: Be aware of people around you, but make the parenting decisions on what’s right for you.

    I think it is important to be aware that there are people around you, and that the boundaries you set for the kids will impact others. For example, it’s not okay to continually kick someone else’s seat, to hit someone, or to walk around when the seat belt sign is on — that behavior impacts someone else and needs to be addressed. However, the random seat kicking or toss of a toy, a crying child that needs soothing, the fighting siblings, etc., are all things that you as a parent should address without regard to what people around you think.

    I’d love to have your family on my flight!
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Finding Gold at Sutter’s Mill =-.

  33. I loved how you said that you still parent, even when on the plane. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, two children and their mother sat right in front of us.

    She spent most of the trip trying to read her book, while they hit and kicked each other, yelled, burped, kicked the chair in front of them (that poor person!) and leaned over the backs of their chair and stared at us and made faces, etc.

    It was enough to make my hubby and I never want children, lol! When we took plane trips with our own children years later, we too made sure that we had toys and books and travel games.

    Traveling with kids is not always easy, but hopefully at least the other passengers will notice that you are trying to do the best that you can instead of ignoring the kids like that mom did that we saw!

  34. We travel the other direction (we live on the west coast of the US but our family lives in the British Isles + Australia) and my boys lives sound very much like yours – long international flights are part of their life.
    Two tips I think you missed:
    1. If you can, book night flights. This can’t work on both outbound + return, but it’s nice to have “mostly nighttime” on one leg of the journey.
    2. If you’re traveling with kids under 5, pick up either a cheap, light umbrella stroller or a sturdy kid’s backpack. Whichever you choose, keep it with you on the flight (most will fit in overhead bins) so you have it when you arrive. I can’t tell you how many times having two hands free while navigating customs + passport control in London Heathrow with overtired kids and overtired parents was made so much easier by having one or both boys strapped into something.
    Michelle
    p.s. Now my boys are 9 + 13 and on Sept 1st 2010 we’ll be leaving Seattle to travel through S. America, SE Asia + Western China for a year. I hope you’ll check out my blog and follow along on our travels.
    .-= wandermom´s last blog ..Holiday Decor Florida Style =-.

  35. The first time we traveled with our daughter she was four months old. While standing inline to board the plane, a middle aged woman says to us, “Did you buy her ear plugs? The pressure of the plane is going to be too much on her ears, and she’s going to throw a fit the entire time. I hope you have a plan to keep her quiet.” THE NERVE that woman had! I looked at her and said, “Well no, we didn’t buy ear plugs. I did my research and found that if babies are sucking during takeoff and landing, then it doesn’t bother them nearly as much. I will be nursing her doing their times to comfort her. If she’s still fussy, then there isn’t much I can do about it. She’s a baby.”

    I don’t know if the woman was more horrified that I informed her that my breasts would be out and about on the plane, or that if my baby cried then too bad.
    .-= Renee´s last blog ..Reflections – January 2010 =-.

  36. All these tips are great. When we lived overseas and our son was really young, we always took extra earplugs (the cheap ones from the drugstore) and handed them out to everyone nearby. Most people took them and kind of laughed as we said, we hope you don’t need these but just in case, would you like some? Luckily our son was a great traveler but there were crying babies on some flights and earplugs are such a great thing to have even on short flights.

  37. I have yet to have an experience travelling overseas with a child but living in Oregon I have traveled back to the east coast (North Carolina and Florida where my family is located) with my toddler several times. We will be making another Orlando trip in March. I often visit http://www.deliciousbaby.com. Debbie has great advice on traveling with children, provides many checklists and product reviews. I LOVE her website. And who knew blue painters tape would be such a life savor!

  38. great tips! i also liked the one comment with giving the kids something to chew/suck on during take off. we used some of these when we traveled from the states to jakarta to vist my family a while back. funny thing is that the last domestic plane trip we took, our daughter was fearful of the loud sound coming from the airplane engine and broke down in tears. we had a flight attendant who was a major life saver and brought out some ear plugs! i don’t know how well it actually blocked out the sound since they didn’t fit her ears so well, but it worked at calming her down. so the next time we take a plane ride, i’ll be sure to bring ear plugs, just in case :)
    .-= prasti´s last blog ..wordless wednesday::bath time buddies =-.

  39. 1) We take books, toys, snacks, water….my kids don’t try anything new so I have to have their familiar things when it comes to food.
    2) Always pack extra everything…extra diapers, formula, change of clothes, etc. b/c there is nothing worse than delays or being stuck on the flight longer than expected and running out of a necessity.
    3) My secret weapon: a portable DVD player!!! I can’t even tell you how much this has helped….and bring a few dvds for variety. Again, this isn’t a norm for my kids, but on a long flight, I’ll break a few rules!
    4) This one might sound strange, but I dress my kids in bright, noticeable colors. If somehow my 20 month old makes a break for it, she’s easy to spot in a crowded terminal which lessens my panic a bit if I can see a little red blur ahead. :)

  40. Love all the great ideas here!

    I grew up travelling internationally with my parents and siblings and am soooo thankful for “modern” travel!

    Our DD’s are 7 & 9 and have been travelling since the eldest was 10 mnths old. My Husbands profession means that he gets wisked away to the next “project/development” and the girls and I get to pack up the house and travel to our new home to meet up with Daddy! Always a stressful situation, but one that we all handle pretty well these days … it was not always so!

    We have tried variations of pretty much all of the wonderful hints above, and I would like to reinforce that what works one trip, may not work next time, so be prepared!

    Some suggestions that have worked well for us:
    – I print a small map (a4/letter) and laminate it, I give each of the girls a white board marker and we mark the route we are taking to our destination.
    – Keep EVERYTHING that you will need in your carry on luggage if you can, keep it light and simple, but have a complete change of clothing, warm/cool options, medications etc with you – you never know when the luggage Fairy is going to take you luggage away from you … and not give it back.
    – “travel size” variations of the board games the kids love at home (connect four, yahtzee etc) are great, especially if you can get the magnetic versions.
    – my laptop doubles as a portable DVD player – with preloaded “approved” content, don’t be shocked if the programes played on the kids channels does not meet with your approval, different countries and cultures have different standards.
    – individual roller bags are a MUST, involve the kids in packing and encourage them to take responsibility for their own belongings – great for kids my age, did not work when they were toddlers!
    – be hands free! – I have an accross the body travel bag, not easy to rip off me (learnt the hard way after being robbed), it has heaps of zips and can be accessed one handed for boarding passes, copies of prescriptions and passports etc.

    Most of all as hard as it sounds – enjoy the experience and teach your kids to enjoy it as well. The sooner they learn to enjoy the travel the better their coping mechanisms will be for the different cultures, languages, climates and the more accepting they will be of things that are “different” from home.

    Happy travels!
    .-= Nicola´s last blog ..What we all wish for, a simple life … =-.

  41. We have four kids, and have found it very useful to dress them all the same. Not only are they easier for us to spot and keep track of in a crowd, everyone else knows exactly which family they belong to! Plus, they look cute. During her own travels, my MIL often buys sets of brightly colored souvenir tee shirts for the kids, because she knows we\’ll use them this way.

  42. After just having traveled from London to Miami with a 5 year-old and a 2 year-old (with the added security after Dec. 25), I will tell you my three biggest tips:

    1) Bring lots of familiar snacks: For example, I brought 4 pb&j sandwiches. Who would have known that a 9-hour flight would have turned into a 19-hour ordeal? The food was a lifesaver.

    2) Bring a blanket: I purchased cheap fleece blankets at Kmart. In the airports and on the plane, they were really useful and rolled up to almost nothing in my carry-on.

    3) Keep a positive attitude: As much as I wanted to scream at my 2 year-old 10 hours into our travel, I TRIED to remember that he was only 2. Screaming would do no good. He’d been good for 9 hours of travel. As my dad always tells me, “This too shall pass.” My kids really fed off of my emotions, so if I was upbeat and positive, they were, too.

    Good luck!
    .-= Melanie at Parenting Ink´s last blog ..Parenting through the Flu =-.

  43. Great tips!! The Army will be moving us 2,000 miles away in June, so I’ll need some sanity savers on the car trip. Love all your posts, by the way, I’m a regular reader!!
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..9 Lovely Lamps =-.

  44. These are fantastic tips. I’m taking my little guys (3 and 4) to Denmark from California in two weeks so I’m stocking up on backpacks and good ideas in the meantime.
    .-= RookieMom Heather´s last blog ..Trade your babe’s clothes up with ThredUP =-.

  45. We do a lot of international travel too and I have two hard and fast rules: fly direct and fly overnight. I know it’s not always possible for every destination, but I almost always swing it. Most of the flights I’ve been on have had lots of other small kids and absolutely no drama. People are always complaining about crying babies on airplanes, but I fly a LOT and I really can’t remember this ever being a problem – before I had kids or after. I agree with other commenters who said that if you’re calm, doing your job as a parent, and not overly anxious about other people’s unreasonable expectations, it’s really not such a big deal.

    Other suggestions: I am almost always able to walk through security without taking my son out of his carrier; I find it much easier and never travel with a stroller. When I put him in the carrier I take off his shoes and stick them in my tote bag, which is also our only carry-on. I rarely bring a carseat and rent one or arrange one at our destination instead. As others said, I travel really light. A few well-chosen toys and snacks are fine; after a certain point, no toy is going to be exciting.

    One other thing I’ve learned: worst age to travel is about 1.5 years. I mean, it was fine but we had to be really active – lots of aisle walking!

  46. Those are really great tips. I remember the first flight to England when my daughter was two and she ran up and down the aisle with just a diaper on. I think she behaved better than the man in front of me who kept his seat reclined all the way the entire time, even during dinner when the flight attendant asked him to put it up!
    I do more road trips with kids in tow I recommend stopping often for short energetic bursts outside. I used to allow the portable DVD player but found it made the kids more ornery. We now rely on art supplies and books along with an ipod filled with stories and relaxing music.
    .-= shelle´s last blog ..Garden Dreaming =-.

  47. great article!

    my best tip is to bring a small bottle of bubbles. they have some party-favor sized that are smaller than a sample shampoo and can easily make it through security. we got them out during our 2 hour turned 4 hour layover and it calmed the kids and we even found it relaxed (and befriended) the adults around us.

    also, make sure to ask and don’t assume that you can gate check/receive your stroller. coming home from our european vacation (after 22 hours of trip time) we found that we had to drag our 2 carry ons, 2 car seats and our 20 and 6 month old through a 10 min walk, 2 sets of stairs, and a 1 hour customs line before they could give them back to us. knowing this, we definitely would have packed differently.

  48. What a great article! We live overseas as well, a 20-hour trip from home. So far we’ve made the trip three times — when our son was 2 months, 15 months, and 17 months old. I would second all the great recommendations listed above, but especially the following:
    – realize that every trip will be different. On his first transatlantic trip, my son slept the whole way. The second trip, he slept about 2 hours. The third, 15 minutes. I made things worse for all of us by trying to force him to go to sleep when he clearly wasn’t so inclined.
    – pack a complete change of clothes for the baby, and PACK ONE FOR YOURSELF. (If the child is under 6 months old, I would recommend 2 changes of clothes for them.) 30 minutes into our 20-hour trip my son’s diaper malfunctioned and both he and I were soaked in urine. I had a change of clothes for him, but not for me. It was a long 19 1/2 hours.
    – several small toys/books/games are better than one or two big ones. The best toy for my son at 12-18 months was an empty (clean) plastic jar, filled with small trinkets (a teaspoon, small carved wooden toys, a contact case, a plastic bead bracelet, etc.). He loved opening the jar, emptying it out, and putting everything back inside. Bring toys out one at a time. Same with snacks.

  49. Last May, I travelled to Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai with my 18 month-old daughter, solo. One thing that really helped me was to prepare my own special “self-care” bag, including loads of thoughtful letters from my husband and family. Going into it with an adventure mind-set made even the big hiccups feel manageable and par for the course. I now look back with nostalgia on our wonderful adventure together!

  50. My husband and two children (almost 4 and almost 2) will be traveling to NZ from LA soon. Thanks for all the tips. I’m excited to try out some of Crayola’s new products (Color Wonder) and hope that my kids sleep for the 13 hour flight during the night.

  51. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, these are some great tips for enjoying travel with the kids. My partner will love this too. I bookmarked on Stumbleupon.

    Thanks,
    Andy.
    .-= Travel Cots´s last blog ..Baby Travel Cots =-.

  52. We just moved back to the states, but for three years I traveled back to the states twice a year for visits with our little ones. (And my kids never sleep on flights.) Here is my best advice
    1)Leave the kids alone when they are content. If they are sitting happily in the pushchair watching people or playing nicely on the seat with toys, don’t try and interact with them or engage them. Take it as a blessing and enjoy the few minutes of peace. International travel is a distance sport and you need to conserve your energy. I don’t know how many times I seen parents actively annoying their children by trying to get them involved in an experience.
    2)Bring a water bottle and serve water as much as possible. This keeps tempers level (too much sugar in juice can send the kids wild) and water cleans up quick when it spills. Plus you will always have a drink on hand for them when they get thirsty. Milk goes bad if it sits for a long time and juice is too sticky.
    3)Make each part of the trip it’s own experience. Don’t rush and run to the gate only to be facing an hour and a half of waiting. Draw each little thing out so that it takes up as much time as possible and the kids are engaged. Going to the bathroom to freshen up, visiting the airport store, getting a special drink at the restaurant, finding our gate…each activity can take 10-15 minutes and all of a sudden you find your hour and a half wait down to just 20 minutes.
    4) Bring a sling to carry children in. They are close, safe and you have your hands free. Perfect!
    5) Always bring your own lunch/dinner and snacks for the kids and yourself. Most of the room in our bag is devoted to food. You never know when flights will be delayed or little tummies will get hungry. Having a good snack or meal makes all the difference.

  53. Nice post!

    We travel between Atlanta, GA and Pretoria, South Africa about once a year – also an entire day of travel when all is said and done. Our child, like yours, has been raised traveling. Even when we’re local we frequently drive 1.5 – 4 hours for weekend visits with friends and family.

    One thing I would add is that much of your child’s behavior will be in direct response to your own. If you wind yourself up in angst over the trip the kid(s) will too. Take deep breaths as needed and ask your partner to help you remember to take those breaths as needed.

    This, of course, comes from a working mom who’s not as well practiced with the distance run as some of you other moms are:)

    It also helps me to remember that in the big picture, it’s only one day of our lives. That and the only thing you really need is your passport, medication and credit cards…most anything else can be replaced.
    .-= Pot Luck Mama´s last blog ..Spiritual Preparation =-.

  54. A great resource for traveling parents! And you made a great point– we can only control our attitudes, and I think we have to stay calm so the child will not get anxious.
    After making 3 overseas trips before my son’s 2nd birthday (and 2 of the flights alone with him!), I wrote about traveling with babies/toddlers. There may be some helpful advice:
    http://travelfrancisco.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/tips-for-traveling-with-babiestoddlers-on-airplanes/

  55. Thanks for the wonderful tips. Traveling with kids can be so stressful and it’s always nice to have fresh ideas on how to make it a more pleasant experience.
    .-= Suzanne´s last blog ..homepage =-.

  56. Great tips. I’d add:
    Especially when traveling on your own with small kids: order special (e.g. veggie) meal, as it comes before everyone elses and you can eat while a friendly stranger might volunteer to hold your kid.

    Consider shipping some of your stuff. E.g. coming back from a Christmas trip home we mailed nearly my whole luggage with a lot of gifts for 60 US$ from Europe and it was worth every cent.

    Take a deep breath when approaching security, especially when traveling alone with small kids. It will be hectic but it’s just a brief moment. Sometimes we just disappeared in the bathroom right after the checkpoint afterwards to give baby and me a chance to go through a tantrum without too much audience. Plus, she loves mirrors, so that also calms her down.

    And be prepared to not find any changing tables on the plane. Or if there are any, they are tiny. And (again, especially when traveling alone with little one): Wear something that allows you to use the restroom singlehandedly (no complicated zippers) because you might be holding your baby with the other hand.

    And remember: Every one on this flight, even the grumpy business guy in the corner, was a baby once and man, did he scream!
    Eva

  57. As a mom who travels alot I can definately appreciate this blog post. For me, traveling as light as possible is key. There are so many hotels and car rental places that offer things like, cribs, car seats, etc. so that you do not have to drag yours with you. take advantage!

  58. Great post and there are also so many great advice from the comments. Our parents live overseas so we also travel quite a few times on those long hours flight. One advice above I feel so close to my heart is to talk to our kids ahead of time…

    The first time I travel alone with kids on an 15 hrs flight, my boys were 2.5 and 4.5. We told them how mommy would be stressful going through those security checks, how we needed to stay together and how much I will need their help, etc etc. Then, at the security check, my 2.5 boy, who usually liked to run off every chances he got, took off his own shoes and put his own things on the belt while I was closing up the stroller, my tears almost dropped. They were so cooperative the entire time too.

    I also like the “sleep when they sleep” tip. We do need any extra bit of energy if/when our kids are awake during these flights. If I may add, especially to those who pack last minute like me, the advice should start the night before! I normally pack till like 5 am the night before the trip. Last time, we need to be at the airport early in the morning while the airport is 2-hour drive away. A friend who lived 15-minutes away was nice enough to offer a sleep-over at her place. It forced me to pack a day early and I never knew the 8-hour sleep could make such difference. That trip, I traveled with a 9 month old with a 5 and a 7 years old by myself. The baby didn’t sleep as much as she usually did but I have the energy to stay awake with her.

  59. thanks for this! my fiance and i clearly do not have any children (yet) but we’re based in the UK (and intend to remain for a while) and our parents live in New Zealand (his) and Canada (mine)…suffice to say we’ll have lots of travelling long distances with small children in our future, no matter where we live!

  60. avatar
    Jennifer says:

    I married an Australia and had both our kids here before relocating back to the US for 2 1/2 years (and now we’re back here). We do the trans-continental flights back and forth way too much and seem to learn a bit more each time.

    1. If you arrange it ahead of time (or even at the check-in counter) most airlines will provide an airline worker upon destination to help you wrangle the kids and luggage. When we arrived back in Australia in August both kids were dead asleep and there was no waking them. We asked for help on landing, but they weren’t able to get someone. So when my husband took our three-year-old back to LA in February, he arranged for a Singapore Airline attendant to meet him in Perth – they showed up with a stroller and pushed our completely sleeping son all the way. They also cut all the queues and got them to the front of Immigrations, then helped with luggage and the front of the Customs screening and pushed him out to me. Heaven.

    2. In-flight entertainment is so great these days that we bring a lot less ‘entertainment’ in our carry-ons as we found we used about 1/10 of what we brought.

    3. I’ve continued a tradition my mom did with me when we traveled (back and forth between WI and CA 3-4 times a year) – I let the kids pick out a ‘magic book’ at the airport store and they spend hours playing with them. They know its a special airplane-ride-only treat, so they really relish in it.

  61. The iPad is THE device to travel with for our family. So much so that there are moments I almost decide we need one for each kid! When we flew to Florida last Fall, our 2-year old watched Dora episodes on the plane, and when she fell asleep, our 9- and 7-year olds played a rousing game of chess on the device. I love that they can zone out to familiar TV shows if that’s what they need, or can play more stimulating games if boredom has set in. And at $1-$5 per app, it’s no big deal to buy a few new ones right before the trip.

  62. i distinctly remember (as the oldest of 4 kids) my parents buying a drink for the people around us on a long flight. a preemptive strike with a little booze worked wonders. even if someone didn’t accept, the offer bought us some kindness in return.

  63. We recently flew from the US to Australia with a 9yo, 6yo and 14 month old. The older ones did pretty well. It was much easier with them than when they were little. But it felt like a marathon with the 14 month old! My arms were so sore the next day!

    My only real secret weapon…chocolate. For me and for everyone else :)

  64. Great article and great comments!

    My best advice…especially for moms of toddlers who have Houdini like abilities is to buy a CARES harrness. It is so much easier than dealing with a carseat and has been worth every penny over and over again.
    Also, we travel between the US and a very densely populated country so I also put leash backpacks into my carryon. As soon as we dis-embark the kids have to wear them so they don’t get separated from me in the crowd (which is ever present). This also helps us to avoid taking a carseat and it would be worthless when we are in our host country….sidewalk are virtually nonexistent so walking or being carried is the only viable option for my kids.

    • Just a caution, I stopped bringing the CARES when not a single European carrier (including Lufthansa) would allow us to use them.

  65. Most airlines will let you use your car seat on the flight if the flight isn’t full (domestic, too). We normally gate check our car seat so that we can let her sleep in it before boarding if it’s a late flight and ask if the flight is full right before boarding.

    We just got back from going from Wisconsin to Fiji, and the flight with our 11 mo old was much easier than anticipated. She’s flown quite a bit domestically, but this was our first international flight with her. When we got off of the plane, we were stopped by multiple strangers who told us how good our baby was in flight.

    If you are flying internationally, most (if not all?) flights have bassinets that attach to the bulkhead. Our daughter slept well in the bassinet on the way there and just ok on the way back. Nonetheless, it’s nice to use the bassinet as a basket to hold extra goods when the baby isn’t sleeping.

    Our carry-ons had:
    -Husband’s e-reader
    -Just a couple of toys that I knew she loved, but I hid them for one month before we left so that it’d be new again to her.
    -Two small blankets since the ones they give you in flight are just not warm enough for us.
    -A pair of socks for each of us
    -A lightweight long-sleeve shirt or cardigan for the adults
    -Extra change of clothes for the babe
    -Diapers, wipes, rag, ointment
    -Pacifiers
    -Nursing cover
    -Two small containers of snacks for the baby and one for my husband who gets cranky when his blood sugar drops
    -sippy cup
    -bottles pre-filled with dry formula ready to get warm water to supplement when our daughter was hungry at difficult times

    One last tip that we were thankful that we did is break up our flights. We flew Wisconsin to Dallas to Los Angeles. We stayed the night in LA and then flew out the next night for Fiji (then from our arrival city in Fiji to another city and then 2 hr cab to the final destination). We stayed the night in LA on the way back, and we were very happy we did.

  66. We just returned from a week in El Salvador (from New York) with our 11-month-old daughter. I’d recommend:
    – Choose a direct flight plus short car ride to your destination
    – Bring alcohol wipes to disinfect surfaces like the airplane tray table
    – Let the airline know, and take advantage of all help offered with the kids. Jet Blue has a program called “Meet and Assist”
    – Parents and kids can take probiotics to keep a healthy digestive system in new environments and testing new foods
    – Discern what you can buy when you arrive and what you can only find at home
    – Pack in Zip Loc bags, and bring extra Zip Loc bags
    – Dress in pajamas, zip-ups, and easy clothing for the aiport and plane ride. Bring a change for spills
    – Leave a photo and social security and passport # of your children with someone you trust in the U.S., in case the unthinkable happens and your child gets lost
    – Register with your embassy abroad
    Read my blog for more: http://mommytheorist.wordpress.com

    I’ll be posting about El Salvador soon. We just got back last night!

  67. Great tips — I especially would underline #1 and #2. At home, the kids don’t drink soda, eat Doritos, or watch cable. When we fly, all bets are off — and do they ever look forward to that!

    As to #2, I love that you mentioned “paying it forward” down the road. When my kiddos were babies, I always appreciated it when fellow travelers would comment on what good travelers they were as we disembarked from the plane (little did they know, I was nursing them most of the time — mama’s secret weapon!). So now when I fly, with or without the kids, I always try to help the mom struggling with a stroller or looking haggard, or compliment a parent whose children did well.

    Also, one time with C. was 6 weeks old, I flew with her to my cousin’s wedding. We had a delay on the tarmac that felt interminable, and she got fussy. Nothing I did seemed to calm her, and of course they wouldn’t let me get up and walk her around. STRESS! Then a man came up behind me, sneaking down the aisle. I never saw his face. He muttered in my ear, “I just want you to know that you’re doing a fantastic job with that baby. She’s just doing what we all want to do [crying] after sitting here this long. Don’t worry about it for a minute!” I think he was either an angel or just a really good Samaritan, and I’ll never forget his kindness. Hopefully I can pay it forward one day.

    As for special toys — I like lightweight things with long entertainment value, like a small tape measure or a box of Band-Aids!

  68. This is probably not what this post was about, but very important… If you are leaving the country with the children without your spouse, you need to carry a notarized letter that authorize you to do so from your spouse (or whoever have the legal rights). Some countries only do random checks but if you don’t have it when they do, they could send you back home. Some airlines may refuse to let you board their planes for this reason. I knew that if you leave the US for Canada, they will check for sure. This apply if you are driving across the border too.

    Just in case someone has such plans. I have friends who didn’t know went to Canada. The husband left first with their baby while his wife joined them in a few days. The officials in Canada in the end did let him go through after a few hours of questioning and checking; meanwhile threatening my friend that they have the rights to send them home. It was definitely not fun, especially with a baby in his hands…

  69. These are useful ideas that I can use on our upcoming trip to Florida. Even though we won’t be traveling for hours on end I will be traveling by myself with a (4) year old & (21) month old by myself. I’ve changed the way I do carry-ons since flying with them by myself. I have a diaper backpack that stores EVERYTHING, my oldest son brings his backpack and I have a carseat for my youngest. Before I have brought too much stuff that they never used so I only bring the snacks & games that they really need. I also, bring new games thar they have never played with so it keeps them entertained a little longer. 

  70. Love these! Thank you. Especially “throw out normal”

  71. What a fantastic post! Thanks for all of the encouragement and tips. I especially like #1 and #2.
    I have a friend whose toddler has a little backpack that is filled with an assortment of travel-friendly toys. These toys stay in the backpack and only come out on car trips and when they are on vacation. Like you said, I think having special travel toys can be more exciting and entertainign for small children.
    Mine was too small for this trick until now, so we’re going to try it with our upcoming road trip. Here’s hoping!

  72. We’ve done many trips with two little ones over the past several years but one of our best tricks is bringing lollipops for the descent. It works like a charm for popping ears and can be used on kids 1+.

  73. Ok Tsh,

    So you read my mind! We are traveling from Berlin back to the US for my sister’s wedding, and I was literally just thinking (yesterday, I think it was!), that I needed to check here and look for tips on flying long distances with children. We have three little ones and I am doing my best to get prepared so that the trip is as stress-free as possible. So thanks for posting!

    Talya

  74. Great ideas!
    We just came back from a trip and found a few things to be helpful:
    I usually store my backpack overhead but keep out a smaller bag/plastic bag to keep in my seat which includes gum, wipes, kids’ snacks and book/toy for little ones. Not much but just enough to last until the seatbelt sign goes off.

    Snacks: gummy bears/fish work great for 3 year olds who can’t chew gum but need to relieve pressure in their ears. Also, keep some snacks handy to enjoy for the long lines through customs.

    We used an Ergo carrier and stroller for our 4 month old and 3 yr old which either could utilize- it was great having our 3 yr old on our back while the baby slept in the stroller.

    I wrapped a new Lego gift which kept my older boys busy for at least an hour but the mistake was some parts were so small they were hard to keep track of.

    We played the whole trip up as an exciting adventure. The long roped off lines were a maze. And we pretend played a lot with our 3 yr old regarding good/bad behavior with her dolls before we left.

    Don’t forget to tuck away 1/2 the goodies/toys for the return trip unless you can buy more on your travels.

  75. I love the balance of flexibility toward behavior, coupled with holding to deeper values like compassion, awareness of others, self-care and knowing when something is and isn’t your responsibility. I’m making mental notes for future trips!

  76. Practice!
    We don’t fly much anymore (used to though), but as a military family (with six, soon to be seven little ones) we do quite a bit of long distance driving. We practice sitting still and/or being bored with the kids! I start teaching my babies around 6 months to “sit still and quietly” by snuggling with them on my lap and saying “now its time to sit still and quietly” they quickly learn that this is just the time to cuddle with mommy and enjoy it, even if its not exactly what they wanted to do at the time.
    Having kids that are used to being able to sit still for long-ish periods of time has been so helpful on the flights we do go on, and on those long drives (and in plenty of other every day situations)! Of course we still plan ahead with special treats, snacks, games, and toys, but practicing ahead of time can be such a blessing to everyone on the plane (or in the car)!

  77. great post, i would add 4 things for anyone sifting through the comments, desperate for all of the ideas they can find.
    1. never, ever fly a longhaul without buying a child between 12 and 24 months a seat. you may save a lot of money but it will be one of the worst experiences you can imagine (clearly i made this mistake!).
    2. i always wrap a few small new toys for my son. not only do they take time to open, he’s extra excited about his new presents.
    3. we always try to get the back row of the plane – its easy to get up and stand with little ones and it minimizes the number of people around you, so you’re worried about bothering less people.
    4. we try to take as many night flights as possible. when that doesn’t work, we take advantage of long layovers by finding kid friendly things to do (there is a farm that is only a few minutes from London Heathrow that has proved to be a lifesaver for us).

  78. Hi Tsh,

    This is really helpful. I remember this post the first time, and I know you are an expert in this area! My husband’s family is Italian so we also travel a lot.

    I just published a post (see below) on planning ahead for air travel with kids: stuff like passports, reservations, what you can bring, etc.

    Take care,
    Amy

  79. Here is the post I mentioned: 10 Tips for Planning Plane Trips with Kids

    http://www.frugal-mama.com/2011/03/10-tips-for-planning-plane-trips-with-kids/

  80. We will be traveling with kids soon and this is a perfect guide. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your blog, this is very informative for a mom like me.

  81. My secret in traveling long distances with little ones is that I always booked a night trip and I make sure I have portable video for them to watch their favorite cartoon shows. I never travel on day trip with kids as kids tends to be more insane when on the road during the day.

  82. I’m glad I saw your post because I am about to get on a 10 hours flight with my 2 kids and I was wondering how I am going to live through it. It’s pain having to take them out just for a couple of hours.

  83. With two strong kids, I definitely needed this article

  84. Well I tried some of these tips a few weeks ago on my solo trip with my two boys, ages (4) and (22) months. It was a disaster. My oldest was pretty good, he just got bored once in a while, but my youngest, whoo! He was meltdown after meltdown. I am determined to try more tricks on our next trip in a few months! :D

  85. I enjoyed your article. We have been travelling with our children since our twins were 18 months and our oldest was 3, they are now 4, 4 and 6. We don’t fly but we do drive 23 hours straight. I recognize that we don’t have to worry about other passengers but the challenge of keeping them entertained is the same. We let them all have their favourite toy and a blanket for comfort. I also pack a lot of snacks, some of which they wouldn’t normally get to eat at home. I pack a bag of new toys, just little things that they can hold and work on in their seats, such as a new colouring books or mini dinosaurs, we buy a couple of new movies to watch and try to make up fun games in the car. We try to keep as close to their sleep schedule as possible, turning off whatever game or movie they may be watching close to their regular bedtime. I think that we have been successful travelling all these years because we keep an open mind and what we learn from one trip we apply to the next.

  86. Great advice! specially advice #2, some people just don’t have patience with kids around and get irritated. Traveling with kids is always a challenge for us parents and to see the joy of your kids having fun is priceless.

  87. Bring a special new toy or two, take frequent breaks, and let the kids get some energy out on playgrounds or just running around a field.

  88. Great post and an absolutely brilliant string of reader comments. I’ll be putting a link to this post on my blog shortly to share with my readers too.

  89. I have read about your travel adventures…was hoping to find some info on how to buy a ticket around the world…any resources?

  90. Hi

    Just wanted to say great tips…
    We are planning a long haul 12 hour flight next year with our son who will be 1.5 years by then then 3 weeks on the road travel… Plus internal flights..
    Very nervous about the flight and travel so looking at all the tips I can get…
    Really like your comment on other peoples reactions… This is something I have been worried about and as you said it’s their choice so will have to keep that in my head when we do travel.
    One question I do have is what do you do for car seats and strollers?
    I’ve heard conflicting advice on this and finding it hard decide which is better.. Take it with us or purchase new ones at our destination?
    Any help on this would be great,
    Thanks Sam

  91. I too like the comment referencing the other people on the plane. We are planning a trip and I’ve wondered about “others”. Thank you for the reassuring advice.

    Our little one recently took a road trip to visit Grandma. He typically is a good sleeper however not in the car. He never sleeps in the car more that 30-40 minutes. So when he got tired he couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact he could simply…go to sleep. Instead he said the following “Sleep papa baby crib” (the crib he sleeps in when he’s at his Papa’s house.

    He said this loudly, softly, fast, slow. Pretty much any way he could think of. Unfortunately he said this 148 times! It was during his traveling mantra I started to think, how flying will be for the family and the “others” on the plane.

    We’ll do our best, he’ll do his best and we’ll smile to our neighbors.

    Thanks again for the tips.

  92. My mom always had little gifts for us to open during different key moments of the flight (after buckling our seatbelt, during a layover, after the meal, etc.). They were always little things that would help to pass the time the next few hours, and just knowing they were coming helped us stay on our best behavior… Well, at least for the most part. :0) I do this now with my three little boys, but I don’t wrap the gifts because of security.

  93. Honestly, I don’t get this. I’ve tried so hard to figure out why people feel they need some sort of guidance on taking kids on a plane, but I just can’t. I mean – just take the kids and do it. As parents, you know perfectly well what to do.

    When our twins were young we lived in Ethiopia, but traveled back to the USA at least once a year to visit family. That was a 35-hour journey each way with layovers. I can honestly say it was never a problem – any more so than before our boys were born.

    As you wrote, we made sure we had snacks and toys with us, we let the boys watch TV (this was before the days of personal TVs on planes, but they watched the movies on the big general screen). We got up and walked around the plane a time or two. Or two hundred, as the case may be.

    But I never felt like I needed any body to give me tips or hints or suggestions or whatever to do it.

    Kids are GREAT travelers! Our sons are now 14 and they’ve been around the world plenty of times. They’ve visited something like 25 or 30 countries and they’ve even ridden bicycled from Alaska to Argentina. We’ve never had the attitude that we couldn’t do something with kids. We just did it.

    If I had one suggestion for parents it’s this: don’t be scared. Just do it.

  94. Great comments!
    My tips:
    For international flights, we’ve often experienced delays and had to stay overnight somewhere en route. So we pack for an extra day–lightly of course. But definitely enough diapers to get through an entire additional 24 hours.
    Pack a small gift/treasure for each leg and let kids know that they will get a treat after the plane has reached cruising altitude. Going through security and boarding is a tough haul for little ones, and they are more likely to make the extra effort when they know a reward is coming. These gifts have to be small and easy to pack. Our kids like little plastic figurines, Wikki Stix, sticker books with scenes, funny keychains, toy cars.
    Bring along empty water bottles and fill them after passing through security. Drink lots of fluids and make sure that the kids do too.
    DVD players are great–they really saved my sanity many times during long trips. But they are heavy and once I forgot to pack the DVDs! I recently acquired an iPad and I think that will be easier to travel with.
    Snacks are important for the journey but also for getting through the jetlag at your destination. A bag of pretzels will be invaluable when it’s 3am and you’re stuck in a Bangkok hotel room with a couple of very hungry kids.
    Don’t make any assumptions about using your strollers in transit or even using a baggage cart at your destination. Pack lightly so that you can manage your luggage yourself. That is the most difficult issue about traveling with kids. When traveling alone with an infant, I always took a baby carrier (bjorn or Ergo), a backpack as a carry-on, an umbrella stroller and one suitcase. I could manage all of that myself.
    Happy Travels!

  95. Hi Tsh, thank you for all of your helpful tips and seems you’re right because I’m usually hard to take a sleep when travel across multiple time zones and in so many cases, I just take my diary, reading it to kill the time :(

  96. Thx soooo much for all the tips, hopefully they will be of some use when we take our 13 month old on his very first long haul flight in two weeks!!

  97. Great article! Funny, helpful and entertaining!
    I LOLed at the pic and the caption :)

  98. Hi,
    I just came across this blog and am glad there are moms who take care of their young children.
    What does a grandfather do when the moms do not do anything about their screaming, kicking chidren in an airplane flight.
    I love children. have 7 grandchildren and enjoy them. With that said am I supposed to sit back and enjoy gettin kicked on the back of my seat, constantly hear screaming in my ear for the next 5 hours of my flight while the mother ignores their childs actions and my pleads for peace. Her children are her responsibility. I respect that she has had problems many times with them that have left her haggered but why should I suffer also.

  99. Bring along empty water bottles and fill them after passing through security. Drink lots of fluids and make sure that the kids do too.
    DVD players are great–they really saved my sanity many times during long trips. But they are heavy and once I forgot to pack the DVDs!

  100. Hallo ik ben zo opgewonden ik vond je blog pagina, ik echt van je vinden door een ongeluk, terwijl ik op zoek was op Yahoo voor iets anders, Hoe dan ook ik ben hier nu en wil alleen maar zeggen dat je bedanken voor een fantastische post en een all round plezierige blog (Ik hou ook van het thema / design), ik heb geen tijd om door alles te lezen op het moment, maar ik heb het boek-gemarkeerd en voegde ook uw RSS-feeds, dus als ik tijd heb zal ik terug zijn om te lezen nog veel meer, alstublieft ga zo door fantastisch werk.

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