We recently had a 20 hour long haul flight with toddler and recognized that it was quite relaxing. Months ago it was stressful to fly with the kids. They were moaning, unbalanced and asked all 30min how long it still takes. As we visited more than 21 countries on 4 different continents with them already we learned a lot about how to organize a long haul flight with toddler. There are some mistakes you shouldn’t make and several items one has to take with them to distract and entertain your toddler.
1. Split up your trip
If possible plan your trip with 2-3 days break in between. After a 9h flight it’s very relaxing to check out, drive to your hotel and have a good nights sleep. Those stopovers are mostly in countries that are worth a 2 days visit. It’s a shame that we fly through so many destinations and know only their airport, like Dubai or Atlanta. Isn’t it much more rewarding if you have time to get new impressions by simply using the synergy of being anyway there? Sometimes it’s not possible. Our trip to Ecuador would have cost us 300$ per person more if we would have planned a short stopover in Atlanta. So we didn’t. But in spring this year we flew from Mauritius via Seychelles to Europe and it was the same price. I don’t wanna miss the paradise Seychelles now.
2. Split up the travel family
We flew to Bangkok last year and it was impossible to find a daytime flight. There were only red eye flights available. The disadvantage of long haul flights with toddler at night are that the toddler sleeps well in your arm or on your lab – and you don’t. You reach the destination with sleep deprivation and your child is well-rested. Full of energy he wants to go to the pool or play while you have to sleep. Our solution was that my husband flew 3 days before us. He had time to overcome his jetlag, organize parts of our trip that could be booked only on spot and pick us up from the airport. I arrived without sleep for 30 hours and was so happy that he was well-rested and able to entertain the kids patiently. Although it isn’t easy to travel alone with a 2 and a 4 year old it was worth for me to know that I can have a rest afterwards. Otherwise we would have arrived together, the parents overtired and the kids well-rested.
3. Book daytime flights
It’s a lot easier to be patient if you had enough sleep the night before. Therefore we try to book flights that depart not before 10am. Avoided are flights that depart late night. But this is not always possible. If we fly for 20 hours they have to sleep at a certain point. We prefer to have the sleeping time at the end of a long haul flight with toddler.
4. Prepare your kids
Motivation is all about understanding the why and what to expect. Our kids have an equal part in our family. We explain them why and when we want to go on a journey. The specifications of the country, the lifestyle there and the food. They have seen short small videos of the Galapagos islands already and are very curious if we can snorkel with sea lions there. I’m sure we have no problem with their commitment and motivation. Before we went to South America they knew that we fly with 3 different planes and they have to sleep in the last one. It was fine for them – although they are only 3 and 5 years old.
Depending on their age they love different toys. We often had different cups with us and they had endless fun in piling them up, filling them with airlines’ nuts or our sugar free Haribos. When they are older they love drawing and colouring books including scissors, glue and different pens are a must have. Even play dough is possible and both our kids loved it on the long haul flight some days ago. I started buying new things and let them wrap. Like that their carry-on baggage is full of gifts and surprises. The tattoo pens were the best! But also different Lego modules are something we always take with us. They don’t weigh a lot, you can split them up in your luggage and they don’t break.
Multifunctional toys have the advantage that the kids can play different things with them. They are longer interesting and open for games with other kids.
6. Arrange playdates on the plane
While sitting in the terminal we already look around for other children. It happened often that our kids started playing with other kids while we were not even on board. On board we invite other kids to come around and play with us. All parents are happy to have their toddler entertained and enjoy a little chat beside. To prevent thrombosis walk around with your child or give your seat to them for more space. A happy child = a happy parent. Time passes more quickly if the kids are not locked on their seat but can walk around and discover the airplane.
7. Have a tablet and mp3 player ban before
How to boost anticipation? Put electronic devices away 3 days before you depart. They will use that device a lot longer if they haven’t played with it before. I put new audio books on it and sometimes new games on the tablet.
8. Child menus and no sugar
We call the airline before to make sure they provide child meals for us or book it online if possible. Etihad often offers quite spicy menus and I know our kids won’t eat it. The child menu is mild and fits to child requirements, like added fruits and yoghurt. For sure my bag is full of crispets, vegetables, fruits and sugar free sweets to be able to bridge the times between meals. Sugar free is important as their energy levels rises dramatically if they eat sugar. No one wants to have a hyped up child on a long haul flight. Also drinks like apple juice are better than sprite, water’s the best. How should a child fall asleep if he had a chocolate cookie before?
These are our 8 recommendations for a long haul flight with toddler. Would you love to add one? I’m happy to see them in the comments below.