Top Three Travel Tips for Long Flights with Kids
Four kids & 17 hours on a plane. That’s what braved this past March. And no, that was not the round trip flight total.
Yep, we took the whole family to Australia for 10 days over Spring Break. Totally one of those “bucket list” trips and one that many thought we were crazy to even attempt. But having made the trip and loved every minute, we are all so glad that we did it.
But the idea of a long flight with kids aged 9, 7, 4 & 2 had many thinking we had completely lost it. To be fair, we may have…
But the idea of this flight did not have my husband nor I worried. We’ve traveled a lot with our little ones, including 9+ hour treks to Europe more than a few times. Yes, this was still almost double the length of time in transit. And yes, 2 year olds are notoriously tricky travelers. But that just has us planning more strategically to entertain our kids en route.
So how did we do it? Well, after many flights, we have a few tried and true tactics that are proven to help as well as some of the latest and greatest that we gave a test run.
Here are my top 3 tips for transcontinental traveling with little ones.
- Packing cubes and duffle bags are sanity savers.
We got adorable OhMint! duffle bags with monograms when my youngest was born and to date they may have been one of our best travel purchases. I can pack for each child for a full week in one of these. Then the bags get dropped into our Samsonite suitcase. Everything is organized and separated by kid, so when we get to our destination we can split the bags out into the appropriate rooms. No debates over whose shirt belongs to whom and the kids can manage their wardrobes without creating a disheveled mush of clothing. Plus, one regular sized suitcase for 4 kids? I’m calling that a win.
In addition to the duffles, I like to use small packing cubes, pencil bags, make up kits etc to organize the carry on items. This is huge for when the kids are trying to find something in flight. Instead of scrambling through their carry on back pack searching for the crayons and tossing out every other item while digging, they can simply reach for the bag which has everything for art work and pull it out – coloring books & crayons all together. This is also huge for you when someone is edging on a melt down and you need to find the one thing they are requesting FAST. Plus, in the whole wave of Tidying Up, I feel like this would be very Marie Kondo approved.
- Newness for In-flight entertainment
Let me tell you, there is nothing like new to entertain the kids. We see this start out from the littlest of ages – we have a much ignored toy at home but the minute we get to a friends & see the same thing, it seems new and so they want it suddenly – simply because it is perceived to be new. And we feel it as adults too. How many times have you downloaded a new book or movie for a flight for yourself? While kids are champs at watching the same thing over and over again, we know the power to suck them in diminishes with each watching. And flights are when I abandon ALL screen time rules. You can watch as much as you want as long as you are sporting your headphones.
I like to download a few new movies or TV shows onto each iPad for my kids. I love that with Netflix you can download movies for offline viewing but we have been bitten more than once by forgetting to download more for the return flight. For this reason, I usually purchase the latest blockbusters for our growing collection of kid movies. And while we do have 3 iPads that are the “kid iPads”, I do my best not to duplicate options on them. This allows them to trade off and significantly increases our options without killing everyone’s storage capacity.
A note on the iPads – we resisted getting real iPads for the kids for a very long time. We started with the Kids KindleFires and while they have some great advantages, ultimately, they didn’t work reliably enough or load fast enough for us to feel like they were worth reinvesting in this time around when they all burned out on us. So, we went for the real deal and everyone is happy… except number 4 child who doesn’t have a real iPad. Yet.
In addition to new movies, I always get a new coloring book &/or art pad for each little one as well as new crayons, markers or colored pencils. Any artist can tell you, there is just something so exciting about new art supplies and kids are the ultimate artists.
Yes, all of this new costs money. But if you are investing in a long flight and a magical memory, it seems well worth it to me to figure this into the cost of any trip and plan that we will be spending this in order to make the journey more enjoyable for all.
- Don’t forget comfort items for the kids
Would you embark on a transcontinental flight with just the flimsy airline pillow and standard issue blanket? I know I would not. So why would you expects your little ones too?
But you would be surprised how often I have seen mom and dad outfitted for ultimate comfort and kids with nil. And I am willing to bet that about 2 hours into the flight, all those items have been bogarted by the kids.
We make sure that each little one has their own travel “pillow” which they have pre-tested and approved. For some of our littles, that means a traditional bead filled flight pillow but others of ours prefer their favorite fluffy Jellycat stuffed animal which can double as comfort item and pillow. We also bring our favorite Aden & Anais swaddle blankets or dream blankets as travel pillows. These silky soft blankets are the perfect size for a little one to cuddle up with on the flight. And if they need more warmth, they can always layer with the plane issue blanket, but then they have something soft and loved close to their faces and up against them. And I can’t help but think that has to help with picking up a few less germs along the way too.
Another item we are going to try for the first time on this flight are these leg pillows. They get great reviews for little ones and I think they have some great potential to keep the kids from kicking the seat back in front of them by grounding their feet onto something. I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how they work out.
Bonus: Start Young! Travel Often!
Honestly, this is the biggest travel tip I have for anyone wanted a little world traveler. We started with 4 hour in state flights by 8 weeks with all of our kids thanks to living in different parts of the country than our families. And I would say that our kids have all been on an airplane an average of once every 4 months their whole lives. Yes, that is a lot of money in flights. But we are passionate about visiting family as well as seeing new places both for ourselves and our kids. We would both rather drive a less fancy car and have a few less items in the closet to accommodate our wanderlust. Exploring the world and allowing our kids to experience different places, cultures, foods & people seems to us the best education in the world we can give our little ones so we make a point to prioritize travel. And by starting young, the kids never have to learn how to act on a plane, they know from day one. And by traveling often, we adjust to parenting techniques for travel as they grow and change. We see the little shifts in what we need from flight to flight rather than a sudden shock because everything we did last time has been outgrown.
Be Creative & Allow Help.
Another bonus: I cannot tell you how many times I have been shocked by what has worked to entertain my kids in flight. One time, my daughter who was 2 at the time was having an epic meltdown on the flight because her ears would not pop. She was in pain and I was out of ideas. The more experienced mom next to me subtly put her book in front of my daughter and started thumbing the pages to make them flip quickly. My daughter was mesmerized. She stopped crying, the gentle fanning cooled her from being worked up and she could not take her eyes off the pages moving like that. It was magic and this awesome mom did it for the next half hour until we were on the ground. Who knows if she would have reacted the same if I had tried but from a stranger, it was gold. I have plenty of similar stories of the simplest things being what settled near disaster because of an empty couple of cups being stacked or an in-flight magazine for some paper airplanes (just don’t fly them). The point is, don’t over look the tools in front of you & don’t be too proud to take help from a nice fellow parent, flight attendant or high school kid sitting close to you. It may just be the thing that keeps you calm and relaxed for your flight.
So what about you? Do you have a tried and true trick I should add to my metaphorical bag of tricks? I’d love to