Let’s face this: being an expat living overseas, we practically must travel back to motherland every so often to visit our families. This is a-must-do for any expats out there.
Shout out to you if you already have done it with young kids! You might well know how it can be daunting, scary or overwhelming to travel long-haul (5+ hours) with young kids.
Let’s pause for a minute here: deep breath, it is totally normal to feel that way as parents. This is just how we feel.
Flying from country to country with young kids is such a luxury. All we ever want are things to go as planned, and smoothly for everyone to enjoy!
We live in Australia and we travel to Paris every year or every second year. This takes us two long-haul flights to get there, totalling approximatively 21 hours on the plane, and 25-26 hours door-to-door. Yep, you heard that right my friends: UP TO TWENTY-SIX HOURS of travelling time with young kids.
This was certainly daunting the first time around and there is certainly no magic recipe for everything to go calmly and smoothly. But overtime, we somehow got into a nice little routine which works for us.
This article outlines what works best for us, and we hope you can find some tips to make your travelling experience with young kids as comfortable and as worry-free as possible.
Before Your Travelling Journey
Organisation is key here! Few weeks before your trip, start paying close attention to what interests the most your kids: do they prefer playing with construction blocks, do they prefer colouring, do they like storybooks, etc?
This will help to prepare small busy bags to entertain them on the plane with activities which interest them the most.
No point bringing 10 colouring books if your kid doesn’t enjoy colouring, right?!
During that period, try to keep a list of food items which are easy to carry and easy to store outside of a fridge for a few hours.
Do they like dried fruits? Biscuits? Pre-packaged kids’ meals? Again, no point bringing 10 pre-packaged purees if your baby only eats your homemade purees!
Then, think of any accessories you might need to purchase or rent ahead of your flight:
- for example, some people rent a compact pram for their travels,
- some others rent a pram to be delivered when they land,
- some people purchase a spare car seat to have one during their journey (to use in the taxi on the way to the airport for example),
- some others purchase or rent an inflatable bed cushion to blow up on the plane to convert the seat into a bed on the plane (make sure your airline allows the use of any such inflatable beds), etc.
We personally travel very lightly when it comes to accessories.
We only ever needed a baby carrier because our family is usually picking us up when we arrive at the destination and they would typically have a spare car seat and pram for us.
But, think about these accessories a few weeks ahead of your trip so that you can give yourself enough time to purchase or organise a rental arrangement. This will greatly remove the stress on the travel day itself!
A Day Before Your Flight
It’s time to pack! Of course, if we could pack our entire house, that would be perfect but when travelling, you are very limited in what you can bring.
We fly with almost-empty suitcases thinking ahead of everything we will have to bring back! We just take a couple of spare clothes and shoes each for our time there.
We, however, pay extra care as to how we pack our carry-on luggage. The carry-on luggage will be THE go-to place if you need anything on the plane so, better have these bags well packed!
I typically divide our carry-on bags into three different bags:
- One for electronic equipment (cameras, phone charger, tablet/PC, etc) & travel documents (passports, wallets, etc).
- One with spare clothes for all of us (not just for the kids). Think of those messy meals which could end up on your tee-shirt…?! Always bring spare clothes for mum and dad – just in case! I usually also get a spare blanket and jumper for my son just in case the air conditioning is too high. I also bring a pyjama to follow a bedtime routine. This bag also has our toiletry essentials (toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, body cream, etc), a small towel, a pack of water wipes and spare snacks! Knowing that you can clean your kids’ hands and face with clean water no matter where you are with the water wipes, is a true-life saver! Spare snacks are there to eat in between meals served by the airline – because nothing frustrates a kid more than waiting for food when hungry! I pack a small ziplock bag with dried fruits, organic kids’ chips, pre-packaged organic kids’ meals/purees. I usually take enough to cover the whole flight time as if it was a normal day (i.e. 3 meals + 2 snacks for a 26-hour journey). This is just in case the meals provided by the airline are not eaten by my son. We usually have more than enough food!
- One with some activities for your kids to enjoy: this is when you recall what your kids play with all the times: whatever it might be. I typically pack some storybooks, animal figurines with a playmat to foster imaginative play, some pencils and a notebook for colouring, a sticker book, and I print off some printables which I laminate to play with on the plane. Try to avoid anything too small or likely to roll around if dropped on the floor. They will be difficult to find while seated.
Leading to the day, I would try to read as many books about travelling, getting on a plane, visiting other countries, etc just to set expectations for my son.
We try to fly in the evening for the first long-haul flight so we would have a jam-packed day spent outside (at the park, at the pool, at the beach, etc) before going to the airport so that my son goes easily to sleep when the time comes on the plane.
Be careful not to overstimulate your kids before a flight because instead of falling asleep easily, they could just turn out to be too tired to ever fall asleep… ouch!
During Your Flight
Ready for take-off? How exciting!!! Now that you have everything well packed in your carry-on, all you have to do is take a deep breath and think to yourself that you got this! It will be fine, and remember that in any event, you will probably never see the other passengers ever again!
What works best for us is to follow the same routine we would have at home; i.e. we have meals and snacks at about the same time, try to organise naps and bedtime around the same time too.
For bedtime, we would have dinner first (the one served by the airline), and get my son ready in pyjama, brush his teeth, etc and then wind down by reading books.
I would rotate the pre-packed activities during the flight depending on what my son wants to do.
The key is not to push for any activities and remember that your kids might not feel like doing anything.
After all, just looking thru the window, looking at other passengers, walking up and down the aisle is probably enough entertainment for our little people?!
We try to avoid the TV on the plane. This is just because I find that it overstimulates my son, but you are of course free to leverage the onboard entertainment!
Let’s Do it!
Are you going on a plane with your kids soon? What tips and tricks are you going to use with your little one?