How To Travel With Toddlers: A Dad’s Guide To Surviving Long-Distance Flights With Kids

How To Travel With Toddlers

If like me the thought of being trapped in a metal box with your toddler and a few hundred other people for hours on end fills you with dread, then this post is for you! Here I will give you my best tips on how to travel with toddlers and supply you with a rock solid Dad’s guide to surviving long-distance flights with kids.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not scared of flying or traveling! It’s awesome, I love it. But when my wife and I planned our first long-distance flight with our son, it still freaked me out a bit. So let’s take a look at what we learned so far…

Although you and your kid may not be used to flying long-haul, remember the airlines have been jetting children through the skies for decades. They want all their passengers to have a good flight, so will do their best to help you with your little ones.

Many long-distance airlines provide goody bags for kids, which are a nice touch and can provide some useful distractions.

Preparation

The first thing to do before you go anywhere near the airport is to make sure you’re aware of the airline’s policies on kids luggage, buggies, seats and equipment. Do this in plenty of time BEFORE you fly, to avoid any nasty surprises.

Traveling With Kids: Preparation Is Key - Make Sure To Bring Toys And Other Essentials
Preparation is key: Make sure to bring toys and other essentials

Ensure you pack sufficient essentials to cope for the entire journey. These include items such as snacks, drinks, wet wipes, toys, games, pens, paper and activities.

Toddlers get tired of walking quickly. It can be difficult with older toddlers to manage a buggy and your carry-on luggage, so a good alternative is to invest in a kid’s ride in case. The fun designs are created especially for children and your toddler can ride on their luggage while you pull them along on those long walks through terminal buildings.

A neat trick is to get a bunch of very inexpensive mini toys or gadget items, one for every 30 or so minutes of the flight time. Small plush toys, a toy plane, spinning top, pull back and release cars or trucks, toy animals or dinosaurs, mini puzzles and so on. Wrap the toys up and give each one as a good behavior reward. Each time you bring out a new item your toddler will be delighted in unwrapping it and will be entertained until they inevitably tire of the toy, but no problem, as you have a load more!

I have created a few lists of great toys for such a scenario you might want to check out:

If your toddler likes to draw then ensure you have a good stock of easy wipe clean coloring pens and a pad of paper. Sticker books can also be really good as you can help your toddler work through it.

And finally a fair warning: A friend told me an unfortunate story about his 3-year-old, who although out of nappies, still needed to wear one at night. Not having really though things through the toddler fell asleep on his lap during the flight, only to have an unfortunate accident. My friend then had to endure wet clothing and an uncomfortable wet toddler for a further four hours. Not a happy situation! The moral of the story being, if your toddler isn’t dry when sleeping, don’t forget to pack a couple of pull-ups! In truth, it may just be safer to use pull-ups during the entire flight anyway, as if you encounter any turbulence it can be difficult to get to the bathroom.

Insurance

Insurance? True story! When you plan your vacation, it is usually recommended to get a travel cancelation insurance, right? That is even more important when you travel with kids, especially with toddlers. I learned that first hand: Two days before our first long-haul flight was supposed to take place our son turned sick and had to stay in a hospital for five full days! We were not able to take our already paid flight and, even worse, had to cancel our entire trip.

A travel cancelation insurance is really important when traveling with kids
Exciting? No! Important? YES! A travel cancelation insurance is really a must-have when traveling with kids

A good travel cancelation insurance should cover the entire family as a WHOLE, not just the individual members. Imagine your kid gets sick. Now you, your wife and all your kids have to stay home. What if the insurance covers ONLY that one child? Nightmare!

Luckily we were well prepared! And as soon as time allows I will make a separate post on this topic so that you can profit from what I have researched and learned so far.

Entertainment

Lots of toddlers really enjoy listening to stories. If you don’t want to read out loud on the plane, then try downloading some stories onto a tablet. Then all you need do is plug in a kid-safe headset, so only your child can hear the stories.

In a similar vein, you can download movies and kids shows onto a tablet for your child to watch during the flight. Amazon Prime Video is an excellent option for that!

Also, try downloading some game apps suitable for toddlers. Games such as bubbles, where they have to burst bubbles using their finger can keep them entertained for hours.
But a word of warning, avoid electronic gadgets that make irritating sounds! Nothing will annoy your fellow passengers quicker!

how to travel with toddlers - tablets make taking along entertainment easy
Modern devices like smartphones and tablets make it easy to bring along suitable entertainment for your kids.

Just recently I stumbled across this amazing video on YouTube that teaches you how to easily build your own DIY Portable Lego Kit. Make sure to check it out as this can be a lifesaver on long-distance trips (whether it’s a road trip or a long haul flight).

Snacks and Drinks

Bring plenty of your kid’s favorite snacks and drinks, but try to avoid anything high in sugar or colorings (or they might end up bouncing off the walls). Also, keep clean up in mind, messy foods are best left at home. Pack items like raisins, crackers, rice cakes or fruit that can be cut up.

Use a leak-proof sippy cup, even if your toddler has progressed beyond them. They can save a lot of mess!

Crackers and other snacks make your kids smile
Traveling is stressful for kids. Crackers and other (healthy) snacks make your kids smile!

Flying at Night

Night flights usually sync well with your toddlers inner clock
Night flights usually sync well with your toddler’s inner clock

Night flights can have the advantage that for a good percentage of your flight your toddler can sleep through. In order to help your child get to sleep easily, try and mimic their normal bedtime routine as far as possible. If possible pack a small favorite blanket. I have found that memory foam pillows can be squished up really small to fit into little spaces, this can be a handy trick for making them comfortable.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to pack their favorite comforter!

Cabin Police vs. Other Passengers

This one is along the lines of the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, only the character is not such a friendly one… Even though personally I am not a big fan of telling my son stories like that, I have heard from many parents that they used the “Cabin Police” quite successfully. Personally, though, I prefer to stay truthful to my son as good as I can and even avoid those “little white lies”. So, if you’re like me and don’t like it that much, I will offer you an alternative below, so stay tuned 🙂

Here’s how it goes:

Children don’t like being told off (then again neither do adults!). The creation of imaginary “Cabin Police” can be a good deterrent to stop your child from misbehaving. You can introduce the concept by telling them that the cabin police only like children who are well behaved. If your child starts misbehaving, you can say, “I wouldn’t do that, the cabin police won’t like it.” This can be a hugely helpful deterrent when your toddler starts to behave like a caged animal, hence I can understand every parent who likes the idea of a “Cabin Police” and wants to give it a shot!

The Cabin Police Is Here
The cabin police is here. This is a tool you CAN use. Personally, I prefer to stay truthful and…
Tell my son son how our fellow travelers feel about too noisy kids
… rather tell my son how our fellow travelers feel about (too) noisy kids!

Again, personally I’m not a big fan of this, and that is for two reasons: First I like to be accountable to my son and I really don’t like lying to him, even though this one may count as a “little white lie”. Secondly: What if your kid doesn’t stop misbehaving? What happens then? In reality, there is no cabin police and your kids will see through this very quickly!

It doesn’t go well with my idea of only pointing out consequences that I am WILLING and CAPABLE of playing out! Hence, what I like to do instead is tell my son that his misbehaving is something that the other people in the airplane really don’t like and that they (or a stewardess, for example) might reach out to him and tell him to stop. If your kid is easily intimidated by strangers (which most kids are) this may work very well for you: It’s the truth AND it is a consequence that can easily play out and become a reality, which is good for your accountability.

Landing Lollypop

It’s also a good idea to bring a lollypop for them to suck during landing. The changes in cabin pressure can be painful on children’s ears and sucking a sweet such as a lollypop will help.

Landing Lollypops help your kids to avoid popping ear drums
A landing lollypop helps your kids to avoid popping their eardrums

EDIT: As Marika pointed out in her comment below another option here would be a bubble gum. If your kid is at an age where he or she can have a bubble gum without swallowing it, this is an even better option than a landing lollypop: Not only does it make your kid swallow, but also move his jaw, which helps even better with your kid’s ears. If you opt for the bubble gum, though, I would certainly suggest getting sugar free gums from your local grocery store.

Conclusion

It is a pretty safe bet that an unprepared parent on a long-haul flight will become a very unhappy wreck of a parent by the end of it. But with forethought and preparation it can be a pleasant experience for your toddler, you and your fellow passengers as well.

Are you planning a long distance flight with your child? Where are you going to travel to? Do you have a favorite strategy to prepare your kids and yourself for the trip? May you already went through a long-haul flight with your kids? What worked for you and what didn’t? If you have anything to add to this story or you have any questions, please reach out and leave a comment below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

By the way: Many of the ideas here are useful for long road trips, too. I hope you have happy holidays and safe, pleasant journeys ahead.

Thanks for reading
chris

P.S.: Did you EVER happen to yell at your child or call a timeout? Did you regret it afterwards? I certainly have, and I never felt good about it! If you want to learn how to put an end to this behavior, decode your kids and understand them so much better and become a calm parent, then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of “Positive Parenting Solutions” HERE. This program changed our family’s life and we saw first results within just 3(!) days. And it will certainly work for you as well!

How to get your kids to listen without nagging, reminding or yelling

16 Comments

  1. great article and fantastic advice. I did travel with my, then almost 1 year old and 3 year old – I never thought of all these things and they are such great ideas! Fortunately it turned out fantastic and my boys were near perfect without a cry the entire trip – but I have also been on flights with other frazzled parents with toddlers who would have nothing to do with the whole calm down and behave idea – I am sure they would also have been grateful for the ideas you shared. My youngest is 3 and we are planning a vacation so I will be taking full advantage of this advice as she is a little more high spirited than her brothers were at this age! thank you and I look forward to reading more of your amazing ideas!

    1. Thank you so much, Corey! 

      It’s wonderful to hear that I was able to help and give you some inspiration for your next trip with the family. Your boys are awesome, how cool that you had such a pleasant journey with them! Every child is different: Some will just travel with you and they are fine, others need a bit more attention and some smart parental “hacking” 🙂 If you can, please let me know how my tips worked after you travelled with your daughter, will you? That would be awesome!

      All the best to you and your family,

      chris

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for sharing these useful tips. I fully agree with you about the cabin police, it is not okay to lie to your kids. They will do what you do, not what you tell them to do. 😉

    When I was a kid, my mom gave me chewing gum during liftoff and landing. That worked well for me.

    Marika

    1. Hi Marika and thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Chewing gum is a great idea! I’ll add that to the list as soon as I get to it. I can definitely see the advantages over a lollypop: There are sugar free options out there, they probably last longer and they keep your mouth moving, which also helps reducing pain in your kids’ ears. The only downside I can see is for very young toddlers who might swallow it!? But never the less, that’s a great idea! Thanks for sharing it here!

      chris

  3. Hey Chris

    Thanx for the reply. Sorry I wrote the first part incorrectly. I meant to say I didn’t know that there are stories that you could download (for kids) beforehand that will help the kids for long distance air travel.
    Thanx for the kids’ headphone advice.

    Thanx again 🙂

    1. Gotcha! One example would be using the Amazon Prime app for your tablet or smartphone. It allows you to download tv movies and shows locally and then play them without an active connection. That is one way to achieve this 🙂

  4. This is such a helpful article! I have never flown with my children just for the simple fact that I am so nervous about doing it! Your article definitely gives great tips so it does make me feel better about the idea! Do you have any tips on flying with babies? I imagine it would be a lot more hectic since you can’t entertain them only comfort them.

    1. Hi Amber, 

      Thank you so much for your comment. It feels so good to know that I could give some helpful advice! I’m so glad you liked it!!! Babies!? You are right, that’s a different story. I’d say that most of the suggestion still hold true, especially when we are talking about preparation: Bring MORE than enough diapers, blankets etc.! I’d also suggest to make sure that you have everything you use at home when trying to comfort your baby (stuffed animals, toys, music etc.). 

      Another thing I’ve seen recently was that a family who was traveling with their baby printed out a nice letter that read like “Fellow Travellers, hi, I am ABC. I am just X months old and today I am traveling for the very first time. Please don’t get angry if I cry. I’m just overwhelmed. I try as hard as I can not to bother you! Promise :-)” – Something like that. Then they printed this letter, taped a small bag of gummi bears to each letter and put one on each seat in the close proximity of their own seats. In my opinion that shows our fellow travelers that we as Moms and Dads take our responsibility searious and it breaks the ice! People will be much more likely to talk to you if they have a problem; and most likely more willing to help and cut you some slack 🙂

      All the best to you and your loved ones, Amber!

      chris

  5. Great tips on traveling with children! You said it, preparation is key.

    The suggestions that stand out the most for me are:

    1) Traveling at night
    2) Entertainment

    It can be hard to keep toddlers busy for any length of time. Thank goodness for electronics these days. I say that as a parent who really tries to limit screen time, but traveling with toddlers is the exception for sure.

    Traveling at night is a fantastic idea, hopefully, the kids will be able to get some much-needed sleep, to the enjoyment of everyone on the plane.

    Thanks for sharing, many people will be able to benefit from this post.

    1. Hi Steve,

      great to read a nice comment from yet another Dad. I’m happy to hear that you liked my comment and that you could take something away from it. I agree with you: Despite the fact that I love video games and I also enjoy sharing my passion with my son, I for sure try to find a good balance and limit his screen time to a reasonable extent. I am definitely highly against “parking” my kid in front of a screen! What I try to do instead is to enjoy screen time together with my son and talk about what happens there. That way, we both share the fun and build up a good media competence while doing so! And I think that this is a principle you can apply to travel entertainment as well. Just make sure to bring a Y-cable or a bluetooth splitter (so that you can share audio) 🙂

      Greetings to your family!
      chris

  6. Excellent suggestions that you have here! I remember when we used to fly for 5 hours to see my Grandparents, and our favorite thing to do was draw, now there are so many electronic gadgets!
    I think one great thing to keep in mind, is that most children under the age of 2 will sleep the whole way. There is something magical about the hum of the aircraft. I also liked how you suggested a lollypop for the landing as well as having a favorite blanket. These are all fantastic suggestions!

    1. Hi Collenen!

      Ah, yeah, the magical hum of air traveling! I love it. For me personally, it works all the time. I wouldn’t bet on it working for my son as well, though. He is pretty lively, and when he is excited (or scared) it is hard to get him asleep. I agree, though: Once he falls asleep, the magic hum does indeed help him to stay asleep for hours!

      All the best to you and your loved ones. And thanks for sharing your experience with us!

      chris

  7. Super helpful. I have a long haul flight from London to Brazil coming up with my 6 year old! I like the idea of keeping lots of small activities/toys wrapped up. I’ve also found GALT Water Magic pens to be really useful, he finds them fun and can do them over and over again.

    1. Hi David.

      Thank you so much for reading my article. I’m glad I could help and inspire you with some ideas to make the trip less stressful and more enjoyable for you and your kids! Love to hear that!!! Those Magic pens are awesome. You are absolutely right, we have them as well and our son loves them. Just yesterday we did a three-hour trip with our car and Benni played around with them almost all the time!

      All the best,
      chris

  8. Great post and very informative. I never knew that with kids you could actually download stories for them while travelling long distances on the air.
    One thing I would worry about are the headphones on the kid for a long period of time on the plane.
    Is that a big danger or how do you cater for such?

    1. Hi Thabo and thank you so much for your kind comment. I think the “download stories for them while travelling”-part came out wrong: You have to download those BEFORE while you still have a network connection. Midair this is not possible (provided there is no WiFi on board 🙂 )!

      I would always be careful with headphones. Personally, I think it is okay to let your kid watch a tv show or so via a tablet and use headphones while doing so. But I would make sure that a) the volume is set to a reasonable level and b) that the show is not too long. But don’t take my word for it, please use your own judgement: Every kid is different, and so is every parent! I suggest to play around a bit and see what works for you and your family 🙂

      All the best to you and your loved ones!
      chris

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