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. Whether you are traveling to Italy for a tour of Pompeii or to Mexico for a beach trip, 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.
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.
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:
- Cheap Educational Toys: A Buyers Guide for the Savvy Dad
- The Best Video Games For Kids And Their Dads To Enjoy Together (If you like enjoying video games with your kids, you’ll find a bunch of good suggestions here)
- Top 10 Toys For 3-Year-Olds And Their Dads (Most of these are regular toys that take a bit of space, but there are still a few that qualify as “travel toys”)
- Top 5 Learning Games for Children: The Best Games to Explain Your Kids the World (These are especially interesting for pre-schoolers and first-graders)
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? 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 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.
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!
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!
Flying at Night
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!