POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
My husband and I have traveled extensively with both kids (ages 1 and 3) on very long (LONG) haul flights. Recently, we did a trip with our (then) 10-month-old, and 2.5-year old from China to Hawaii. It was about 10 hours of flying time and 16 hours of travel time. We’ve also flown from the east coast of the United States to China with two kids under 2 (about 24 hours of travel time). We’ve had some experiences, but as the kids get older, traveling becomes more fun. Here are 10 simple travel packing tips for kids to survive long haul flights.
This may seem counter intuitive, but you and your partner can only carry so much AND manage not to lose your little people.
How do you pack light for children? Well, It takes practice. The first few times we traveled with both kids we overdid it. We didn’t have the stuff we needed, and we had too much of what we didn’t need.
Now, I pack one outfit for each day of our trip for both kids. Then I add two extra outfits. One outfit goes in our carry on and the second extra outfit gets packed in the checked luggage.
Don’t pack toys. They take up too much room and the kids won’t touch them. They’re boring and will ultimately end up lost or broken.
A word about diapers, pull-ups, and kids undies: take enough diapers for the flight and the first full day. Plan to buy diapers when you reach your destination. If your toddler is potty-trained, opt for a pull-up on the flight— just in case— and take two pairs of undies for each day of the trip and one pull-up for each night (if needed). We also take a packet of kiddy toilet liners.
Name A Passport Keeper
Either you or your partner need to agree to hold the passports. Long flights with kids are exhausting. So, having a designated holder of the passports is a must. Make sure you agree (in advance) where you’ll hold the passports. In the case of an emergency, both parents should know where the passports are at-all-times because losing your passports 10 minutes before landing is CRAZY. (Ask me how I know.) But only one parent needs to be responsible for them.
To make things even simpler, this person can also fill out the customs forms for the family. That way, after you’ve traveled for umpteen gazillion hours with the kids, you’ll know exactly who has the passports, where they’re being kept, and who will complete the customs forms when you land at your destination.
Take Snacks + Eat Wisely
So, airplane food is pretty miserable (If you fly first or business class, skip this section). We’ve flown business class with our two munchkins in the past, but we won’t do it again. Flying business class is “supposed” to be relaxing. Flying with two little kids is never quite relaxing so it’s kind of a waste of money to fly anything but economy (maybe upgrade to economy plus), but I’ve gone off on a tangent.
Airplane food is bad. It’s microwaved and full of salt or sugar. Try not to eat it. When you’re traveling for long periods of time you generally become dehydrated and extra salt and sugar will only make the dehydration and sluggishness worse.
We take a little cooler with us on our flights with snacks. Remember, we’re Americans living in Asia. So, our flights are typically anywhere from 6 to 14 hours long. Remember. Snack and Hydrate.
You can read see a list of travel snacks I’ve tried or will try on Pinterest. Just follow my board on NomadMomLife: Kid Travel Snacks on Pinterest. I’m always adding snacks to this list.
Typically, I also take sliced fruit and veggies, but you must finish it before the flight lands (or you’ll waste it.). Boiled eggs are great so are egg muffins with a little meat. We use this little freezer bag and everything stays fresh for 12-hours.
Buy + Drink Water
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. Long haul flights, even short flights, don’t offer the conveniences they used to offer. Getting a small bottle of water every 2 to 3 hours isn’t enough water for a child let alone an adult.
Becoming dehydrated will make you crave sweets. Eating sweets will cause your kids to be even more “lively” than they usually are, and they’ll make you sluggish and sleepy. Energetic kids and exhausted parents is a bad combo.
So avoid sweets: sodas, juices, bread, cookies, and all of the “good stuff” and opt for lots of water. Once you get through security and clear customs, buy large bottles of water for your family.
A quick rant about plastic water bottles. I don’t like plastic water bottles. I think they’re ruining our planet and our bodies. They’re not biodegradable and people use them regularly instead of buying reusable water bottles. Plus, I can only imagine what kinds of plastic chemicals leak into the water from the bottle.
Now, here’s a BIG caveat. When you’re traveling, especially internationally, plastic water bottles are your friends. Buying big ones will keep your family hydrated for the duration of your trip, and when you reach your destination, you can use that water until you figure out which water is safe to drink.
Allow TV Time
In our house, our kids don’t watch much TV. We try to keep them active and engaged with toys books, games or outings. Try, being the operative word.
On flights, the TV rules get tossed out the window. If you’ve ever tried to keep a 2-year-old and an almost one-year-old from driving everyone (including themselves) nuts on a 14-hour flight, you will know that TV is your friend.
I download favorite movies and shows on the kid tablet. We use this one because it’s pretty indestructible, which is helpful with kids. We have kid headphones. If you have a child under 5, make sure you have old school headphones that fit over the head. You don’t want to have a situation where your kiddo needs you to keep putting the earbuds back in her ears, every 10 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, you can use the TV as a last resort, but allow yourself to admit defeat and turn on the TV or tablet. It’s ok.
Just remember, when all else fails, there is TV. Allow it. It will not permanently scar your child and it will spare your nerves to fight another battle, especially if you have a layover. And it will save the sanity of everyone on the plane with you. Trust me.
I hate to admit to defeat on fights with kids. So, I like to structure our flights, or at least I attempt to structure the flights.
I always have a new book or two for the kids, some new crayons and coloring books, an activity book for our 3-year-old to work on her letters and numbers. I give the one-year-old little snacks to play with so he can work on his pinchers. We also will walk him around the plane a little or look out the window together. There are also apps in the iTunes store for little ones. So, we may play an app activity while the 3-year-old works on her numbers, letters, and reading skills.
So in terms of activities, there’s story time, coloring time, activity time, walking time, bathroom (or diaper change) time, time to watch a show or a movie, nap time.
I find that my kids enjoy activities. Sitting still for 14 hours will drive adults crazy. Kids just don’t have a filter. So, keeping them occupied and always changing the activity is great.
I always make sure I have at least 1 (maybe 2) new coloring books and some new crayons. I also make sure we have our school activity book, a few downloaded favorite movies/tv shows, and a couple of apps to entertain the baby.
Pack the Perfect Carry-On for Flights with Kids
The perfect carry-on luggage is not over packed AND it has all of the essentials you need for you and your family. Here is a list of items we consider must haves. For the full detail, check out How to Pack the Perfect Carry-On for Flights with Kids.
- First aid items. Pack a small see-through Ziploc-sized bag with child and adult pain relievers, an anti-histamine, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial ointment, and Band-Aids.
- Snacks. We pack our snacks in a small lunchbox sized cooler with sliced fruit, veggies, and peanut butter. I also try out Pinterest recipes.
- Change of clothes. Make sure mom and dad have at least a change of shirt and both kids have a change of top and bottom.
- Diapers/Pullups/Undies: We bring an extra pull-up or pair of undies— in case of emergencies, and we pack enough diapers to last us the duration of the flight plus two extra. Usually about 5-6 diapers.
- Anti-Bacterial Wipes. Since we have young kids, I wipe the trays and the armrests.
- Kid Tablet. Load the tablet with at least 4 TV shows and 2 movies. Also, make sure you have kid friendly headphones.
- Kid Activities: One or two thin books, Coloring book, crayons, kid-friendly apps, activity book with dry erase marker and one easily packable magnetic game.
Plan Breaks With Your Partner
So, traveling with kids can be exhausting but it can also be a time to make positive memories with your kids. Part of the “positive” memory requires both parents to keep their cool and be patient. To do that, you need to make sure both adults (hopefully you’re traveling with two adults), get breaks.
My husband and I have learned that we both can’t be ON for 14-hour flights. It’s exhausting and we end up short fused and frustrated. The solution has been to break the flight up into a flexible schedule. For instance, on a 10-hour flight, we’ll agree to both be ON for the first 2 hours to get the kids settled and the last 2 hours to prepare for landing and handling antsy kiddos. The remaining 6 hours can be shared between us.
To make sure EACH parent gets at least 2 solid hours of quiet time, we do bathroom breaks and diaper changes first. That way, the kids are (generally) contained and each adult can have a nap or watch a movie relatively uninterrupted.
Take Advantage of Layovers
If you have a layover and you’re not rushed, create an opportunity for the kids to expend some energy and run around a bit.
To minimize being annoying to other travelers, we like to find a quiet corner in a lounge or at a gate. We create a game that requires running and giggling and just let the kids be kids.
They may be exhausted. It’s ok. We’d rather they run around in the airport than try to run on the plane. With any luck, they’ll fall asleep on the next flight.
Bring Trash bags for Dirty Clothes
As travel hacks go, this is super easy. It’s also extraordinarily helpful. Pack at least two (or three) trash bags in your carry on. They can be folded very small and they won’t take much room at all.
It’s a great way to keep things tidy and in the off chance someone has an accident (think bodily functions or food avalanche), there’s a place to put the dirty clothes until you can deal with them.
Believe me. There’s nothing worse than having no place to put dirty clothes when you’re traveling. The ones with the order blockers are super lovely. You’re welcome.
Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be hard. These 10 simple international travel packing tips for kids will help you save your sanity and (perhaps) have a little fun on your next long-haul flight.