When my husband sent me an email that stated, “We have a chance to spend a year abroad!”, I felt my spirit soar at the possibilities! We would travel, see the sights, enjoy international festivals and food and more! And then suddenly it hit me…I would be traveling on a transatlantic flight with my 3 and 7 year old.


Don’t get me wrong, my kids are fantastic, fun-loving, creative, and curious girls with infectious laughter and a sense of humor beyond their years. I love and adore them! However, as a pseudo-claustrophobic sleep sensitive mom, I dreaded the thought of a 10+ hour flight sitting in a cramped plane keeping them amused or dealing with the pre-nap whining. To further dampen my initial enthusiasm, the news came that my husband would be traveling ahead of us while I would be flying solo with the kids. I envisioned him stretched out, with an empty seat beside him to hold his Men’s Health magazines while he watched movies and enjoyed a glass of Merlot.

Anyway, the excitement was still palpable and so I put those thoughts aside and focused on planning our trips and outings abroad. As I began locating kid friendly activities in London and Paris, water parks and spas in Germany and exciting trips to souks in Morocco, I realized that our family had so much waiting for us across the ocean and with a little planning I could make the journey as fun as the destinations.

So, here are some of my own bits of advice that helped us make long haul trips to places such as London, Germany, Morocco and France including tips from other trips to India, Thailand, and Japan with our older daughter when she became a teenager. Hopefully these tips encourage you to take the leap and enjoy such journeys as well.

 

1. Timing is everything

Kids have their own personal biological rhythms and you as a parent know those rhythms better than anyone. These insights help when scheduling your flight. Some parents swear by a late night flight because the children are already naturally in sleep mode. That hopefully means that you can spend half of your flight catching up on all those movies you sacrificed while watching every animated movie ever released since you took on the mantle of parenthood.

Taking a night flight allows you to activate their sleep mode and prep them in advance. For example, I’ve taken the 8pm non-stop, overnight flight from Denver to London Heathrow with my 3 and 7 year old. After getting them through security (more about that below) and arriving at our gate, I took them straight to the restroom. They brushed their teeth, put on their princess jammies, robes, and slippers and then waited at the gate; much to the delight of my fellow passengers. Kids only have a handful of years where they are fully exempt from any dress code so I encourage them to enjoy it. It also signals to other passengers that, “Hey! I’m traveling with these adorable kids and so if you hear any ruckus just know that they are still fantastically cute!” Which leads me to tip number 2.

Travelling with Kids | HDYTI

 

2. You are not alone

I think parents often assume that they have to struggle in silence or do their best not to bother the crew, staff, other passengers etc. This is NOT TRUE! Almost every traveller knows that traveling with kids is not perfect or easy. It is simply another part of this adventure called life. So don’t be hesitant to ask airline staff crucial questions like, “Will there be pre-boarding for those of us traveling with young children?” “Will there be free meals, headphones, or fun activity kits for the kids?” “Will I have to carry car seats, strollers, etc. to the gate or is there a drop off point near the check-in area?”

Asking or researching these questions and finding out the boarding process can make a world of difference to your travel experience. Knowing such useful information has saved me valuable time that I was then able to devote to other necessities without the additional worry of keeping our place in endless queues. One airline gave the children an activity kit with cut out planes; very simple items that kept them amused for over an hour! So get to know your airline staff a bit and ask questions before boarding begins so they can connect with you and your kids. You’ll often be pleasantly surprised how warm and willing to help they are.

Flying with kids | Janet Damon

 

3. Bring your own fun

Wondering what to pack in your child’s carry on? Think of your child’s cute rolling luggage or backpack as a little life-saver of entertainment. I usually pack some toys such as magnetized board games, dolls, small action figures, and toy cars. It gives them a way to interact with their siblings or with you. Next, a tablet is always nice. My kids travel with the LeapPad 2 and even though I have never bought more than 4 or 5 games on the thing, it always gives them a nice way to independently play and relax.

Finally, I like to have a set of colored pencils, markers or crayons so that they can journal a bit about some of their interesting sights or experiences we’ve shared. These will become as cherished as the memories they create while abroad. I especially like having them do this on the back of extra postcards so that we can tape them in their travel journals.

Flying with kids | Janet Damon

 

4. Security Security!

Surviving the strip down searches at some airport security checkpoints comes down to half planning and half pure unadulterated luck! You can only hope that you won’t end up in a soul-crushing line that results in you being late and having to run down a concourse carrying two kids and three carry-on’s. However, this is where planning can be a life saver. Arrive early. Arrive earlier than early because when you are traveling with kids unexpected things can happen! We once set out to catch a flight from an airport an hour away only to discover road construction which forced us to take a 30 minute detour though the English countryside. Leaving early saves you the stress and arguments that come when you have to break speed limits to get to the airport.

Next, some security checkpoints will send you down a special line for those traveling with small children and/or a stroller-car seat combo. This will most likely save you time and place you among friendly faces (this usually means other families traveling with kids who won’t mind waiting while you remove coats, shoes, and the six tries it takes to fold your stroller). Keryn Means of ‘Walking On Travels’ provides additionally useful tips on navigating airport security with kids, here.

Airports | Flying with kids

 

5. Critical mass

Imagine this scenario: You’re in-flight and your kid is losing patience and having a meltdown because their headphones keep sliding off or because they’ve lost something. Worse still, it is almost impossible to locate anything because you have four bags of luggage in cargo, two carry-on stored overhead, and you’re sure there is an entire Lego set in your purse. In this scenario, emotions can often reach boiling point. I once heard Tom Jones, a well regarded specialist in human behavior say, “Calm is strength”.

This is the time to tap into your child’s mirroring neurons and model the behavior you expect from them. That means being calm, soothing and stable. If that fails, you can try to distract them by saying things like, “Oh my goodness I think we’ve finally moved over the ocean! Let’s see where were are on the flight tracking screen!” or “Oh no! Mommy needs to find our tickets/passports or (insert your preferred distraction here)”. “Can you help me check my purse?” One fun distraction is ‘Secret Spy’. You can whisper, “Someone on this plan is a super secret spy – they’re wearing a (insert your preferred spy gear here)”. “Let’s take a quick walk or take a quick stretch and you see if you can find them; but you have to whisper because we are super spies too!”

You know your child’s trigger points so just try to keep the time space continuum in mind. As you find nap time or bedtime approaching get ahead of it by keeping routines even in-flight. A bedtime story or special rub of lavender bedtime lotion will provide some cues for what comes next. Your kids will appreciate it and you’ll be rewarded with a stress-free flight.

Flying with kids | Janet Damon

 

A few last minute random tips

  • Have a ‘Go Bag’ (i.e., bag of essentials) and fill it with sticks of chewing gum for kids who can’t yet ‘pop’ their ears during the take off and descent of a plane. It will save you many tears and attempts at yawning. I also find that a drink of bottled water helps their ears adapt to air pressure changes.
  • Carrying chewable tablet children’s pain relievers (e.g., ‘Meltaways‘)  instead of liquid versions will save you time at security checkpoints.
  • Have an earphone splitter in case someone’s screen isn’t working on the flight then the kids can share rather than change seats with you (or worse!).
  • Bring your own light blankets for the kids…something they can easily put in their own carry on. It helps with sleep and overall comfort.
  • Make them keep their area clean. Your youngest child might not need their foot space so consolidating items and keeping a bag for trash will help you stay organized and sane on a long flight.
  • Fill out any immigration papers early. The rush to get through customs on arrival can be fierce so pre-completing any declaration forms while on the plane will help.

Flying with children | Janet Damon

Finally, remember to enjoy the journey and all your travels!!


Shared with HDYTI by Janet Damon, Librarian and curator of Mix Momma. Janet will be sharing parenting tips on ways to bring a mix of global music, dance, art, travel, food, and culture into the lives of their children and families.


 

Have you flown with young kids on long haul flights? Do you have any tips of your own to share? We’d love to hear them. Please drop your comments below.

 

You can find other useful parent tips for entertaining children on here.