Recently, my family and I flew from Orlando, Florida to Sydney, Australia.
My daughter was gifted this trip by the amazing organization Make a Wish Foundation who grants wishes to kids with life-threatening illnesses. Read more about her story HERE. Although I knew this would be a trip of a lifetime, I was really stressed out in the days prior, knowing that we would be traveling for over 24 hours, most of which would be whilst buckled tightly into a seat on an airplane. My kids have flown internationally before, so this was not new to us, but this length of time is enough to daunt even the well-traveled family. So, I took on the job of becoming the most prepared mom ever and researched, researched and researched some more. Now that our trip is behind us, I can share with you what worked, what didn’t, and what I’d do differently next time. DO’s and DON’Ts.
This post is kind of long, but BOOKMARK it , or PIN it (below), so you can refer back to it later on as an encyclopedia of must-know travel tips.
BEFORE YOU GO:
DO decide who’s coming on the trip.
We have 3 children. Only two of which made this trip with us. This might sound harsh, but we had to decide whether or not it was better to bring the baby, or leave her safe and snug at home – this time. We have traveled internationally with the other two as infants before, but the longest flight was 7 hours- and even that was really difficult. I was so torn about being on the other side of the world without her, but I realized how selfish that was of me. Although infants fly free on an adult’s lap, for us, the trade off of having to juggle her for 24 hours straight (aka. no one on the plane sleeps) just to include her on a trip she wouldn’t even remember- just seemed unfair- to her, and our other two kids. She’d much rather stay home in the familiarity of what she knew, with someone she loved (grandparents) than battle the pressurizing of her ears, the bacteria of new food, and the pure stress of travel, all because I FELT BAD. It was hard, but in the long run it was the best decision. She would’ve been miserable. Give yourself permission to have fun! And realize that a baby’s fun, and your fun are two different things. He or she will have a blast back at home being the center of attention at G’mas or Auntie’s house. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
DO call the airline or look on the website to see how many bags (especially carry-ons) you’re allowed.
You need to know how many carryons so that you can properly PACK those carryons with the essentials. We were allowed ONE personal bag, and a carryon. I designated the “personal” bag to be the “Kid’s In-Flight Survival Kit” and the carry on was a change of clothes, and the stuff they wouldn’t need the whole time. I HAVE been on an international trip where my luggage never arrived- and I had WISHED for that change of clothes! Plus- in case of a bathroom accident or a (god-forbid) puking incident, you’d definitely want the kids to have a change of clothes easily accessible.
DO plan their outfits:
Think: no hassle, no buttons, no zippers or ties, if possible. The less fuss the better. Especially waist line fuss. This will be the easiest when needing to use the bathroom and most comfy to lounge around in. Slip-on shoes, socks, and extra hair ties are a must. Hats are good too, because you will most likely have bed-head after a long flight.
DO prepare a “Kid’s In-Flight Survival Kit” for each child.
Now is not the time, place or environment to be teaching the concept of sharing. Save that stressful lesson for the comforts and privacy of your own home. Not having to share will eliminate many potential fights, which will totally be worth it in the big picture. Make it special for them by preparing them their own personal “In-Flight Survival Pack” carryon. I suggest a backpack because you also do not need MORE luggage to be hauling through a busy airport, so make sure it is something that they themselves can handle. I made sure they both had kid sized rolling bags that they could roll through the airport themselves. Plus, you’ll earn some grace beans with the other travelers who will think your kids are adorable.
Here are some of the items that were in EACH kit.
1. Their Own Kid- Sized Headphones– for inflight movies, and to use with their Leap Pad/Ipod or other electronic device. I found these at the dollar section of Target with different sized ear buds which was perfect for their tiny ears.
2. Their own no-spill drink bottle for the complimentary drink service. We didn’t want juice spilled all over themselves,each other, us, or the electronics that are a life-saver.
3. Activity Folder: I prepared/printed out a folder of activities – Since we were going to Australia, I found word searches in the shape of a Kangaroo, coloring sheets of koalas, crosswords that looked like the Harbor Bridge etc. Just lots of pages of activities with fun facts about our destination. Age-appropriate. They all fit in one thin folder. I also included pages of stickers- to let them go nuts. I had a couple of thin sticker activity books as well that I too bought in the dollar section for added fun.
4. A Snack Box. This won us major points with the flight attendants. They were in awe of the supermom who was prepared, so much so that they took photos of our snack boxes to show their fellow flight attendants. We bought these boxes at IKEA here, and they each got their own. They took up half their backpack, but let’s be honest, it was real estate WELL SPENT. The rule of the snack box is: YOU ONLY GET ONE SNACKBOX for the whole flight, so you have to pace yourself. Each snack box contained compartments full of healthy and yummy snacks- (not too much sugar b/c they are stuck on the plane, remember) also (no fresh fruit, bc we weren’t sure they were allowed to have it on an international flight).
Some snacks we put in the Snack Box:
Trader Joe’s Organic, Sugar Free Lollypops for take off and landing to help de-pressurize the ears
Pack of gum (same as above)
Yogurt covered pretzels
Yogurt covered raisins
Gluten Free tortilla chips
Fruit roll ups
Fruit Pouches (like Go Go Applesauce)
Some weird little candy-gadgets (you know the kind- the ones they always beg for in the supermarket aisle)
5. A box of twist-up Crayons. The kind that you twist like a mechanical pencil when you need more. These are less messy, and they are less likely to roll off the tray needing to be picked up off the floor. IMO
6. Their own neck pillow- they picked out their own from Marshall’s. They were inexpensive and necessary for sleeping.
7. A Sweater/Sweatshirt in case they got cold
8. Their own mini pack of wet wipes.
9. A Toiletries Ziplock that included all travel sized items they might need while on the flight, like Toothpaste, toothbrush, Hand sanitizer (Young Living’s Thieves is my brand of choice because it builds their immune system while protecting against viruses, bacteria and germies on the plane…)
10. ONE snuggle toy/blankie. (with a spare packed in our checked bags)
DO bring MEDS for them/and yourself as well:
All prescription meds have to be in your carryon in case of emergency. Besides that, I made sure to have plenty of tylenol and Benedryl (or your decongestant of choice) on hand. We don’t like to take too many meds, as a rule- but on a long flight, you don’t want to be miserable- you need instant gratification. Tylenol/Advil in case of headaches or pains, and benedryl in case of congestion which is excruciating when flying. Especially to children. It causes them not to be able to clear the pressure in their ears and sinuses during takeoff and landing- trust me, you want to be prepared for this, otherwise you’ll be dealing with a screaming child on no sleep which is a recipe for disaster. It also can help them sleep (be sure and read all directions, and don’t test this out for the first time, on this flight. It can actually have the opposite effect on some children as we learned the hard way once).
DO pack your small liquids and gels and aerosols in one ziplock bag that can be taken out quickly. (While going through security).
Going through security is stressful. Just know that going in, and you will not be annoyed, or taken by surprise. You will have to wait. You will make other people wait. You will have to take off shoes, and open bags, turn on laptops, fold up strollers- the whole nine. Just expect it, and get through it. People will huff and puff- don’t let them dictate your mood. It’s all part of the day. And you can’t change it. Accept it, and do it with a smile.
WHILE ON THE FLIGHT:
Be creative with passing the time:
Maybe they get to have one little gift each hour that they behave well. Or maybe you tell them that they only get to do one activity for only so long, so that they do not get bored with the activities.
Play games: Old Maid, Go Fish, I Spy, Tic Tac Toe these are all games that travel well. There is an activity pack you can buy called 52 things to do on a plane with kids. I bought it on Amazon. We ended up not needing this- but it has some great ideas!
DO encourage them to get up and stretch.
As long as it’s safe to do so, walk to the back and do a few stretches every couple of hours. I was in the back doing forward folds (yoga moves) because I needed some circulation in my low back.
DO take turns (as parents).
If possible, it helps if you arrange one parent being “on”, and one parent being “off” in shifts when it comes to dealing with the kids. The plane we were on had rows of only 3 seats across. So that meant one parent to both children at a time. This will be a loooong flight if only one parent gets to rest/sleep. We took 3 hour shifts.
DO let them watch the movies, and in-flight entertainment- They’re safer that way.
(As long as the shows etc. are ok with your family standards) because, again, now is not the time to be lecturing about limiting their tv intake, although a worthy and valid cause normally. There’s a reason airlines pour millions into this: studies have shown that children in vehicles with tv’s/DvD players etc. are hurt LESS and less often because they stay strapped in, and still. Kids/people that are bored and fidgety tend to want to move around more, increasing their chances of being injured.
DO keep a working trash bag.
Its just easier than scrambling when you see the FA coming down the aisle.
Don’t be rude to the flight attendants, no matter how tired or grumpy you are.
They have the ability to be really helpful in the case of a parenting emergency. You want them on your side. They were willing to go above and beyond for us, even offering us a tour of the cockpit at the end of the flight; as opposed to another entitled mom on our flight who chewed them out, made a scene and who treated them like they were idiots. It’s not their job to feed your kids, hydrate your kids, entertain your kids, or anything else. It’s their job to keep you safe. Be nice to them they risk their lives for you.
The ironic thing about all this preparation is that we were way OVER prepared.
Our plane happened to have in-flight individual touch screen on-demand tv, movies, games and music. Our kids were so in love with this that we barely needed to entertain them at all. But, you never know which plane you’ll end up on. And how long you may be stuck somewhere.
Tell us about your experience of flying with kids in the comments below.
What worked for you?
What ideas do you have?