At some point in their lives, expat parents would have to make a plane trip with their kids in tow—whether to move abroad or to pay a visit to their extended families back in their home countries. Travelling by plane is arguably one of the most grueling journeys to make, as it involves the hassle of inspections, the marathon run from one end of the airport to another, the long hours spent cramped in a small cabin (unless you’re flying coach), and the long wait to collect your checked-in luggage.
Now, imagine having to do all these with restless or exhausted kids.
Some common advice you’ll hear from your expat friends is to avoid travelling with kids who are too young, as they are easily exhausted by the long journey, which will make them even more difficult to manage, or slip in some Benadryl in their drinks to knock them out during the flight. But when you have no choice but to travel and you don’t want to resort to medicating your kids, what then?
For situations like these, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you prepare and survive a long distance flight with your kids that does not involve surreptitiously medicating them!
Pack early and with emergencies in mind
If you know you’re going to be travelling with your kids, prepare lists of the clothes, toiletries, and gear you’d need beforehand in order to making your packing process easier, and to avoid forgetting anything. It’s also important to do your packing at least a week early so that you won’t end up getting flustered on the day of your flight. When packing for your carry-on, always assume that there would be an emergency, so make sure to bring extra clothing, wipes and diapers, and place them at the top for easy access, preferably in a zip lock bag, so you don’t have to turn the whole bag upside down in search of that extra pack of diapers or pair of undies.
Do your research
Not many travellers tend to do research on the airports that they will be arriving at or transiting through, mainly because they rarely need to make use of any special amenities and they have the stamina to walk around till they find what they are looking for. However, when you are travelling with kids, it’s recommended that you do your research to avoiding wearing yourself out more than is necessary, especially when you have to keep an eye (or both eyes) on your kids and lug around a heavy carry-on with your kids’ luggage. Some airports are kid-friendly, with amenities like playrooms, family restrooms, kid-friendly stores and colourful aesthetics catered for kids, so you might want to check them out.
Arrive early at the airport
If you’re used to arriving just in time to catch your flight, you may want to rethink your strategy when travelling with kids. Arriving early will not only allow you to avoid the long queues or holding up the line when your kids decide to throw a temper tantrum, you will also be able to walk to the departure gates at a leisurely pace and not having to run while carrying/dragging your crying kids when you’re late, and wear yourself out.
When planning your flight, put your kids’ needs first
Yes, the 5 AM flight may be cheaper, but it may not be the best idea when your kids are coming along for the ride. Complications happen when your kids get grumpy because they are tired but they can’t sleep on the plane, and if you’re also not accustomed to waking up early, then you’re going to lose your cool easily. If you must travel at ungodly hours, try training yourself and your kids to stay awake and sleep according to your new time zone or travelling times to make it easier on all of you.
Make sure you have a system for going through checkpoints and boarding
Store your passports, boarding passes, visas, and identification documents together in easy-to-reach places. When you have one hand carrying your toddler and the other your carry-on bag, you’d want to be sure that you can produce any document requested during inspections, and not have the rest of the contents in your bag, such as your wallet, fall out. If you choose to wear a jacket and/or a belt, make sure that you can easily remove them at the checkpoint if needed, and not lose sight of your child in the process. For example, you might want to get a trolley bag with wheels that can turn 360 degrees to make your life easier, or if you’re travelling with your spouse, tag team to watch your kids so that the both of you can take small breaks in between.
Prepare lots of entertainment and snacks for your kids
Yes, travelling may be a hassle, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Try packing in some simple games that you can dispose of as soon as you land (e.g. Tic-Tac-Toe, colouring and puzzle books) and snacks to give your kids some variety of entertainment throughout the flight. However, if you’re packing snacks for your kids, make sure they aren’t loaded with sugar or you’ll have hyperactive little terrors on your hands. You can also encourage them to carry a small backpack and pack their own toys so that they would feel part of the trip as opposed to someone who is forced to tag along.
When it comes to travelling with kids, it’s important to remember that you should take into account your kids’ ages, personalities, and routines. After all, different methods will have different degrees of effectiveness on your kids—there’s no one size fits all. It’s also equally important to exercise patience and take things easy, both with yourself and your kids. After all, if travelling can be draining on you, an adult, how would you expect your kids to handle it? Remind yourself that you have absolutely no control over delayed flights, long waiting lines, and what other passengers think when your kids start crying, so just take it in stride and smile.
Found this article useful? To all moms and dads gone international, we get your struggles on long haul flights! If you think we’ve missed out on anything, we’d love to hear it from your own first hand experience.