Back in January a reader asked the following on the Planning With Kids facebook page:

I’ve got a question and maybe one of your ‘likers’ has some advice. My husband and I are travelling to Canada from Australia with our four kids (ages 6, 5, 4, 2.5) in a few months time. Any suggestions on what to pack for carryon luggage? Individual packs or trolley bags for each of the kids? Should my husband and I just each take a carry on? Any suggestion for things to pack for the kids to keep busy? I’m aware that we have a 14 hour and 11 hour flight ahead of us just to get there so there’s going to be lots of time just sitting.

There were some fantastic tips and suggestions added to the discussion and as we draw closer to school holidays, I thought it would be a good time to share a collection of these tips. You can see the full facebook discussion on long international flights here.

International Flights With Kids – My Tips

I shared links to my posts that I have written about international travel with kids:

International Flights With Kids – Tips from facebook audience

Limit carry on

Jessicats Zografos – We endured a 23 hour international flight to Greece with our then 2.5 year old twins and 10 month old baby. Because your hands will be filled handling the kids, I’d recommend having as less carry-on baggage as possible. Have a bag of essentials for the kids (change of clothes, snacks, undies, babywipes, tissues etc), a bag of ‘entertainment’ (games, books, coloring activities etc that they can share) and a bag for you and your husband to share with your essentials.

Lisa Claiborne – We just came back from a trip to Europe with kids aged 9, 7 and 2. While all kids are different, one thing I would warn against is actually OVER doing the carry-on luggage. You can end up being laden with a million books / toys / and other stuff that they don’t end up using, which can be exhausting to have to shift around / pack / unpack / carry etc. To be perfectly honest my kids spent about 75% of the flights watching TV. I had no objections to this because they were happy. I figure at 30,000 feet for umpteen hours, you’re in survival mode, so anything goes!

Nappies

Charmaine Wan – Pull ups for the youngest if not potty trained, makes changing nappies easier. With older kids, talk to them and also get them to help where possible. Most importantly, relax… And enjoy.

Allison Clark – Have a nappy and a few wipes in individual ziplock bag (x the number you need) then for changing you don’t need to rifle thru the whole bag to find what you need, just grab one ziplock bag!! Also spare set of clothes in a zip lock bag per kid incase of accidents (maybe more than one) and to freshen up on the stopover.

Carey N Graham McMahon – The only thing I would change is the amount of Nappies I took. On the way home I thought I had a heap, turnds out we had a detour to fiji for almost 12 hours, so that heap turned out to be not enough….

Bags on wheels

Ann-Marie Cahill – We recently travelled to Borneo with a 5yo and a 2.5yo. Not as long or as populated as you (one day…) We did have a small wheeled backpack for each boy, with his own camera, teddy, spare clothes, magazines (toy story, ben 10, cars2), and a little bag of treats they picked out (primarily snakes to suck on during the flight for dodgy ears).

Lisa Claiborne I know people swear by the pull-along suitcases and those Trunki cases too, but I disagree, I feel they are too cumbersome (and how do you open one in an enclosed space, e.g. a plane cabin) anyway? Backpacks all the way!

Jacinda Jones – Agree with Lisa above, small backpacks for each child rather than trolley bags or trunki’s – they get bored with lugging those around after 5 mins and you end up carrying them. Make sure you get comfortable backpacks that they will happily keep on. Keep your carry on to an absolute minimum, you end up having to carry kids as well at some point (although yours are older, maybe you’ll get away with it).

Hotel for transit time

Lisa Zulfiqar – We love to travel and kids do as well. Forgot to mention, do try to pack at least a spair tshirt and trousers for any spills, wipes are a must and a little first aid pack. Tissues, band aids, cream for cuts/bites and a MUST is a packet of chewy lollies to chew only when taking off and landing to help with the air pressure for the kids so you dont end up with sore ears… Do try to find out how much transit time between your 2 sectors and book a hotel in the airport even if it is only for 3 hours. We always try to do this at least you can let them run around and you know where they are. Also good time to freshen up, it is amazing how much better you feel after a quick tub. Biggest thing is patients and funnnn…..

Jacinda Jones – Definitely book into a hotel during stopover if you have more than a couple of hours, its makes such a difference. Attempt to get a good nights sleep before you leave, you do not want to be tired. Make yourself oblivious to the other passengers, I stress with the guilt of disrupting them, but get over that. Most people are incredibly understanding and helpful. Accept that its going to be a slog, but will be worth it when you get there.

Technology and pre-check in

Sally Frawley – This is one instance where technology is your friend. If you have an ipod touch or iPad you could load up some audio books and get a double adapter jack for two kids to listen at once. Oh and try and precheck in for your seats.

Jacinda Jones – Definitely enforce a sleep time on flight when all technology goes off – your biggest threat is overtiredness, thats when the s@!t hits the fan (but dont be disappointed if they dont go to sleep!) Fill out all your forms as soon as you get them on the flight, last minute filling out annoying forms for 5 kids will be stressful.

Snacks

Lauren McCusker – I recommend taking lots and lots of snacks. We brought juice boxes for takeoff and landing, but he didn’t need it. The flight attendants were really nice about giving us a sippy cup of milk for him so save space and hassle and don’t bring drinks. For toys, I brought some favourite books, a new colouring book, some washable markers (Crayola brand, they wipe off everything with a baby wipe), stickers, alphabet flash cards and a few small favourite toys.

Carey N Graham McMahon – For the 9month old, I packed her stuff in mine and my husbands bag.. mostly books, and a favorite teddy bear. We also packed them each a spare outift, a blanket and lots of nappies and wipes. I have a ergo carrier for her and she was on my back during transit (super easy) The only thing I didn’t pack, only because I wasn’t sure was food for the 9month old. They did each get their own tray of food (which was really good, my boy loved every drop). Be sure to preorder it tho… Found out that you can baby food on the flights. oh and pack lots of snacks too/…

Stickers

Lisa Claiborne – sticker books and magnet books by Tiger Tribe are just brilliant for travel!! Also, a set of wipe-off cards called “50 Things to Do on A Plane”.

Jacinda Jones – Each of mine get inside their backpack – an A4 pencil case with paper, coloured pens and STICKERS yes! lots of stickers (they usually get given a colouring book from the airline but generally i find you cant rely much on the airline toys they are rubbish). They can chose a special toy to take – within a size limit.

Laine Yates - Your kids are close in age so they can share “age appropriate” toys – reusable stickers are favourites, wipeable activity cards like the usborne travel card packs, little travel games and UNO is a favorite of ours too. Pack balloons for long waits in transit and hotel rooms – balloon tennis is fun and doesn’t take any room in ur luggage!

Spare clothes

Jodie Daniel – Take some layers of clothes (sweatpants, sweatshirt and spare undies). For the adults, I would take one small bag to carry all your important documents/passports/purse…. and one larger carry-on that has wheels (and pack spare undies & bra). I arrived in Israel once and my bags didn’t. All I had was the clothes on my body, and as passover started that day, all shops closed within hours of me arriving. I never travel without some spare clothes now.

What are your tried and tested tips for international flying with kids?

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16 comments...read them below or add one

  • James March 16, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Great topic! In 2009, my wife and I took our then 5 and 3 year-old boys from Melbourne to London with a 1 hour stopover at Bangkok airport. The flight was much better than we had feared: they loved the unrestricted access to the in-flight movies and being served meals on trays. The biggest hassle on the flight for us was that the boys could not navigate the inflight entertainment and frequently pestered my wife and I to restart their favourite cartoon, which interrupted us watching our choice of movie or even our sleep. At least they weren’t screaming or disrupting other passengers.

    The biggest lesson for us was how unprepared we were for overcoming the jet-lag once we had arrived in London. We arrived early in the morning and my wife and I worked hard at keeping them awake until the London evening. The next morning, our boys woke us at 2am and I could tell that there was no way of getting them back to sleep. Our big mistake was that we had no toys for them to play with, so we sat down on the couch to flick through the TV channels. Even though London has 30 or so free-to-air channels, there was obviously no age-appropriate programming at 2am. We even discovered that there were about 5 adult-channels that had us groping for the remote control button. By 5am, we finally had some more appropriate programming.

    The early starts lasted for 3 mornings (I remember it well). The London Op Shops had some great toys at very reasonable prices, but the clincher was the Op Shop DVD of our boys’ favourite cartoon from Melbourne. The deal that we negotiated in the shop was that we would buy the DVD but they could only watch it the next day if they stayed in bed until 6am. (Our 5yo could read digital clocks at that stage but there was no digital clock in their bedroom). The next morning at 5am, our 5yo called out from his bed, “Is it 6 o’clock yet?”. “No”, I responded, “we have 60 more minutes”. At 5:05am, he called out with the same question! After asking the same question every 5 minutes for the next 20 minutes, I relented and let them watch the DVD.

    On the fourth day, a combination of time and the promise of a new DVD if they slept until 6am meant that they stayed in bed to 6am! Phew!

    I think parents can over-emphasise the perils of long-haul flights with young children, but I would urge any parents planning a trip to prepare for the jet-lag at the destination.

    • PlanningQueen March 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience James. The point about jet lag at the destination is a good one – you need to factor that in on your arrival with what activities you have planned.

  • Trish March 16, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Zip lock bags are useful to take overseas – good for soiled clothes, to put creams and lotions in so they don’t leak,for wet facewashers, and for putting snack food in to feed ever-hungry kids. I bought dry biscuits and other various snacks in the cities we visited and always had little bags of snacks to feed our ravenous 5 yo son inbetween meal breaks.

    The tupperware sandwich square containers are great too – to make and keep sandwiches and other snacks in. Take plain food on board the flight with you (eg vegemite sandwiches) in case your child doesn’t like the airline food (or eats it and then vomits and then, sometime later, is starving but can’t face the airline food!)

    Take an empty drink bottle onboard and ask the airline crew to fill it with water asap. And keep it filled during the flight.

    Take medicine such as cream for stings, antiseptic, band aids, panadol. I always take a thermometer too.

    My 5 yo vomited 7 times between Melb and Hong Kong so we always give him travel sickness medicine before flights, as well as putting the travel sickness wrist bands on him.

    Take a spare set of clothes in your hand luggage for Mum and Dad – in case your child vomits over you (learnt this one from bitter experience!).

    Ask the air crew for their kids packs – they rarely seem to remember to offer them! Some hotels have activity packs for kids too.

    • PlanningQueen March 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      Super tips Trish, you sound quite experienced! I really do love ziplock bags – so handy for so many reasons

      That trip to Hong Kong sounded like a doozie!

  • Sandy March 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Definitely take a set of spare clothes for the adults… DH got vomited on 10 minutes into a 12 hour flight and ended up having to wash his jeans in the bathroom and wear them wet for the rest of the flight while the air sick child changed happily into her spares.

    Never underestimate the entertainment value of a pack of bandaids.

    Take a spare sheet of stickers for the child in the seat behind whose parents forgot to take anything entertaining. ( Stops them kicking your kids seats!) Stickers are cheap enough and light enough that this is a good rule for EVERYBODY!

    If you’re taking car seats for the plane, invest in car seat carriers/backpacks. These are a back-pack harness that straps onto your car seat and lets you carry it easily. Worth their weight in gold when transiting airports with car seats and cranky kids – leaves you with two hands free for the kids and the carryons. We got ours from Amazon, but I’m sure there’s other alternatives out there.

    Remember to double check that you have the favourite dolly/teddy/blankie before you leave the flight! Santa had a real job finding Baby to bring her home after her unexpected stay in the US!

  • PlanningQueen March 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Like the tip about the clothes Sandy. My mother in law actually advised me to pack a spare set of clothes (incl underwear) when I went to LA last year, so I would have a spare set if my luggage got lost.

  • Jo March 16, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    This all sounds very familiar – we travel once a year from the UK to Australia. The primary one for us to help combat the jet lag is to pack PJs for the girls – we then work in the new time as soon as possible going through a full bed time routine at the appropriate time. For this reason we carry a huge amount of snacks so we don’t need to wake the girls to eat airline food.

    I also recommend spare clothes for parents as well – we had 10 hours of vomiting from Hong Kong to UK!

    • PlanningQueen March 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      Thanks for the tips on the jet lag Jo.

  • Gemma March 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I wrote a blog post about this a little while ago too :) We’ve been travelling with our three kids since the eldest was 6 weeks old and I would add the following tips to those listed above:
    1. Someone fill out the arrival/customs/etc cards while you’re on the plane. You don’t want to be doing it in the arrivals hall with screaming kids.
    2. If you’re travelling with a baby a blow-up neck pillow is great to put across your lap to support them while your breast/bottle feeding.
    3. Attach a dummy clip with a toy to it so they can’t chuck it during take off/landing.

    I hope it’s not cheeky, but if you’re interested you can find my post on travelling with baby here :) http://www.gkj-suburbanadventures.blogspot.com/2011/07/flying-with-baby.html

    • PlanningQueen March 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Not cheeky – it is a great post Gemma, thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Jackie@My Little Bookcase March 17, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I haven’t got any tips as I haven’t travelled on a plane with my daughter yet, but I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was with this post. I just love the contributions from your readers.
    I will have to ‘favourite’ this post for future reference.
    Thanks

    • PlanningQueen March 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks Jackie – this year I have really tried to incorporate lots of the amazing ideas that come from the readers of the blog. Crowd sourcing the solutions to our parenting problems!

  • Miranda March 19, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Having recently been on a 24 hour flight with a 3 year old and a 6 month old, by myself I have to agree that less is more when it comes to carry on luggage. I also found that ordering the fruit plate was a good plan, as it arrived before everyone else’s, wasn’t too hot to have set in front of a toddler and was good for all three of us.

  • Karita March 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I’d recommend looking at special headphones for younger kids as the airline ones aren’t very comfortable. That way you can get them used to wearing them before the flight!

    Oh and take an empty Tupperware container to store leftover bits from the airplane meals. If the children aren’t ready to eat when they are served you can save some for later!

  • Eleanor from Crouching Child March 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Great post – I’ve written about managing small kids and their eating while travelling a couple of times at Crouching Child Hidden Vegies – http://crouchingchild.blogspot.com.au/2010/09/travelling-with-toddlers-and-their.html

  • Sarah@Mum's gone 2 Aus March 31, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Hi, great tips. We’ve done several long flights with our boys as preschoolers and would definitely recommend taking clothes for mum and dad, if it’s not sickness you’ll get drinks and snacks all over you! We find weetbix a good carry-on food as the airline have milk and it’s plain and filling. We use a Trunki and agree it’s not ideal for openning in-flight but it’s a great source of entertainment in the departure lounge.
    Happy travels!