We’ve been on over 30 flights with our kids since they were both infants, most of them international, and I’ve shared many travel tips and gear guides over the years. Now that they’re older (5 and almost 7), we don’t stress about travel or what to pack anymore. But we have learned a lot over the years, so I thought I would share some of my best simple tips for taking long flights with kids!
1) For shorter domestic flights, morning flights usually work best for toddlers and kids that still need a nap. Kids are well-rested and in a good mood and if they don’t sleep on the plane, they usually pass out as soon as you leave the airport and get in a car. Naptime and bedtime flights can backfire, especially if your flight is delayed (happened to us on an LA-NY redeye!), but it depends on the child. For longer international flights however, night time flights work well for us so kids don’t have to be entertained for 10+ hours in the daytime.
2) It may seem daunting, but babies under 6 months are often great travelers, especially if you’re breastfeeding. I didn’t wean Olive until she was 26 months old after we got back from a big trip to the Philippines because breastfeeding made travel so much easier. Plus they’re free as a lap infant, aren’t mobile, and they sleep all the time!
3) Book an aisle seat. Since there are four of us and sometimes only three seats in a row, we often split up 2 and 2. Given the option between a window seat and aisle seat, I always choose an aisle seat. The window never keeps them entertained for that long, and you really want to have easy access to the bathroom, swapping seats, or just getting up and stretching your legs when you’re on a long flight.
4) Pack light. I used to be a chronic overpacker, but now I try to pack as light as possible. The kids carry their own backpack with a lovey, ipad, coloring book, markers, paper, cards, and some small figurines. My backpack holds a change of clothes for the kids, a layer for all of us (it gets cold on the planes!), and lots and lots of food and snacks. I usually pack less outfits than I need for the entire trip because I end up buying a couple of things, and if we run out of clothes I just wash them by hand with shampoo.
5) Check in all the luggage and use a backpack as your diaper bag. I always check in everything I can and take a backpack as my carry-on so my hands are free to wrangle children. Backpacks are also easy on your back and fit under the seat in front of you so you don’t have to deal with overhead storage space.
6) Use a baby carrier instead of a stroller. You can usually wear your baby through security and the less stuff you have the better. I think we’ve only traveled once with a stroller — on Charlie’s first flight.
7) Dress your kids in comfy clothes. For us this means Crocs, leggings or sweats, and t-shirts. Crocs are easy to take on and off if needed through security and when deplaning, and elastic waistbands mean easier trips to the bathroom.
8) Have your kids use the bathroom in the airport before you board the plane. When you have all that space and don’t have to wait in line.
9) Skip the in-flight meals. Usually my kids don’t want to eat what’s served even when we pre-order the kids’ meal. It’s also a big hassle to maneuver the tray tables when they’re all open and it takes a long time for them to be cleared. You have to check in 3 hours before your flight on international flights so we always get there early and eat before we board the plane. I also usually pack easy foods like sandwiches or seaweed rice rolls because kids get hungry when they travel.
10) Board last if you have younger children so they can run around and burn off energy before the flight. If you’ve packed light, then overhead storage isn’t a concern so you don’t need to board early. If you’re traveling with your partner, you can also split up with one boarding early and the other boarding last. Since my kids are older and used to 12+ hour flights, we usually board early to get situated.
11) Eat at your destination’s local time (instead of your home’s local time) and get plenty of sunlight once you arrive to reset your internal clock and reduce jet lag. The first year we traveled to the Philippines the jet lag was brutal. But it got better and better each year and the more we travel the faster our kids seem to recover.
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Do you have any simple tips for flying with kids?