Or more specifically – how to manage LONG FLIGHTS with a toddler…
As some readers of my blog may or may not know, we have a 15 month old son Jonah who we are currently travelling with on an extensive holiday. We decided in October last year to forfeit our house deposit and goal to have a mortgage for our first home and spend it on a 7 month holiday in Europe. Having a young child did not deter us from our dream of travelling together. We truly believe that the opportunity to do this is momentary and that there are so many benefits to travel now and NOT wait until we are 70 years of age. I have already written a blog previously on our decisions to travel now in specific dot points, and spoke about why we decided to take a trip of this magnitude (please see Travel tab in blog menu to read or click this link) 7 month Europe trip instead of a mortgage
Although having a toddler did not stifle our desire and plans to travel overseas, it did mean that we had to think smart and strategically in order to ensure the overall travel process was as smooth and pain free as possible. Not just for Jonah but for ourselves. We feel justified in considering ourselves in all the planning as this trip is just as much about us as Jonah, and things going more smoothly for us means we are more able to give our best to Jonah as parents. It is our dream and our holiday after all, and Jonah is along for the ride. Not to sound selfish but we are definitely considering our own enjoyment and sanity on this once in a lifetime trip! Just being honest here!
The long flights to Europe is enough to deter many parents from embarking upon the journey – especially in the case of having young children! It’s daunting flying with children and can be a dread that dampens the holiday excitement in the weeks leading up the departure. Admittedly Phil and I were very apprehensive and nervous about the flights with Jonah. I would go as far to say there was moments of dread about flying leading up to the 3rd May when we departed. I recall saying to many people that once they were over I would then consider myself to be in “holiday mode”.
Strategically planning flights and having ideas to make the journey and process easier on everyone doesn’t mean it’s the highlight of the trip 🙄😛 Flying for some (myself included) is never pleasant and not something to look forward to. Completely understandable. I’m not writing this blog entry to try and change someone’s feelings on flying. I am just giving some tips and recommendations that worked for us which made the whole experience helpful, less stressful and overall very manageable. Please note that Jonah is a good kid most of the time. He’s a good sleeper and not a “screamer” child so this was an automatic advantage. However even with this being the case, it didn’t mean he would remain so under unusual circumstances like flying. Phil and I didn’t expect too much of him and went into it expecting it to be challenging, and knowing we would have to be gracious towards him due to the difficult nature of extensive flying, disturbance in his schedule and drastic change in environments.
That would lead to my first recommendation: Have low expectations of the experience. Plan well, but don’t put pressure on yourself and especially your child to adjust perfectly and behave flawlessly. It’s unrealistic even for the most well behaved child and good sleeper. Also any parent would know that a baby 6-7 months or younger sleeps ALOT more than a toddler, and therefor easier in many regards to travel with. I am writing about my experience with flying with a (then 2 weeks ago) 14 month old, not a 6 month old who sleeps 15-18 hours a day and can’t run around!!
Second recommendation: Schedule a night flight for the longest part of your flight journey. This clearly worked for us so that’s why I would say it’s one of my top recommendations. Flying from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi was a few minutes short of 14 hours. We negotiated with our travel agent in length and opted ourselves to make this decision to fly at night. It paid off. We will travel this way again in future if we travel again with our second child. Originally we booked a flight at around 9:30pm, however the flight time got pushed back to 10:35pm over the months. Admittedly this wasn’t ideal for us. As we were going through customs and then boarding the plane it was leading up to 9:30-10pm and by this time we were hoping to have already taken off. The flight being pushed back meant that Jonah was getting very overtired by the time we took off. That first hour on the plane was tough on everyone and for a moment I thought the whole flight would be a disaster. I was just praying “Lord please help hims settle and get some sleep!” Jonah was so tired, very emotional, moody and was crying quite a lot. Poor little guy. He was also confused as to why there were so many noises, lights on and people sitting/walking around him at his bed time. He did end up crashing out on my lap and slept 8.5 hours on the flight. This is what we hoped for. Being on a night flight and having your toddler sleep for a good half to 3/4 of it makes for a very manageable experience, not to mention you don’t have to try and entertain them as much as they don’t feel confined for a long period of time. Ideally you want to try and keep them on a similar schedule to what they are on at home, obviously pushing back the sleep times each day a little bit until they are adjusted to the new time zone.
The only negative about the whole flight was the fact it was later than we wanted. A flight being pushed back cannot be helped, but in our opinion – now that we have done it, is that a 9:30pm flight would be ideal. Depending on when your toddlers bedtime is (Jonah’s is usually at 6:30pm) you don’t want to book the night flight too late. You want them tired by the time they board but not overtired as then it becomes tedious and so difficult to calm them. Flights between 8:30-9:30pm would be ideal if they are an option to you.
Third recommendation: Invest in buying your toddler their own seat on the plane. It does cost extra and makes you cringe a bit – but what price do you put on overall comfortability of your child and yourself and general ease of a flying experience? Buying a ticket for your toddler means they have their own independent space they can stand up on or sit down on to play. It means there is extra room as an entire family in your row – you don’t have to share with a stranger and feel more cramped (this is already an issue enough in economy!) We saw many couples on our flight that were travelling with toddlers. Obviously wanting to cut costs and sit their toddler on their lap. The flight did not go as well for them. The child fussed and kept wanting to break out of their arms, didn’t want to sit on their laps the whole time. I guess this is what starts to happen when they are toddlers – they no longer enjoy long periods of being restrained. This is not how we wanted Jonah to feel, but instead a little more free to be a slightly independent of his mummy and daddy. He was very contented much of the whole flight because of it. Not to mention the third person in the seat next to these families did not seem all that amused. Obviously you can’t always consider everyone else but it does put pressure on a parent if they would have to constantly consider what the random person next to them must think of their child. I also saw a toddler trying to crawl off her mothers lap onto this random lady next to her. Things like this are bound to happen and it requires a lot more attention from you to make sure this doesn’t happen. As much as we cannot control the noise level of our children or how they react to things at times – we do have to control them clambering and climbing onto other people. It cost us $700 each way for Jonah’s own seat and we agree to this day it was worth every cent. Usually a child on the lap cost about $300 or something similar I believe. Big price difference but we weighed up the pros and cons and the cons far outweighed if we didn’t get that extra seat.
Fourth recommendation: Purchase a flight hammock so your toddler can have more leg room AND more importantly lie flat and have a little bed to sleep on. I was advised by my hairdresser only days before I left overseas about a product called “Fly Legs Up” that she was told about by another mum. I immediately looked it up when I got home and did some reading. It is such a helpful travel accessory that every parent should own if they fly with a child. It allows your child extra space and comfortability for sleep and play, it’s compact, lightweight for your carryon luggage and quick to assemble. I ordered that flight hammock so fast and got it express posted and it arrived the next day! We found it to be SO helpful for the flight and 100% believe Jonah slept longer because he was able to lay down. We used a blanket in the plane to make a little cubby for him and to block out some light. It worked a treat. The only thing that woke him a couple of times was when he pilot had to make an announcement and people turning bright lights on. The Fly Legs Up Hammock was invented by a Gold Coast mother and is a local business so definitely an extra bonus! Here is the link to the website: Fly Legs Up Hammock
Fifth recommendation: Ask other parents who have travelled with children to give you any advice they may have. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips. If you’ve never travelled extensively with a toddler you really don’t know all that much. Even writing this now and having flown to England I know a lot less than a couple of parents I’ve spoken to who have travelled frequently and with TWO young kiddies. Reading about something beforehand is a far cry from actually experiencing it. I know this to be true now. So parents who have physically done it may have a couple of very worthwhile tips as opposed to parents who just think something would be a good idea based on little or no experience. Not to mention those parents who haven’t travelled further than interstate. A 2-3 hour flight is a lot easier than a 12+ hour flight. I know I’ve gathered a couple of pointers from parents I have spoken to (mostly social media) who have taken their children from one side of the world to the other. I’ve taken into consideration what they’ve said and not thought I knew it all. It’s been helpful for us to gather ideas.
Sixth recommendation: Pack a few little interesting toys or books that your toddler has never seen or played with before. I went to Kmart a week before our holiday and bought a few little toys that were colourful and had different textures so that Jonah could be amused by them on the flight. Truth be told I never needed to pull them out of the backpack on the long 14 hour flight even after he woke up, as he was amused enough by plastic spoons and forks from the meals, sachets of milk and sugar, his tv monitor, headphones etc. However these little toys came in handy on our second 8 hour DAY flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow where he spent most of his time awake during 2 naps that he had. I was actually given a few tips about packing some toys for Jonah by other mothers. I was intending to do so anyways but the idea of packing or buying a few toys that Jonah had never seen or played with did not occur to me until I asked for advice from other parents and they gave me that helpful tip. It really helped because when I pulled them out he was excited and engaged immediately, and his attention was drawn to the toy for a decent period of time.
Seventh recommendation: When flying to Europe take a stop over for a couple of days to minimise fatigue and jet lag for the WHOLE family. This 100% worked for us, we barely got jet lag at all to be honest. It meant we were able to recharge, unwind, get our bearings and not fall behind on any sleep at all really. After the stopover my recommendation is to take your second shorter flight in the middle of the day. For us, the plan for the 2nd flight was to take the trip during the day just before lunch, so Jonah would have his big day nap shortly after take off (which he did – for 1.5 hours, which gave us a small breather), wake up then play the rest of the time and wear himself out before landing at 7:00pm at night. He was so tired by the time we got to our Airbnb accomodation at 8:45pm that he slept 9 hours that night, only waking once. Which is brilliant for a toddler who has just travelled 22 hours and 2 plane rides in 3 days, and slept in many different beds and environments.
I hope other parents who want to travel with young children will be able to find this blog helpful! As I have already mentioned – these methods worked very well for us and aren’t necessarily going to work for every child but we believe the overall strategy of night flight, stop over, then day flight is very successful. We barely got any jet lag, our son was content for most of the flight, he slept well under the circumstances and the whole experience was very manageable and with minimal stress. He was a delight to many passengers and the crew who complimented me on his behaviour and happy personality. He did not make things hard on us or others – and aside from this being Jonahs nature in general, it certainly did also come down to careful and strategic planning…and PRAYER 🙏🏼😋 I hope some of these tips help other parents if they want to take long flights with their little ones and give you some options you may not have considered previously.
Take care and safe flying