The last time I travelled long haul, I found it really boring. I watched more movies than I thought possible and attempted to doze a few times. I read a book, drank wine, chatted to Husband and picked at the awful airline food. I obviously didn’t have children at the time.
Fast forward five years – and three children – later and I was terrified about flying from London to Brisbane with our 4yo boys (who never sit still) and our 2yo (who has serious control issues about being strapped into her car seat and buggy). I took a poll online about whether it was best to have a layover for a few days or go straight through and the responses seemed mixed, so we decided to go for it by flying straight through. All in, with travel at both ends and a short break in Singapore, it involved the grand total of 30 hours of travel. The bonus was that as we were emigrating, it was only a one-way journey.
We all survived. Just. No, seriously, it was bearable. The boys were absolutely awesome beyond my expectations, and E was way worse than I could ever have expected but then she had a cold which probably made her ears hurt.
I wanted to write a post to cover everything I learnt about flying long haul with toddlers and pre-schoolers in case it can help anyone else out there. I know I’ll be better prepared when I head back to the UK for our next holiday. Some of the links in the post are affiliate links, meaning I earn a few pennies if you click through to buy any of the products, but I’ve only listed things that made my life easier.
This post contains compensated links
Where to sit when you travel with kids
Request the bulkhead seats when booking your tickets as these give you more space. Unfortunately they tend to book up quickly (and priority will go to those with young babies), so it’s wise to book your flights as early as possible. How many seats you can get in a row depends on the size of the aircraft, but in economy, A380s have rows of three on the outside and a middle row of four. The smaller 747 we travelled on had two by the windows and four in the centre – each airline is slightly different. It worked out well for us to have the window seat row with the rest of us sitting in the middle, broken with the aisle. It meant we could swap seats to get a change of scenery and switch kids when one of us needed time out from the littlest when she was particularly unhappy.
Tip: Make sure you ask for children’s meals when booking. We booked with a really helpful company over the phone but they never mentioned children’s meals. When we were on board we realised every other child was getting special meal boxes whereas ours were being given adult meals like chicken curry – they didn’t have any extras on board so it meant our kids only ate crisps for the whole first flight as they’re all picky eaters. Thankfully they called through to the second flight and organised meals for us on that one. Not that they ate those either, but at least they could have had chicken nuggets if they wanted to.
How to get around the airport with kids
If you have a lot of luggage, like we did (10 lots of hold luggage, including a wrapped up buggy, and five lots of hand luggage) then paying the porters at Heathrow is worth every penny. It cost us about £27 to get two guys to take our luggage from the taxi drop off right up to the desk, and with it they took our stress away. I’d have personally paid them £50 for the service – as it meant we could focus on looking after the kids while we waited in line to check in. Not every airport offers the service, but if they do, use it! For an average family holiday it wouldn’t cost this much – it was only that we needed two people and two big trolleys for all of ours. We didn’t pre-book the service – we just picked up the phone to arrange it as our taxi dropped us off and two men appeared to help us two minutes later.
I used my trusty twin Kool Kangaroo Boomereins when we arrived at the busy airport along with an extra wrist strap so I could attach all three to my waist. You can get them on the Kool Kangaroo website or on Amazon: Boomerein Hands Free Retractable Child Safety Rein. It worked a treat and meant we could focus on talking to the staff about why we had such an incredible amount of luggage (we’d been granted 40kg each as we were emigrating, but they took quite a while to check this out and confirm we were good to go). I know at 4yo my boys should be trustworthy enough not to be on reins now, but alas in an exciting situation like a busy airport I knew that one of them would play up and run around which would encourage the other to follow suit. As we walked through the airport later on I used our cute LittleLife butterfly backpack (Littlelife Children’s Backpack L10247 Multicolour 2.0 liters) for E to keep hold of her while the boys rode or pulled their Trunki’s (see my next point for more about these!)
What hand luggage to take when you travel with kids
“Are Trunki’s really that great?” I hear you ask! I bought these for my three especially for this trip because I wanted to make the journey exciting for the kids, after all we were moving abroad to start a new life.
I was really interested to see what I thought of them as people seem to love or loath them.
The kids adored them, and they were such a novelty that they wanted to ride them all around the airport. It stopped them from wanting to run off (#winning) but when they got bored of them (very quickly) they hated being made to pull them along. We almost lost the T Rex Trunki when we landed in Brisbane as T1 had had enough and just left it behind. It was only when I stopped to count up the children and bags that I realised we were one bag short and ran back to find it looking lonely by the luggage carousel (better to lose a bag than a child, that’s what I say). They fit a lot in them but they aren’t the easiest things to open mid-flight (put your flight toys in a little bag inside and take this bag out before you take off so you don’t need to open it again until you land). I’d say for one or two young children these are great, but three very young children got bored quickly meaning we ended up carrying our own rucksacks, a tired toddler, holding the boys’ hands AND carrying three bulky Trunki’s on our shoulders. It made the journey more stressful, but next time the kids will be older and our hand luggage won’t be so heavy so it won’t be so tough (as we used our hand luggage to transport our important documents/laptops/tablets and anything precious we couldn’t afford to lose in our hold luggage). On the whole, I love them and the kids love them so I’m happy that I bought them as they turn travel into an exciting novelty for the kids.
Tip: Double check with the airline whether you can take your buggy to the gate if your child is over 2 years. We paid for a seat for E as she had just turned two, and the booking agent told us we would have to check her buggy in as hold luggage as you can only take it up to the aircraft if your child is under 2yos. We packaged it up and had to carry/drag E all around the airport which was a struggle. We met other families on the plane with children older than E who had been allowed to take their buggy to the gate and were given it for the stopover to get to the next gate. This would have made life SO much easier. Next time I won’t rely on the booking centre’s advice – I’ll speak to the airline directly.
Travel booster seats
I debated about whether to get the boys Trunki BoostApak Travel Backpack Booster Car Seat (Green) instead of regular Trunki cases, but at around £45 each I decided to look at alternatives. After reading lots of reviews I went for the £29.99 Bubblebum travel booster seats which are inflatable. When you have to buy two this makes quite a saving (E is still too small for them but I plan to buy one for her in a year or two).
I packed these in our hold luggage and made sure I knew which case they were in so we could whip them out easily when we landed before we got in a cab. They’re super easy to use, and really comfortable according to the kids. The only downside was the taxi driver told us they weren’t legal in Australia which was a shame as we’d planned on using them for the first week until we bought proper car seats for the boys. I’m sure we’ll get lots of use out of them in the future though for holidays and trips back to the UK, so it wasn’t a complete waste of money and I was really impressed with the product as they seem really durable and well-made. In hindsight, I’m pleased I bought these over the Boostapaks as the Trunki cases were more exciting for the kids as hand luggage than a travel booster would have been.
What to pack when travelling with kids
On a long haul flight, do your best to keep your hand luggage light (obviously, it wasn’t possible for us when we were emigrating, but next time I’ll take my own advice). There will be times you end up carrying all the bags (see above!), and one or two children too. Carrying heavy bags just makes you more hot and sweaty than you need to be.
This is what I packed:
Baby wipes (I took a couple of half packs so hubby and I both had one – half a pack was a lot lighter and less bulky than a full pack).
Nappies, nappy bags and a travel changing mat (again, some in both of our bags – take more nappies than you think you’ll need as being in the air can do funny things to a baby’s digestion).
We had one spare set of lightweight clothes for each of us (this was useful as E was sick on one of the flights and the boys poured drinks all over the place) plus a set of pyjamas each for the kids. I put the relevant person’s clothes in their bag so I’d know where to go for things quickly.
Paracetamol (for me!)
Sachets of Calpol for the kids (these need to go in the clear plastic bags they give you at security).
A folder of important documents that included: our passports, print out of our tickets, our visa letters, our letters that confirmed our new passports were now linked to the visas, birth certificates, driving licenses, the statement of the credit card we’d booked the flights on (I only found out you needed the credit card you booked the flights on the day before we flew only we had already cancelled it and cut it up! Luckily I still had the statement which they said was enough proof when I called up to check – phew), the address of where we were staying and the phone number of the taxi company that I’d booked to meet us.
Hand wash gel
Hairbands for me and E
Some small sandwich bags (to put rubbish or dirty clothes in).
A magazine (haha that was a joke – I knew there was no chance I’d have time to read a magazine but it was a nice idea!)
E’s soft pink blanket for nap time.
Each of the kids’ favourite teddy bears which they all snuggled up to at nap time.
A few favourite story books for bedtime.
Two tablets with apps loaded on (remember to check these are working before you set off as I found mid-flight some I had promised them weren’t working and it was too late to go back online and fix it). Also, remember not to run your devices too low before you board the last flight as they might ask you to boot them up at security (if you can’t turn them on you may have to leave them).
A LOT of snacks and sweets. Airline food is pretty awful, and your kids will probably just want crisps, raisins and sweets. I didn’t pack nearly enough of this and regretted it.
A lightweight jumper for the kids in case they felt cold.
A couple of bottles of water bought just before boarding the flight. (They don’t bring enough drinks around and your kids will get through them quickly. Again, I didn’t buy enough and we had finished our first bottle before the seatbelt sign was off on the first flight.)
A portable DVD player with some favourite films, just in case we were delayed at one of the airports.
Some printable colouring pictures and some travel journal pages.
As well as all of the above, I also bought quite a few travel activities for the journey, including those I’ve listed below. I spent about £35 and got a really good selection so it was well worth the investment. They worked brilliantly and kept the kids entertained between movies.
100 Things for little children to do on a journey: This wipe clean pack of cards was fantastic. Full of puzzles and mazes to entertain the kids. Just get a wipe out of your bag to use to wipe off the pen so the kids don’t use their t-shirts!
50 things to do on a plane: Another pack of wipe clean cards full of fun things to do. My kids played with these for ages on the plane.
Pocket doodling and colouring: T2 is obsessed with drawing and colouring, so this was perfect for him on the flight.
Where’s Wally: My kids had heard of Where’s Wally but they hadn’t actually tried it for themselves, so I bought this mini book set with magnifying glass for them. It was a massive hit, so much so that I’ve since had to buy many more Where’s Wally books and even got them a Where’s Santa book for Christmas!
Peppa Pig sticker book: As a massive Peppa fan, and a sticker lover, this book was perfect to entertain E at take off.
Add some pound shop colouring books and crayons and that was all we needed. The key was keeping the new activity packs hidden from them and then getting a new one out every so often.
Next time I won’t be taking any travel board games or cars as they just got lost under the seats. I found the puzzle books and spot the difference type games were by far the best way to entertain the boys. E was happy enough with her stickers, watching things on the tablet and – how we spent much of the flights – walking up and down the aircraft.
This list of travel gift ideas for kids includes some great things you can use on your next trip.
Go with the flow and be prepared
My final tip is to let your kids have whatever will make them happy in flight. The airline staff will do whatever they can to cheer up a crying baby or toddler, so if they offer you an ice cream or a bar of chocolate for them, take it! It’s only for one day and if they’re happy, you’re happy. And don’t panic about other passengers if your little one is upset. We had so much support from passengers who were sympathetic to E’s cries and it really did bring out the best in people – it’s hard enough worrying about travelling with little ones as it is without worrying about what other people are thinking.
You can prepare as much as possible for the journey, but you can’t control how your child/children are going to feel on the day. Just remember, the flight will happen and you will get to the other side. If all goes well, it probably won’t be anyway near as bad as you’re expecting.
PS Have I included everything? Is there anything you can’t travel without? I’d love to hear about it.