Since our son was born, we have traveled quite a bit. Over 16 flights, both short and long haul, domestic and international. We also have traveled by car and camped. In 17 months, Roark has become a seasoned toddler traveler!
Before we decided to expand our family, my husband and I traveled quite a bit in our lives – over 25 countries each. With all of our experience traveling, we were not prepared for the changes that happen when you add a child in the mix. We thought it would be quite easy- just add a kid and go! HAHA- you can’t see me, but I am laughing histerically – because that was so naive!
Traveling with kids is not even close to being easy! For one, you don’t just add a kid, you add a diaper bag, a carseat, a stroller, diapers, clothes, bottles, bottle cleaner, food and snacks, toys, etc… You get the picture! More stuff than you’ve ever packed in your life!!!
We used to be a one bag or carry-on only kind of couple, but now we look like pack mules walking through an airport! And yes, there is room for improvement and we are working on that, but the point is it’s so different than traveling solo.
But it is not just the extra stuff you need to worry about when traveling with a child, there is logistics as well. Instead of buying the cheapest flight that leaves at 5am, we rather pay more now to make sure we don’t have to wake up our dragon (a.k.a our son). We also pay more to make sure we don’t have too many layovers and always extend the amount of time between layovers so we can tire him out, change diapers and feed him. Things we would never do before.
We do a little dance every time we are lucky enough to get a free middle seat while he is considered a lap infant and are already dreading the day we have to pay full price for his ticket!
Since becoming parents, we started loving night travel, which means he will be asleep for most of it, and if we are lucky, one or both of us also gets a couple hours of rest to be able to stay up with a toddler in case of jetlag.
Oh, the joys of travel with kids!!!
All joking aside, travel is still a priority for us. We create wonderful memories as a family and learn new things by going to different places and meeting new people. We value the education and experiences travel provides us and will provide to our son. That is why as difficult as it may sound, we still do it and plan on doing it for the rest of our lives.
So today I want to share with you 5 hacks to travel with kids on long-haul flights (over 6hrs). These hacks are not all emcopassing because there is so much about travel that I can write, but only 5 lesser known tips that you may not be aware exists.
[ 1 ] Bring a pillow
It may sound ridiculous if you are a minimalist traveler and I get it. I used to be you! On long-haul flights they provide pillows and blankets, so why carry the extra weight?
Because it makes for a perfect infant/toddler bed. Not only will a pillow allow your little one to sleep more comfortably, it also helps with feeding (breast or bottle) and allows you to have your arms free while they are asleep. Holding a child for 6+hrs gets uncomfortable and quite sweaty! Of course, you can baby wear your infant if they are small enough, but once they reach a certain age (6 months) and become more mobile, some babies don’t want to be held constantly. So a pillow allows them to be close, but not restrained.
R is quite tall for his age and quite heavy too, but as you can see above he can sleep comfortably on my lap on a king size pillow.
A quick tip : buy a pillow for travel only and use a cheap or old pillowcase. That way you are not carrying airport/plane germs into your bed and if it gets lost or dirty, then it’s not a big deal.
[ 2 ] Board first or last
If you are flying internationally, often the airlines will call for parents with children under 2 to pre-board. Take advantage of that. Boarding early guarantees you space on the overhead compartment, allows you time break down the stroller without holding up the line and to get settled into your seat with your child. It’s wonderful!
If this option is not available, then buying a pre-boarding pass can also help alliviate the stress.
BUT if early boarding is not available and you rather not pay for a pass, then I suggest to board last. Send your partner/spouse (assuming you are not traveling alone with your child) to take care of the bags and carseat/stroller. Then wait until the last person has boarded to go in. That way you avoid having to wait for people to put away their luggage and to get settled in. Boarding is bad enough for an adult, but even worse on a child, specially one that can walk.
[ 3 ] Bring bottled water
We all know that we can’t bring liquids over 2oz through security, but that rule does not apply if you are traveling with kids. Bottled water, juice, and milk are allowed through security as long as it is for the child. So take advantage of that, specially if you are formula feeding and need distilled water. You will be stopped at security for them to test the liquid, but it’s easy enough and it allows you to be certain that the water is safe and that you will have enough for a long flight with your child.
[ 4 ] Reserve a bassinet
Did you know you can reserve a bassinet for your child on international flights? I didn’t either. It’s not available on every plane and you have to reserve it along with bulkhead seats, many months in advance, BUT if you want to be extra comfortable during long-haul flights, you can reserve a bassinet at no cost- just call the airlines after booking your seats to make sure they have one available on the plane for you. There are only a few bassinets available on every flight, so it’s on a first come, first served basis, but a wonderful perk that I had no idea existed.
Now if you can’t reserve a bassinet and you don’t want to pay for an extra seat, there are a couple of tricks we use to get an extra seat for free. The first one is to be very nice to the person checking you in. Make sure they see if have a child and ask if there are any empty seats available on the flight that you could move to or if there is anyone sitting besides you. Often airlines accomodate parents because sitting besides a toddler that is not your own on long-flights is not at the top of everyone bucket list!
The other trick is to reserve seats on the outer edges of your row and leave the middle one open. When you are checking in again ask if anyone is sitting in the middle and 9 out of 10 if there is space in plane, they will move that person to a better seat, leaving you with an extra one. Additionally, if you have an elite status on the airline you are flying, one of the perks of that status is that they tried to do that automatically to provide a better experience to you. The bottom line is to always ask!
In the worst case scenario, your spouse will have to exchange seats with the person in the middle seat. Always, always take the window seat- more room and extra distraction (the window).
[ 5 ] Stuff the car seat bag
As I mentioned above, when you travel with kids, you pack a lot more stuff than you would need for yourself. All of that extra stuff takes space and weighs quite a bit. One trick we have used since the first flight we did with our son is to stuff the car seat bag with things you would normally pack, but take too much space- like toys, or diapers. The airlines allow you to take a diaper bag, a stroller and a carseat free of charge for a lap infant/toddler, so why not take advantage of the extra space in those bags to pack things and avoid having to pay for extra luggage?
We usually stuff the carseat with diapers (I am particular about what brand I use) and R’s sleeping hippo. He loves this hippo and it allows him to sleep so much better so we pack it. But we have also used that space for other things like our dirty clothes.
I hope these 5 hacks to travel with kids in long-haul flights help you prepare for your next adventure, specially if it’s your first time flying with a child.
For more tips, check out my post on Tips for Traveling with a Baby on Short Haul Flights and my Beach Toddler Essentials list.
Just remember to breathe, bring plenty of food and toys, a change of clothes for you and child, and a positive attitude. You can do this!
Let me know in the comments below if there is a topic you would like me to cover related to traveling with children or if you have any questions!