I don't think there are many people who genuinely enjoy long-haul flights. Add in the concept of being screen free with a child, and, well quite frankly, it sounds like a nightmare! I have definitely considered putting my son in the overhead compartment!
Having lived in Thailand for the first three years of my son's life I have quite a lot of experience flying for hours on end, solo with a child. I'm hoping to share a few pearls of my wisdom in this blog so that you have some extra tricks up your sleeve on your next trip. I would love to say that we are able to last an entire 14 hour flight screen free, but that would be a lie. Of course the in-flight entertainment is like gold dust to begin with. Here are some general flying tips as well as ideas to keep little ones happy and not totally reliant on screen time.
Tip 1: You can never be too prepared!
To this day, I still hate the packing process. I end up with ridiculously long packing lists and I worry so much that I will forget something. However, in my experience, taking the time to be well-prepared really pays off. Simple things like choosing carefully which bags you take as carry on can make a huge difference. Bags that enable you to have supplies well organized and easily accessible are essential. Also, consider having a few of each supply in a small bag that you can keep by your feet, with a larger bag out of your way in the overhead. At convenient times you can then get up and re-stock the small easily accessible bag.
It can be easy to forget about you! Make sure you remember to pack a change of t-shirt for yourself if you are traveling with a baby who has a tendency to spit up. Nothing worse than a long trip smelling like regurgitated milk! I also carry a secret stash of my own pick me up treats, like my favorite candy or a new book to read.
I also think it is worth trying to prepare the child for the journey as well. By this I mean talking them through what will happen. Make it out to be an exciting adventure and highlight the parts you know they will like. I also found it helpful to speak a lot with my son about what we had to look forward to when we arrived at our end destination.
Tip 2: Don't force anything!!
I remember before my first long-haul flight with my then six month old son, the levels of anxiety that I felt were ridiculous. Will he sleep? Will he nurse? Will he be comfortable? Will he scream the whole way? And so the list goes on! I made a conscious decision when I got to the airport that 'what will be, will be'. I told myself that even if the next 14 hours were horrendous, it would be worth it for a summer with my family in the beautiful French countryside.
This relaxed approach has always worked for my son and I. He will sleep when he is ready. I know that if I try to force him he will just resist and chaos will ensue. I have seen it so many times. Parents bewildered as to why their child 'just won't sleep' when it is way past their bedtime. You have to remember that the whole process of flying confuses our body clocks and children aren't averse to that. With my son I have always tried to re-create a bedtime routine with things like a blanket, milk, stories and cuddles. I then just let him relax and eventually, sometimes hours later, he will doze off. Keep the peace is my mantra!
Tip 3: Little and often!
It can be tempting to throw all of your tricks and treats at the situation as soon as you board the plane. Try to save activities, snacks, adventures and treats and distribute them every hour or so. When we fly I always take a 'snack pack' and a 'treat box'. The snack pack is just a selection of my son's favorite snacks so if there is a dull moment it provides a yummy distraction. The 'treat box' is the highlight of the trip. I'll talk more about this when I discuss bribery at the end of the blog!
It is great to have some activities planned. They can be as simple as stickers and paper, or a coloring book. Or you can attempt to make some busy bags (small bags filled with engaging and creative activities that keep little minds and hands busy). Just remember keep your cards close to your chest and save some deal breakers for when you might need them most!
Tip 4: Move around!
It can feel like you are trapped when on a long flight and I think kids can sense this. Every hour or so I would always take my son for a little adventure. Whether it was to see the noisy airplane toilet, go and get a drink, look out the back windows, or just say hello to an air steward or stewardess. Moving around the plane provides a great distraction for both parent and child, and is also good for your health. Most airlines these days put out little trays of snacks and treats at the back of the plane. My son and I would each choose a time at the start of the flight and call it 'snack o'clock'. At this time we would sneak to the back of the plane and smuggle lots of snacks back to our seats. A good example of making something pretty mundane seem like an exciting adventure to a child.
Tip 5: Bribery is allowed!
I know it can be frowned upon in parenting to bribe children with treats in exchange for good behavior. In my opinion, there is a time and a place for bribery and long haul flights is most definitely one of those times and one of those places!
My son and I always find take off the hardest. He just gets on the plane and is desperate to explore and then, 'bing', the seat belt sign goes on. He has got better with age but, boy oh boy have we had some touch and go moments relating to that annoying (but very necessary) seatbelt sign. I always try and leave it to the last minute and then I will present him with a lolly. As he is enjoying his first few sucks I sneakily put the belt on. Most of the time he notices the belt and fusses a bit but the lolly is normally enough of a distraction. I always explain to him about how sucking on his lolly will help his ears not to pop..... cue excessive lolly sucking. When he was younger take off time was most definitely a time when he was given his pacifier.
Every couple of hours if he has been good I let him choose something from the treat box. Everything is wrapped up so it is a surprise as to what he gets. There will be a few hot wheels cars, packs of stickers, some candy etc. If I have room I also like to take one or two new small story books for him too.
The final method of bribery that I used is a deal for once we arrive. I make a deal that he will have 10 dollars to spend in his favorite toy shop there. This is the big prize and using this as a gentle reminder if he starts to fuss always works a treat. We often spend half the flight discussing what he will choose at the toy shop if he wins the 'big prize.'
I hope the above points help you on your travels in some way. I guess I am pretty lucky that my son is a seasoned traveller and is now used to the process. I certainly still put in the preparation time and my mantra will never change- keep the peace! Safe travels!
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