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Travelling long distance with young children

As some of you may know, I am about to cross the world –from Australia to France- for the 3rd time on my own with my son, now just over 3 years old. So, although it is not a subject on psychology, I have decided to share with you what I have learnt throughout the years about traveling long distance with a baby or a toddler as I know a lot of mums are interested in the subject.

My son and I have travelled between Australia and Europe when he was 4 ½ months, 7 ½ months, 14 months, 17 months and now. So here are a few tips on things that make such a journey easier for baby and mummy.

At what age is it the easiest to travel?

My experience is that traveling with a young baby is fairly easy as they sleep a lot. Just try to keep their routine going as much as you can. And, of course, make sure you have a seat where there is a bassinet for them to sleep in! You can use a wrap to cover the bassinet once your baby is asleep. I also know some proper systems exist to recreate the bed experience called Flybabee. These seem great, although I heard about them after my son had passed the bassinet stage, so I never tried them.

Travelling with an older baby is still fairly easy but this is where the below tips become really important.

Traveling with a toddler between 18 months old and 2 ½ years old is, according to me, the toughest age. This is why I decided to not travel long distances when my son was that age. Short distances were far long enough for him already at that age. The reason is because it is an age when they are very active, want to walk around and are discovering their ability to challenge us by saying “No” etc… but cannot focus on quiet, still activities and they can’t really entertain themselves alone so I found that after 1 hour flight we all had enough; so imagine 21 hours!!

From 2 ½ years old things change a lot (at least this is my experience but of course the age would fluctuate with each child) because the child is more autonomous and able to concentrate longer on quiet tasks (play with stickers, draw, make jigsaw, watch animations…)

Organising your journey

According to me, my two most important tips are:

  • Fly by night so your child can sleep (they are small enough to be fairly comfortable with their head on your laps and their legs on their seat –sleeping sideways if you want- and if you are in luck, you may even find two seats available nearby and they can sleep flat across the two seat!

  • Have a stop-over in your transfer city. This is important for both the child and the parent(s). I know we often don’t want to shorten our journey but the difference is massive: basically, with a good relaxing day and night rest between two flights, you have a good chance to enjoy both flights!

What to bring

  • A baby carry bag if you have one. This is great for baby not to mind being in unknown environments and also to keep on with their sleeping routine.

  • Small teddies or whatever your child is used to sleep with. Don't wash it! It is better if it has their usual smell. If they sleep with several things, take 2 or 3 but give only one so that you have another alternative in case one is lost. If your child doesn’t sleep with anything, any comforting toy that they like will do.

  • Small, practical entertaining toys:

  • Examples for babies: fabric books, small rattles, small musical toys that are not too loud (you don’t want to annoy all the neighbourhood!)…

  • Examples for toddlers: small jigsaws (don’t hesitate to choose slightly difficult ones; it takes longer to do them!), colouring and activity books, plenty of stickers, a map (to follow with your child the journey), a couple of their favourite toys, story books (maybe one new and one old favourite; try to choose books with many details in the pictures so as to use them as material to play naming, counting things etc…), an iPad or your phone with some age appropriate animation you have downloaded (remember, you want them to remain calm and not get super excited after watching something! Animations offered in planes might not suit younger children)...

  • Drinking bottle, dummy or something to chew at times of take-off and landing to prevent ears pain. There are also some special earplugs to prevent take-off and landing ear pain that are great for adults but exist in child size. You'll find them in airports.

  • Snacks: I believe there is no need to take too many snacks because there is plenty of food on planes. However, it is good to have some comfort food. By comfort food I don’t mean sugar! I mean small bites that will help wait before the meal is served etc… I really advise to avoid lollies as they just excite children and you want a calm child :-)

What to wear

  • Think layers! Temperature can fluctuate in planes so it is good to be able to add or remove clothes easily. For instance, a cardigan or a jacket is easier to remove than a jumper.

  • Think comfort :-) Flying is not a fashion show (I myself always fly with no make up and in stretching fabric clothes) so choose the clothes that your child will be comfortable in around the waist, neck, wrist and ankles. It is good to choose rather light and soft fabrics as well. I prefer light but long trousers for my boy. For girls if you opt for a dress or a skirt, make sure they wear tights or leggings too so as not to get cold.

  • PJ!! Yes, it is great for your child to still get on with their routine! They will probably take longer to fall asleep than usual but still put them into their PJ after their dinner and read them the story etc… Plus, it's fun to get changed in PJ in a plane (I often do it myself)!

Don’t hesitate to ask!

  • For as many blankets and pillows as you need, they have plenty.

  • For the on-board staff to warm up your food, including pouches or bibs in hot water rather than on the micro-wave. They are usually very happy to help (especially if they get to hold your little one for a cuddle while you go to the toilet at some stage!)

  • For holding or minding your child while you have 3 minutes for yourself in the bathroom :-) Again, as long as you don’t ask while they are super busy preparing or serving the meals, the staff on-board will be more than happy to help you. Spot the ones that naturally spoke to your baby or child when passing by, they are the ones to ask for help :-)

  • For help when transfering or arriving. A lot of airlines offer "meet and greet" systems. We often think about them for older travellers but they are great for mums with their tiny tots. I have never used the service for myself but a friend did and she was very happy to have a pram and a person help her carry her bags on arrival!

Here we are, these are my traveling tips for long distance journeys with young children. I hope you find these tips helpful and I wish you safe and enjoyable trips!!

I will be away for 2 ½ months from now. I am still working –except for next week, via Skype, so if you need to reach me, just send me an email or a text and I’ll be here for you. Also, I am planning on connecting regularly with you via posts on FB live. Doing so, I will also give you some snap shots of the places where I am going in France!

See you soon!


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