Taking young children on long flights is a real adventure, but what should you pack to entertain a toddler, or young pre-schooler for so many hours, in such a confined space, so that the journey is comfortable and fun for everyone? It’s time to get real about in-flight space limits!
So far, we have taken 3 return trips including long haul flights (35-40 hours each way) with our son. The first when he was just 9 months, the second when he was 2 years 9 months, and the third, just recently, at 3 years 9 months. Each trip is such a learning experience for me from a packing perspective! We had such a lot of fun with our DIY Toddler Travel Activity Kit , and this last trip we initially set off with many, many more activity resources – but to be honest, taking into consideration just how little space you have to store anything on board a plane, I kept cutting/throwing and storing away things to make our on board ‘living space’ as comfortable and practical as possible, until I ended up with my own self-imposed luggage limit of:
ONE (1) SANDWICH SIZED SNAP-LOCK BAG OF ACTIVITIES PER FLIGHT!
Three flights = three sandwich-sized packets, which could all easily be stored away in a large pencil case in our hand luggage.
And what is more, I think I this is my favourite and best packing tip thus far! Big call- I know!!
Why such a seemingly extreme limitation on activity bits and pieces? Sure, every child is different, and it’s important to consider your own personal circumstances. You know your own child best, and what they may need to survive the long trip best. However, allow me to attempt to sell you on the idea of a stress-free, minimalist travel experience with kids…
Firstly, when you are buckled into your seat, and most of your hand luggage is stowed away in the above compartments, out of easy reach, you just want anything you are REALLY going to need with you, tucked into, let’s face it – a very small pocket attached to the seat in front of you. For us, on top of the standard items provided (pillow/neck pillow, blanket, headphones), that meant a small bottle of water each, jumper, and a couple of essential toiletries/nappies/ chewing gum…
The remaining space is about the size of, yep, you guessed it… a sandwich!
When entertaining kids on the plane, the small flip-down table is a terrific play space, but remember, during take off, landing, turbulence, meal times, or if anyone needs to pass by, they need to be quickly cleared and folded away. (We found it best to request a window seat for our little one). I can’t stand the idea of a million things falling to the floor, having to be awkwardly picked up (if retrievable at all!), and loved the thought of being able to easily pull out a couple of things from a small, see-though snap-lock bag and just as easily and quickly contain it all and pop it in the pocket in front.
Of course, I am not suggesting that all kids will be amused by these exact activity pack ideas – thinking of fillers that your child will be particularly interested in is key. This is what we went with…
In our first pack – for a nearly 14 1/2 hour plane journey, we had: a random selection of bits and pieces that could be used individually, or as a kind of doctor’s kit (a bit of a latest craze at our house) – a measuring tape (for measuring stuff the table, seat, your arm, hand), tissues (for messes/spills/noses, or as ‘bandages’, or even ‘ice skating rinks’!), sticky backed numbers, bandaids, a little container/spoon/syringe (‘medicine’/cream), bubble wrap (‘bandage’ or fine motor popping work-out!), a little plane and car (imaginative play), and some commercially available travel cards with wipe-off marker – for drawing activities.
The second pack, for a 7 1/2 – 8 hour leg had a bunch of stickers of all sorts of themes (favourite passions of the moment), stars and spots, more bubble wrap, crayons, a few printable colouring sheets of our son’s latest obsessions, and a little book with LOADS and LOADS of interesting things to look at, find, make up a story about etc…
I knew B would love peeling and pasting the stickers, and made sure there was an impressive variety, and that there were plenty of fiddly, small ones too! I kept all of these things hidden until the flight to ensure a bit of ‘wow’ factor!!
The third pack, for a short 1 1/2 hour flight, included a set of “Snap” cards and a magic writer (with the pen attached so it wouldn’t keep falling on the floor!)
The flight is FULL of new and exciting entertainment for kids!
We saw how fascinated our boy was with the emergency instructions he spontaneously studied and practised, how interested he was pointing out all the bikes, footballers, planes and trains in the in-flight magazines, and he loved exploring the special little bits included in the kids’ activity pack the cabin crew provided (finger puppets, more stickers, pencils, activity book, postcards…) The map was also a great talking point – where are we? where is home? where are we going?…
Then there was the cute little soft toy (Sponge Bob – the pilot) gift the cabin crew handed out! He received medical treatment for his many sores and ailments from Doctor B (bandaids, cuddles, wrapping up in his jumper, putting to sleep for rest…)
And as we are not much of a screen-time family at home – actually he rarely watches TV – the movies and TV series were a real treat. Our only issue was that his endurance was pretty low, so he kept requesting different shows or to finish with the TV! Never did I think I’d be saying “are you sure you don’t want to wait to see the amazing chimney sweepers and Mary Poppins flying above the rooftops?” Anyhow, the remote control made for a perfect telephone, and we pretend-called nearly every family member and friend individually for a chat!
We also spent time walking the aisles for a stretch, doing exercises and yoga poses in front of the bathroom whilst waiting our turn, and making trips to the toilet.
The meals and snacks were also a form of entertainment (watching the trolleys move up the rows and discovering the surprise packages on our food trays), and let’s not forget the importance of entertainment-free time to rest and hopefully – sleep!
My theory is, if there are too many interesting toys and activities, he might find it harder to settle. Having moments of boredom allows for the opportunity for sleep! And getting comfortable for sleep on the plane, was one of the routines we spoke a lot about before and during our trips – so we made sure we put our plan into action!! (Note: on one leg of the trip, he was so over-tired that activities were not an option, he was becoming increasingly irritable, teary and irrational and really needed help to sleep – we spent a couple of hours just hugging him firmly in an attempt to calm him down!)
And finally, after chatting with the passengers in front, behind and wherever else he decided to strike up conversation, there were the windows!!! The best views of the airport, and an ever-changing window to the world!
Both my husband and I, and our parents are widely travelled – even seasoned travellers. And we all tend to agree that the less you take, the less you need to carry, the less you will stress and the happier you will be travelling. Why, then, should it be any different with children? Less really can be ‘more’!!
I’d love to hear how you entertained your kids on long flights, so please leave me a comment if you’d like!
Thanks so much for stopping by Kids Play Space!