how to survive a 16-hour flight with a toddler
As our holiday to Australia has come and gone, I thought it was about time I recapped how on earth we survived such a long journey with a toddler in tow. The last time we travelled internationally with Lily, she was 8 months old. She was sitting up but not crawling, so things were much less mobile and essentially - much easier! This time around, I knew things were going to be completely different. So here are some of the things we did to make our trip the best it could be!
If you have the option of booking a night flight I would highly recommend it. On our way to Melbourne, we left around 11 pm. By the time we were onboard, Lily was so ready to fall asleep. She slept for the next 7 hours which is great when you consider it's almost half the flight time. On the way back to Vancouver, the only flight options were during the day. Lily was almost awake the entire flight (albeit a quick 1-hour nap) and was absolutely exhausted when we finally arrived (equivalent to 1 am Melbourne time). So if there's an option to take a flight that works with your kid's routine, you'd be crazy not to book it!
In the weeks leading up to our flight, I thought how on earth was this all going to go down? Would Lily be content the entire flight? Or get bored staying in her seat and just want to run up and down the aisles? Without letting myself worry about it too much, I tried to have a positive mindset. Either way, we were getting on that flight and we were going to get off at our destination. I highly recommend keeping an open, optimistic attitude to the flight. And let's be real - kids can read your mood immediately and it can often impact theirs, so another reason to remember that mindset is everything. We also tried to give Lily lots of notice about what would be happening on the flight, in the weeks leading up to our trip. We chatted about the length of the flight, showed her books about how airplanes work and explained how the flight attendants will be coming around with trolleys of food etc. I can't really say if this helped or not, but it's worth giving it a try.
(Almost) final boarding call
Now I know most airplanes offer early boarding for families with young children, but in my mind, this is the worst idea. You want them to run out all the energy they have left in their system. Literally, Av was chasing Lily up and down the terminal so she wouldn't be restless on the flight. Once I see that almost everyone has boarded, then I get ready to embark and hopefully, take-off is not too long afterwards. If you're worried about getting storage space in the overhead cabin, one parent could go ahead while the other one runs around.
I wanted to make sure we had all the right gear for our flight, to make it both comfortable and enjoyable for Lily and us. That involved a ton of research into sleeping aids (devices that turn the seat into a bed). There are quite a few on the market to choose from but you've got to make sure it's approved by the airline you're flying with (call their customer service team). I was so happy that we got a Plane Pal before our flight. It was super easy to inflate via a foot pump and it turned Lily's seat into a comfy little bed. She sat next to the window, I sat in the middle and Av sat in the aisle. Naturally, at her age and with her height, she couldn't lay flat but at least it gave her a nice area to snuggle up into. We also borrowed some kids headphones from a friend, as I had no idea if Lily would even keep them on her head (short answer: not really).
In Lily's carry-on bag I packed:
- Plane Pal
- Lilgadgets headphones
- 4 changes of clothes (mix of comfy tops, bottoms, a hoodie, pyjamas, socks and undies)
- 7 pull-up diapers for naps/sleeping and wipes
- Her favourite plush bunny
- A blanket
- Muslin cloth to use as a sheet
- Bowls, spoons, forks, bib, sippy-cups
- Snacks x 100 (think rice crackers, oat bars, squeezy pouches, fruit, nuts, apple puree, instant oatmeal sachets etc)
- 2-3 books
- Mini-toiletry bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, Advil and diaper cream
To tech or not to tech
Regardless of whether you like it or not, screens are everywhere when you're catching a long-haul flight. From the check-in booth to the terminal and right in front of your face during the flight. We don't have a TV at home and have been pretty good with keeping Lily off all forms of technology up until this point. Our thinking is that she's going to have so much time on it when she's older, there's no rush at this age. But when it comes to flying, it's a little different. We treated any movies she was watching as a "special treat" and she didn't ask once when we got off the flight for more movies etc. We actually loaded up an iPad with apps and Netflix shows and saved it just in case all hell broke loose. It was pretty awesome that we didn't need to use it, instead, she just wanted to watch the first 15 minutes of Happy Feet on loop :)
There were definitely a few moments here and there on the plane that had me wishing that we were landing ASAP. Lily is definitely a mama's girl so she was all about "mama do this" "mama come with me" "I want my mama" throughout the flight. At one point I just needed to let Av sit with her and put in some earplugs, pop on an eye mask and have a little chunk of sleep. Lily in response kept telling Av she wanted to wake me up and that she missed me. He held strong, and let me get an hour or so of rest. We also had a moment (5 hours into the flight) when Lily was crying because she wanted to sleep but wasn't comfortable, she said she wanted to go home which broke my heart because I couldn't give her what she wanted. In those moments I had to stay strong, even though I was exhausted. I just gave her a big hug and told her it wouldn't be long until we got there.
Some great advice I received from a few mamas was to create small "prizes" that could be brought out every hour or so, and act as a nice distraction. So off to the dollar store we went and bought enough small toys, stickers, puzzles and books to make 10 "prizes". We wrapped them up in bright wrapping paper and included a little snack or cereal in each package. These were a big hit with Lily. She then started getting into the habit of saying "I want a prize" so we had to make sure they were spaced out nicely. Whenever I was at my breaking point of wanting to reach for the iPad, we gave her a "prize" instead which worked.
So all in all, both flights went pretty well considering the fact that she's a two-year-old and flying halfway across the globe is not her usual routine. Go Lily!
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