Surviving a 17 hour flight with two toddlers
We fly to Singapore once a year to visit my family. That’s a 24h door-to-door journey on one or two flights. Annddd... we fly economy. I’ve started documenting some of my tips and experiences because this endeavor is no joke. However bad the 17h flight is, the worst part of it all is dealing with jet lag but I have just the fix for it in my packing list. If you’re here for the checklist, scroll to the bottom.
HOLD UP, THERE’S JETLAG
The most scary part about international trips isn’t actually the flight itself, it’s the added gift of jet lag that comes both ways. At first, I’ve hated jet lag so bad that I always swore to not do the trip again. The next year, we did it again. (PTSD maybe?) This was until I discovered melatonin for kids. I checked with our pediatrician on it’s use and she ok-ed it. Our trips have been so much more manageable ever since. We pop them each a gummy an hour before sunset (wherever we are) and it helps them go to sleep. If they wake up in the middle of the night, we pop another. Works like a charm and our pediatrician approved the Zarbee’s Natural Children’s Sleep Supplement with melatonin 1mg ($10+). I take a couple of these myself.
Travel as one party or two? Depending on age and neediness of the kids, it's worth considering to have each parent fly separately with each child if that's possible. There was a lot of competing with mama for attention during the flight which was the only thing that caused actually crying or yelling. Thankfully only sporadically. I have a friend who has four kids under 8 and she always flies separately from her husband because of this issue.
Consider booking two aisle seats in the middle column to hopefully secure the middle seat. Make sure you find flights that are typically not sold out, and not at peak times. We lucked out with our 1-3,4-6 booking so we got six seats instead. Both kids were able to sprawl out to sleep. If not, the Stokke jetkids bedbox was fantastic. I put the two year old on my back in a carrier and dragged 4yo on the jetkids. Fun for all! Oh our return flight, we didn't score an extra seats so the jetkids was critical for Thomson to get proper sleep. He refused to sleep lying on me. (Photos of bedbug below)
A couple of weeks before take off, I checked the seating map every day. It was a completely full flight before. But suddenly the entire back part of the plane with 10/12 rows suddenly became available. So they must have blocked it out to encourage people to book seats closer together. So with that, we were able to secure the seat arrangement as above. Check frequently - you never know. When I checked in I also made it clear to them that I'm traveling with two little ones. So they will try to keep that middle seat free.
Prototype your airport experience so you know exactly how many hands you will need for what. There were not any trolley carts in SFO after security! For example you can't possibly do a backpack and backward ergo a two year old. I know it seems obvious but just don't be caught off guard.
17h one-way or two flights? I think it comes down to it's easier for the parents, but harder for the kids. So I rather plough through just one flight but I can tell they get so restless forwards the end. If this flight left at 6pm that would be ideal. Kids could sleep the entire red eye. But it doesn't. It leaves at 930am. So I think in the future we will examine flight times and pick the one that optimizes best for night time sleeping.
DURING THE FLIGHT
Try to enforce naps but it's hard because they're so drawn to the touch screens. While they do calm them down it actually hyper stimulates them so they can't sleep. Both kids took way too long to fall asleep.
Buckle them up loosely if you can or have the buckles in place. If turbulence turns on you are ready.
Bring non iPad entertainment to give their eyes a rest. But if they will veg it in front of iPad or inflight TV, go for it. Melissa and doug makes wonderful travel craft kits like the wonder makers and jewelry making kits. (Shopping list below)
Kids volume-limiting headphones suck on the plane. Since they volume control, the plane is already super loud. Kiddo complained she couldn't hear anything = drama. We ended up letting them use our Bose noise cancelling headphones which also worked great when they were sleeping.
The unlimited juice is a good and bad thing. I think she has gone to pee 5x in 8 hours.
Depending on how many people in your party, order special meals so the kids either eat first at separate times or Adults eat first. Also avoids the hangry kids issue. The kids meal kind of sucked though but the low carb meal for adults was good. They get so overwhelmed and excited when the big tray comes around, there is no space to triage and organize their eating area to prevent messes.
Bring overnight diapers for the two year old or anyone who was just potty trained. I was so paranoid I even double diapered them! Those changing table areas are so small. If you cloth diaper, cover with one of them. Bring extra clothes for kid in diapers and adult who mostly carries them. You never know if there is a poo explosion.
Pack one lightweight bag for food and snacks (came in super handy since they both rejected their meals). Another bag for entertainment. Put both bags into a cabin roll on. Stuff in blankets and empty water bottles. When you get on the plane, unload the two bags so you know where to find what.
There are chewable Benadryls for kids. Just saying.
1 x roll on carry-on luggage or large backpack containing the following items below. My current favorite for carry-on is the Away Large carry-on. ($20 off with my referral link)
CARES harness : This keeps the toddler secure in a seat during take off and landing. There are plenty of knock-offs so make sure you buy the one that is sold directly by CARES.
If you’re planning car travel, consider the Ride safer vest for kids above 30lbs. It’s super lightweight and has a more secure fit than the mifold.
1 snack bag in a gallon bag
Good stash of snacks (already pre portioned) and pre cut fruit or bagels
The smaller they are the better (cheerios) so it takes them a long time to eat it
2 empty kids water bottles to fill in terminal
Tylenol and Benadryl (chewables)
Epipen (For those kids with allergies)
Empty zip locks or bags for trash or soiled laundry
Pre-folded paper towels and a small ziplock of wet wipes for easy access
1 activity bag containing some subset of the following items:
Crayons and notebooks
Ziplock go contain loose toys
iPad with downloaded shows and games plus good iPad stand
Headphones: Puro (recommended by wire cutter), or cozy phones (if headphones have problems staying on your kids). Full disclosure we used our bose noise cancelling headphones on them since the jet was so loud.
Wrap up all activities if possible so it feels like a surprise gift and they don't get overwhelmed by all the choices. We allowed them to pick one item every hour. Rewarded for good behavior!
Little $1 surprise toys or puzzle games from CVS our Target’s $1 aisle.
For kids 5 and up, the kanoodle puzzle game will keep (and adults!) them entertained for HOURS.
Diaper quick pack in a freezer bag
4-5 overnight diapers
One extra pants
Small ziplock of diaper cream
Couple of pre folded paper towels
Extra change of clothes (we had one vomit during the flight)
1 x Cross body bag (highly recommend Patagonia’s lightweight travel cross body bag)
Small ziplock of Melatonin dummies. I love the Zarbee’s brand, also approved by our pediatrician but please double check with yours. Child has to be at a minimum age. You want them to be taking it at “dusk” in the new timezone you are trying to adjust them to. *Test them out by having the child take it at home first.
Passports all in a mesh bag or ziplock (Check expiry of your kids passports. In the US, that 5-year expiry sneaks up on you real fast. We once showed up at the airport with an expired passport. Long story but we managed to get hers done the next day. Comment if you want tips!)
Jackery Portable battery bank for charging devices (Most flights now have charging ports, but double check)
Travel size hand sanitizer with bungee
Pre folded paper towels accessible from side pocket of the snack bag
Wet wipes in a small ziplock
I really like the Trtl travel pillow because it is lightweight and doesn’t take up much space at all. Works great for head-learners like me.
Emergency lollies for relieving ear pressure or meltdowns (Stock up for halloween!)
The Stokke JetKids Bed Box
We got this once my daughter was old enough to wheel herself around. It meant we moved quicker around the terminal and it converted to a “poor man business class” for our 2yo in economy class. Brilliant design! It’s $199 on Amazon, not cheap, but considering we do this flight often, it was a great business class upgrade.
WLK receives a small commission on some purchases through posts. No pressure, though.