Last year we set off for our first backpacking adventure to Japan with the kids who were 3 and 5 years old. We thought they were finally old enough to introduce them to our style of traveling, simple, light and easy. This left us planning how we were going to do it, what we needed but also to survive a 9 hour flight.
We learned a whole bunch on this one adventure, I am an over organiser and pack for just-in-case moments but also know that we need to keep the packing list short and items small.
With our 4 bags, I also have my giant handbag filled with goodies ready for boarding the plane so I have everything on hand ready for when the questions start rolling in. Mum can I …., Mum can I …., Mummmm.
Yes, I like to be prepared.
Seven Tips on Flying with young kids
1 – Carry-on only.
This is a rule we have had for years traveling the globe, it makes it easy to leave the airport on arrival, getting into jam-packed trains in Tokyo or a rickety old bus in Bolivia. Your bag stays in eyesight and you don’t have to wait around to retrieve it once you get out. But doing this with kids was a challenge for us to work out the logistics of the kids carrying their own bags or if they were exhausted for us to hold them.
Our solution ended up with Roy and I having our backpacks (1 x 45ltr and 1 x 35ltr) and after much research, we decided to get the kids rolly-bags. Small little zip-up bags that they could wheel. That way if we needed we would have our backpacks on our backs and could wheel the bags next to us plus still being able to hold a hand while crossing a road or navigating a crammed street.
Once we start descending I pack all of our belongings that came out during the flight into our backpacks so I only need to concentrate on our luggage, and when walking up to customs I can easily find out passports without rummaging through the endless kid paraphernalia in my handbag.
2 – Earphones for kids
This one is crucial for flying long-haul especially if there is in-flight entertainment. The earphones that most carriers hand out are pretty average and do not fit over kid’s heads. This is one of the lessons we learned on our last trip. Having a good set of earphones that fit well and are volume-controlled will help them to watch endless episodes of pepper pig to pass the time by. It’s a total game-changer when you’re on a long flight.
3 – Blankies
You can never pick how cold the airplane is going to be, so we have small thin flannel blankets that roll up super small to throw over the kids if needed. The other beautiful thing of taking on carry on is that if you’re not going to do a blanket for the kids is to have extra layers on hand to cover, feet, arms, and legs.
3 – Snacks
Not all countries allow you to take snacks onboard or open water bottles, however many do. When this is an option it’s good to take a few little bits and pieces for the kids. I look for small sealed packets – like crackers, fava beans, nuts, cheese and biscuits, pretzels. Anything that they can chew on when they are super starving and don’t like the plane food. I also take water on the plane, if we can refill our bottles easily I prefer to do this otherwise I buy a bottle of water to take on once through customs.
4 – Lollypops
First of all, our kids don’t get to have lollypops very often so this is a super treat. We pull them out when we are taking off and again when descending. This allows their ears to adjust to the air pressure and helps them to gently pop if need be without causing any issues. I have heard others use gum, or other chewy objects too.
5 -Colouring in/Books/Toys
This is for those flights where there is no inflight entertainment, having something to do is important, to keep your kids from being bored. We even take these for long haul. The kids both have 2 small toys each (think matchbox car or small unicorns), 2 books and a small thin coloring book each with a pencil case of pens and pencils. I keep this little kit for our whole trip for downtime in any location.
6 – You don’t need to be first on the plane
There is absolutely NO RUSH, I repeat no rush to get on a plane especially if you are flying long-haul. Keep your kids running around the airport for as long as possible burn off some energy so when it is time to sit still they can. And if your lucky have asleep. Like most kids, it can get pretty boring sitting still for a long time and if you traveled to get to the airport as well being confined for a long time will do anyone’s head in. So have races in an empty gate waiting area, somersaults, rolling, crawling anything to move the body.
7 – Reserve your seats
We like to reserve our seats for two reasons – the first being that we want a window to look out, second is that we want to sit towards the front to middle of the plane we do this for ease of exit. Once you have been sitting on a plane for a long time the kids are eager to get off so being closer to the front makes for an easy getaway.