Attempting a long flight with kids is no easy task. I am often asked what to pack for a long flight with kids that will keep them entertained. I think back to what I brought for our 10 hour flight from Newark to Honolulu or our overnight flight from Boston to Madrid and this is what I came up with as the “must haves” for any long flight with kids.
What to pack for a long flight with kids
1. Snacks and water — always bring more than you think you need. I remember bringing snacks for a short flight from Florida to Boston during a non-mealtime and still running out after being stuck on a runway for over three hours and then the airline running out of meals you could buy on-board by the time the flight was underway. I bring a variety of snacks, trying not to go too salty because of the water retention, and make sure to include some protein or meal replacement bars (ideally not the kind covered in chocolate since those tend to melt) and purchase a couple of large waters before boarding the plane so I don’t need to wait for beverage service when someone is thirsty.
2. A light sweater or sweatshirt — even when planes start off hot they tend to get cold so I like to layer…tank top/cami, t-shirt, then a light sweater or sweatshirt for everyone. I hate having the unnecessary weight once I arrive in a sunny destination so I try to avoid jackets or big, bulky hoodies.
3. Travel blanket, pillow, and sleep mask — for long flights when you might want to get some shut eye and definitely for overnight flights, a good travel set is required. You can no longer count on planes to provide these for all passengers. Even in first class coming back from Hawaii on U.S. Airways the blanket they provided was so thin I could read through it. I froze! (Not that I could sleep anyway with a drunk lunatic next to me but that is another story). Also note, while those critter pillows that wrap around the neck and look like an animal are really cute, think about whether your kid can really sleep on top of a stuffed dog’s head. I found some very nice blanket, pillow, eye mask combos at Target.com. Another note about the eye mask…on that same plane back from Hawaii we were seated in the bulkhead in front of a 40″ TV screen showing movies all night. There is no way to block out light like that without a decent eye mask.
4. Change of clothes — ideally you would have a change of clothes for everyone in the party in case your luggage gets lost, but at least bring a change of clothes for your kids (especially if they are still potty training) and a change of shirt for the grown ups (for spills, vomit, etc). I remember running through the airport with my recently potty trained daughter and she almost made it. We were in the bathroom stall when all let loose. Luckily I only had to wait until our luggage was retrieved to get out of my peed on clothes and I had packed a change for her.
5. Travel journals — that down time before the approved use of electronics is a perfect time to write in travel journals. For younger kids, they can draw a picture of something they saw in the airport, what they hope to see on the trip, etc. It is a great habit to get into and a good time killer in restaurants as well. Just print out my travel journal printables for kids before you go and you have a ready made kid travel journal.
6. Tissues, Wet Ones, hand sanitizer, water spritzer, lip balm and moisturizer— I like to wipe down the seats, arm rests, and tray tables before we take off because airplanes are such germfests. Then I make sure we use hand sanitizer before eating and snacking. Flying is also so dehydrating that I find regular use of lip balm and hand cream/moisturizer helps from getting skin and lips too dried out. I sometimes bring along a small spritz bottle of water, one of those Evian spray cans, or a spritzer of Prescriptives Flight Mist.
7. Ear planes, gum, and decongestant — I can’t remember how many trips we have started off healthy but come home with colds or ear infections and I have to try to find something in the airport to help with the pressure on the plane. After a few of these trial and errors we learned that Ear Planes for Kids work pretty well, as long as they are used as directed and put in BEFORE taking off or starting descent. I like to carry one of the pre-filled spoons of Benedryl or chewable tablets just in case of some unknown allergy but also to help with sinus pressure issues. Then, of course, the old standby of chewing gum on take off and landing can help to get those ears to pop.
8. Electronic devices — I used to think flying JetBlue was great because they had seat back TVs and we didn’t need to bring our own portable DVD player (this was pre-iPad days), but then I realized that the same crap is on those TVs as regular TV and even “kid channels” couldn’t be counted on depending on the time of day and age of your child. We got our iPad the very day it was first introduced primarily to get us through a 10 hour flight with a child that doesn’t sleep on planes. Since then, the options have only multiplied but some guidelines still stand true. 1) Make sure you are fully charged before you go; 2) Bring a charger in your carry on anyway in case of long delays; 3) Download any movies you want to buy or rent before you go because you’ll have to do it on WiFi and it could take a very long time; 4) Try to find some educational apps that tie into your destination; 5) Surprise them with something new. Angry Birds is great but if they have played it a million times, it may not keep their attention as long; 6) Tablets aren’t just for games and movies, put some books on there too and lighten your load!
9. Old fashioned activities — electronics are great for travel but you can’t use them during take off and landing and sometimes you need something else in your bag of tricks. Here is what I put in mine:
- Crayons and paper / coloring sheets
- Bendaroos — those bendable strips of wax that you can use to create all kinds of things (and hopefully leave behind as you go)
- Playing cards / Uno / SkipBo
- Worksheets / school assignments — how about for every worksheet or assignment completed they earn souvenir money or points towards something special on the trip?
- A paperback book
- A map / tourbook / copy of your itinerary — so you can show them where you are going, what you are going to see, and give an overview of what you expect to do each day. It is a good idea to keep reviewing this throughout the trip so the kids know what to expect.
10. Something new — with all the stuff listed above, I try to include at least one thing that is totally new for each kid, whether it is a book, game, coloring book, etc. Starting off with not all the same old stuff helps time go just a little bit quicker.
What else is in your bag of tricks? What is your preferred bag to carry — roll aboard, duffle, backpack, shoulder bag? You might also want to get ideas for kid-friendly airplane snacks.
What do you pack for a long flight with kids?