Long-haul Travel with a Toddler is Fine, Honest!

Two things I’ve stopped counting: the number of beds SBJ has slept in and the number of planes he’s been on (#humblebrag). Our enjoyably nomadic life continues, and we have just arrived in the United Kingdom, via Ras al-Khaimah, for a couple of months with family here.

We haven’t been travelling with a small person for long – SBJ is seventeen months old – and we only have one child, so I don’t consider myself any kind of expert on the subject. When a few people have asked me over recent months for tips on travelling with little kids, I have tended to redirect them to this excellent article at Kiwi Families. I have realised recently, though, that I do have a few things of my own that I say when people either ask for advice, or express sympathy at the prospect of our taking SBJ on 14-hour flights or 36-hour days of travel.

Here’s my main message: it’s not that bad! There are heaps of great things about travelling with small people, and the horrors you’re nervous about are largely manufactured by all of us who wish each other luck, in tones of dread, when thinking about taking kids on planes.

No one wants to be the parent of that child. You know the one. The toddler who throws tantrums – or food! – or the baby who screams throughout take-off.

But hold on. Aren’t we just talking about normal kid behaviour? I’ve never been disturbed on planes by a child doing anything extraordinary. I’ve rarely been disturbed by kids on planes at all. Sure, some babies cry on planes. Some don’t, much. And doesn’t everyone have headphones on anyway? What’s the big deal? It seems to me that our collective anxiety about kids being kids is a kind of childism we need to get over. Babies and toddlers are human beings who have every right to be in aeroplanes, behaving as they normally do.

On our longest flight this time, 14ish hours from Melbourne to Dubai, we were corralled for boarding with at least a dozen other families with pre-schoolers – more than I’d ever seen on one flight. And you know what? I didn’t hear a single one of them making a fuss for more than a minute or two, the whole time.

In years of air travel, the most annoying, upsetting, inconvenient or offensive people I’ve encountered have all been older than me. (Babies don’t get free alcohol, for one thing.)

Planes are deliberately full of white noise – no one wants to hear every munching mouthful in the cabin – so that’s both a) great for settling babies and b) great for muffling any crying or yelling that does go on.

So don’t worry too much, ok? If the worst happens, and your kid has a bad, loud day, remember the best advice I got when we first travelled with SBJ (thanks, David!): don’t worry about other people. It’s only a day out of their lives. They’ll cope.

More than that, of course, plenty of people will have their travel enlivened by your littlies! SBJ was covered in lipstick on our first leg this time, as the cabin crew doted on him. He spent ages hanging out with the stewards in the galley on a flight last year, and they ended up taking polaroids of him wearing an Emirates tie, ready to join the team.

As we were waiting to disembark in Melbourne last week, SBJ was pretty unhappy. It was well into his bedtime and we had to wake him to leave the plane. I was standing up, jiggling and shushing him while my husband gathered our bags, as I saw an entire cabin-full of Chinese travellers lining the aisles, waving at SBJ and blowing kisses. The paparazzi were out in full force as cameras and phones pointed his way. All while he was decidedly not at his best!

On every flight we’ve been on, kind people in the seats behind or beside have spent many minutes of the flight doing high fives or playing peekaboo with SBJ. Strangers are quick to help and ready with praise for him and us. I’ve never been made to feel bad for any inconvenience; on the contrary, we have encountered kindness and help wherever we’ve taken him.

I’ll do a separate post with some more practical matters, but today, just be reassured: flying with kids is almost always just fine, and often great.

And if you’re feeling anxious, this approach should help your levels of self-consciousness!


Here’s the next post, with practical tips for travelling with littlies: Bon Voyage: 7 Secrets to Happy Flying with Babies and Toddlers. Have a great trip!


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8 comments on “Long-haul Travel with a Toddler is Fine, Honest!”

  1. andrew Reply

    great idea re the lolly pack for nearby people. Have to wonder if a gospel tract (as corny as they normally are) couldn’t be slipped into that kind of thing.

    do you carry phenergen as a last resort backup in case he has a protracted melt-down? we’ve never used it or even have it, but have heard from a pharmacist friend it is useful.

    • Tracey Reply

      Check the effects of phenergan before you fly – it sometimes has the opposite effect on the individual involved!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      Re the Phenergan: I guess our approach is to treat the time on the plane as normal parenting time, and interact with SBJ in the same ways we would if we were at home.

      Giving SBJ drugs to calm him or help him sleep is not something we do at home, so it’s not something we’d do on a flight either. If he had a terrible episode of being upset, we would go through all our usual ways of helping him feel better/sleep/whatever: walk, feed, sing, read, you know the list.

      I do appreciate the enormous pressure many parents feel when their kids are noisy in public, and especially in confined spaces like planes.

      I guess my point in this post is that just because there are lots of other people around, we shouldn’t suddenly be ashamed of normal child behaviour – and especially to the extent that our kids pay the price of any compromise.

      We are perhaps quicker to do things like watch a movie or feed him when we’re flying and he’s grizzly, but medicating him for the benefit of strangers is the kind of extreme we wouldn’t go to.

      • andrew Reply

        On reflection, i agree. medication as a way of managing kids was something i toyed with lightly before child 1 was born, but we’ve never needed or really wanted to since she’s arrived.

        Good parenting and actually paying attention to your child (as well as having a well trained child) get you a long way to not having a protracted meltdown mid-air.

  2. Darrell Reply

    Our approach to long haul is to always pick the overnight flights as we (so far) have always had good little sleepers.

  3. Pingback: Bon Toddler Voyage! | sacraparental

  4. Pingback: Bon Voyage: 7 Secrets to Happy Flying with Babies and Toddlers | Sacraparental

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