If you’re planning on moving to Australia soon, and if you have young kids, there’s a pretty good chance you might be nervous about the flight. You might even have found this post by Googling: ‘surviving long haul flight with toddlers.’ If that’s you, I’ve got your back! This post is all about taking a long-haul flight with a toddler (actually three!) and it includes my tips on how to survive your flight to Australia.
When we moved to Brisbane, our twin boys were four and our VERY headstrong daughter had just turned two a few days before. The idea of travelling for 24 hours with three pre-schoolers terrified me. I was convinced we’d lose someone in the terminal. I had no idea how everyone would settle on the plane. I wasn’t looking forward to juggling all of our luggage at the airport (which was way more than you’d take on an average long hail holiday!). I didn’t know what to pack for the flight for a long haul with kids as we’d only travelled short-haul with toddlers before. I didn’t know how any of us were going to get any sleep…
I spent hours Googling travel gadgets for kids, toddler plane activities and how to entertain a toddler on a plane. I wanted to find as many tips for travelling with toddlers and long haul flight tips as I could. My grand plan was to be as prepared as possible to make flight to Australia as calm and stress-free as possible. I ended up buying plenty of travel toys for toddlers, kids’ airplane games and lots of extra things that were supposed to make flying with a toddler (or three) easier!
Table of Contents
Long haul travel with kids tips
I learnt so much after making that journey and I’d love to share some of that here – both our successes and our mistakes. Read on to find out what to pack in your travel bag for Australia, what not to take, flying to Australia tips and tricks and learn about some of my favourite travel gadgets which can make flying with a baby or toddler a little easier. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, you can sign up to access my FREE resources library which contains my hand luggage packing list here.
We’ll soon be flying back to the UK for our first trip since we arrived in Australia (pending a few things falling into place!) I no longer have to stress about taking a long haul flight with a toddler or baby, as now I’ll be travelling with a primary schooler and two tweens which should be waaaaay easier! I still learnt an awful lot from my experience of flying to Australia with three little ones though and I’m excited to share my tips below.
This post about surviving long haul travel with toddlers contains affiliate links
Travelling to Australia with young kids
The first thing I want to get out of the way before we get started is this: prepare all you can for the flight to Australia with kids, check out all of these tips for flying to Australia and buy all of the toddler airplane activities, but remember that no matter what happens, it’s just a day of your life. If the long flights with kids proves to be challenging, just remember that it will be over soon.
If you’re emigrating, you’re only travelling one way so you don’t have to think about boarding an airline again for a while. If your kids refuse to eat airline food, it won’t hurt them to miss a meal or eat ice cream and chocolate for a day. If nobody sleeps, you’ll all get some rest when you land. Keep it in perspective – time will pass and none of this will really matter. Being organised will definitely help, but there are no guarantees everything will run smoothly as there is so much out of your control. Take the day as it comes. Long haul flights with a toddler or baby can be unpredictable!
I found this hard to get my head around – my husband and I are both control freaks who like to plan everything and we love to manage projects down to the fine details. But that was the biggest thing I learnt about our journey over to Australia – whatever happens, will happen. Go with the flow!
Flying with kids on long haul flights: Reality check
If you’ve travelled long haul before having kids you may need to give yourself a quick reality check. Your long haul flight to Australia won’t be as relaxing as a pre-kids flight. You probably won’t be able to watch endless movies this time (not if you’re flying with a baby or flying with toddlers), and you might not be able to sleep as much as you’d like.
On our flights to Australia, I think I spent 12 hours trying to get to the end of ONE MOVIE! Thankfully, I made it to the end just before we landed, but there wasn’t really any time to concentrate on anything as one of our three always needed something. Whether it was trips to the toilet (I swear they played tag!), or help with food, opening up packs of stickers or just having a cuddle – I was on duty pretty much the entire 24 hours and so was Matt. But that kept all of us occupied which was also good as having things to do makes the time pass quicker and 24 hours can feel like a long time.
I had expected a bit more quiet time when they went to sleep but, unfortunately for us, this didn’t really happen (hopefully you’ll have more luck!) – they took turns having very short naps but while one slept, we still had two awake. I think we were particularly unlucky that none of our three slept very much on either of the flights but I know other people with kids that sleep for ten hours straight on planes, so I guess it’s a combination of setting things up for success as well as a bit of luck on the day.
I’m sure if we’d invested in a kids’ flight pillow so the kids could stretch out, they would have all slept much longer. Read about the best kids flight pillows here. (Be sure to check you can use a particular brand on your flights as they can’t all be used by all airlines). In hindsight, investing in at least one of these would be my top tip about how to survive a flight to Australia with toddlers. It would have been worth every penny (plus they retain their resale value so when you’re kids are too big for them you can just sell them on). So if your kids are aged five or six and under, it’s well worth reading this post and considering your options!
Travel long haul with kids: Big decisions when flying with a toddler or baby
Fly direct or layover?
The biggest decision you have to make before you plan to travel with kids to Australia is whether to have a layover or fly straight through. There are pros and cons for each.
Pros of having a layover when long haul travel with kids
- You can get some rest in between flights, meaning you all arrive in a better mood.
- If any of your kids are struggling (i.e. not eating, refusing to sleep, not wanting to wear their seatbelt) then you can take a break and come back to it again fresh on the next leg.
- It makes you feel less stressed to know you only have to keep everything together for 12 hours or so before you can relax.
- If your kids get travel sick, this gives them time to recover before continuing the long haul journey.
- You can eat some real food at the end of the day – everything looks better after a proper dinner that isn’t served on a little tray!
Cons of having a layover long haul travel with kids
- You need to pay for an extra night or two at another destination. This can add £££ to your migration costs.
- You need to think about car seats and logistics to get to the hotel.
- Booking layover accommodation and transfers is an extra job on top of a million other admin jobs on your list.
- If the first flight wasn’t fun, nobody is going to want to get back on a plane again after an overnight stay somewhere nice.
There’s no right or wrong answer. After much debating, we decided to fly straight through which I think was right for us at the time as we wanted to save the money and get started in our new lives. Next time we go back to the UK for a visit, I’ll be tempted with a layover to break things up as the finance and time pressures won’t be as great.
(If you’re looking for layover hotels, my favourite travel booking site is Booking.com. Register for free to get access to the best deals. From my personal experience, the last-minute deals on here can be much cheaper than other booking sites.)
Where to sit on your long haul flights when travelling with kids
When travelling long haul with toddlers or flying with a baby, it’s a good idea to request the bulkhead seats when booking your tickets as these give you more space and if you have a baby they can use the sky cot. Unfortunately, these seats tend to book up quickly (priority will go to those with young babies needing the sky cot/bassinet so if you have a baby, make sure you book as early as you can). If you’ve booked your tickets online using a comparison site (rather than through an agent on the phone where you can chat about seats), log into the airline website as soon as you can after booking to secure your seats.
Pro tip: Make sure you ask for children’s meals when booking. We booked our flights with a really helpful company over the phone but they never mentioned children’s meals. When we were on board our first flight, we realised every other child was getting special children’s meal boxes and our kids were being given adult meals. They didn’t have any extra kid’s meals on board, so it meant our three only ate crisps for the whole first flight as they’re all picky eaters. Thankfully they realised what had happened on the first flight and they called through to the second flight and organised kids’ meals for us on that one. Not that they ate those either, but at least they could have had chicken nuggets if they wanted to.
How many seats there are in a row depends on the size of the aircraft. In economy, the A380s I’ve travelled on have rows of three on the outside and a middle block of four. The smaller 747 we travelled on for the second leg of our flight to Brisbane had two seats by the window and four in the centre. It worked out well for us to have the entire window seat row with the rest of us sitting in the middle, broken with the aisle. It meant we could all swap seats to get a change of scenery. Think about what seat configuration will work best for your family, and remember the later you book the fewer options you’ll have. (Also, if you plan on using a flight pillow or foot hammock, check out the best place to sit to use it as this will depend on the brand).
Pro tip: I know people who deliberately plan to leave one seat in between their family when booking flights. When they’ve boarded, they ask the airline staff if the person they’ve seated in that seat might prefer to be moved (usually when they see they’re surrounded with young kids they are more than happy to move). This then gives them a free seat to spread out a bit. This comes with a risk – if the flight is full, or the person doesn’t want to move, you could end up with a stranger sitting between you all.
Be aware: If two adults are travelling with twins or two infants under two on laps (as we have twins this is something we discovered on our holiday flights before moving to Australia), you can’t usually sit in the same block of seats as there is only one extra oxygen mask per section of seats. In this case, you’d need to sit across the aisle from one another or in the row directly behind. But double-check when booking your flight – they should be able to advise you of the rules for your particular aircraft. If the infants have their own seat, they’ll have their own oxygen mask – it’s only an issue when travelling with multiple lap babies.
Flying with kids: Practicalities
How to get around the airport with kids safely
When you’re moving abroad, you’ll have a lot of luggage. You may have been given an extra luggage allowance for migrating too (check with your airline when booking).
Pro tip: If you have a lot of travel luggage, like we did, then paying the porters at the airport is worth every penny. We were in a total panic when we got out of the taxi at Heathrow and realised our luggage wasn’t going to fit on two trolleys. There was no way we could push three trolleys and manage three kids between two of us. We didn’t pre-book the porter service – we just picked up the phone to arrange it on arrival and a few minutes later we had help. It cost us about £27 and for that they took our luggage right to the check-in desk. I’d have personally paid £££ for the service as it meant we could focus on looking after our kids while we waited in line to check-in. Not every airport offers the service, but if they do, use it!
Pro tip: If you know you need to take a lot of gear plus you have a few young kids, do yourself a favour and consider sending a bag or two with a luggage shipping service. The bag will be delivered to your hotel/accommodation and it will free up your hands at the airport. You can find out about Send My Bag services and get a 5% discount in this post.
Reins or wrist straps to keep your kids close
For your peace of mind, it’s a good idea to bring a wrist strap for toddlers or baby reins.
All three of my kids were runners, hence my worry about losing someone in the terminal. I brought toddlers reins so I could keep hold of them during the check-in process and it really helped. We ended up waiting for a long time at check-in as they wanted to verify our visas, and without reins I know it would have been way more stressful.
We also used them again as walking reins for toddlers when we were around the shops so we could keep hold of them! I know that some people don’t like child reins, and I get it if you’ve only ever had one small child at a time they can seem unnecessary, but as a mum of multiples I had to embrace reins for my babies as soon as they started toddling and in situations like a busy airport they were an essential item for me to keep my kids safe.
Security ID bracelet in case they get lost
It’s important that if you’re travelling with toddlers that they have your phone number on them somewhere for your peace of mind. Nobody plans on losing their kids, but it’s good to be prepared just in case. It’s also important to talk to your kids ahead of time to explain what they need to do if they get lost. Whether you want them to stand still and wait for you to find them, or you want them to find a member of staff at the airport to ask for help and show them your phone number. Having a clear plan will make sure your toddler doesn’t panic if this happens.
Travelling with a buggy
For pre-schoolers, you might want to take your buggy to the gate as it makes everything so much easier (it also means your toddler can’t run off if they’re strapped in! Plus your buggy can carry some of your hand luggage). Check that this is allowed when booking your flights. If your child is under two this shouldn’t be a problem.
Our daughter was just turned two when we travelled to Australia and we bought a seat for her. We were told we had to wrap her buggy and check it in. We later met other families who had brought their buggy to the gate with kids older than her, so just make sure you ask when booking and if you don’t get the answer you want from the booking agent, call the airline direct to check. Some airports have prams you can use in the terminal and luggage trolleys with baby seats so you can get by without your own buggy. Just remember, if you’re bringing your buggy to Australia that you clean the wheels as they may get checked when you arrive in Australia.
Pro tip: If you have a toddler or baby, it’s a good idea to bring a baby carrier that you can fold and store in your hand luggage. You never know when you’re going to need it. Also, make sure you use a rucksack for travelling as your hand luggage as this keeps you hands-free.
Hand luggage options for travelling with kids or travelling with a baby
The big question I get asked all the time is ‘should I buy a kids ride on suitcase for my kids?’ Trunki ride on suitcases are really popular and oh-so-cute. I fell into the trap. I bought three Trunkis especially for the journey to Australia (the Gruffalo, a t-rex and a cow) as I wanted the kids to be excited about the journey. And it worked! The kids adored them and couldn’t wait to set off for the airport with their cases.
After travelling for a full day with our Trunki ride-on suitcases, I can safely say that I both love and hate them. My husband downright hates them though. Here are the reasons for and against Trunkis if you’re wondering: should I buy a Trunki ride-on suitcase?
Pros of Trunki pull along suitcases
- Kids love them! Trunkis makes trips really exciting and fun.
- They are great to sit on when waiting in line – they really do stop your kids from running off as they feel responsible for them – even my runners were happy sitting on them and playing.
- You can pull your kids along on them when they get tired. Which is apparently most of the time when you’re in an airport.
- They are super cute.
- They fit a lot in – cuddly toys, a few books, some travel games and a pair of pyjamas can easily fit.
- They are sturdy and will last for years.
Cons of Trunki ride on suitcases
- Trunki suitcases are bulky and awkward which matters as you WILL end up carrying them.
- Your kids might like the idea of pulling them, now. But at some point they will stop pulling them and you’ll have to back track your route to figure out where they left them (this happened a lot of times to us!).
- Carrying a Trunki suitcase plus a small child and other hand luggage is really tricky. Carrying multiple Trunkis, plus a small child and other hand luggage is downright impossible. Again, in this case, your own hand luggage MUST be a rucksack or you won’t make it!
- Trunki ride on cases aren’t easy to open on a flight so you’ll need to pack a little bag inside the case that you can keep out during the flight to save the hassle of opening it multiple times.
So my verdict about Trunki ride on cases? For one child, maybe even two, Trunkis are cute and super fun. For three kids, take them at your peril knowing you’re going to end up juggling awkward, bulky cases, plus small kids plus your own luggage. You’ve been warned 🙂
Cute as hell – yes, totally impractical for more than one child – also yes!
Onward travel with kids
I debated about whether to get our boys a Trunki Boostapak which converts into booster cushions instead of regular Trunki cases, but I really wanted to buy the ride on Trunki cases so looked for other options for travel booster seats.
After reading lots of reviews I went for the Bubblebum seats which are inflatable and useful for squeezing in your travel bag.
In the end, this proved to be a waste of money as when we landed in Brisbane, we found out they weren’t legal in Australia (luckily our taxi driver had three seats we could use anyway). Boosters without backs have since been banned in the UK too, so we won’t be able to use them when we go back for visits either. They are, however, useful for using in other countries so if you have a layover somewhere it’s worth checking if they are legal in that country as they could still get you out of a spot.
Pro tip: Use Hire for Baby to get your baby gear and car seats ordered so they’re waiting for you when you land in Australia. You can have car seats or baby seats professionally installed in your hire car so it’s waiting for you when you land, and they can arrange to have things like a travel cot waiting for you. Find out about car seat laws in Australia and learn about Hire For Baby here.
What to pack in your hand luggage when travelling long haul with kids
On a long haul flight with toddlers or babies, do your best to keep your hand luggage light (obviously, that’s easier said than done when you’re emigrating). There will be times you end up carrying all the bags (see above!), and a child too. And carrying heavy bags just makes you more hot and sweaty than you need to be.
This is my must-have hand-luggage packing list for moving to Australia:
- Visa letters
- Ticket print outs
- Baby wipes (I took a couple of half packs so Matt and I both had one – half a pack was a lot lighter and less bulky than a full pack).
- Nappies, nappy bags and a travel changing mat (again, we took some in both of our bags – take more nappies than you think you’ll need as air travel can do funny things to a baby’s digestion)
- One spare set of lightweight clothes for everyone (this was useful as our daughter was travel sick on one of the flights and the boys poured drinks all over the place) plus a set of pyjamas each for the kids. I put the relevant person’s clothes in their bag so I’d know where to go for things quickly
- Paracetamol (for me!)
- Sachets of Calpol for the kids in case they need them on the flight (these need to go in the clear plastic bags they give you at security)
- Any other medication needed for the journey and arrival (ensure you have enough in your hand luggage in case your hold luggage gets lost or delayed)
- A folder of important documents including: passports, print out of tickets, visa letters, letters confirming any new passports you’ve applied for since being granted your visa are linked to the visas (you need to complete a form to do this a few weeks before travel), birth certificates, driving licences, the credit or debit card you booked the flights on or the bank statement showing the ticket purchase (this is usually a condition of travel, so make sure you have it), the address and phone number of your temporary accommodation and the phone number of the taxi company or car hire company you’ve booked
- Hand sanitiser gel
- Face masks
- Disinfectant wipes
- Some small sandwich bags (to put rubbish or dirty clothes in)
- A magazine (haha that was a joke – I knew there was no chance I’d have time to read a magazine but it was a nice idea!)
- Each of the kids’ favourite teddy bears which they all snuggled up to at nap time
- A few favourite story books for bedtime
- Tablet computers with apps loaded on (remember to check the apps you want are working before you set off as I found mid-flight some I had promised them weren’t working and it was too late to go back online and fix it). Also, remember not to run your devices too low before you board the last flight as they might ask you to boot them up at security and if you can’t turn them on you may have to leave them)
- A LOT of snacks and sweets. Airline food can be pretty awful, and your kids will probably just want crisps, raisins, crackers and snacks. I didn’t pack nearly enough of this type of food and I regretted it
- A lightweight jumper for each of you as planes can be chilly
- A couple of bottles of water bought just before boarding the flight. (They don’t bring enough drinks around and your kids will get through them quickly. Again, I didn’t buy enough and we had finished our first bottle before the seatbelt sign was off on the first flight.)
- Travel activities for the journey like sticker books, Where’s Wally etc.
- Crayons and colouring books
- Laptops and portable hard drives (not to use while travelling but just to keep safe)
- Notebook and pen (because I can’t travel anywhere without mine!)
- Kids’ headphones and adapters
- Anything else you don’t want to risk putting in your hold luggage e.g. bills and account details, any precious photograph prints that you haven’t scanned and any breakables.
Don’t bother with:
- Travel board games (pieces will get lost)
- Toy cars (they have a tendency to drive under seats)
- Anything with lots of small pieces or parts (as above)
- Trunki neck pillows (or any other brand of neck pillow) – you get pillows on board and it’s not worth the hassle of carrying one as you’ll have enough to carry as it is!
You might also enjoy reading this blog post about what to pack in your hand luggage when travelling to Australia.
Travel tools and travel gadgets for babies and toddlers
CARES Child Safety Harness
The FAA-approved CARES safety harness provides more security and safety for young children than the airline belt. I also know this would have made a big difference to our trip (if only I’d heard about this travel gadget before our journey!). Our daughter is so headstrong and the whole flight she wanted to take her seat belt off – including refusing to sit in her seat when we were landing in Brisbane! This is more like a car seat harness so she’d have felt more secure and wouldn’t have been able to keep unbuckling it herself. Genius. (Again, you may need to check if your airline approves of this device).
Of course, it goes without saying that an iPad is a must-have essential for travelling with little ones. Download movies or your favourite Netflix shows and install all of your kids’ favourite apps.
Earphones for kids
With these soft headphones, your kids can sit back and relax in comfort.
Travel sickness bands
Two of my three kids suffer with travel sickness. These travel sick bands really do help a little – I can personally vouch for them as I wore them through both of my pregnancies when I suffered with reallllly severe morning sickness. On the days that I forgot to wear them, I felt so much worse! Now we always travel with them.
A travel first aid kit
A little first aid kit is essential when travelling with little ones. Be mindful to remove any sharp items such as scissors and put them in your hold luggage, and also remember to put any liquids or creams in the small plastic bags at airport security. I find it helpful to make up my own little travel first aid kit with a few essentials, but you can easily buy a little portable first aid kit for travel and then take out anything that can’t travel in your hand luggage with you.
Noise cancelling headphones for the parents
Bose Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones or ear buds are one for the parents 🙂 These are probably more use on long haul flights if you have older kids who are entertained by movies so you can sit back relax. I finally got a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones a couple of years ago and they are fantastic! I wouldn’t have been able to use them much on our flight to Australia with three kids under five, but on our next flight I plan on being able to use them now my kids are a bit older! I would love to upgrade to the earbuds next!
Where’s Wally books
Where’s Wally books were a lifesaver for us on our long haul flight. Our boys sat for hours playing with them – they’re great a travel activities for toddlers and even primary school aged kids.
Travel activity books
Travel activity books and puzzle books were another big hit with our kids.
Sticker activity books were another great idea for our littlest. She was always happy sticking sticks everywhere!
How did we get on?
We all survived our flight to Australia. It was tough but bearable. Our boys were absolutely awesome beyond my expectations and sat watching endless movies (once kids hit four things seem to get a little easier as they are more engaged with movies and games) and playing Where’s Wally for hours on end. I had no idea they were capable of sitting still for so long – they listened so well and only became tricky after we landed in Brisbane and they were overtired and emotional. Our daughter didn’t travel so well but then she had a cold which probably made her ears hurt, and she had just crossed the boundaries into the terrible twos which meant she didn’t want us telling her when to wear her seatbelt! She found it all pretty frustrating and we ended up walking up and down the aisles with her for hours on the flights!
Be patient and try to be kind to one another as it’s so easy to snap with the stress of such a big move.
Be prepared but go with the flow
My final tip is to let your kids have whatever will make them happy in flight (within reason). The airline staff will do whatever they can to cheer up a crying baby or toddler, so if they offer you an ice cream or a bar of chocolate for them, take it! It’s only for one day and if they’re happy, you’re happy. And don’t panic about other passengers if your little one is upset. We had so much support from passengers who were sympathetic to our daughter’s cries and it really did bring out the best in people – it’s hard enough worrying about travelling with little ones as it is without worrying about what other people are thinking. We had strangers offering to walk her around, someone lent her an iPad and others pulled funny faces to make her laugh – it really made the whole things much easier.
You can prepare as much as possible for the journey, but you can’t control how your child/children are going to feel on the day. Just remember, the flight will happen and you will get to the other side. If all goes well, it probably won’t be anyway near as bad as you’re expecting and parts of it might even be fun 🙂
PS Did this list of tips for long haul travel with kids help? Have I included everything or is there anything you can’t travel without? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
This page contains some affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you purchase through these links at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services which I feel will be of value to you.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like…
Choosing the best natural mosquito repellent for your family
Protecting your children’s skin with zinc sunscreen
Why the CoolCabana makes a great family beach shade