Long Plane trips with Kids - Tips and Tricks

I had read a few years ago about some research into Adults fondest memories of childhood. It wasn’t big ticket item toys that were most fondly remembered. It was actually family vacations where parents spent quality time with their kids (mostly relaxing, eating ice creams etc 'Remember the time when we all went off to Disneyland'. Time together as a family, building family stories together was top of the list. We use this simple fact as justification for our trips to Disneylands around the world. 

Travel to any Disneyland in the world, from Australia, involves a lengthy plane trip, and its the same for many of my overseas readers whom wish to experience more than one theme park in the world. Talking to lots of Mums and Dads, there are quite a lot of issues travelling with kids on these long haul flights. Things I have learned along the way,  which you might find useful in planning your next trip:

Air Sickness and Mentos Lollies!
My daughter suffers from Air Sickness. She is ok on a flight, but once the plane lands, she has been known to be physically sick. Not always though. It happens with a lot of kids and most grow out of it. My daughter in the past, was so focused on the in-flight entertainment, literally staring at the electronic screen for hours at a time, I think this made her feel sick when the plane landed. It is a good idea to have a chat with your kids before the plane flight about how they must try and sleep, and/or have some shut eye time and not spend the entire flight time looking at electronic entertainment.

On my last flight, unusually, I read a book for the entire duration of the domestic leg of the flight. When I landed in Melbourne Airport, I suddenly felt nauseous, yet I was fine mid air. Debating whether to buy Peppermint tea or Travel motion sickness tablets from an airport chemist, at inflated airport prices, I remembered that I had packed Mentos Peppermint lollies. Peppermint being soothing for upset stomachs. Well, after a half a dozen Mentos chewables lollies (sweets), I actually felt a lot better and the nausea stopped! We originally bought the Mentos lollies for equalising the eardrums on the lift off and touch down on the plane journey. We bought Mentos as they are lollies that we could eat, rather then chewing gum that was illegal in Singapore (our last trip).
Interestingly, our daughter did not get sick on this Singapore flight, possibly due to eating the Peppermint Mentos lollies, or possibly because she spent far less time as 'screen time'. If you don’t have Mentos lollies for sale in your country, I suspect any Peppermint flavoured lolly/sweet would do! You have nothing to lose - and a cheaper alternative to buying motion sickness tablets!

EarsAs well as lollies/sweets for cabin pressure adjustments for young kids ears, there is also a product called ‘Ear Planes’ that you can get which protects Adults and Children’s ears when travelling - particularly with a cold. They apparently work - but only if you use them correctly according to the packaging. Handy to have some packed in your cabin baggage.

Food – Airplane food as you probably know can be quite hit and miss. I tend to make Muffins just before a plane trip. They are filling, nutritious and keep for at least 24 hours unrefrigerated. We eat these on the plane and dispose of at our destination. Popular flavours include Zuchini and Carrot or Apple and Cinnamon. I also work out literally where the cheapest and nearest food outlets are to our hotel for hungry bellies. I locate where the nearest Subway Restaurant and McDonalds, and have e-coupons for discounted meals on hand.

Jetlag – All the guide books say ‘Stay awake at all costs’ to conquer Jet lag. But this advice is frankly not written with kids in mind, as Kids just won’t be able to stay awake and can fall asleep anywhere. A.J fell asleep in a Subway restaurant in Anaheim on our first day. Other friends kids just fell asleep upon arrival at L.A airport soon after arrival in the U.S. Larger kids too are quite heavy, so its not so easy transporting them if they are asleep in your arms, together with luggage in tow.
My only advice with jet lag and kids - book overnight flights whenever you can, and allow for several rest days when you arrive at the destination. Also, as Jet lag lasts about 5 days (if you are lucky) - have  plenty of rest days in between strenuous activities. On our Rest days, we slept in, wandered around Outlet shops and lazed around the pool. Nothing was too rushed or planned.  On theme park days we would generally arrive at the park about 11am and stay until near closing. This is how it just worked out for us with a child from Australia and how we adjusted to the time differences. I believe jet lag is worse travelling from West to East. There was no Jet Lag travelling from Australia to Japan, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Type of Plane Try and fly as big a Plane as possible, and opt to sit over the wings if you can. Flying the new Dreamliner planes, the planes seemed to suffer less turbulence (even over the usually bumpy equator). 
Anxiety of Flying; Talking with many Mums and Dads, this seems to be a common theme among kids (and Adults) when taking long flights. Having suffered from Anxiety myself, I have read quite widely on the subject and share some of my insights here. Five year olds might take what you say comforting regarding air travel – but 10 year olds have minds of their own and do question things. If you need help with this, please see a Doctor. Some tips on managing Plane anxiety for both children and Adults below:

CBT (Cognitive Behavoural Therapy) – where you turn a negative thought into a balanced thought. There is a lot on the web about this – but it goes along the lines of writing down all your negative thoughts, then write down some opposing thoughts to these negative thoughts. Write down your percentage anxiety. Then write a balanced sentence that combines the negative with the positive thoughts. If your anxiety level does not go down – go straight to Mindfulness techniques below – which do work!

Mindfulness techniques focus on the moment and I personally think work for the fears that you simply can't control or reason with (when CBT above doesn't work). Some examples:

Go for a walk (or even just sit at the airport lounge) and try and think of 5 things you can see, 5 things can hear, 5 things can touch. 5 things you can smell. Each 5 things different (A.J loves this game we have done this on walks around the neighbourhood) and do this for at least 15 mins. This refocusses you on the present. Anxiety is the future. 

Another thing to try is deep breathing (there are apps for this). You should be taking about 10 breaths per minute as an Adult, but if you are breathing about 20 per minute (or more), then your anxious. You need to slow down your breathing. Breathe in for 4, Breathe out for 4 (there are lots of breathing exercises on the web about this, you need to do this for a while to get your Heart Rate/Breathing rate down). You cannot be anxious if your Heart rate/breathing is slowed!

Try to keep a worry diary. I wrote this in my phone memo app. Every moment you have a worry write it down straight away. I had 10 worries a day for the first 3 days. Then nothing on the 4th!  Like my worries had disappeared. Very strange- Yet this one works!

If in an extremely anxious state and trying calm down, count in 7’s back from 100! (apparently some people have perfected this to such an extent, you  need to change the number!!). This distracts you from anxious thoughts, that make you more anxious.

Do some exercise and/or relaxation every day no matter what, in the lead up to a holiday, even if you feel ok. Preparing for a holiday can be stressful - there are so many things to do like finishing off work assignments, organising who will look after pets, taxi's to book, houses to prepare and more. Exercise is like money in the stress bank and you need to start relaxing before the holiday, which might sound counter intuitive. It is self-care.

Turn any worry from ‘what if’ to ‘lets pretend’. It lessens the impact I think quite a lot!

Comfort Objects – A.J packs her own suitcase and we let her take her favourite soft toys. It was funny, at one airport we were at, the Customs officers wanted her to open her Carry-on Suitcase and it was literally filled with Soft toys. There were smiles all round as the suitcase's contents were revealed as a whole lot of toys in the suitcase squashed in there. Soft toys make great cushioning for fragile souvenirs. We usually let her take 3 soft toys on the trip, although she often brings more toys back with her!!

Noise Cancelling HeadphonesThese are untested by me, but one of my work colleagues swears by them – that they help her sleep on the plane and thus help prevent jet lag. They reduce airplane low level noise, but you can still hear people talking and announcements. Interestingly, the new Dreamliner planes have cut down on this 'low level' noise, supposedly to combat 'jet lag' and make the whole experience of air travel more pleasant to get some sleep.

Pack a change of clothes in Carry onAccidents happen with little ones , but I’m also actually talking about food on the plane here! Opening up little food packages in confined aircraft seats can often go everywhere (and has!). It is a good idea to have a change of clothes anyway with long haul flights just in case your checked baggage does go missing at your destination. At least you have clean clothes to get changed into if your luggage is missing.

Write a Packing list a week or so before the departure date – but only start packing the day before - This keeps your mind busy at the task in hand (packing) the day or so before. But do the actual list writing a week or earlier in advance! I also now keep my previous packing lists. It makes it easier to pack for the next trip – I know how many t-shirts I need on holiday and only need to make simple adjustments according to the season or how long we are going for. Sample packing lists you can get from the web. Find one that suits and modify.

Entertainment There is so much entertainment on board a plane. I don’t bother with colouring-in books and puzzle books for kids any more. However, tablets and puzzle books are good for long waits at the departure gate (which there often is). There is often limited options for entertainment in the departure lounge (unless of course you are at Singapore airport which has a lot of airport entertainment to see!)
It is a good idea to have a discussion about the flight with your child before the flight in what you expect them to do (try and sleep, and not to spend 100% of the time on the electronic media, explaining to them about Jetlag and Air sickness).

Changi Airport Entertainment (Singapore) some of it is quite mesmerising


Get kids to write a travel journal This helps kids process their trip and there is no reason they can't begin writing at the airport. On our first few trips we made fun lists about what the differences were between Australia and country X. The lists grew to be quite long and detailed as we noticed more and more differences each day between different countries and are even now, fun to read back. Differences we found included signage in multiple languages (everywhere from street signs to bathrooms), Taxi and bus colours, traffic light configurations, coinage, no helmets for bike riders (yet enforced by Law in Australia) and more.

Anti-bacterial SanitisersDon’t leave home without this one handy item, and don’t catch a plane without one. I hate to think what germs lurk on those touch screens on board the plane...

Let Kids take a spare camera - They love it and gives you a rest from taking ALL the photos! Although A.J took many photos of house sparrows and pigeons when we were last in Hong Kong (we have those birds at home) but their photos give an insight on what kids find important on holiday! A.J also did her own vlogs too (unpublished) which are also lots of fun to watch back later!

Drink plenty of water on the plane - This not only keeps you hydrated, but it forces you to use the bathrooms and hence walk around the plane every so often to stretch your legs. DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) is real, and people on long haul flights are at risk - even after they have got off the flight itself. I can also recommend travel socks (not for kids though). Someone once said that they felt like their feet were more 'spritely' when they got off the plane after wearing travel socks then without.  I would have to agree, even though they are incredibly uncomfortable throughout the journey. 

Above all, enjoy your holiday and make a great family memory,

By the way, I am not sponsored by Mentos! (or anyone else actually) It was just an accidental discovery that these lollies do make you feel better! 


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Liz Powley said…
I have not taken my kids on any plane as yet, so everything is untested. Having said that I went on my first plane at 21 and have only been on six flights including that one, all domestic, so it isn't a common experience for me either. Eldest is sensitive to sound, so I decided to delay it until she is older and more in control (it is not like the plane can pull over and let her off if she freaks out), though she is probably old enough now - she handled the DanTDM concert really well (though she reported tummy ache before we went in, which we suspect was nervousness/anxiety). That and if my car can get there, I'm more likely to drive anyway - we haven't been able to afford any overseas trips in any case.

But! You give excellent advice! I will keep all of this in mind for when we do go overseas - which will likely be New Zealand in a few years time - I have evil plans for the next few years before the kids hit high school, assuming I can save up enough cash and get the time off work. We're planning to go to Sydney next October.

That camera I was complaining about on my blog? I'm thinking of giving it to the kids - it is going to drive me nuts because I'm used to a better one. So they will have their own too.

This is a very thorough and informative post. Fabulous for anyone planning on taking kids on planes.

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Kj said…
Thanks again for your kind comments regarding the blog. I was a bit afraid this post was a bit too long, but also thought I would put everything into it as I hope it would benefit someone. Good luck planning your future trips. I will have future posts on how to save money for a holiday.

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