Travelling with toddlers. Our first long haul flight as a family.

We went on our first transatlantic flight as a family over the summer. My brother in law and his wife live in Texas with their three sweet kids. It’s been two and a half years since we last saw them, which is heartbreakingly long. So we felt one of the best financial and relational investments we could make this year was to cross the pond and spend three weeks with them in their world. And that’s what we did.

So much has been written about surviving long haul flights with young kids. I’ve scoured Pinterest for tips on keeping them occupied and happy. I found these posts helpful when working out what to pack for my three year old and 17 month year old. And this post was particularly useful when working out snack survival strategies. So I prepared as best I could. But truth be told, I was dreading the time in the air.

I had a bit of an aha moment the day before we flew though. As I was pottering in the kitchen making dinner and thinking ahead to surviving the flight, I felt God whisper into my heart, “Don’t endure the flight with the kids, indulge it.” Around the same time, a text from a friend came through. She has four grown up kids of her own, so I trust her judgement. She wrote, “For real, you aren’t going to have problems. People make it bigger than it is. Just try and relax. The girls will love being close to you, and they will enjoy your undivided attention.”

This got me thinking about how to manage my own attitude and mindset. I decided that instead of approaching the flight as an exercise in surviving time with my family in close quarters, I was going to make the most of the ten hour window with them. I was going to enjoy them. And that changed everything.

Practically speaking, I totally over packed toys and snacks for our two. The backpacks I used were too big for little backs to carry so we had the added load to hold ourselves. In hindsight I should have packed it all into one toddler friendly backpack that they could take turns wearing. That aside, these are the toys that had the most mileage (pun intended) with our two:

  1. A random bunch of small coloured plastic elephants that our eldest picked up in a party bag. They provided serious chunks of imaginative playtime and fun as she talked to them and created all sorts of story lines with them.
  2. Paw Patrol magazine we picked up at the airport. It came with a “phone” and set of car keys that went down a treat. The content was interesting to our older girl but irrelevant to our younger one.
  3. Books: Peppa Pig and an old set of Moo books from my hubby’s childhood
  4. Stickers. Long live the Pound shop!
  5. Play Doh. Not our own, sadly, but an unsuspecting boy up the aisle from us who ended up sharing his stash with our two.
  6. Paw patrol colouring set, again from Poundland.
  7. Post it notes, for colouring on, peeling and making an absolute mess with.
  8. Water Magic books.
  9. iPad. Sadly they had far more screen time than I’d like in any given 24 hours. But I batted guilty thoughts with a reminder that this was an unusual day.

I wish we’d thought to buy kids headphones for each of them. My musician hubby brought a couple of old adult pairs and they got trashed by our toddlers in two seconds flat. Literally. Toddlers 1. Parents 0.

So, how did it go, I hear you ask? Not smoothly. Frankly, it was a hairy ride.

Both kids had a meltdown at the airport before we even boarded. The drive to Heathrow was enough to set them off. Despite my best intentions, I found getting there, checking in and getting through the gates pretty stressful. I was in full grumpy mummy mode, and the kids must have picked up on it.

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