Preparing for long flights and trips with babies and young children

We finally have returned from our two week overseas trip without any incident. We were so busy getting ready for the trip. Adding the exhaustion from the trip on top of that, we literally need one more week to relax but spiritually it was a very relaxing vacation.

We had a more comfortable 12-hour flight than we expected with our son. This fear and under expectancy was due to the fact that last trip we had with our son was 1 year ago when our son was 15 months old and that we did not exactly know what we were going to deal with. Otherwise, I had made all necessary preparations.

Traveling from US towards Europe is pretty easy, but coming back takes longer. The flights take off in the morning and after 12 hours of travel, you arrive to US in the afternoon. You have to keep awake to dodge a possible jetlag.

If you fly a night flight to Europe, assuming you make all necessary preparations in advance; i.e. feed your baby dinner or give him/her milk etc., (s)he will most probably sleep through the flight until the plane lands. But on the way back, even if you’re lucky to make him fall asleep for a nap, you have to deal with a restless and hyperacitive toddle, who is running without a sleep for 10 hours.

Here is a list of tips and tricks from traveling overseas multiple times with our baby when he was 3 months old, 15 months old and 27 months old.

 Preparations before the trip:

1. Reservations:

Flying non-stop to your destination is an undeniable comfort even though it might be more expensive than flights with stop overs. In our case, we get to Istanbul in 11, 5 – 12 hours. I am pretty cautious with Turkish Airlines due to the fact that, even though I have called and made arrangements in advance, they changed my seat and placed me, a nursing mom,  in the middle of two men and on another flight they seated me and my grandma separately due to our lastname’s being different. I checked this reservation several times. I cautioned them that there will a pregnant woman, an elderly person and a child to make sure there is no last minute confusions.

2. Selecting seats

a)If you have a baby younger than 2 years old then reserve bulkhead seats. A-343 series have rows 10 and 26 which has a bulk head facing the TV screens. Also don’t forget to reserve baby baskets called bassinet. Bear in mind that there might be security issues bringing certain amount of liquids on the plane. So buy your containers and bottles and reserve milk. If you are feeding solid foods, you can ask for baby food in jars ahead of the flight.

( On the left, see pictures of my son his neighbor getting ready to sleep in the bassinet. )

b)If you have a child older than 2 years old, I suggest – riding with A-343 type plane, rows 34-35 or 18-19. Since the screen is a head of you, you are at least a little a ways from babies at the bulkhead seats who would be crying.  It is really sad when you somehow are able to put your baby a sleep and he wakes up because another baby crying. Sitting by the window is great during takeoff, especially if the takeoff takes a long time, you can keep your baby busy. Though we were four people, we had 2 window seats and 2 middle seats. My son was busy looking the buses and trucks while taking off and landing. Though both takeoff going there and coming back was delayed, we handled it well. Don’t forget to order child menu for your baby.

I recommend you to check, before you reserve your seats looking at the layout of the plane you are flying.  If you are not going to sit in front of the divider, you can view the seating chart on to make a better choice.

3. Equipment and gear

a.To carry your baby, I recommend sling or baby carrier. If you have the means, arrange a crib, car seat, stroller from family members, car rentals or from the hotel. Then you don’t have to carry these big items with you. If you are going to stay at the hotel bring your own fitted mattress sheet would be great. If I am going to stay at a hotel, I make sure to take two hand towels and pillow cases with me. Otherwise you can find useful items on Onestepahead .

b. You might prefer to get a car seat since your baby will be sitting after 2 years anyway. She/he might sleep more comfortably or might be able to see outside better with the raised car seat.  Since it is more comfortable sitting in the car seat, your child might not mind the seat belt so much. I also suggest Sit’n Stroll. Though I am not 100 percent familiar, Sit’n Stroll has really great reviews. It is so useful at the airport with it converts from a car seat to a stroller so easily. I have friend who used this product and is very happy with it. She says it is worth the price for toddlers up to 4 years old. Because we don’t have any more storage space left at home, we used the convertible car seat.

c. DVD Player

I recommend borrowing a portable DVD player for toddlers older than 2. We did not have to carry a laptop with us for two weeks. But a kind friend of us helped us by letting us use his laptop with spare batteries. If we had acted early, we could have found products with reasonable prices on eBay.

4. Getting ready psychologically

If your child is able to comprehend certain things, then one week before, you might tell him or her that you are going to get on plane and go on a trip.

You can tell him or her that he behaves well and sits at his seat, then he or she will go to a very nice place and see grandma and grandpa.

On the day of the flight:

1. Depending on your child’s age, you might have to prepare a bag or a small luggage.

If you have a baby:

  • Plenty of diapers
  • 2 sets of extra clothes and socks
  • One jacket or sweatshirt
  • Swaddling clothes if you are swaddling your baby
  • Baby bottles
  • Baby formula food if needed
  • Extra pacifiers
  • Plenty of baby wipes
  • One bottle of fever reducer/pain reliever medicine
  • Necessary medication and first aid kid
  • A few baby rattles and teething toys
  • Nursing covers
  • A thin black cover
  • Baby changing pad
  • Earplugs for those who might be uncomfortable if your baby cryies.

You might not need extra blankets, most Atlantic flights provide blankets and pillows.

I find it easier to travel with babies less than 6-7 months. At 3 months, I nursed my son, put him inside the bassinet and he fell a sleep. After 6-7 months, because babies start paying attention to their surrounding you might have to cover their bassinet with a cover. Once they start walking, it gets a little harder. When they are older than 2 years old, things get easier.

Keep in mind in front of the bulkhead, over the top of the bassinets, there are tv screens. If your baby sees things moving on the screen, they will uncover themselves. You might have to create a tent like setup with a darker cover to cover the bassinet.

If your child is between the ages of 1-3:

  • Extra diapers pull up diapers and underwear
  • Extra set of clothes and socks.
  • One jacket or sweatshirt
  • A glass or a bottle
  • Baby wipes
  • A bottle of fever reducer/pain reliever medicine
  • Necessary medication and first aid kit
  • Nursing cover and plenty of sweatshirts for you.
  • 20 or more different kinds of toys.

After your baby falls asleep, you might be able to use the covers to prevent the baby from waking up from the  reading light or the TV.

2. Entertainment ideas

  • Like I wrote above, a DVD player or a laptop with DVD player and DVDs your child might enjoy will be your life jacket. Our son only slept for two our during a 12 hour flight back, we have to thank our friend who helped us keep our baby busy with his lifesaver laptop.
  • Couple of toys, cars, dolls, whatever he or she likes. We in fact had a small fleet: a bus, a plane, a fire truck, a car, a towing truck…..
  • Coloring books, crayons, doodler, lego, playing cards with different numbers letters, shapes and colors, muppets, play dough and a small lantern.
  • 4-5 new toys he or she had never played with before.
  • 4-5 story books ( thin ones)
  • For emergencies, wafers, cereal bars, crackers, cookies and chocolate.
  • A large repertoire of stories, songs and games…

You should take the toys out one by one, not all together. First, take out toys that your baby is familiar with. Then towards the end of the trip take out the ones he or she has never played with. You might also play with the content of the travel kits given by the airline.  I made small balls out of the play dough and put them in a glass and gave it to my son. He spent almost 20 minutes in transferring these balls from one glass to another.  15-20 minutes is a long time for a 2 year old.

Don’t worry if people look at you because your baby is crying. A child will cry and laugh.

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