Everyone has their own situation and there is no hard and fast rule to help you decide when your kids are ready for a long overseas flight. I should rephrase - when YOU are ready to deal with your kids on a long overseas flight! Are you ready to deal with your kids in these potentially stressful situations - will it still be a vacation (perhaps you’ve seen this essay about taking a trip vs a vacation)? So before you start making gift bags to apologize to your fellow travelers, consider how your children will behave and how you will deal with it (and for the record I am against “I’m sorry gifts” on flights).
- How many kids are you bringing? Just one? You can probably make that work, especially if you have 2 adults you can tag team to get through the rough patches.
- What happens when you skip nap time? Is your entire day ruined? Many kids need to stick to their schedule or it’s chaos - you may want to consider waiting - jet lag with a cranky toddler will not be fun!
- Have you taken flights before with your kids? How did that work out? I’ve had kids throw up in the aisle on the way to the bathroom, a child who would scream unless I let her sit on the floor until the seat belt light went off. Those were all trips under 3 hours, we were not ready for a long trip back then!
- Along the same lines, but will your child sleep on an evening flight or be content watching shows, coloring etc.? Everyone has their breaking point but knowing your kids tolerance for staying in a seat for a long period of time can help you decide. Maybe you’ve been on a long car ride or stuck waiting a long time for an appointment, how your kids handle these issues are all good indicators.
- Now, this is up to you but it is my preference to leave behind bottles, diapers, strollers and car seats. This means waiting until your kids are 4-5 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken many a strollers and diapers on domestic trips (and often rented car seats or booster seats from the car rental company to avoid the extra baggage), but we waited until our youngest was starting kindergarten to go abroad so we didn’t have any of that “stuff” to deal with.
Let's say you have decided to go for it and bring the kids, what are some ways to prepare yourself and your kids to make the process as easy as possible?
- Have movies and shows downloaded onto a device. First off, sometimes things go wrong with inflight entertainment, on a flight this summer my audio jack was broken and I couldn’t listen to the movies. You will also most likely have to pay for wifi and you are better off already having your go to entertainment downloaded and ready to go. Also, tv is Europe is a lot different from the US (and Netflix doesn’t always work on your US device!)
- Prepare your kids for sleeping on the plane, get them excited for it, make a “schedule” for the flight (ex: we will take off, get our dinner/snack served to us and watch a show then read a story and close our eyes). Small kids can curl up and be pretty comfortable. Have them wear clothes that are comfy - even pjs if they want to. Your airline will give you pillows and blankets, they might provide you with eye covers. For my younger kids we bring our own small blankets (that fit into a backpack) and neck pillows.
- Consider booking a hotel room or renting your apartment for the night of your flight. I have not done this but its something that I wish I had done. Even if you/your kids get some sleep on the plane, its going to be 2:00/3:00 AM to your body when you arrive. Depending on your flight you will be arriving anytime from 7:00/11:00 AM local time - that's a long stretch of time before the usual hotel check in time, trust me when I say your kids may not be up for sightseeing for a few hours before you can get into a bed.
- Being in your hotel or rental shortly after your arrival means being able to take a nap and shower. There is lots of advice about getting over jet lag and adjusting to a new time zone, this is what has worked for us. We all try to take a nap, I will set my alarm so I don’t sleep for too long. Once we have all had a chance to rest we get up and shower, freshen up. Then we go walk around, find someplace for an early dinner, maybe take a long walk back to our place, explore a little bit, find an ice cream place and try to go to bed as late as we can. The next morning we wake up and are “on schedule.”
Do you have any tips for surviving an overseas flight with kids or dealing with jet lag?