long haul flights with little kids


A little confession: I have a fairly haphazard collection of photos of trips taken with my kids over the past 12 years. I’m not a photographer and I regularly just plain forget to take my camera with me when I’m out and about. But I’m learning and I’m also working on cleaning up my digital library. As part of this, I discovered some photos which together provide a ‘before and after’ view of a long haul flight (Seattle to Melbourne) with two preschoolers and a toddler. It struck me that sharing these photos would be simple way to show what this travel experience really looks like – for anyone considering such a trip but wavering because of young children.

We’ve lived in U.S. since 1995 and since then we’ve traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe with our boys at least once a year. From the beginning, many friends here would shake their heads in wonder at our seemingly super-human abilities to manage little kids and jet-lag. We don’t have any special abilities and our kids are not any better nor any worse than most children when it comes to flying. But, in our particular circumstances, traveling long distances to be with family was – and is – part of our life and part of our children’s lives. How could we not go to my brother-in-law’s wedding? Or rush to Ireland when my mom was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer? Our trip tally between the U.S. and Europe so far:

  • Seven family wedding (just siblings!)
  • Four weddings of close friends
  • Two medical situations
  • One 40th birthday party
  • Three ‘just vacations’ – because it’s easier for us to go there than to expect the rest of the family to come here

My first flight as a new mom (to Dublin) was hideous – mostly because of my inexperience and lack of preparation. The next was a little better. By the time we decided to travel to Australia with some friends and their two kids in 2000, we were old hands. The kids had their loveys, snacks, water and entertainment. They were in their PJs as we boarded the flight. We flew overnight so they would sleep. These and many other tips for long-haul flights with small children meant we had a fairly pleasant travel experience.


CAM and his buddy BG waiting at the gate: LAX, 11:30pm before boarding the flight to Melbourne.

My travel-companion, Barbara, and her boys arriving in Melbourne.

CAM and I after arriving in Melbourne.

Certainly this flight wasn’t as easy as a two-hour trip within the U.S., but it wasn’t hell-on-earth (or just above the earth) either. Traveling with children gets easier the earlier you start and the more you do it. No, they won’t be as well-behaved as an adult on the plane, but they won’t turn into monsters either. So, go for it. Stretch your wings. Pick a place you really want to visit and get your kids excited about visiting there too. You won’t regret it.

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About wandermom

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven I'm not sure I've ever consciously planned a trip based on this sentiment, but it definitely influences my subconscious! I've been traveling as frequently and widely as possible since I finished school. And I love it. I love the research, the planning, the fervent packing and the curiosity of exploring somewhere I've never been before. My husband & I are both Irish - as in born-in-Ireland. But we live in Seattle. We have two boys: wild, boisterous, regular boys. So, since becoming a Mom, I've been a WanderMom. Given our slightly-unusual family situation, routine "visits-to-Grandma" are international trips requiring passports, 10hr-flights and (oh joy!) airport transfers. I have rants, raves and opinions about how, where & why to travel with kids (start them as young as you can, I say!). I hope to learn even more by researching topics which other wandermoms may be interested in reading about on this blog. Passports, pacifiers, diapers and gameboys at the ready - off we go! Contact Info: Email Michelle: michelle (at) murphnduff (dot) org

6 thoughts on “long haul flights with little kids

  1. Mara

    Boy are these photos familiar to me! We really should travel together some time.

    And I really couldn’t agree more – I’ve had lots of positive experiences flying with my kids (although not as many as you!). It helps if your children like to travel.

    I did have one kind of bad experience that was really my own fault – look for a post on it later this week.

  2. Kayt Sukel

    People think I’m nuts but I often think the long haul flights are easier. One, you are in the right mindset and have a bag full of goodies. Two, they are often overnight flights so your child is going to sleep at some point. And three, you don’t have to pay for the crappy airline food your child will refuse to eat.

  3. jamie

    I’ve been lucky in terms of flight delays with my two, but my mantra is: 12 more hours, 11 more hours, 10 more hours…

    Knowing there are beds at my destination helps immeasurably.

    I also never travel to distant time zones for less than 3 weeks if I can help it. (Lucky me, I know). But who wants to leave just when you are getting into your groove?

  4. Debbie Dubrow

    Great points! The flights are always the part of the trip we dread most. I’ve certainly had my share of misfortune onboard airplanes with my kids, but in general the kids usually do better than we think they will. While we’re all tired on arrival, the flight is a worthwhile price to pay for the adventures we’ll have at our destination.

  5. Sally Black

    I tend to think it’s the parents that get far more stressed out about having kids in tow on air craft than their offspring…no matter what the length of the flight.

    It’s great when you can schedule flights in sync with kids naps/sleep but if not, dealing with a little crankiness far out weighs the thought of staying at home.

    Agreed, the sooner you go out and explore the world with your little ones, the better. It makes it far easier with every new trip.

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