Travel Truths: How to Survive 23 Hours of Flying with a Toddler…Twice!

Sophia and I recently got back from a mammoth trip to the UK during which we spent more than 55 hours in the air on 8 different flights, 6 of which were without her amazing Dad. The journey was: Wellington – 4 days in Sydney – 1 hour in Abu Dhabi – 1 day in Dublin – 10 days in Belfast – 14 days in London – 5 days in Belfast – 1 day in Dublin – 1 hour in Abu Dhabi – 4 days in Brisbane – and home to Wellington…for a rest! It was AMAZING, action-packed and so much fun. Check out what we got up to in Brisbane here.

We have almost been in New Zealand for a year now (what?!) so thought we would pay family and friends a visit before Sophia turns two and our travel costs suddenly shoot off the stratosphere. Infant costs (0-2 year olds) on international flights are 10% of adult fares but they go up to at least 75% of international adult fares from their 2nd birthday. Ouch. All the more reason to squeeze in a few more long hauls before that birthday in October!

Travelling internationally with a toddler is no easy undertaking and much different to her last long haul flight at 9-months old. For even the most organised person, remembering to pack everything for all eventualities and then remember which pocket of which bag everything was packed in, whilst in a semi-awake travel state, balancing your tray table meal and a fidgety toddler on your knee is quite the challenge!


Travel Essentials for Long Haul with a 19-month Old:

  • Unseen Toys from the Pound Shop: This top tip from Travel Mad Mum: We bought loads of compact little toys and stickers from the dollar store which if dropped, lost or discarded didn’t break the bank or our hearts and provided hours of amusement. Quantity over quality. Bring on the tat for a quiet flight! Be prepared to find stickers everywhere for the next few days.
  • PJs and bedtime prompts: Encourage your little one to snooze by bringing along any of their usual sleep prompts: a story, sleeping bag, cuddly toy, dummy, pillow, blanket. Sophia’s beloved dolly lost one of its eyes somewhere between Sydney and Dublin…she still loves it though.
  • Straws: Our flights didn’t serve straws or have cups with lids so these came in handy when the trolley service came round and Sophia wanted her own cup of water and I couldn’t find her sippy cup in time.
  • Pelican Bib: an easy wipe bib which will catch spillages was a life saver
  • Electronic device and Infant headphones: with your little cherubs’ favourite cartoons downloaded/ available in flight mode
  • Pens: For endless filling in of landing and departure cards. One is needed for every passenger. Some countries also require you to carry birth certificates for your infants.


#1 Split up the Journey with Mini City Breaks

Sometimes we travel the most direct route, sometimes we travel the most cost-effective route and we have spent many hours in countries where we haven’t ever left the airport. This time we decided to use our stopovers to explore the cities that we were stopping over in (Brisbane, Sydney and Dublin). We spent hours, if not days, on the phone to my new bestie, amazing Tania at Flightcentre Wellington, deliberating which flight routes and airlines to use. She was fantastic and even emailed me from her holiday in Hawai’i to ask how our homeward bound journey was! We decided to fly via Australia as we hadn’t ever been before and used our stopovers to see Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo and Bondi beach as well as Brisbane’s Koala Sanctuary, Southbank Parklands, Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast. This was such a fun way to do the journey in manageable chunks and helped us to adjust to whatever time zone we found ourselves in. We would thoroughly recommend it! Jeremy was able to join us for both of these long weekends at the beginning and end of the trip which was so fun!


#2 Ready Set….Plan!

We are all up for spontaneous day trips but not on this whistle-stop itinerary. We had a limited amount of time at each destination so were super-over-the-top organised with a colour-coded Travel Itinerary for each place (why would you not?). There wasn’t a moment to waste so all of the research in advance paid off and maximised our time at various locations. When planning our Sydney stopover we found an amazing blog called Wanderlust Aussies with loads of tips and suggestions. Definitely worth a read and a follow on Insta!

#3 Dress for the Occasion…a Cross Between a Marathon and a PJ Party

For me, comfort wins over fashion on every flight. I wore sportswear for the entire journey and Sophia changed into her onesie at ‘bedtime’ on the first night flight and stayed in it for almost 2 days! We were super comfy, the clothes were lightweight and we packed loads of layers for those chilly night flights and in case of spillages. Sophia managed not to spill anything but I managed to pour a full glass of orange juice all over myself, my seat and the spare seat beside me….Sophia looked on with a disapproving and embarrassed look. As soon as we landed in Dublin all of those layers came in very handy!


#4 Pack your Body Weight in Snacks

Well not exactly, but packing loads of snacks kept our little cherub entertained and sustained. Bear in mind that little tummy growlings may always not synchronize with the trolley service times so it was really useful to have days worth of snacks on standby. I was super cautious about packing healthy natural snacks on this journey due to Australian Customs regulations. A friend of ours recently got fined $250 as she had forgotten about an apple at the bottom of the nappy bag upon arrival in NZ…so I made sure to feed Sophia all of the healthy fruit, veg and nutty snacks first then resort to the non-natural items of no concern to Biosecurity later on in the journey. This handy ‘Garden Fresh’ container helped to keep all of Sophia’s snacks in one place so nothing fell to the bottom of the bag and incurred a hideous fine:


#5 Other Top Tips

  • Run wild and free around the airports and stretch those little legs at every opportunity before you are cooped up in a small space
  • Try not to over pack your hand luggage as bringing too much stuff makes it difficult to find the things you need
  • Before take off, stash everything that you might need within arms reach in the seat pocket in front of you (eye masks, headphones, music)
  • Keep all of your liquids in one place for security
  • Ask whether you can check in the buggy at the gate or even better at the plane steps. It is great for hanging bags off around the airport
  • Research which airlines are family friendly. Etihad has a Flying Nanny Service which specifically caters for parents travelling solo with children
  • Ask at check in if there are free seats on the flight, particularly if your infant is too old or heavy for the bassinet. Some airlines specify a weight limit, others an age limit and others will not let your child fly if they think your child looks too tall. Some may even confiscate the bassinet if your child’s foot is sticking over the edge…whilst they are sound asleep…..but that’s a story for another day….so do your research!


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About tripleespresso2go

Jeremy, Katie and Sophia are a family of three from the UK who have a passion for travel, good coffee, music and photography. They are currently based in Penang, Malaysia. Follow their adventures as they taste the finest coffee and photograph their way around the Asia.