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Travel

How to Pack for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

The carry-on essentials that will make your trip a breeze.

By Vanessa Grant
How to Pack for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

My family recently travelled to Bali, Indonesia. And while I don’t have babies—my kids are eight and 11—flying across the world is no joke no matter how old your children are. We flew one hour from Toronto to Montreal, 13 hours from Montreal to Doha, Qatar, stayed overnight in an airport hotel in Doha and then flew 10 hours to Bali.

I was worried about my kids fighting, getting motion sick or panicking about being stuck on a plane, but both trips went smoothly—and while I’ll give some credit to my kids for being good travellers, and a bunch of credit to our tablets for keeping them busy, smart packing is what really saved us.

How to pack for a long-haul flight with kids

While every member of your family is usually allowed one carry-on and one personal item, letting each kid bring their own bag is not worth the stress. I want to instill a sense of responsibility in my kids but I have no interest in trying to track down a lost backpack or tablet in a busy international airport. The stakes are just too high and even replacing a charging cord can be pricey at a duty-free shop, let alone a whole backpack's worth of stuff.

We brought two carry-ons and two personal items and we took turns rolling our bags through the airport, but ultimately, a grown-up was responsible for gathering our belongings and packing them up.

The right carry-ons

Because we had an overnight stopover at a hotel right in the airport in Doha—something I’d highly recommend if you have multiple long flights—we brought a small rolling suitcase from London Fog. This suitcase is like the clown car of carry-ons. It fit a change of clothes for three of us, plus toiletries and some snacks.

Tip: Instead of putting your carry-on in an overhead bin, store it under the seat in front of your shortest child so they have something to rest their feet on. It can get uncomfortable to have your legs hanging for hours.

The other carry-on was The Getaway Bag from No Reception Club. The Getaway Bag bundle was gifted to me by the manufacturer shortly before our trip and I’m so grateful that I had it. The bundle also includes The Sidekick, a fanny pack with multiple compartments, including one with a magnetic closure made for storing a pack of baby wipes. With no diaper changes on our trip, I stored our passports inside a pouch in that compartment, which made pulling out our documents at the many security checkpoints so much easier than digging around in a purse.

How to Pack for Long-Haul Flights with Kids
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The Getaway Bag features one main compartment that comes with customizable shelves and is also accessible from a zippered section on one side. There’s a pouch on top, a zippered section on the front, a small compartment on the side and a water-resistant pouch on the bottom (for any sullied clothes). It’s the perfect bag for all the essentials that you’ll use on the plane. It also comes with an insulated bag for milk or snacks.

How to Pack for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

Tip: To keep things organized within your bags, bring zip-lock bags and zippered mesh pouches (I bought mine at the dollar store).

What to pack for a long-haul flight with kids

Extra clothes

In your overnight bag, pack a change of clothes for everyone, including extra underwear, a t-shirt and socks because accidents, spills and vomiting can happen to anyone. Despite not really taking off their shoes, one of my kids lost multiple socks on the plane and in the hotel. Luckily most airlines give passengers a little package including a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, an eye mask and socks so we had a few extra pairs. I also packed snacks for our second long-haul flight in the overnight bag.

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The overnight bag is also a good place for a selection of toiletries and medications. (Remember to keep any liquids or gels under 100 ml and to put them all in a one-litre zip lock bag.) You’ll want to bring Gravol, pain relievers and melatonin as well as any allergy medicine you or your kids might need.

Sleep aids

While Gravol is made for easing nausea, we all know that it also makes kids sleepy. And while it might help them nap, it doesn’t last that long. I brought 1mg dissolving melatonin tablets to take for our overnight flight. Melatonin is safe for kids five and up.

Tip: Have your kids try Melatonin before your trip. Some people feel more awake when they take it and that’s not something you want to discover three hours into a 10-hour flight.

Snacks

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No matter how many options the airline offers for meals, unless your child is a unicorn, they will likely not want to eat part of most of their meal so be prepared. I brought granola bars, protein bars and cookies on our way to Bali but I wish I had packed a larger variety of items. On international flights you can’t usually bring meals you prepared at home, but packaged food flies. I would have brought packaged pastries, dried fruit and nuts. Even chocolate-chip granola bars get old when you’ve already eaten four of them and the options you can buy on the plane aren’t all that great. I kept our snacks in a big pouch inside one of the side pockets of The Getaway Bag.

I also brought a water bottle for each kid and those fit in the elasticized pockets on the sides of The Getaway Bag. Don’t forget that you can’t bring bottles full of water through security but you can fill them up before you get on the plane and the flight attendants will bring you more water once you’re on board.

Activities

My kids were thrilled to get hours of uninterrupted screen time, both on their tablets and the screens on the back of the seats in front of them. But even their favourite video games eventually lost some appeal.

Tip: While many flights offer the ability to purchase wifi access, not all do, so make sure the games on your kids’ tablets are available offline.

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For those times when even movies, shows and video games got boring, I had a zippered pouch for each kid. Inside was a notebook, a set of marker pens, two mechanical pencils and lead (pencil sharpeners have blades so aren’t carry-on safe), a book to read and a Mad Libs activity book.

Accessories

Don’t forget to bring chargers for your electronics including the charging cubes and international adaptors. You can charge devices in the airport and often on the plane.

We also brought headphones for everyone. You’ll get a set of headphones on the plane for use with their entertainment system but you’ll want your own for tablets or phones. No one—including you—wants to hear the sound effects from your kid’s favourite video game for hours on end.

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