Staying Sane When Traveling With Young Kids

I’m deeply immersed in planning our next travel adventure. I’m looking at farm stays, volunteering at marine research stations, staying with friends and all kinds of amazing international adventures.

I get so excited about the possibilities that I sometimes forget I’m going to be traveling with two young kids.

It hits me, usually in the middle of the night. The kids. Long haul flights. No co-parent.

Tea tasting in Malaysia

Tea tasting in Malaysia

I can do this because I’ve done it before. I’ve done several one parent-one child trips and one long one parent-two children trip. It’s doable. I give myself pep talks during my middle-of-the-night freakouts, and remember all the tricks that work well when traveling with young kids.

Here are my best tips:


Stock up on “surprises” for long flights

Hit your local stationery shop for interesting little “surprises” for the kids. Miss M once spent several hours of a long-haul flight sticking “sign here” labels in a tiny notebook (which was cheaper than a colouring-in book). A miniature set of stamps was also a hit, although I don’t think I can get away with that again as Sunny the baby would now want to participate and that would involve stamping the seat, the walls, the windows and himself.

I wrap the surprises in newspaper and dole them out at intervals. Sometimes the items aren’t even new, like sticky tape, scissors and pieces of coloured paper. For the sake of other passengers and your own sanity, avoid noisy toys or activities.


Book a babysitter

My kids seem to sleep OK on overnight international flights, but I certainly don’t. I’ve never learned the knack of sleeping sitting up. I need to lie down, and they won’t let you lie on the floor of planes anymore. I know I am going to arrive at our destination a sleep-deprived wreck, so I book a babysitter. (This works best if you’re staying in an apartment, with a bedroom door that closes). I tell the babysitter I just want someone to keep the kids amused while I sleep for three hours. Catching up on lost sleep is very important for parental sanity. When you’re sleep-deprived, everything seems terrible. Even when the kids are behaving.


Stay at an airport hotel

One of my single mum friends always books a hotel at the airport she and her son fly into. The hotel is their splurge time. They take a bath, put on fluffy bathrobes, order room service and watch cable TV. Just for one night they are rock stars with money to burn. Not a mother and son burned out by a long-haul flight.

Airport hotels are pretty easy to find online. Just search something like “accommodation Brisbane airport” and you’ll get a list of hotels at or near the airport.

Even kids like a bit of fancy hotel pampering

Even kids like a bit of fancy hotel pampering


Break all screen time rules on travel days

If you’re a parent who believes in limiting screen time, you need to ditch the limits on long-haul flights. A child mesmerised by a screen (and earphones) is a dream child to travel with. A fidgety child demanding attention from their entertainment unit/parent is not a dream child to travel with.


Keep sugar rules on travel days

If you know your kids go crazy when they’re sugared up, don’t let them get that way when they’re supposed to stay still for hours alongside hundreds of other cramped humans. Be firm on this one, especially when the drinks cart comes by.


Pack wet wipes

A mother’s best friend, wet wipes are good for cleaning kids, seats, change tables and tray tables. My kids also like to use them as toy blankets. That means I have to double-check my supplies before a big trip, because they have been known to empty a packet, then blow it up so it looks full!


Pee often

Traveling and toilets can be very messy. Try to minimise the risk of little accidents by taking regular toilet breaks, including before boarding any plane, bus or train. Also do a toilet trip before a plane is due to land.

Be prepared to share a cubicle with your kids. And when the inevitable happens and a tiny hand opens the toilet door to reveal you in all your pants-down glory, just remember you’ll never see these people again.

This will happen. Don't sweat it. (But do wash everyone's hands afterwards!)

This will happen. Don’t sweat it. (But do wash everyone’s hands afterwards!)


Take a break from toilet training on travel days

Invest in some pull-up nappies for long flights, even if your child has mostly got the hang of toilet training. It will save a lot of fuss (and wet wipes) just in case there’s a little accident.


Pack a sarong

I call them travel blankets. They can be used as towels, blankets and for making a cubby. My kids feel very special when they get their special travel blanket packed. I also make them carry them themselves!


Prepare for delays

Pack extra nappies, milk, formula, toys and games, just in case a flight is delayed, or you miss your connection.


An unexpected night of sleeping at Singapore airport after a delayed flight left us stranded. (Note the travel sarong/blanket).

An unexpected night of sleeping at Singapore airport after a delayed flight left us stranded. (Note the travel sarong/blanket).


Find the airport playground

Most big airports have a children’s play area. Find it. It’s much easier to sit beside a play area than chase kids through a crowded shopping section.

Making the most of the kid's play area at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Making the most of the kid’s play area at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

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5 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Heather says:

    I really enjoyed this post and I don’t even have kids.

    Also, just wanted to let you know that I’m still reading your book and also really enjoying it!
    Heather recently posted..Joburg’s Best-Kept Mexican Food Secret

  2. Amila says:

    I am planing a trip to Ho Chi Minh and found this blog when I visited your other site Saigon Street Eats.Actually these tips are really helpful for me as we travel with our toddler.The idea of packing up ‘surprises’ is great and I am sure my son would love such a surprise during travel.
    Amila recently posted..Spectacular Sunset Moments

  3. Morgan says:

    These are great tips for ensuring that both adults and their kids have a fun vacation. The pictures of your kids are so adorable! It looks like you guys had an awesome time! Thanks so much for sharing!

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