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International Flight Tips

10 Tips for a Long International Flight

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My wife and I have taken our two children (ages 11 and 15) on an international trip during almost every year they’ve been alive. For nearly all of them, we’ve sat in the economy section. During all but one trip, we landed really feeling tired. But we survived. If you are not flying in one those first class suites with flat beds and showers, I’d like to share with you some lessons we’ve learned from our 13 international trips with kids. I’d love to hear your international flight tips and experiences, too!

1. Manage expectations

Help your kids prepare mentally for the long trip. Talking to them in a calm and assuring manner sets the tone. I like to ask our kids, “Are you ready for the long plane ride? Are you going to be patient?” Note to self: “Am I going to patient?”

2. Just say no to cold medicine

Some people advise dosing, but I’m going contrarian on this one. Better to be tired and clear-minded than tired and drugged. Giving kids cold medicine to get them sleepy might sound like a good idea, but the side effects can amplify an already grumpy child.

3. On board Entertainment

Bring what your kids enjoy doing: books, cards, small board games and mobile electronics. I like to load my iPad with a few movies. As soon as kids are old enough to pull their own roller bags, they can also carry their own entertainment.

4. Be well rested

There are some who say wear out your kids the day before and the day of the trip. We’ve done the opposite and have done well. Get extra rest and hydration starting the day before your trip. I like to prepare for a long flight the same way I would prepare for a long race.

5. Exercise

Get in your normal amount of exercise the day before and day of the flight. Running a half marathon the day before your trip may not be wise. Oops. Walk around the terminal near your gate rather than sitting during the last hour before boarding. You’ll have plenty of sitting time for the next 10+ hours.

6. Manage your own stress

As much as I love traveling, I start feeling anxious a few days before long trips. Be aware and take care of yourself. If you are stressed, your kids will be stressed. Do what you need to do to relax. And I don’t mean go for a drink.

7. Heading east is harder than west

Plan accordingly on arrival. If you are arriving in Europe from the U.S., it will take longer to adjust. Stay on your feet and keep moving that day. Take the kids to a local park. Try to stay awake until your normal bedtime, local time. Give yourselves a margin of time to adjust, and resist the temptation to over-schedule the first few days on international trips.

8. Book evening flights

I love red-eye flights when it comes to traveling internationally with kids. I like to get on the plane, skip the meal, and sleep. After drifting in and out of consciousness for five or six hours, you’re mostly there! Help kids to sleep by bringing small pillows and keeping them off electronics before sleeping.

9. Bring extra clothes

This one is for parents with infants. I learned my lesson after our then infant spit up on me during routine burping. My options were to: sit for another eight hours with spit up on my shirt, go shirtless, or find something else to wear. I borrowed my wife’s sweatshirt. It was awkward but at least I did not smell like vomit.

Tip 9a: Also carry an extra shirt for your other child when the infant spits up on her. Believe me, that is not pleasant either. For international trips, we carry an extra change of clothes and toiletries on-board. You never know.

10. BYOB – Bring Your Own Bites

Unless you are sitting in a suite with a personal butler and shower, the food is probably not going to cater to your family’s preferences. So why not bring some of your favorite snacks? I have never been on a plane when they’ve served my kids’ favorite snack: Spicy Cheetos. Flex a little on the food choices. You’re just helping them survive the flight. If it makes you feel better, pack some carrots and celery too. I personally like Gummy Bears…the non-laxative kind.

Happy travels!

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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to about 15 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…

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