How I survived air travel with a three-year-old (long-haul, the worst kind!)

According to my blog statistics lots of people visit here because they want to know how to survive air travel with a baby or how to survive air travel with a toddler. Having recently been to Europe and back (and one way on my own with Mr3) I have a few more tips but the best piece of advice I have on how to survive air travel with a three-year-old is simply this: take mine! I have heard some horror stories from friends and I think one of the key things is that a lot of it depends on the nature of the child, and that’s something that’s pretty hard to change. My Mr3, I happily discovered, took most of the upheaval of a long flight in his stride and really didn’t complain anywhere near as much as he should.

But obviously there are still quite a few things you can do to optimise how your long flights go with a three-year-old tagging along. Some of them might help with your child … some might not! That’s just how kids are. So, what I’ve learnt is:

  • Three-year-olds are all about preparation (well, mine sure is). We started talking about the trip literally months before we went. We read books about the procedure at the airport. We talked about our previous trips. We looked at maps. Etcetera etcetera. 
  • Leave (some of) the rules at home. We are a pretty limited screen-time household but on the plane, Mr3 was allowed to watch as much TV as he wanted (thank you Emirates for numerous episodes of Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam and Pingu) and to use the iPad as much as he wanted (Mr3’s apps of choice are the great range of Toca Boca games, and I like them because they’re pretty imaginative and open-ended and not about winning). 
  • Pack an astonishingly large number of small toys, snacks and surprises. Two good friends gave me a collection of small (wrapped) presents to be distributed on-board whenever a distraction was needed. On our way there I used quite a few but on the way back, nearly none, and several months later I still have some of them in the cupboard! Boredom is bound to set in for toddlers on long-haul flights – heck, it does for me and I’m 37!! Having something new or at least something different to provide some interest helps.
  • Take it slowly. For the first time ever (usually I’m in a hurry to get all the way to Europe) I booked an overnight stay on the way there (in Dubai) and a longer 24-hour stay on the way back. I have promised myself I will now do this every single time we do long-haul flights. Getting out of the airport, having a sleep on a real bed, exploring the hotel, being able to run around, just simply having a break from being stuck in the confines of a plane – it made everything so much easier.
  • Remember that mantra from sleepless newborn nights: “This will pass!” You are only on this flight for six or twelve or maybe fifteen hours (uurggghh) but it will be over. Eventually. And hopefully the pay-off for getting through the flight is an enjoyable trip somewhere interesting.
There is very little I like about the thought of long-haul flights, and I would rather never take them except that would severely limit my travel possibilities, given that I live down here in one of the most isolated cities on the planet. Add a restless three-year-old to the mix and I would probably rather go to the dentist (and I don’t like the dentist at all). But just like the dentist, these things have to be done, and there are ways to get through it. Good luck and feel free to leave any more tips you have in the comments. 


  1. What a fabulous child, to take it in his stride. Perhaps he’ll be a world traveller when he grows up.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.