This is a pretty long and detailed account of flying with a toddler for 19 HOURS. Many travel posts I have read tend to have a before and after, seem to look like a breeze, but tend to skip the dirty details. (Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong posts.) If it’s too much to read everything, just cruise to the headlines to the points that matter to you, or just check out the NOTES and TIPS part.
This post is to remind me about traveling once I have my second kid, forget all my cool tips and start panicking. . . again. This is also for the Mom who wants to travel, but everyone out there has her scared shitless to do it because of all the terrible stories she’s heard. I personally LIKE it when I see all the extras written out. I feel a lot more prepared for flying with a toddler. It’s kinda like a walk through cheat in a video game…sort of.
Even though this was going to be her 31st flight, I was still nervous about flying solo with a 22 month old. Especially since at 15 months she was a fairly holy terror flying when we moved from the U.S. to Malaysia. At 15 months my daughter Evie had zero interest in books, TV, sitting still or sleeping on the plane. All she wanted to do was move. At 22 months it was so much easier because of her interests and understanding.
SHOES NOTE: Her shoes fit her two days before the flight but ended up giving her blisters in the airport before we even boarded so they ended up being useless. Good thing I brought non slip socks.
I’m a terrible packer. I over pack. I think of each scenario and always think, “What if”. Try to pump the brakes if you can. I over bought snacks that were never used and over packed on toys that were never seen.
Here’s what I packed.
KID’S DRAMAMINE My friend told me her doctor recommended Kid’s Dramamine which I never heard about. Please consult your doctor and do your due diligence when it comes to your kids and medicine. The last 19 hour flight we took in August, everything woke her up and it was a very long, very rough flight with a very cranky little girl that could never fall asleep. On our second flight the Dramamine gave her the help to get to sleep in a strange environment and stay asleep in the beginning. During our 10 hour flight she slept about 8 hours.
MODELING CLAY DO NOT USE PLAY DOUGH, it’s messier, smellier and harder to wash their hands. Get MODELING CLAY and seal it in a plastic bag because it will dry out. This was the perfect toy for take off and landing.
HEADPHONES Worth the investment. She had some cheaper ones that broke on me the week before takeoff and dang I’m glad I ponied up the cash for these. She thought she was the coolest and it let her get her jam on. I bought them in Malaysia and they were the only ones available. I’m sure you can find better ones but small headphones that fit their head is a must.
PUFF SNACKS Some sort of small time consuming snack helped us with landings and take offs and enabled her to sit still. Fruit leather bars and the Kind nut bars were also a favorite.
USB CORD for your phone or iPad. Just keep one charged while you are on the plane. Nothing is less fun when you are in a strange airport and you have no juice left in your phone.
MUFFINS See recipe here. These are filling, healthy, and kids tend to get constipated on the plane (new environment, not drinking enough water or eating the healthiest) so these pumpkin apple muffins were great for both of us.
These aren’t winners but basics you shouldn’t forget — diapers, wipes, wallet, passport, cleaning wipes because the plane trays are one of the dirtiest items on the airplane. I’m okay with some germs but I’ve read too much about airplanes to go without them! Her favorite stuffed animal that she is used to sleeping with was a big hit as much as my husband said we should leave it behind. There is that comfort in the familiar while you are in a completely new world for a while. Oh, and a plastic bag for just in case (blow outs, spills, who knows).
STICKER BOOK OR ACTIVITY BOOK – while some would say stickers, even the reusable ones, are the best, they did not hold her attention for long. I’d pass.
CRAYONS, EGGS, CARDS, POM POMS, BEADS TO PUT ON A STRING – also tips from others but she just didn’t care. Coloring was a fail. Maybe she is just too young or it’s not her cup of tea right now?
SPOONS & SCOOPS – She usually loves these but could care less this time. You can always get a spoon or cup from the flight attendants. Another Pass
SWEETS – I actually packed these for me, being pregnant and all, but never ended up opening the jelly beans or Snickers. (I know, what a sin.)
TRAIL MIX – Nope, neither of us. I made a homemade mix and it just didn’t jam with either of us.
ABSOLUTE MUST iPad – I’m not going to preach no screen time for flying. There is a time and place for iPads and I’m pretty sure it’s on a long plane ride. We don’t do it in cars or get a lot of regular play time in, so don’t feel guilty for ever using it.
FAVORITE SHOWS purchased from iTunes. Because as much as I love a free app, sometimes you need some solid classics on the iPad.
She really enjoyed:
Sarah and Duck
Robin Hood – Disney version
FAVORITE GAMES TO PLAY as of this moment in time at 22 months, these were the apps she enjoyed the most. Some of these are free, some we paid for.
Mercer Mayer App I found a package of Mercer Mayer books that self turn and self read which she loved on the plane.
Dr. Seuss App has a 7 day free trial to test out all their books. Just make sure you download the ones you want before you don’t have Wi-Fi. We have the Green Eggs and Ham book on it’s own and she really enjoys that as well.
Peek-a-Zoo series have always been favorites sine she’s been 12 months.
Baby Bubbles is an easy app where you just pop bubbles.
Color Zoo and Princess are color Apps, you touch and it fills in a color with a touch of a finger. It’s a more basic color app for younger kiddos. She really loves both of these.
KID STATS / 22 MONTHS / 30 LBS / 34 INCHES / FEMALE
The Actual Account of the Flight
Okay, now for the actual account of the flight. First off don’t panic. You are in a situation where you are lucky enough to get to fly. As terrible as they can get it is always temporary. You will eventually one day get off that plane and feel freedom again. Kids throw fits sometimes because they are KIDS. They are learning and growing and becoming their own little person. This is an excellent learning situation and super stimulating for their brain. Even when they do pitch a fit, make sure you keep your cool. They are probably just thirsty or have low blood sugar or are tired or scared. These are all things as a parent you (mostly) have the power to help and control. Make it an adventure and try to explain as much as you can to them, even if you think they are too young to understand. They aren’t too young and they are soaking it all in. If someone doesn’t understand that, then they are still learning too.
With that said, when I was packing I had anxiety and felt sick to my stomach even though this is the 31st flight with my toddler. We currently live in Malaysia and we were flying from Kuala Lumpur to Tokoyo to Denver to Phoenix. Once I was packed, I felt fine. It really can be fun if you are in the right mental mind set. I’m very good at being anxious with everything but if you can mentally prep yourself a bit, it can make a big difference.
It’s very expensive to have a car in Kuala Lumpur and you don’t really need one to get around the city so we don’t have one. Being pregnant and with crazy traffic there, my very sweet husband wanted to rent a car, drive, park us, and help us check-in with all our luggage. This sounds pretty standard but it was a big deal to me. I was planning on getting an Uber and figuring it out somehow.
NOTE: We booked through United but our first flight was Nippon Air. When checking in I couldn’t find the sign anywhere because they are small and they ended up being under ANA. We also couldn’t book seats ahead of time on Nippon. With our two other United flights I didn’t have a problem choosing our seats but since it was a sister airline I did not have any power or control of where we sat on the first flight. Somehow we lucked out and got the bulkhead front row with extra room. The only downside being you can’t slide your bags in front of you.
NOTE: What is JetKids? A fold out travel bed with a little storage to spare. We packed a blanket, stuffed animal, diapers and a change of clothes for each of us in the JetKids suitcase. It rolls and is very easy to roll around the airport.
Japanese are very nice and polite. During a different Malaysian Air experience, their flight attendant argued with me that Evie had to sit on my lap at takeoff with a special seat belt. Here I actually asked and they didn’t care. During take off I grabbed an egg and the modeling clay which held her attention so she stayed in her seat long enough for us to get airborne. The first six hour flight was pretty freakin’ easy for all the nerves I had built up about it. In fact it felt too easy. There were snacks, TV and her nap involved. Except apparently with this airline and their regulations, JetKids are not allowed where we were sitting. So the first time we both finally fell asleep, I got poked awake by a flight attendant. I was told if I scooted up my sleeping child it was okay but she could not be laying on the JetKids. Then a second person came by right when I was asleep and said it couldn’t be used at all. So I ended up taking it apart. The third time I started getting angry by being poked awake (WHY couldn’t they do this all the first time and let us both sleep?) and I was told I have to put it in the overhead compartment. So bulkheads and sleeping kids items weren’t allowed apparently. DO YOUR RESEARCH for your airline because we didn’t have any. (During our United flights we had zero issues.)
We watched the iPad with her new headphones and some Sarah and Duck episodes kept her occupied for a while. We also watched Robin Hood…cartoon version. I’ve never been in the bulk head so didn’t even realize we had TV’s until I saw the gal next to me reach underneath her on her right.
We flew on a new 787 and if you see the green arrow in the window photo, the window lighting is controlled by buttons. In fact, just about everything is controlled by a button. No switch for your overhead light, or in the bathroom. All very techy. Now the food may be good in other cultures but I am so sick of rice and nothing they served on the plane tasted very good. I didn’t get Evie a meal. The roll and butter went over with her very nicely. Otherwise we just ate crumbly muffins.
FRESH AIR TIP: I always bring a small aerosol pump mister with a drop of peppermint essential oil because the air is so dry on the plane.
Narita Airport – Tokoyo
So we land with no problem. Narita Airport in Tokoyo is very clean and easy to navigate. We did not have to clear customs since we were just a connecting flight nor mess with re-checking luggage. They had smaller complimentary luggage carts (which seems to be the way everywhere except America). I ended up putting the JetKids on the bottom, the carry on bag on the upper part, and Evie on top of the carry on. Totally forgot about getting a photo. But all I had to do was push everything around and give my pregnant sciatica back a break.
Food is very Japanese in Japan (go figure). But I did manage to score a hot dog for both of us. There are not a lot of restaurants (I saw four) but we happened to find a very small 3 to 4 place food court. I can’t do rice or noodles, because I am so very sick of rice and noodles and we live in a Muslim country where hot dogs (pork) is rare. The funny thing is when we were eating, she saw everyone slurping away at their noodles and kept asking for noodles as she was inhaling her hot dog.
There are a lot of small kid area for kiddos to run around. The first one we found had a parents bathroom and a diaper changing area. The kid bathroom was cool. There was a regular sized toilet but on top of the toilet seat was a smaller toilet seat you could lower down and put your child on. She ended up going pee in the toilet (potty training a 22 month old) and we were both pretty happy about that. In fact, she ended up going in the toilet about half the time so we didn’t burn through diapers like I thought we would. I’ve had too many delayed and cancelled flights were I can’t not pack extra diapers.
The second play area was right near our gate which was also very easy to find. Some airports I find confusing and big and it was just so darn easy and clean here. The lounge chairs on the left photo had chargers and nearby was another kids’ area right near our gate.
SECOND FLIGHT – UNITED
So we boarded and settled and when I was booking out flight I splurged on our 10 hour flight segment and got us the Premium Economy upgrade. This flight was during our regular night time so the hope was to JetKid it up and let her pass out. This plan worked splendidly. The HUGE BONUS was no one sat next to us so we had all three seats to ourselves. It wasn’t a very full flight and I did the aisle, window trick (book your seat on the aisle and window and leave the middle open. Less people are prone to book a middle eat if they can help it and if the flight isn’t full, you have a higher chance of having an empty seat in between.) I also think because we were Premium Economy that upped our chances of an empty middle seat between us.
GOD BLESS UNITED’S FOOD. There was a pasta dish (sorry I did NOT take a photo because we were too busy eating.) I believe it was pesto something that Evie inhaled and ate the entire thing, noodles, side dish and bun with butter. Water was plentiful, the flight staff was super warm and friendly (and American) and we even got vanilla ice cream for desert. It was probably standard airplane food but after the strange flavors we’ve grown accustom to, this tasted quite good. After take off and eating, which was about 2 hours in, I gave her the Kid’s Dramamine.
After I gave it to her (which I tested before the flight at home and she handled it fine…it just made her drowsy) she started getting squirmy. I finally lost a bit of patience and held her for a while. She tried to fight out of a cradle position but you could see she was super tired. You know what calmed her? The old bird trick. I put my scarf over JUST her eyes to cover the light. It really calmed her down. She quit squirming after that, let me hold her, zonked out, and was out for the rest of the flight. She woke up when the plane landed. The JetKids was good but she has turned into a restless sleeper lately so she ended up half rolling off with me watching and catching her. After the 8th time this happened, I ended up folding up the whole thing and setting her up with a pile of blankets on the floor, leaving me the chance to lay down across all three seats. This laying down ended up being impossible for me because I have a pinched nerve from being pregnant and was just too uncomfortable. Nevertheless it was the best possible situation we could have on an airplane. It was just a long, long flight.
JETKIDS NOTE: Would I fly with a toddler and take the JetKids again? Yes it was easy to drag with it’s strap and 360 wheels and I ended up being able to store quite a bit in it; diapers, change of clothes for each of us, blanket, stuffed animal and most importantly my MacBook Pro for work. Computers and babies together can be heavy so it was really nice to just drag it around. And it was padded by the diapers and blankets. I can’t speak of the other awesome flight beds out there but I’m not sure how easy they are to transport, especially without a stroller. I’ve found over in Asia sometimes when you gate check your stroller they end up checking it to baggage claim and not at the airplane. Not sure if we’ve missed a few things in translation but it has happened to us twice with a stroller.
WE FINALLY LAND IN DENVER – ONE STOP TO GO
We did go through customs in Denver which was a very short line. We used the Global Entry line and both lines were about the same wait, 5 minutes or so. We did have to pick up our luggage and re-check it. Since we checked a car seat, it is classified as oversized. EVERYTHING from oversized comes out LAST. So you have to be patient and make sure you use the bathroom beforehand if you have to. Evie was starting to lose her patience which is understandable. Once we got our bags and used the free luggage carts nearby, we went through some guard area and then dropped off our bags. Then we went through long security line and got stopped because we had a half full water bottle and I totally forgot to take my computer out of the JetKids.
SKIPPING THE LINE NOTE: Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. It took a long time to get an interview but you pay online and once you get approved they do a short interview. The main background check is online and before the interview. Pretty painless and worth it if you travel a lot.
We caught the tram to the B Gates and the first thing we saw was so very, very American, Chick-Fil-A! And we enjoyed every bite before our flight. The last flight was a blur. It was 2 hours long. We watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood and she dozed towards the end in my lap. A short, sweet flight but it seemed to take forever.
KUL > NRT > DEN > PHX and 9,721 miles later
We landed, we stretched, we strolled and Grandma and Grandpa met us at baggage claim. WE DID IT! I flew with a toddler literally half way around the world by myself. And “literally” is used correctly for once. Overall the whole trip was not that bad. Next time I’d be more aware of food availability, try to get us both to drink water more and worry less. The airports we went through were very easy, which isn’t always the case. The iPad and snacks were a huge factor in keeping her still in her seat. I’m not too scared to fly with her anywhere after this. The older they get, the easier it gets flying with a kid. (Well, when they are newbies it’s super easy because all they do is eat and sleep. From 10 months to 17 months seemed to be our tricky window.) We will see when #2 comes along and I’ve got two kiddos to juggle. But that will be another post for down the road. Don’t ever be afraid to try. The more you do the easier everything becomes.
Cheers and safe travels everyone!
PSSST… THE AFTERMATH
Sleeping schedule and switching our days and nights
It is sucky adjusting to a new time zone but when you are flipping days and nights it can feel like it may never end. For us it took 4-5 days. This one post I read said you will adjust adding 1 hour per time zone change or something which I found to be not true. You just need a few days, some patience and a fair bit of coffee.
I tried to keep with our regularly scheduled events (lunch, naptime, bedtime etc.) on the new time zone immediately. We stayed awake the rest of the afternoon / evening until bedtime. The first two days I ended up bringing her to my bed. We would have a snack, watch a little show then try to go back to sleep. It took me 1-3 hours to fall back asleep and by the time I did, she was up again. She was thirsty (rightfully so since we moved from super humid to super dry) and wanted a snack (it was lunch time). Husband is coming out to visit us later due to that pesky work thing so I was on my own. Thank goodness Grandparents wake up early! The first handful of nights are the worst but it’s all short term and for us, this was totally worth it!
Here is a vey real account of what happened. These are texts that I sent to my husband.
Day 1 of sleep:
1 out of 5 American Flags
Evie woke up bawling 2 hours in. She had a hang nail on her big toe. Clipped it, gave her Tylenol and had her laying on me and she still wouldn’t stop crying. Believe “overtired” is an under exaggeration. Hero Grandma came in and took her. I am 97% sure she is sleeping with Grandma. But I’m hearing phantom Evie cries so 3% sure she is roaming the halls like a ghost.
I just woke up starving and ate a freakin’ turkey pinwheel from Sam’s Club. Remember those? And blackberries. And blueberries. OH! And they have flipping cottage cheese. I bet it didn’t even cost 45 Rinngit.
(The fridge excursion has confirmed that Evelyn is not roaming the halls.)
My attempt to go back to sleep for the fifth time in 3.5 hours. Later it was confirmed that baby fell straight asleep with Grandma.
Day 2 of sleep: 🤔
🇺🇸 🇺🇸 X X X
2 out of 5 American flags.
Evie slept 9-12:30 and 2:30am to 8pm. Not too bad except she didn’t want to go back to her crib and she had to neck hug me or hold my hand for a good while. She also snores like a tiny dragon for a while making it hard for me to fall asleep. She’s adjusting better. If I wasn’t pregnant I could take a shot of NyQuil or whiskey or both! (note: I hate NyQuil and whiskey)
Day 3 of sleep:
🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 X X
3 out of 5 American Flags
I went to bed at 10pm and started falling asleep around 11:00pm which is when she woke up. After some good solid “holding her Mama” baby time and some natural cough medicine she went down. That damn Malaysian cough from the pollution just won’t quit. Next time she gets honey. If I hold her for a while, I can get her back in her crib, giving me more time to stare at the ceiling in peace. That little angel is such a bed hog! My sciatica was keeping me up so I fell asleep around 12:30, dozed in and out but think I got some solid 4-5 hours until 6:30am.
Day 4 of sleep:
🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 X
4 out of 5 American Flags
In the words of Grandma – HUZZAH! Got my first 7 hours and I’m looking forward to nap time today as well. She’s adjusting way better than I am but I think we’re gonna make it, babe!