Travelling with a toddler – keeping them entertained on a long haul flight

When we booked our flight to America, I was nervous about how Harper would be to say the least. Both my husband and I have close family in America, and we were excited for her to visit them. However, this would involve a 3 hour car journey, a 9 hour flight, a 2 hour layover, a 2 hour flight, a 10 hour car drive two week into the trip, and a 9 hour flight home.

Before travelling, I did copious amounts of research on entertaining a 20 month old, and here are my tips.

  1. Let them run around in the airport (where safe!). It can be tempting to keep them in a pushchair and out of mischief, but I knew I wanted to tire her out as much as possible before she had minimal opportunity to move around once we were on the plane. Heathrow even had a softplay area for children, details of which can be found here. Philadelphia airport also had a little children’s play area that she really enjoyed.
  2. Loads of people recommended activities to unwrap every hour. This was tough as if I did this for the entire journey then I would have filled our hand luggage, and some more. So I decided on 10 things, and I will detail them below. I started the unwrapping of toys with 5 hours to go. The first hour / hour and a half of the flight was taken up by excitement/ drinking her milk/ having a snack. The next 1.5 hours she slept as it was her nap time, and we’d been up since 4am. Then we had a little food, and then I unleashed the toys / activities. I gave her a new one every half an hour.
  3. A Peter Rabbit sticker book, leftover from Easter! But Harper has recently really enjoyed putting stickers on and off herself and other people.
  4. Magic water colouring book and an Aquadoodle. Both allow them to colour, but is mess-free as just water!
  5. Harper is obsessed with “tick tocks” (watches and clocks) and I had been wanting to get her a watch of her own for a little while, so the flight seemed a great opportunity to give her her very own toddler watch. I did want to get one of those fandangled ones that is also a GPS to keep track of your little one, but they were a little out of budget – and have a monthly usage fee – so we settled on a cheap and cheerful one! The box had cute pictures of animals and food on it, so this kept her entertained for a bit too!
  6. A friend recently took a long haul flight to Australia with her toddler and recommended a buckle toy, and kindly lent us hers for the flight. Harper loves doing up the straps on her high chair continuously so I already felt confident she would enjoy this toy.
  7. I recently got free from Jo Jo Maman Bebe some magnetic dress up dolls. And we were also given a Thomas the Tank Engine set of magnet trains that come with a magnetic tin to play with them in.
  8. A tub of play doh and a few shape cutters.
  9. We also brought along a few toy cars and these were a hit. She loves diggers at the moment, and we managed to get a little one. These have also been good to pop in the changing bag for her to play with at dinner since we’ve been away.
  10. I got a second hand set of finger puppets and wrapped these. There were 5 in total, and I was tempted to wrap them individually but I didn’t.
  11. Two piece jigsaws. These are great as there is less to get lost! They are each just two halves of an animal and you have to match them up.
  12. Her favourite books. I didn’t wrap these up, but you could! I just brought them (along with her comfort teddy) so she would have a bit of familiarity to home.
  13. Along with her wrapped up goodies we also brought an iPad loaded with shows! We have a Netflix subscription and this allow you to download shows too so we downloaded about 57239301 hours of shows Harper enjoys. Our only issue is that she is not overly into watching TV and bores easily, but I was hopeful it may at least buy us a bit of time – especially as she got sleepy. I also got her a set of kids headphones.
  14. And finally, SO MANY SNACKS.

I also recommend a baby carrier as this was the only way I got Harper to take a nap – albeit only for an hour! It was also handy to wear her on and off the plane when I needed my hands for luggage etc!

We have survived so far. Just a 10 hour car journey in a week, six hour car journey in two weeks, and then the flight home… Wish us luck!

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