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How To Survive a Long Haul Flight with a Toddler

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by Sarah Says (subscribe)
I am a marketing and communications consultant and freelance writer. Living on the Gold Coast in Australia. Check out my website or follow on Twitter @WENGoldCoast
Published August 2nd 2015
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I recently travelled to England from Australia totalling a whopping 24 hours travel time. I did it none stop and on my own with my 20 month year old daughter. It got me thinking about things I did before and during the journey, to make things easier, and what worked and what I learned.

So, here are my top ten tips for survival. Now some may say tip one should be just don't do it, but with such a blended world nowadays and friends and families living oceans apart, some of us have to make those kind of trips, and the sooner the better I believe.

1. Rules Are, There Ain't No Rules
Although I like to be fairly strict with my daughter and have a clear guidelines and structure, I also realise that sometimes you have to pick your battles. Therefore my general approach to the flight was that - within reason - she could call the shots and get pretty much what she wanted. When timezones are crossed and you are locked within a small space with loads of other people - the rules and boundaries of home are simply not worth enforcing in this situation.

2. Plan Ahead
It's not like you are being asked to take an unknown toddler away with you. We know our children and what makes them tick. My daughter at 20 months has very clear moaning and tantrum triggers but also very clear calming and happy triggers and tricks. Therefore I know what sets her off and what keeps her happy and can predict when a tantrum is about to happen. Working out beforehand what is likely to frustrate them the most, then having a good few things to calm and prevent meltdowns is really useful - my last resort was to let her play with my iPhone. I know this instantly gets her happy and sat down.

Make sure you checkin online and prebook seats, excess baggage and meals - this gives you peace of mind for the journey and gives you a sense of control. I know for me, researching and feeling like have have things in order makes me feel more confident. I booked our seats on the second day flight at the front, which had more space - I knew she would be sleeping less and therefore want to move around more.

3. Training
One thing I knew was that she would have to wear headphones for the first time when on the plane, I also knew I didn't want the plane to be he first time. So a month before the flight I bought some for her and told her if she wanted to watch Peppa Pig that day it had to be on my iPad with the headphones. She took them off the first few times, but lasted a bit longer each time and now she asks for "Peppa in my ears".

You can also go on some car journeys when they are awake - getting longer each time so they experience being buckled and sat down for a long time. Make sure when at the airport both before and at any layovers that they run around as much as possible - it's the last thing you want to do but it means they are more likely to sit down on the flight.

4. TV
I checked the inflight entertainment but found that there was not much that would keep her attention - she really only focuses on a few shows. I knew TV would save me at some low times, therefore I cleared some space on my iPad and downloaded a few Peppa Pig films for her, plus a couple of Wiggles episodes. I know that she sits happily to watch these - each 50 minutes long, so enough for me to eat some food, have a drink and go to the loo knowing she is occupied.

5. Bribe
Now I usually don't believe in bribing or buying gifts in return for good behaviour, however a long haul flight is a high pressure environment therefore to pack a "goodie bag" of new toys and activities will certainly help. You can give at the beginning or wrap them and give one every hour or two - this will keep them entertained and perk them up in a cranky moment. It's something I remember from my childhood and it always got me excited - even though much of the stuff was cheap and throwaway, it did the job for the flight. Make sure you leave one activity or toy for the very last hour - this was when my daughter really was at breaking point, plus usually on decent, you cannot have any device switched on, so it needs to be none electrical.

6. Food, Supplies and Clothes
Often when my daughter is being a bit prone to tantrums, it's usually because she is hungry and I didn't know if she would be happy with the plane food, I certainly remember refusing it as a child. So although space is limited, I packed in the hand luggage a load of snacks that she could have throughout the flight, rather than relying on big meals - especially with the time differences as I wasn't sure when meals were supposed to be. Some I threw away at the airport, but I'd rather have it than not.

I also made sure she had loose and soft clothing so she felt comfortable plus I bought two of her favourite blankies, dummy's, toys and bottles - incase one got lost. For her dummy I bought a dummy clip and attached it to her outfit, this meant she could always reach it, even when a sleep. I also made sure the toys I bought were not small as I knew things could slip threw cracks and onto the floor.

7. Talk
I have always talked to my daughter as I would another adult, I explain everything and this was no different. I told her regularly about the plane and what she had to do, that it would be long and feel odd at times but mummy would be with her every second. I also found a Peppa Pig episode where they go on a plane on holiday. Also the Wiggles have a song about buckling up so I sang this to her when we were on the plane - I knew that being buckled for that long could annoy her, but she knows from the song that being buckled is about being safe.

8. Luggage
If you are travelling on your own with a toddler - like I did - remember you have to carry everything yourself plus the toddler too, as they are likely to be tired. I didn't have too much but it was still tough trying to manage everything. Ruck sacks are good as they free up hands and the cases on four wheels are good as you can push along easily with the pram. I took a small wheel case on as hand luggage, although it was filled with a few different bags - her baby bag, my handbag, change of clothes bag and her goodie bag - this made carrying everything much easier, but kept our stuff separate so it was easy to find quickly.

9. Practice
She had been on a long haul flight when she was 6 months old but it's a whole different ball game with a toddler, so I thought I'd take her on a practice hour-long domestic flight. This gives you a good idea on how they cope - especially ears related as some kids feel pain considerably more than others. If you know in advance then you can get the special earplugs or medicine to help soothe them. Plus it's just an hour so even if it's really bad, it will be over quickly.

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We Did It

10. Be Confident
In the lead up to the trip most people were saying "I hope she behaves", "poor you", "good luck, you'll need it", "hope she sleeps" and "hope it's not too awful" - this does have a tendency to knock your confidence and you start to imagine the worst. I know I am a good mum and I know my daughter very well so you just have to believe in yourself and trust you can handle what happens. My thought as we boarded the plane was, I trust her to be good, but if she isn't I'll handle it like I handle every other aspect of her behaviour and development.

Hopefully, some useful tips - the most important advice is plan as much as possible but also be flexible and have lots of solutions. I couldn't be prouder of my daughter - she handled the experience very well and it has given me a massive boast in my abilities.
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