An 18.5 Hour Flight with a Toddler

Okay so we survived the 17 hour outward journey, and the 18.5 hour return one. Travelling long-haul flights with a small child is by no means an easy feat – and even less so when travelling alone – but it is doable! After 27 flights, Bean has grown accustomed to the strange noises and lights inside the plane – and yet she still has the occasional meltdown or blowout. So here are 5 things mom picked up to make travelling alone with a toddler more manageable.

1. Pack Light

Diapers, change of clothes (for both the child and the parent), wipes, snacks and entertainment – the luggage increases exponentially when traveling with children. One thing I tell myself when packing for a solo trip, however, is whether I can carry everything AND a sleeping toddler at the same time, while holding the passports and boarding passes to pass through immigration and security. Now, I have just the GB Pockit+ (featured on a blog post 5 Travel Essentials) which folds and fits easily under the seat in front of me, and my trusty Fjallraven Kanken backpack. That’s IT. Whatever you pack will fill the space you place it in – limiting yourself to 1 roomy backpack will help you pack only the essentials needed onboard.

View under the plane seat in front of Bean and mom.

2. Seating, seating, seating.

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Just mom and Bean, at the back of the plane!

When you travel with an infant below the age of 2, most airlines will a) automatically allocate your child as “an infant travelling on lap” and b) try to assign you a bassinet. For children just over the age of 1, this may still be feasible. However,  although the roomiest of bassinets can support up to 15kg, toddlers close to 2 years of age may not (willingly, if at all) sleep in the bassinet. Whether you are travelling with your toddler on your lap, or with their own seat, the best, best seat I’ve had with Bean was the aisle and window seat right at the back of the plane. 3 reasons:

a) The seats do not usually recline, which deters other passengers from reserving them – the chances of the one next to you being empty is higher.

b) Newer planes have a 2-3-2 seat configuration for the very last row, so you will not have to share the row with any other passenger. Ideal for a fussy or mobile toddler.

c) If the kiddo refuses to sleep on time, or at all, the galley is located at the back of plane. On red-eye flights, our experience has been that the crew mills around inside waiting to be called by passengers and have been more than happy to entertain or give snacks to Bean. Food is also served FIRST to children – and with the proximity to the galley….need I say more?

Bonus: Bathrooms are also located at the back, and often times are the ones with diaper changing facilities.

3.  Invest in a Travel Pillow

With a multitude of child travel pillows available, ranging from Plane Pal to Fly-Tot, a travel pillow can go a very long way in ensuring you get rest when travelling alone. Acting as an extension to the seat itself, it offers more room to play, a place to rest legs, and a bed to sleep on. Approved by 30 international airlines to date, travel pillows are to be used only against the window seat, or the middle seat of the middle row for safety reasons (airlines include this in their safety guidelines). Our Plane Pal takes about 1 minute to inflate with a hand pump, and less than 5 seconds to deflate, fitting neatly into a small pouch with the pump itself.

4. Travel Red-Eye

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Sleep, sleep, sleep

Airplanes are super interesting and there’s nothing that Bean loves more than to explore all the lights and buttons and seats around her. Yet at some point, especially on long haul (anything exceeding 10+ hours for us), she will fall asleep whether peacefully or otherwise. The alternative is flying a long-haul day time flight (though most will cross into nighttime regardless) and having to entertain and watch her. I sleep when Bean sleeps, no matter how tempting it is to watch that film I’ve been dying to watch. Surprisingly, it has worked out reasonably well, and mom can still average 60-70% of sleep on the flight.

5. Use Entertainment Sparingly

For both the outward and inbound flights, I only had to offer Bean her “entertainment” about 60% of the way into the flight, since she was either a) eating, b) sleeping or c) pressing the buttons of the console in front of her. Her compact ‘activity bag’ fit inside my own in-flight backpack, and comprised mini play-doh, a water coloring book and packs of textured sticks with a note-book, amongst other things. The temptation to hand her the bag itself was strong, but mom resisted! Rather, by spacing out each option, we had already landed before using even half of the things I had packed.


Remember that you know your child or children best, and that the plane will reach its destination at some point. No stress – you can do it!

Happy travels! 



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