Long haul flights and travel with your baby or toddler

A family holiday with your little ones is what memories are made of but planning is essential if you want to get the most out of your time away. Our travel tips and packing lists will help

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A sun hat and toddler sunscreen are among the packing essentials for long haul holidays to warmer climates

Holidaying with babies or toddlers is, on paper, great fun. But without your home comforts around you, and away from your daily routine, vacation-life can be, well, a bit inconvenient. Our guide to long haul travel will help you pack with precision and plan for every holiday eventuality.

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Flying with a baby or toddler – what you need to know

Babies and toddlers under 2 don’t pay full-price airfares on some airlines because they don’t have their own seat. But that isn’t always the case – as some airlines charge for having a baby on your lap. For more, see our guide on how much it costs to travel with a baby.

When your child reaches 2, that golden age of tantrums and tears, you’ll have to buy them a full-price ticket and they get their own seat. For more on specific airline policies, head to our  instant family guide to airlines.

When you book your seats (usually after you’ve bought the ticket), choose one to be an aisle seat, so you don’t disturb anyone when you pop in and out. And, says Emma Barnett, co-director of luxury family holiday specialist Tots Too, “If two parents are travelling you might consider booking one seat separate from the others, allowing one adult to rest whilst the other manages the kids – swapping at half time of course!”

The British Airways baggage allowance for children under 11 includes, “one fully collapsible pushchair (stroller) and one car seat” but check with your airline as it can vary. Very lightweight, compact buggies can go in the overhead lockers. Others may have go in the hold, although you could take them to the gate.  Again, it’s worth checking with the airline, as the policy on this varies.

With some airlines, you can take your baby in their car seat as it can be strapped onto the airline seat. Your baby won’t be able to travel free if you do this, though – they’ll need their own seat. But it is a great way to encourage your baby to nod off and also means you don’t have to rely on a hire-car car seat on the other side.

If you’re planning to drive to the airport, consider a valet service – so you can just drive up to departures and leave your car keys with them. They then meet you at arrivals on your return. It doesn’t cost much more than the usual car parking fee and it is much less stressful.

On our forum, mums recommended getting your baby’s or toddler’s passport sorted as soon as possible. Saisi says, “Just be careful with the passport. First passports can take a week or they can take absolutely ages (as ours did). You can’t apply until you’ve registered the birth so go immediately and apply for the passport immediately.”

How do bassinets on airlines work?

A bassinet is a detachable carrycot, for a child under two, set up on a bulkhead seat, that is sometimes available for those flying long-haul with a lap infant who cannot yet sit up on his or her own. Different airlines have different policies (and weight limits) on bassinets but some do charge for securing the bulkhead seat – and, whether there’s a charge or not, all bassinets must be reserved in advance.

However and wherever you’re travelling, the key is to make sure you do your research on what your airline’s infant charges and allowances are, and factor in all the costs – including whether it’s worth paying a little more anyway for an additional seat to make the journey less stressful/more comfortable for you…

Top tips for travelling

  • If you’re travelling with both a baby and toddler, take a lightweight buggy and a buggy board. Or use a baby back carrier for one of your brood. For more, see our guide on taking a buggy on a plane
  • Use luggage with wheels for you and your children – you can just about pull a suitcase on wheels and carry a baby in a carrier, and your child can pull along their own case.
  • Put coats into your checked-in luggage so you’ve you got one less thing to carry at the other end.
  • If you’re taking an overnight flight, stick to their usual routine. Before you board, brush their teeth and put their pyjamas on – give them as many cues as you can that it’s still bedtime, even though they’re not at home.
  • Breast or bottle-feed your baby during take off. Sucking and swallowing will stop your baby’s ears popping
  • Pre-book a cot (bassinet) if travelling with a baby – this will guarantee you get a bulk-head seat, which usually has more leg-room. These are great even if your baby doesn’t use the cot to sleep – as they get an area to play
  • “Bassinet cots are often under the movie screen on the plane  – a light sheet can shield your child from disturbance”, says Emma Barnett, of Tots Too. A snoozeshade is an alternative.
  • Ask for a blanket to put down on the floor in case your baby wants to play

How to entertain your baby on a long-haul flight

  • Make sure the toys you bring don’t come with too many small, fiddly bits that will easily drop and roll away
  • Cloth or sensory books with crinkly bits are great for entertaining babies long-haul – plus they’re squashy and easy to pack
  • Bring something they haven’t seen before on the flight – a little present to open
  • Pack food (if your baby is weaned) that takes a long time to eat – like dry cereal or raisins – and pack it in lightweight boxes.
  • Wear a toy your baby can play with! A teething necklace may keep your baby entertained for ages

Or you may be lucky like LavenderRose on our forum. She says, “We took A to America at 6 weeks. Was easy. She slept the whole time, I had to wake her for feeds as it was a 9 hr flight.”

How to entertain your toddler on a long-haul flight

  • Before you board, and once you’re through security, find a large space where your little one can run off energy before boarding the plane.
  • Once on board, surprise your toddler with a new, toy. The novelty of something new should entertain them for ages. Perhaps wrap it to make it even more exciting!
  • Make sure the things you pack are lightweight and fairly simple – toys with lots of tiny pieces that may get lost are a bad idea
  • Old favourites – like teddies or blankets – are great for helping your child feel safe
  • A children’s magazine can work well, especially if you don’t usually buy them – they’ll feel even more like a treat. Magazines have lots of stories and activities inside that will keep your toddler entertained for ages

In-flight feeding

A spokesperson for BA confirmed that, “no liquids over 100ml can be taken through security”. So taking cartons of formula (usually 200ml) is officially not an option, although mums say that as long as you’re prepared to taste what you’ve got (yes, really) you can usually take it on the plane.

If your departure airport has a Boots chemist through security, you can pre-order formula milk and pick it up on the other side. A sealed tin of milk powder is fine to take onboard but not loose powder.

On our forum, Bambina_mia says, “Only thing I can recommend is using liquid milk and pre-sterilised bottles for the journeys. you can just pour and go then – that’s if you’re bottle feeding.”

Most airlines provide hot water and will warm up milk and food, as long as it’s sealed. “Ask in advance though,” suggest Emma Barnett, “as staff are often busy.” Alternatively take an empty flask and ask a coffee shop to fill it with water once you’re through security.

Sterilising onboard isn’t easy so be prepared to compromise or, if you choose to use single-use sterilised bottles, practice beforehand so your baby is familiar with the teat.

If you’re breastfeeding on a plane, try and time feeds to coincide with take-off or landing, or both. It will help relieve the pain associated with ears ‘popping’.

Your destination – questions to ask

Check that your hotel has a mini bar (for the fridge, not the boozy contents) in the room – it will come in handy to store your baby’s milk and food. Make sure there’s a kettle in the room and ask if there’s a microwave handy for guests.

If you don’t want to rely on often-expensive in-house laundry services, take a tube of travel wash and get scrubbing! If you’re self-catering find out what the facilities are like – do you need a highchair? Is there a microwave? Is there a bath? What about a washing machine? How about a travel cot?

Hotel cots are notoriously under par. Ask for the dimensions in advance, you don’t want to end up with a tiny crib rather than a full sized cot because the words got lost in translation.

Ask if there’s an in-room listening service, or if you’re self-catering check that your baby monitor has a long range – not being able to hear the crying isn’t always a good thing.

A universal bath plug is a strange but don’t-be-without item that’s definitely worth buying for both hotel holidays and self-catered apartments.

What to pack

If you’re only going for a week or two, you’ll be surprised at what you can survive on, especially if you’re prepared to wash whilst you’re away. And remember, nappies and wipes are sold outside of the UK! You might not get the brand that you’re used to but it saves carting nappies halfway across the world.

Look out for miniature samples of nappy cream, baby shampoo and so on, free with magazines or given away at baby groups. They’ll come in handy.

One approach to the packing dilemma is to mentally break your holiday down into travelling, sleeping and daywear. That way you should cover all bases.

For ease, you can download and print the below long haul baby packing checklist and long haul toddler packing checklist for free, in a printer-friendly A4 format.

What to pack for a long haul trip with a baby (one week)

What to pack in your suitcase

This is your checked-in baggage, so it is not accessible while you’re travelling

  • 1 lightweight buggy
  • 1 car seat
  • 5 babygrows (2 for night, 3 for day)
  • 1 all-in-one or coat appropriate for weather at your destination (e.g. waterproof if needed)
  • 3 day outfits (including one short sleeved and one long sleeved)
  • 2 baby sleeping bags
  • 1 travel blackout blind
  • 1 plug-in night-light
  • 1 baby monitor
  • 1 small packet of nappies (enough for two days)
  • 1 packet wipes
  • 1 packet disposable changing mats
  • 3 swim nappies (they can be washed, dried and reused)
  • 1 UV protective swimsuit
  • Baby sunscreen SPF 50+
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair of baby sunglasses
  • 1 towelling cape with hood
  • First aid kit (scissors, antiseptic cream, nappy cream, sachets of baby paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules, teething gel, plasters, thermometer, antibacterial gel)
  • Miniature samples of baby wash/nappy cream/shampoo
  • 1 universal bath plug
  • 4 bottles, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding
  • Cartons of formula or a tin of powdered formula, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding or using breast milk
  • 1 portable/travel breast pump plus milk storage containers, if you’re expressing
  • 1 bottle brush
  • Cold water sterilising tablets or portable/travel steriliser, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 small plastic box (bottle/pump size) for cold water sterilising, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1  small cool bag
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 set of baby cutlery, if weaning
  • 1 tube of clothing travel wash
  • 1 travel power adaptor
  • A few favourite toys

What to pack in your hand luggage

This is your carry-on luggage, so should contain what you’ll need once checked-in and while travelling in the aircraft

  • Enough nappies, wipes and nappy sacks for your journey
  • 2 sterilised bottles, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding (allow approx 1 every four hours)
  • 1 small cool bag of snacks, if weaning
  • 1 tin of powdered formula or enough cartons for the journey plus one spare (in case of spillages), if not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 empty flask (ask a coffee shop beyond security to fill it up with boiling water)
  • Mini first aid kit (couple of sachets of baby paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules and gel, plasters, damp flannel, mini tube of nappy cream, antibacterial gel)
  • 1 light sheet or snooze shade
  • 1 change of baby clothes
  • 1 change of top for you
  • 1 plastic bag for sick incidents/dirty clothes
  • A small selection of toys/books, iPad/tablet
  • Copies of passports
  • Insurance documents

What to pack for a long haul trip with a toddler (one week)

What to pack in your suitcase

This is your checked-in baggage, so it is not accessible while you’re travelling

  • 1 lightweight buggy
  • 1 car seat
  • 3 day outfits (including one short sleeved and one long sleeved)
  • 1  all-in-one or coat appropriate for weather at your destination (e.g. waterproof if needed)
  • 2 pyjamas
  • 2 sleeping bags, if still used
  • 1 travel blackout blind
  • 1 plug-in night-light
  • 1 baby monitor
  • 1 small packet of nappies/trainer pants (enough for two days), if still used
  • 1 packet wipes
  • 1 packet disposable changing mats, if still using nappies/trainer pants
  • 3 swim nappies (they can be washed, dried and reused)
  • 1 UV protective swimsuit
  • Toddler sunscreen SPF 50+
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair of toddler sunglasses
  • 1 towelling cape with hood
  • First aid kit (scissors, antiseptic cream, nappy cream, sachets baby/child of paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules, teething gel, plasters, thermometer, antibacterial gel, insect repellant, antihistamine)
  • 1 universal bath plug
  • Miniature samples of shampoo/bath wash
  • Cartons of UHT milk or a tin of powdered UHT milk
  • 1 small cool bag
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 set of cutlery
  • 1 tube of travel wash
  • 1 travel power adaptor
  • 1 toddler reins
  • A few favourite toys

What to pack in your hand luggage

This is your carry-on luggage, so should contain what you’ll need once checked-in and while travelling in the aircraft

  • Enough nappies/trainer pants (if using), wipes and nappy sacks for your journey
  • 1 small cool bag of snacks (fruit/raisins/mini sandwiches/biscuits)
  • 1 small tin of powdered UHT milk or cartons of UHT milk
  • Cartons of drink with a straw
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 empty flask (ask a coffee shop beyond security to fill it up with boiling water), if using powdered milk
  • Mini first aid kit (couple of sachets of baby/child paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules and gel, plasters, damp flannel, mini tube of nappy cream, antibacterial gel)
  • 1 change of toddler clothes
  • 1 change of top for you
  • 1 plastic bag for sick incidents/dirty clothes
  • 1 child’s inflatable pillow
  • A small selection of toys/books/sticker books/crayons, iPad/tablet
  • Copies of passports
  • Photograph of your child (in case they get lost)
  • Insurance documents

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