Thriving, not just surviving // the overnight flight with kids version. The first time we took an international flight with our then 3 year old and 8 month old to Italy I was allll sorts of STRESSED out.
Would they sleep AT ALL??
Would they scream the entire flight??
Would it even be worth it??
Here to say it IS possible, you CAN take that international flight without drowning in worry. And it is so completely WORTH IT. Traveling with kids to international destinations is not only a way to make the MOST epic family memories, but can be quite empowering too. We have taken quite a few long haul flights with kids from 8 months to 7 years now. Here are a few *key* tips we’ve learned along the way-
Book the overnight flight option if possible
If your budget allows, booking the overnight flight will serve you and your babies SO well. (If affording international family travel is a stretch for you, you *must* check out our posts HERE and HERE!). Especially on the way to your destination, being in transit overnight will make adjusting to the time change SO much easier.
The second you board that flight, set your watch to destination time (this is KEY!). The overnight flight (versus a midday flight), especially with kids, allows for the most seamless transition. And it allows their bodies to be the least confused. It is pretty tricky to find an overnight flight BACK to the US, but the arrival flight is really the most important. This ensures you can enjoy your trip to the fullest!
The Bulkhead Bassinet
If you have an infant (typically 1 year and under) you can reserve (for free!) what is called a bulkhead bassinet seat. As soon as you book your flights, call the airline to reserve the free bulkhead bassinet that attaches to the wall. It is simply a small “crib” that attaches to the wall in the first row of the airplane.
This is truly a *game changer* when flying with a really little one on a long haul flight. They will be far more comfortable and YOU will be far more comfortable. I take being hands free and not having to hold a sleeping baby for hours on end any day. We reserved one of these on our overnight flight to Rome, and our littlest slept almost the entire overnight flight.
*NOTE* – They are limited and first come first serve. So again, call to request the bassinet as soon as you book your tickets. If your baby isn’t born yet, simply call once they are here with their official birthdate. As well, once you get to your gate, ask again to confirm they have the bassinet ready for you.
(Don’t miss here our complete guide to packing for travel with a baby…for the minimalist mama!)
*A SECOND NOTE*- Sometimes when leaving an international destination back to the US, the airline will make you buckle your kiddo in using an infant lap seatbelt *only* during take off. So don’t get your baby all comfortable and settled in the bassinet until you are IN THE AIR. If not you will have to wake them up, buckle them in, then do the whole bassinet transition AGAIN. We learned this the hard way when we flew to Rome.
At any age, do as much of your nighttime routine as possible at the airport
Ok this is SO important in overnight flights with kids going smoothly! Simple, but I think really makes a difference in signally to your little kid’s bodies “It’s nighttime!”. Despite being in a new and pretty strange environment, we are GOING TO SLEEP! Pajamas, brushing teeth, books, whatever your crew does that signifies to the kids it’s nighttime at home, do it pre-flight 😉
We will typically pack pajamas and toothbrushes in their carry on backpacks. And we change in the family restroom at the airport right before boarding. Personally, I like not having to be squished in the tiny airport closet of a bathroom, as well as to not have to take the kids one by one. If you have a super long overnight flight though, timing wise it might make more sense to do your bedtime routine on board.
Pajamas, brush teeth, and a quick book and we call it done! This simple routine can be so grounding for kids and really help them feel more at ease in a totally new environment.
Get a few items to help make sleep on the plane a little more comfortable
This is essential. Unless your kid can sleep anywhere and everywhere (we do somehow have one like that), we recommend bringing a few key items for comfortable sleep. Our must haves are a small camping type pillow and a light weight blanket.
For older kiddos you might want to purchase a leg rest. We have the blow up one pictured above, but they also make ones that are built into a kid-size suitcase (Really neat, just much more of an investment). The leg rest helps them stretch their legs out a bit further. This can be really helpful in ensuring they get as many hours of shut eye as possible on that flight. That way they are rested and ready to hit the ground running when you land!
**Not all airlines allow the blow up pillows, so check with your carrier before your flight!
Overnight flights with kids// sleep support (if desired)
This can be controversial, BUT you do you mama. 😉 Anything to help an overnight flight with kids go just a *little* more smoothly right?! But we find a few kid friendly melatonin gummies are immensely helpful in calming the kids down and easing them into sleep. I usually give them the gummies as we are boarding, that way they are ready to go to bed around take off. They usually take 30 minutes to be effective.
We also will use this as sleep support as they are adjusting to the new time change. This really has helped our international transitions go SO smoothly (a win!). No more than 2-3 nights though, because you don’t want them to feel dependent on the melatonin for the entire trip.
The most underrated tip of them all. Overnight flights with kids will be immensely less painful if everyone does one simple thing…keeps drinking WATER. (or ALL flights with kids for that matter). I know I know, it seems silly to include on this list.
BUT I am convinced, simply being dehydrated is one of the number one reasons travel can be tricky with kids. That recirculated air on planes, coupled with naturally just drinking less water while traveling…is what leads to that “gross” feeling you have after flying. Even if it was only a 2 hour flight!
Now think about EIGHT hours on a plane AND a time change! Water, water, water, you truly cannot drink enough water while traveling. We focus on specifically over-drinking pre-flight and post-flight, since it can be a bit tricker to have access to a lot of water on board. Staying hydrated will also do wonders in alleviating jetlag.
Set realistic expectations for overnight flights with kids
Ok! This tip for *thriving* on overnight flights with kids should probbabblllyyy be the first one on the list…because it impacts EVERYTHING. *Your* expectations will set the tone for the entire flight and trip.
Your little ones are probably *not* going to sleep the entire night, and when there is sleep it might be a bit restless. You WILL feel a bit tired the next day. Expecting for things to potentially go wrong and have bumps is half the battle. Is it worth ONE night of not perfect sleep to get to that amazing international destination?! We say YES, without a doubt. 😉
Don’t forget to save or pin this post for your next long haul flight. And if you’re looking for some bucket listing inspiration follow us over on Instagram @wayfarenco! (and a bit of a kick in the pants to *actually* make that dream trip happen)