Our secret to comfortable red-eye flights with a toddler

Our secret to comfortable red-eye flights with a toddler

Shortly after landing in New Zealand from San Francisco, I got a flood of texts: “did you guys survive the flight!?” Especially for my friends with young kids, the most nerve wracking part of my family’s travel wasn’t the year on the road or the distance from family. It was the lengthy flights. And I totally get it! We were also quite nervous on our first flights with our son. And at this point, we’re proud to feel far more comfortable.

This most recent journey was about 18 hours, starting with a red-eye that took off at 10pm, followed by a 3-hour layover, and another flight. Our central strategy: make him tired, but not exhausted.

Tired, not exhausted

The key premise here is that we wanted our son to be physically tired to a point where he could relax and sleep well, but not so tired as to be melting down. In the past, we’d had friends recommend shorter naps before flights to really ensure their kids were tired, but this really didn’t work for us. An overtired kiddo was filled with endorphins, and certainly not relaxed enough to sleep. Here’s how that looked in practice: 

A full nap

We ensured our son got a full nap the day of our flight, although we did back it up 1 hour to help prepare us for the 10pm take-off (already 2 hours past his normal bedtime). This allowed us to have a calm, happy toddler at the airport, rather than one on the brink of collapse. 

Real play before the flight

Before our flight to New Zealand, we spent the evening at a playdate with close friends. This allowed our son to not just get fresh air and run around, but it truly tired him out in a way that solo play at home doesn’t seem to do. 
We had hoped to also get some good play in during the layover, but we were all simply too tired. Instead, we tried to walk around a bit admiring all the planes out the windows.

Snacks and toys he could enjoy autonomously 

Snacks and toys were key to our journey, particularly snacks and toys our little one could enjoy on his own while zoning out. Even in tight quarters like a plane, giving him a little “space” went a long way in allowing him to calm down and prepare for sleep. 
And with that, we made it! The little guy slept for about 8h on the first flight, and another 2h on the second. Not exactly a“full” night’s sleep for him, but passable, and enough to allow his parents to get some critical rest.
What we wore: Our son flew wearing the All-Season Sweatshirt layered over the Original Adventure T-Shirt. We love this combo because it allows us to adjust to different temperatures, while also being super comfy for our little one. The odor-resistant, quick-drying fabrics also allow us to handle spills and messes without stress. 
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