Flying to Australia with a 12 month old: foolish or fearless?

Flying to Australia with a 12 month old: foolish or fearless?

Short answer: a little bit of both. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, because every now and then I get asked if I have any tips for long (LOOONNGGG!) flights with a young kiddo. But since we had our flight to Canada coming up I was afraid to jinx it. Yes, I’m crazy like that. Now that we’re back from Canada, and dare I say it – rocked those flights too – I’m ready to share my wisdom with you. Quick heads up: this is a LOOONNGGG post, specifically about long flights with kids. So if you’re not looking for tips about long flights with a little one, you really should skip this one. You’re welcome. {For more general flying with kids tips, read my previous – shorter – post about baby’s first flight here}.

Disclaimer

Just a quick reminder: all kids are different (just like all parents are different). Some of this stuff might work for you, some of it absolutely not. This is not a foolproof checklist. It’s just what has worked for us (Luc has now been on 10 flights). So why am I sharing it here? Because I do believe that a decent plan, and putting some thought into your travel day(s), can make alllll the difference. So, here’s my list of things you should/can/want to consider when taking your little one across the globe.

Flight times

When it comes to long flights, travel times are important. Especially the decision for a day flight or a night flight (so called “red eyes”). You know your child best, so if you’re blessed with an “sleeps everywhere” kinda kid, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but if you’re like us and your kid is of the “FOMO” kind, definitely opt for the red eyes. Your chances of getting the little one to sleep for a few hours are much higher when it’s during his usual night time. Also: they dim the lights on red eye flights, and most people try to get some sleep instead of roaming around the plane, or having get-togethers in the galley. Beware though: this is also when you get your own sleep, so if this plan backfires be prepared to miss out on some zzzzzz’s yourself. Side note: don’t count on a lot of sleep anyway.

Since we were flying to Australia, we had A LOT of flight combo options and we decided on the following schedule for our outbound flights (all times are local):

Flight 1Flight 2
DepartureAmsterdam 21:00Singapore 20:00
ArrivalSingapore 16:20 +1Brisbane 05:55 +1
Flight time12 hours 35 minutes7 hours 35 minutes

Some notes

  • Two red eye flights meant that we had the best chances of getting Luc to sleep – especially with the dark and quiet plane situation.
  • We had enough time to stretch our legs and eat something at Singapore Changi Airport. Pro tip: get some intell on your layover airport before you arrive so you know what to do and where to go (more below). For instance, we checked out the gardens and the playground at Changi. It’s key that you keep kiddo awake, and tire that little monkey out by letting him run/crawl wild! NO SLEEPING ON LAYOVERS – you want them to sleep on the plane.
  • Our arrival time in Australia was EARLY. We dealt with this by taking our sweet time getting through customs, and collecting our bags. Then we had a big breakfast at the airport (IMPORTANT!), before getting our rental car. By eating first, we made sure no one was getting hangry (me), and everyone was entertained (Luc). Once we got on our way, Luc fell asleep in the car around 10-ish, his usual morning nap time. Winning! When we arrived at our beach house in Byron Bay (read: our piece of paradise), he was in a perfectly good mood, ready to explore. More on how we deal with jetlag below.

Seat selection

Okay, back to the flight(s). One decision that can make or break your relaxed inflight experience, is seat selection. I’m not taking into account business and first class seats here, if you have that kind of cash you don’t need my advice, you can just pay a nanny to fly with you (also: I’m super jealous). Basically, you have three options:

1. Bassinet

If this is a new term for you: a bassinet is basically an inflight crib. Why would you want this? If your kid sleeps in the bassinet, IT IS NOT SLEEPING ON YOU! (insert hallelujah sound). But note that I say “if”. Because Luc wasn’t the biggest fan of the bassinet. Probably because he was already slightly on the “too big for it” side, and because he likes to move around while he sleeps. He did sleep in them for a little while, which gave us both a chance to sleep or to eat. Also: when there’s no kid in the bassinet you can still use it as a storage basket. Either way, I’d recommend going for it. Do call ahead to try and secure it, because there’s usually only 2 to 6 on board, and the allocation policy is a bit vague.

2. Family row

If your kid is too big for the bassinet, which differs among airlines, try to get seats on the family row anyway. Again: call ahead for this. There’s a little more room in front of you, so it’s basically a little play area for the little one. Which can be CRUCIAL on long flights. Downside is that there’s usually another family next to you, and it may or may not involve a loud toddler situation, which is not ideal for a quiet sleeping situation. We had a super active kid next to us on our first flight, who kept waking Luc up, so there was a lot more swaying him back to sleep than otherwise needed.

3. Aisle & window combo

We have never tried this one, but it might work wonders – especially if your kid is older than 1, but younger than 2 (at which age they’re required to have their own seat). Here’s how it works: if there’s a row of 3 seats (very common on long haul flights), book the aisle seat and the window seat for the both of you, and pray to whoever you pray to that the middle seat stays empty. On flights that aren’t full this would most likely work, because who wants the middle seat anyway? On full flights you just take your loss and offer the aisle seat to whoever was supposed to be in the middle seat (again: who wants the middle seat anyway?). So if you’re lucky you have the entire row for yourself, and worst case, you have the window and middle seat. Worth a shot!

Differences between airlines

Please make sure to check the setup of your specific aircraft (I always use SeatGuru), and to check the bassinet measurements and restrictions. We’ve found that bassinets on Singapore Airlines, Qantas Airways, and Cathay Pacific, are way bigger than the ones on KLM. Some of them also have straps to safely secure your kid in the bassinet, while some even have some kind of cover so that your little one is nice and cozy in the dark. But obviously, it also depends on your specific aircraft. So check ahead to avoid any disappointments. 

Boarding procedures

Most airlines let passengers traveling with young children board the plane right after first and business class. There’s both pros and cons to this.


Pro

Early boarding means there’s plenty of time to get settled, and there’s plenty of room to stow away your carry on items. Especially if you travel with those wheeled suitcases (I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t in the bag section below). 

Con

Boarding can take anywhere between 30-50 minutes, so that’s a lot of extra time you have to entertain your kid in a confined place. If he’s still super active, it might be better to stay at the gate for as long as possible and let out the crazy before boarding. 


We always try to travel light so we only have a backpack, our baby carrier, and our tiny stroller (yes, that’s right) to put in the overhead bins. Our essentials bag (more on that below) stays under the seat in front of us. So boarding late has worked out fine for us a few times, but I still prefer to get to our seats quite early. Luc is usually very interested in everything that’s happening both inside and outside the aircraft, so we only have to point out a few cool vehicles, or other kids on board, and he’s perfectly okay. It all depends on your kid, and his current mood. 

Layovers

I already said something about our layover strategy, but I feel like I should emphasize what I think are the key things on long layovers: eat, move, DO NOT SLEEP, repeat. If your layover is super long (but doesn’t involve a night in a hotel) make a plan to stay active. Our itinerary for the journey home was (all times are local):

Flight 1Flight 2
DepartureBrisbane 00:40Hong Kong 13:35
ArrivalHong Kong 07:10Amsterdam 19:05
Flight time8 hours 30 minutes11 hours 30 minutes

So on our return flight we had a 6+ hour layover in Hong Kong. We specifically chose this stop because we’ve been to Hong Kong before, and we know how easy it is to get from the airport to the city. So we hopped on the train as soon as we arrived early (oh so early) in the morning.

We grabbed some food and had a nice little family pick nick in Victoria Harbour (remember: eat!). Afterwards we walked around for a while (remember: move!). Because there was lots to see, Luc stayed awake the entire time (remember: NO SLEEPING!). We got back to the airport in time, roamed around for a short while, and had some food (remember: repeat!). The kiddo only got a little cranky when we had to wait a really long time before boarding our plane – that’s when we transferred him to the baby carrier and let him fall asleep.

Hong Kong, Flying, Family Travel, Flying with kids

In short: long layovers require a plan, so think of it as a field trip. Pro tip: some airports have lots of activities for long layovers. Singapore Changi Airport even offers a free city tour if you have 5+ hours of time. How awesome is that!

Pack smart

Now we get to the tiny, but oh so important, details of what to pack. Let’s rephrase that, because it’s not necessarily about what you pack, but it’s about how you pack (well, obviously bring diapers and stuff). This is not a complete packing list, since for me the most crucial part of packing your carry on luggage is ORGANIZATION. Yawn, right? NO! Stick with me because this is key.

Remember those days when it was just the two of you traveling the world together? Each of you with a cool carry on bag, with only your own onboard needs? Those days are over, pal. When traveling with kids discard the idea of individual carry on bags. What? Yes, that’s right. You need two bags: the “need this during the flight” bag, and the “don’t need this during the flight but it must be in my carry on” bag. 

Let’s talk briefly about the second bag first. For us, this bag holds our laptops, camera gear, sunglasses, all chargers (how annoying that all these must be in your carry on these days, but #safetyfirst I guess), keys, wallets, meds we don’t need during the flight, that sort of stuff. We don’t need quick access to it until we arrive, but it can’t be in our check in luggage.

Now the other bag, the super important carry on bag. Why is it important? Well, if you happen to have a hungry/angry/bored kid on your lap you NEED access to something that can distract him ASAP. A mild grumpiness can turn into a massive breakdown quickly if you don’t act fast. This is where the crucial thing of ORGANIZATION comes in. Know. Where. Everything. Is. Always.

This goes to the both of you. I usually do the packing of this bag, but I make sure that the husband knows where to reach for diapers, snacks, wipes, a bottle, clean clothes, etc. Also: know where to grab your book/e-reader quickly as well, because if you’re lucky enough to have a few moments to read, you need to make the most of them.

Important: do NOT use a wheeled suitcase as your carry on – especially those hardshell ones. They’re super annoying to put in the overhead bins because they take up a lot of space, and they’re the worst bag to open and find something because they have to lay flat – and how do you plan on doing that while also holding your screaming child? In short: hardshell wheeled carry ons? A big NO-NO.

You don’t want to do this on the plane (not even with a carry on suitcase)

We travel with our Walker Family Goods bags, and I can’t recommend them enough (just stating the obvious: #nospon). We have the backpack as our “don’t need during the flight” bag (in daily life it’s our diaper bag, and it’s perfect!), and we use the duffel as our “need during the flight” bag and we keep it under the seat in front of me (bonus: hello footstool!). Both bags are designed with family travel in mind, so it makes it super easy to manage the ORGANIZATION of your bags. 

One big compartment of our duffel contains all food related items, the other big compartment has all changing related items. In one of the outside compartments we have a small pouch with two diapers and some wipes, so we can quickly access it when there’s a diaper situation (extra diapers are in the changing compartment). I won’t bore you with all details of how we pack the bag, but just two big tips: pack everything in clear separate pouches (snacks in one, extra clothes in one, extra diapers in one), and – repeat after me – KNOW. WHERE. EVERYTHING. IS. ALWAYS. 

Food

Pack Snacks (& then pack some more)

Although I’m 100% of the traveling light persuasion, I do make an exception for snacks, or as I like to call them: little lifesavers. You probably know best what kind of snacks your kiddo digs (try to keep sugary ones to a minimum; you don’t want a sugared up kid!), but here’s some idea of what we bring: boring dry crackers, corn or rice crackers, granola or fruit bars, raisins, blueberries, grapes, apple slices, some bread, banana pancakes, chopped cherry tomatoes, and milk (more on that below). On our flight to Australia we also brought lots of those organic puree pouches, but since Luc is not really a fan, we now skip those. 

Inflight meals

We also share our inflight meals with him (so the snacks might end up being for you). Pro tip: request one “special meal” in advance because they always bring those out first. That way one of you can already eat something while the other one entertains/feeds the kid. By the time regular meal service has reached your row, the special meal is probably already gone so you can swap tasks. 

Boob or bottle

Rest assured, this is not a debate about breastfeeding or bottle feeding because I 100% believe in both Fed Is Best and Mom Knows Best, so hold your horses. I just want to share my experience because I’ve done both on long haul flights.

When we flew to (and from) Australia I was still breastfeeding Luc so we didn’t need to bring any milk and bottles (only the nipple shield – sorry #TMI). What I really liked about this was that he’d fall asleep every time I nursed him. As I said earlier, Luc has some serious FOMO, and he usually only sleeps in a crib, or the car seat (if we’re lucky). So getting him to sleep on an airplane, which to him is a hugely interesting little world to explore, is not easy. So if we wanted him to go to sleep, I nursed him and he was gone pretty quickly.

Since I stopped nursing him a little over 2 months ago, our flight to Canada was a different experience since the boob days were over. I breastfed Luc until he was 15,5 months so we’ve never used formula, and now we just give him a little (cold) oat milk before he goes to bed. I specifically say “a little” since it’s only about 100ml or something, because we don’t want the bottle to be a meal for him. We see it as his version of a bedtime tea. This also means that he usually doesn’t directly fall asleep from that bottle (he goes to sleep when we put him in his bed), so we had to work a little harder to get him to sleep this time around. Read: put him in the baby carrier. No big deal. 

Long story short: if your kid drinks milk, bring plenty – either in your boobs or in bottles. 

Entertainment

Note how I say “entertainment” and not “toys”. Again, this highly depends on your kiddo, but ours is not really attached to any specific toy. Except for his cooking supplies of course (if you follow my Instagram stories, you know what’s up). But pots and pans do not really qualify as cabin approved toys. We decided against lugging around lots of toys for Luc in our carry on. I think we only brought a little book he likes, and one or maybe two small new toys. We both don’t remember what we packed, which is exactly my point: we didn’t use any of it. 

Inflight entertainment for babies and (young) toddlers can be pretty much everything and anything around them: the sick bags, the inflight magazine, the safety card, plastic cutlery, a bag of sugar, cups, the seatbelt. You get the gist: absolutely anything. Luc really digs those remotes that are stowed in your arm rest, and this alone keeps him entertained for quite a while. Touching and swiping the entertainment system screen is also a big hit, especially if it has some actual buttons.

Speaking of screens: I do recommend bringing an iPad with some shows/movies your kid likes. We’ve never really used it because he’s just not that into it; other stuff is new(-ish) and therefore way more fun than watching Baby Einstein. But your kid might love it, which would be perfect because that means you don’t have to be the entertainment (or pick up one of the above mentioned items 1000 times). One interesting tip I read somewhere is to bring washi tape or post-its, because kids like sticky stuff and it takes up basically zero packing space.

We try to keep Luc entertained in/around our seat as much as possible – this is where the family row comes in handy. But little kids simply need to stretch their limbs every once in a while (just like we do!). This is usually the husband’s task: he takes Luc on little adventures around the plane. Mostly by letting him stand/crawl/walk in the open areas near restrooms or emergency exits. Just be considerate of other passengers. Pro tip: get your kid to smile and wave to other passengers as much as possible. Only assholes stay grumpy around a cute kid (more on dealing with other passengers below).

Also: befriend the crew. We always chat with the crew (even before we had Luc), because we find it interesting, but also because a little extra care doesn’t hurt on long flights. They usually like it when you come up to them in the galley (again: let the kid smile and wave), which is another cool new thing for the little one to watch (all those doors and latches: exciting!). 

The main takeaway is: a bored kid is a grumpy kid, so keep them interested in anything and everything at all times. Luc has never really cried or screamed on flights, simply because he was happy. One thing we don’t let him do, is play with the tray table or bang on the seat or stuff like that, because it’s rude to other passengers. Luckily, he hasn’t felt the need to do this.

Fellow passengers

A few notes on dealing with other passengers. Our strategy is always: a little love goes a long way. So we smile and pass around friendly hellos to those sitting near to us. But that is about it. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS: give out little care packages with earplugs, cookies, and a “I’m very sorry if I cry on this flight” note to apologize for traveling with your kid. JUST DON’T. You have nothing to apologize for. And certainly not in advance.

I know people tend to tense up if they see a little kid entering the plane, but that’s not your concern. Your concern is to be a parent, and try your best to keep your little one as comfortable and chill as possible. But, sometimes all your best efforts might fail. It happens. And that’s okay! If other passengers are worried about getting disturbed by a crying child, they can bring their own damn earplugs. Just like I’ve done for years (mostly because I hate loudly chatting people on planes). 

If the flight doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped, just remember this: you don’t know those people and you will (probably) never ever see them again. Who cares what they think of you and your kid.

Bringing the car seat, stroller, or baby carrier

Car seat

This really depends on your destination, and the kind of trip you’re making. We were going to Australia for a month, and planned to do lots of driving, and those two factors made us decide to bring our own car seat. Pro tip: don’t buy one of those crazy expensive “car seat covers”, just stuff it in a backpack flight bag, like this €20 one. On our trip to Canada we didn’t bring our own car seat but rented one, because it was a short trip with only some short drives. Keep in mind that rental car seats are usually kinda crappy.

Stroller

Babyzen Yoyo all the way! If you don’t know this amazing ninja style stroller, which is both super lightweight and sturdy, I highly recommend checking them out. We love our Bugaboo Cameleon, but for traveling it’s just way too big and heavy. We’ve used the Yoyo as our on-the-go stroller since Luc was 6 months old, and we usually keep it in the car, but we specifically bought it for its best feature: YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU IN THE CABIN. See the images in the packing section above to see how small it folds.

So no more banged up stroller situation after it was manhandled in the cargo area of the aircraft – if it even arrived at your destination. It’s not cheap, but worth every penny if you plan on doing lots of air travel with your kiddo. We’ve taken our Yoyo on many, many, Australian beaches, and recently it also did great in the Canadian snow.

Baby carrier

Yes, 100%. Wherever you’re traveling to, bring the baby carrier. We’ve used our organic cotton ErgoBaby while doing hikes in nature, for naps when exploring big cities, and for getting him to sleep on the plane. Important: take it with you on the plane and don’t put it in your checked bag (this may or may not have happened to us on a – thankfully – short flight to Portugal).

Notes on travel gadgets

There’s lots of stuff on the market these days that can make flying with little kids easier. Beware: that sh*t can get expensive. We were lucky enough to borrow a baby hammock thingy from my brother on our flight to Portugal when Luc was 6 months old, and I think it’s great for young kids. It also packs away easily. For our trip to Australia we bought the Deryan Air Traveller, which is a small inflatable mattress that’s not too pricey, but we’ve never even used it (let me know if you’re interested). 

The only thing we might consider for when Luc is required to have his own seat once he turns 2, is a JetKids Bedbox. It’s not cheap, but it’s both a suitcase you can wheel your kid around on, ánd it converts to a bed when put in front of their seat.

Beware that not all airlines allow these kind of gadgets onboard, so check this before you purchase something that you can’t use (and still have to lug around).

Dealing with jetlag

This is probably the one thing that you can’t really prepare for. I mean you can, but it’s the hardest thing to control. I’m just gonna share how we deal with jetlag anyway, maybe it can help you in some way. In the beginning of this post I mentioned picking your flight times carefully. Not only to maximize the hours of sleep everyone gets on the plane, but also because it might help with adjusting to a new time zone. 

I have to make one big disclaimer here: Luc pretty much only sleeps in a bed. Why is this important? Well, because we kinda get to control when he goes down for a nap or when it’s bedtime. This REALLY helps us to deal with jetlag, because as soon as we arrive we put him on the new schedule. So after 35+ hours of traveling to Australia, where there’s a time difference of 9 hours, we had him adjust immediately by sticking to his usual nap times (roughly). 

He was still taking two naps a day back then, and we did notice that he had a harder time waking up after his second nap, so we didn’t let him sleep for more than 2 hours. We would take him out of bed, bring him outside on our shoulder (daylight is crucial!), and went for a nice stroll on the beach where he would wake up by the sound of crashing waves. A happy kiddo guaranteed!

I think it was only the first three days that he woke up very early (like 5AM early) – which was the same in Canada by the way. We’d simply take him in bed with us, which he normally hates, kept the room dark, ate some fruit, and watched a few calm videos on YouTube (this version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is our favorite). Then we started our normal morning routine at our usual go time. 

All in all, it went very smoothly; just give your kid (and yourself) some time to adjust. Enjoy those beautiful sunrises you get to watch together!

Final notes

  • Accept that a travel day is not like a normal day. Try to stick to your usual routine as much as possible, but don’t sweat it if naps or meals are off schedule. Especially when dealing with different time zones. Also: a little bribing is totally okay.
  • Keep calm at allll times. I’m gonna brag here, but every single flight we’ve taken Luc on (which is 10 so far) we’ve gotten compliments from the crew and/or other passengers on how well he did. On our most recent flight a cabin attendant told us that she could tell that we were super relaxed and that kids always pick up on that during flights (and in general, might I add). So keep your cool.
  • Remember the mantra: Know. Where. Everything, Is. Always.
  • Think of flying with kids as a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” kinda situation.
  • Lastly: it’s often said that the hardest age to travel with is between 12 and 24 months. So the only way is up!

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Traveling with kid, Family Travel, Flying with kids, Long flights with kids, Australia, Sydney, Virgin Airlines

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