Jude killing time at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport

We recently completed 22.5 hours of door-to-door travel.  This marathon featured a six-hour drive, an international red eye, a short domestic flight, and a lot of sitting around at airports.  This was not in the original itinerary, but with the flooding in Bangkok, we made some changes (more on that in a later post).  I thought I’d share some tips we’ve picked up about surviving situations like this:


1 – Look to the airlines for travel toy ideas.  I pay attention to what the airlines give out to children, and keep the good stuff.  Many “boutique” carriers in other countries have good ideas (and still give things away for free).  I figure the airlines have a vested interest in children being quiet and happy on flights, so surely then spend time coming up with thoughtful diversions.  Here are some that have worked for us, with a shout-out to the airline:

Re-usable airport stickers

A – My hands-down favorite is the book of re-usable stickers with an airport/airplane theme we got from Estonian Air.  Jude spends hours placing and arranging the stickers on airplane windows (or in the book they came in).  We only break it out on the airplane (Jude’s “airplane stickers”) so they stay fresh and exciting.

B – Airplane-themed toys are helpful for talking about the experience.  “Look how well the giraffe and mouse are sitting in their seats… what color should we make the turtle sitting across from them?”  Thank you small-but-cute Austrian Airlines coloring book.

C – Another favorite is an ABC puzzle from Air China.  In China (among other countries), character stroke order is very important – one doesn’t just copy the way a character looks in any old order.  This puzzle has the stroke order for the Roman letters on it.  The puzzle piece shows an “A” and the area where you place it in the puzzle has an “A” with the correct order in which one draws the lines of an “A.”  (Of course Jude is too young for letter-line order, but I get a kick out of it, mostly because my letters’ lines have zero order, so I enjoy doing the puzzle with him.)  All this set to a Winnie the Pooh theme.

The foam helicopter Jude and I assembled together

D – Lastly, Bangkok Airways had a great foam helicopter which Jude and I assembled together to his great delight.  Conversely, Air Asia gives out metal airplanes which are actually weapons.  Watch out!
Notice a theme: things that take a while to do but are still engaging –puzzles and assembly-required items—are good options.

E – An old stand-by is painters tape, which you simply get at the hardware store.  Colorful and pulls off easily without making a mark.

2 – New toys are better than old ones.  We try to buy something small before a flight to entertain Jude (a lightweight plastic truck bought at a supermarket the night before a flight bought us hours of peace, and Jude hours of fun!).  We’ve also had success with new books.

3 – Move around in your chair!  Jude and I do chair exercises together.  We stretch our arms across our chests (and hold), put our arms in the air (and hold), bring our knees to our chests (and hold).  You get the picture – this is fun and feels good.  A little seat activity is great when the fasten seatbelt light is on, and your toddler’s energy level is high.

4 – Make friends.  Scout the airplane for other kids as you walk up and down the aisle.  Kids love a partner in crime.

5 – Bring bite-sized snacks.  It’s not always easy to get a utensil from the airline when you need one.
(A side note: Although I find it tempting to eat extra meals on a long, boring flight, I try hard not to when I’m traveling across multiple time zones and arriving at a local meal time.  This way I arrive hungry and eager to have a meal at the appropriate time, which always helps me acclimate.)

6 – Wet-wipes are essential.  You can’t always get to the bathroom when you need to clean something or someone.

7 – If you decide to take the electronic route, make sure you bring earphones that fit your child.  On one recent flight, the airline freebie earphones were clip-on, and because each weighed so much, they dangled and then perpetually fell off Jude’s ears.

We have yet to use the laptop to entertain Jude on a flight, though I’m not against it.  The Elmo Potty Video that we downloaded ahead of the trip is a great crutch, but we tend to save it for genuine emergencies (which, knock on wood, have not yet taken place at 30,000 feet).   Instead, we go with the airline TV to keep things simple.  On a trip this winter, we had excellent success with Peekaboo Barn on the iPhone.  The Dr. Seuss book apps are also interactive and fun.  Please comment if you have a favorite game or app to recommend!


1 – Burn energy before a long flight.  On a recent flight when we needed Jude to sleep, Patrick literally ran all around the airport with Jude.  They found a long corridor and set up “races.”  Jude loved it and was exhausted at boarding time.  Burning restless energy before a flight does wonders for sleep.

2 – Get seats in the back of the plane because it’s noisy back there!  If your child is yelling, fewer people will hear him or her over the engine.  As an added bonus, the white noise is good for sleeping.  (This is especially good on a red eye.  Just don’t go for the very back row because then you have to contend with the bathroom line.)  Seatguru.com is great for checking the layout of your airplane and picking seats.

3 – Do not take a flight which is too short for a nap at naptime if you can avoid it.  A quick up-down flight often doesn’t allow time for a kid to relax enough for a nap (and lights stay on).  This can be disastrous on the flight or later…

4 – If you have a night flight make sure your child has the opportunity to nap that day.  Our red-eye from Delhi left at midnight so Jude went to sleep over four hours after his bedtime.  He held it together well because he had a good nap.  (In our personal experience, thinking no nap will result in better sleep later will backfire.)  Jude’s overnight sleep on that flight was only about half of what he normally gets, but with a long nap the next day, he was back on track.  (Same for the adults here… just make sure you don’t nap toooo long or you’ll have trouble sleeping that night!  To stay awake on that first day, go out and do an exciting or stimulating activity.)

5 – Consider the number of time zones you’re crossing and what schedule you’ll want to be on once you arrive.  This can be complex and requires some planning.  A friend recently sent me an article which recommended changing your kid’s sleep schedule before you take a trip.  I would advocate giving it some serious thought, but changing your child’s schedule ahead of the trip may or may not be the best solution.  For example, when Jude was 12-months, we spent two weeks in Spain.  Spaniards eat late – meals start much after Jude’s then bedtime.  Ideally I like to get a bit more sleep on vacation.  The answer was simple: keep Jude on New York time!  He stayed up “late” at night and slept in.  When we got back to New York, he woke up early for a morning or two, but then he was back on track – pretty painless on both ends.

On this trip, India was a perfect stop between Vienna and Thailand.  Vienna to Delhi was a 3.5-hour difference, and Delhi to Thailand was a 1.5-hour difference.  Having a week in between helped us ease the transition and avoid major jet lag.  That wasn’t planned (beyond the geography made sense), but it worked beautifully.  If you have more than one stop, consider the order from a jet-lag perspective.


Traveling can be stressful, let alone with a toddler.  I have remarked out loud many times on this trip that the most difficult part is getting between two places.  When you have the luxury of two adults, you really need to work together.  In my Pre-Around-the-World Trip Air Travel Advice post, I advocated working together and setting up a plan of attack before you go through security.  This can be expanded to “divide and conquer” throughout the entire trip.  To decrease stress and get along well with your spouse, decide who is responsible for what.

For example, when Patrick and I get to the airport, I take out the passports (which I always carry) and hand them over to him.  We get in the check-in line, and when we get to the counter, Patrick does the talking.  I am the organizer, so I stand behind him with all the back-up paperwork, handing over items like our frequent flyer numbers* and making sure we don’t forget anything (and Jude is entertained).

Patrick is a lawyer and a great negotiator – that’s why he does the talking.  We are usually over the weight limit with our bags (since we have five months’ worth of stuff for three people in two reasonably-sized suitcases), our backpack is considered too tall, or some other issue arises, and Patrick is good at solving these issues.  We know our strengths, we have a routine, and we stick to it.

(*On that note: Even though I carry around a master list of frequent flyer numbers for all three of us for all our airline memberships in one place, I recommend looking up the partner airline online ahead of time [if you’re not flying on that actual airline], writing down the membership numbers clearly and with each passenger’s corresponding name, and handing over this piece of paper to the airport check-in representative.  It’s easier than reading the letters and numbers aloud.)

Pre-Around-the-World Trip Air Travel Advice
How to Pack for a Five-Month Trip with a Two-Year-Old
Packing: Revised Thoughts on What to Bring When Traveling Around the World with a Two-Year-Old
How to Organize a Trip Around the World with a Two-Year-Old
Our Ten Best Tips for Hiking with a Two-Year-Old
Hong Kong: SARS Prevention and Mickey Mouse
Glacier to Seattle and Why Pacific Northwesterners Handle Traffic Jams Better than New Yorkers
Killing Time at Syracuse Airport



  3 Responses to “Travel with a Two-Year-Old: a Few Survival Tips”

  1. We wrapped lots of little new toys for her for the long flights and give them to her as presents. Ipad was our savior!! I learned just to go with it and be flexible. Love the stories and pictures. Keep them coming.

  2. […] Around the World With a Two Year Old: Travel with a Two Year Old, A Few Survival Tips […]

  3. […] I brought the painter’s tape along as a last resort to distract him if we needed it. I read here that it’s a great thing for toddlers to play with but it won’t destroy the seats. T […]

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