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When you hear the words, long layover with kids, do you just cringe? For those of you who’ve experienced a layover between flights at an airport, think about how tired you are and what you do. Now imagine that same level of fatigue after an eight-hour or longer flight while you wait five hours for your next three-hour flight, and add in two grouchy kids. Doesn’t that sound like fun?! Not so much.
Today I’m going to give you 8 things to do to survive a long layover with kids. In addition, you are going to feel super-awesome because you planned beforehand and won’t have a breakdown in the middle of the Toronto Airport (or wherever you’ll be). This is truly a win-win!
Recently, my family of four traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia by air. This lengthy trip involved two layovers each way, and it’s stressful enough on your own, much less while you’re trying to help your kids get through it!
First, we stopped in Toronto, Canada for five hours, and then in Warsaw, Poland for fourteen. Bragging moment, I was super-proud of my kids and how they handled it. Now, I’m going to give you ideas for both the long and short layovers. Here we go!
8 Ways To Survive A Long Layover With Kids
1. A well-packed carry-on bag the child can carry or pull
This is so important! You will all be tired so don’t overpack the 4-year-old’s bag so you have to carry it all the time.
Admittedly, I carried my son’s bag now and then, but he could carry it himself, and he used everything in it at some time or another. For more detail on what to pack, see my post on ‘The Complete Kids’ Carry-On Packing List’.
2. Find a home base
Next, as soon as your plane lands and you’ve taken care of the essentials like finding the restroom, you’ll look for a home base. No, you’re not going to be hauling around a tent, but find your own space not too far from your next gate. Also, this should be an area with several chairs where you can park your carry-on bags, and the kids can spread out.
This spot will become your home base if one parent needs to take one child to go do something. One adult should always be at the base to watch the bags, but then you can otherwise come and go as you please. Moreover, the kids can spread out coloring books, crayons, snacks, whatever, without feeling smushed and without bothering anyone.
I even like to get food and bring it back to base for everyone so we don’t have to cart our bags (and kids) around.
3. Change of clothes and pajamas
A change of clothes for everyone and a set of pajamas are imperative to make the kids, and you, more comfortable. Maybe a child got sick on you on the last flight and you need to change. Don’t just think the kids will be the only ones whose clothes might need replacing.
If it’s night time, pajamas are a great thing to have for the kids. Pajamas are familiar and comforting, and hey! They might even get some much-needed rest and take a nap!
4. Take frequent walks
If you're not napping, walking around frequently, with the adults taking turns, is a great idea. You’ve been smushed up on an airplane for so many hours without moving and will just be getting on another.
Kids don’t ever sit still and in one place any longer than they have to so why expect they will while traveling? Walk around, find the nearest bathroom and your favorite snack store, but get moving!
5. Airport scavenger hunt
Kids love to play games so try out this Airport Scavenger Hunt printable (scroll to the end to download) or other activity books. The scavenger hunt is awesome because it gets you moving around intent on finding the listed objects on the list. Work it as a family or individually, but make sure to emphasize the rules about staying with an adult.
6. Tablet with earphones for each child
I normally limit screen time at home but not while traveling! If it will entertain the child and let us rest, it's completely worth it on the airplane or at the airport.
My children were actually tired of the tablets by the time we got to the layovers and didn’t use them as much as I expected. Get everyone moving around and doing other things, but when they’re tired of that and sitting around waiting, a new movie or game will pass the time.
Make sure you have or can buy snacks (see '30 Nut-Free Snacks For A Long-Haul Flight') and meals in between flights. We love to try out local foods, and even at an airport, we try to get something different. (That is unless we’re on the last leg and my four-year-old snaps and only agrees to eat Oreos or the snacks I’ve brought because they’re familiar).
For example, it may sound odd, but my daughter loves sausage. She was so excited she got to have a sausage sandwich at the little cafe at the Warsaw Airport. “It was so good Mommy! That’s why they call it POLISH sausage at home, hahaha!”
8. Book a hotel room in the airport or nearby
This is a big one that can make a huge difference in your travels. If you have an 8 or more hour layover, and you’re not trying to run into town to do some sight-seeing, I strongly suggest getting a hotel room at the airport or near-by if available. This made such a difference in how we arrived at our destination and was super-easy.
Before we left, I made a reservation at the Courtyard Marriott across the street from the Warsaw Airport, and we simply walked over and checked in.
We all got to shower or take baths, sleep in our own space, and just relax and get ready for our vacation. This meant we (even the kids) were refreshed and ready to go get on that last flight to our destination. The jet lag was easier to handle, and it made for a much happier family.
If you’re going on a long trip anytime soon with kids, I think the lesson is to be prepared. You’ll want to prepare your carry-ons and the kids’ favorite items. Then, plan your layovers and if you can get a hotel or not, and be sure there are options for everyone in the family. No one wants a grouchy goose, so make your travels go as smoothly as possible.
Helpful hint: it takes some effort and planning!
Don’t neglect your packing list and then wonder why the kids scream and complain and drive you crazy the entire trip. It can still happen, but you can plan, be prepared, be flexible, and enjoy your travels as a family. You can more than survive your layover with kids, you'll make it a fun adventure exploring a new place!
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Need more airport activities? Have your kids complete their own travel journal!
I love to look back and read old journals, and my daughter is the same. Later she even inserts pictures and mementos from the trip. You can use a regular blank journal or get my free printable here.