How I Survived a 20 Hour Flight With a Toddler


So it’s been about a month since we got back from our holiday trip to Singapore. For those of you who didn’t know, I was born and raised in Singapore, with most of my immediate family still living there. Singapore is an awesome place to live and grow up in – it’s perpetually summer, the streets are safe, and the people are kind.

OH, but it’s a 20 hour flight away. MINUS TRANIST TIME. From Los Angeles, there is a layover in Narita, Japan, and that’s another 2 hours. So in total, From LAX – NRT it’s 11.5 hours, and from NRT to SGP it’s 8-ish hours. With the 2 hour transit, and the 3 hours you’re at the airport before check in….if any one is keeping count, that’s more than 24 hours, door to door. With a toddler.

And Olive, our little love, slept only four hours the entire time, each way.

Here is what I learned taking this crazy long journey with a toddler – and I’m hoping these tips will help you better prepare for your international travels.


We had our flights booked in February for our December flight – and even then, we couldn’t get the bulkhead seats that I had hoped for. Airlines usually reserve the bulkhead seats for families who fly with infants and lap children who require bassinets, and they probably won’t release those seats until much closer to the flight. If you’re really set on getting these bulkhead seats (with more legroom, and also more room for your toddler to stand and stretch her legs), start calling the reservation desk about a month before you fly, and see if you can get your seats changed – and if they say no, tell them to make a note on your file. I did this every week for the entire month before the flight and was finally given those seats on the day of, at check in. Be nice to the people on the phone, moms – kindness gets you farther than being frustrated…aren’t you more inclined to help someone who is nice to you?  Something I didn’t know: If you want your seat arm-rests to lift up, bulkhead seats will not do this, so choose wisely! I didn’t know this before our flight and might have decided differently, because Olive had such a hard time sleeping because she couldn’t lie flat. 

In terms of entertainment for Olive, I had prepared so many toys for her, but the ones that proved the most popular were the iPad, loaded with her favorite cartoons and apps, gel window clings and a reusable silicone coloring mat.

Toys-for-FlightShop this picture, here:



With an international flight this long, you’re going to have to spend a long time entertaining your toddler. We are lucky enough that Olive is old enough to be able to sit and watch a couple of episodes of her favorite cartoon without fussing, but that still left me 18 hours of the flight to figure out. With the advice of many blogger moms, I bought lots of new, compact toys and let her open one every few hours when she was getting restless. And i packed a lot – a whole suitcase was designated just for her and her knick knacks. Another trick I learned what to pack a few of her favorite snacks, and a couple of “Hail Mary” snacks as well: those snacks that you’d usually never let her have – but will make her happy in an instant. (Save these for the complete meltdowns!)




This is the thing I was the most worried about with such a long journey – and to be honest, I was right to be worried – Olive slept all of 4 hours on this flight. I did everything like I was advised – I stuck to the same bedtime routine and read her stories, put her in her PJs, so she knew it was time to sleep. The problem was that she just couldn’t get comfortable. And even when she was so tired and fell finally fell asleep, because she couldn’t lie flat, she woke up every 45 minutes, which was at the end of every sleep cycle.  And we would just repeat the same sleep-wake-cry cycle a few times. It was rough, but we made it through. One thing that really helped was my husband and I took turns sleeping; and while it was only for a couple of hours at a time, every little bit helped so that none of us were at the end of our ropes too soon. Also, sleep when your child is sleeping – forget about watching that in-flight movie, mama; it’s time to rest up.

I hope this post helped you even just a little – I’ve also put together a quick checklist for what to pack in our carry on suitcase, in case you were interested.



If you’re taking a really long international flight soon, I want to tell you that it’s not going to be as bad as you think it is. No, it’s not going to be fun, but it will be over soon enough – and the memories you’ll make by taking this trip will be all worth it, I promise. Just remember – forget about discipline during this flight, the trick is to keep the little munchkin happy. You’ll be happier too. Safe Travels!

PS – If you’re worried about Toddler Jetlag, check out this post which totally worked for me!

2 thoughts on “How I Survived a 20 Hour Flight With a Toddler

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