Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tips for Surviving 20 Hours on a Plane: Before You Go

The kids and I have arrived safely in Austin for our home visit. We spent 20 hours in the air split over 3 flights and 6 hours waiting in airports. We survived with with very little psychological scarring to either ourselves or to the other passengers on the plane. Phew! So, what did I learn from my long haul flight?

Make sure you have enough time to clear customs
On a loooong travel day, missing a connecting flight is extra miserable. When you book your flights, remember that you will have to clear customs when you return to the States at the first U.S. airport you land in. Even though our destination was Texas, we went through customs in Los Angeles. Leave enough time between flights for customs plus possibly switching terminals and going through security again. Before you return, check what items are prohibited (meats, fruit, plants, etc.) and don't attempt to bring them in. Let's just say that my souvenir pork jerky put us in the "Please Open Your Luggage for Special Attention" line that was much, much slower than the regular line.

Double check your seat requests a few days before departure
We do not always get the seats that are listed on our initial booking confirmation. Last time, we didn't figure this out until after the boarding passes were printed. The agent obligingly reissued passes with new seat assignments grouping us together.

This trip, I double checked a few days before our departure. Whereas our confirmation had us all sitting together, Cathay Pacific bumped 2 of us to other rows on some flights. I did some rearranging online and skipped being surprised at check-in. I still did not manage to get everyone together, but at least no one was sitting by him/herself. The upside to not sitting next to all your kids is that some stranger gets to monitor their sibling arguments. Hah! I could hear it from 2 rows away, but since the Fasten Seat Belt light was on, I couldn't intervene.

Too big for a stroller but small enough for a luggage cart
(Do you like my green duct tape stripes?
I can always find my luggage in a crowd.)

Move back bedtimes before a late night flight
When we head back, our domestic flight leaves Texas at 8 p.m., and the international flight takes off from Los Angeles 6 hours later. A few days leading up to departure, I start letting my kids stay up later than usual. This helps them feel more awake when we ask them to carry their backpacks between airplanes during our middle-of-the-night layover.

Bring extra luggage for souvenirs
Any time you are traveling this far to get somewhere, you will probably have a few things to bring back. Every expat I know seems to return from their home visit with lots and lots of essentials. For tourists, it may be souvenirs.  I put carry-on sized luggage inside my big luggage so that I'll have a way to haul back everything I buy.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Tips for Surviving 20 Hours on a Plane: Up in the Air.

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday on Suitcases and Sippy Cups.


  1. These are fantastic tips. I've done some long haul, overnight flights with my little guy, but I could usually strap him into a baby carrier. He is now too big for that plus he has a baby brother that has now taken his place. Love the pic of your kid on top of the luggage. My oldest will definitely be trying that soon.
    Thanks so much for linking up today! Great to see a new face.

    1. I forgot to put an expiration date on my wish that my kids would sleep through flights and stopovers. Once they are too big to carry or use strollers, I want them awake.

  2. Very good tips! I almost always forget to pack an extra bag for the extra schtuff we bring home.

  3. Wow great and timely tips! International school holidays - lots of long flights ahead. :-)

  4. I had to laugh at the photo of the little guy on the suitcase. We've definitely been there, done that!

    We don't leave to head back until Friday and we've already started shifting the bed times. Mine are all teenagers so the staying up late part is no big deal. Getting them up and moving when they're suffering with jet lag is near impossible. We're starting early so we can hit the ground running when we get there.

    Have a great visit home!

  5. Hi Michele. Came across this blog while looking for expat blogs online. great tips. I will be coming to malaysia for a couple months from Canada with our 11 month old and 4 year old. Is there anything you would really recommend us packing to bring across for these two months ... Things that are totally expensive or unavailable in malaysia?

    Thanks so much

    1. Hi Sarita! You and your family are going to love Malaysia. For just two months, I'd recommend that you bring a stroller, baby carrier and carseats (not legally required here). Even though they are available, they are expensive. You probably travel with all those anyways, I bet. I also recommend that you check out It is an awesome blog by an expat mother of young kids and has tons of wonderful advice. You can even join the Discussion Board where lots of other mothers about to make the leap overseas have also asked, "What should I bring to Malaysia?" Best wishes on your journey over. It may be a rough travel day but so totally worth it.


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