China travel

Published on August 18th, 2011 | by Paz


Flying to China with toddlers

Yes, we took our 3.5 yr old and 1 yr old on a plane from Chicago to Hong Kong and then roughly 4 modes of public transportation to Guangzhou. We did this with 4 pieces of luggage, 2 strollers, 3 carry-ons, and oh ya TWO little kids. What did we do right, and what did we do wrong?

To make this type of trip a success there are a few things that you need. We learned some of these the hard way, so take our advice and have a great trip.

What are you thinking??

Before you even start preparing for a 17 hour plane flight with toddlers & babies you have to have the right frame of mind. Don’t think of this flight as a good time to sit and catch up on the latest movies or finish reading those last few books. When was the last time you read a book at home in peace and quiet for 17 hours…probably not since your little precious bundle of joy was born, why would you be able to in a very confined space for 17+ hours with your bundle of joy. Is anyone excited?


We received a book about airports and airplanes from a family friend and had the opportunity to look at it with Lupita before going. It was a great way for her to see and learn about the airport & plane before we actually got there. Here are a few that I suggest: Airport by Byron Barton, My Plane Trip by Cathy Beylon, and How to Fly by Natalie Windsor. Talk about safety, crowds, and the unexpected things you might encounter. We also reviewed stranger danger and what to do. Teach your child to scream FIRE if they are in trouble. Everyone listens to “fire” but very few will respond to “help”. We have also taught Lupita to scream “FIRE” if someone is trying to hurt her brother, an extra set of eyes is never a bad.

Check the airlines website to see if they allow a carry-on bag for your infant even if you aren’t purchasing a ticket for them. We flew Asiana and were allowed 4 carry-ons. This can be extremely beneficial if you have a very young infant and need to pack extra diapers, wipes, changes of clothes. We all know how much a little person can go through in a 24 hr period…right?

Lupita got her own princess carry-on that she was responsible for carrying. She did a great job and was very excited about having some big person responsibilities. Not sure if she will enjoy these same responsibilities at 16…we will see.

What food/liquids can you bring on the plane? All airlines should allow you to bring breast milk, purified water, and food for your child. Have it all packed separately and it should be stored in containers that represent the substance. For example don’t bring your breast milk in a canning jar. This looks suspicious and they won’t believe it is necessarily breast milk even if you have the baby as proof. We bought Medela breast milk storage bottles and filled them with regular milk (I was done breast feeding) and put them in a thermal lunch bag. I had it out and ready for security to look through at each check point. All they did was take a quick peak inside and we were on our way.

Security the easy way…unless you want the hard way?!

  1. Always were slip on shoes. Don’t have your kids were shoes that need to be tied.
  2. Look for the family security line. Some airports have specific lines for families and handicap…use this line. The staff is much more friendly and we have found them to be very accommodating.
  3. Take your time. Don’t try to rush if you don’t have to and don’t let others rush you. Ignore the craziness and try to keep a calm composure….we know this can be stressful.
  4. Pack your laptop or other electronic items in compartments that are easy for you to access.
  5. Layering your airplane clothing is better than wearing a jacket of any sort. Security may ask you to remove a jacket, where they won’t ask you to take off your 2 long sleeve t-shirts. No strip tease necessary.
  6. Keep your passports and boarding passes in a safe, yet easy access location. There are lots of cool products out there that will help you with this.
  7. Know how to use your stroller. If you are buying a new stroller figure it out before you get to security. Some check points will make you fold it up to go through their scanner and some will let you stroll through the body scanner with it. I suggest asking the security agent before going through the hassle of folding it up. If they say no need, then you just saved yourself from the hassle.
  8. Again, keep your cool and leave enough time for a little delay. You don’t want your kids to dread every time they go to an airport. This is an exciting time for them and you don’t want them to remember mom or dad loosing their cool.
  9. My favorite to make things a game. If you have older toddlers who can participate more try to make things fun. “Who can be the first person to take their shoes off and put them in the bin?”, “Who can march the fastest to gate number 5?” “Who can find number 5?” All of these activities make the adventure a lot more fun than work.

In your carry on I suggest to only bring a change of clothes, your electronic items and medicine. You never know when your little ones could get sick and if your luggage was lost… let’s just say that would make things more difficult. Bringing our medicine in my carry-on was very important to us because we were moving to China and I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the same reliable medication once we arrived. Waking up in the middle of the night not knowing what I could give my kids for their fever or stomach ache was just something I didn’t want to experience.

The days of bringing books and things to keep you busy is gone. You now have a child that will keep you completely occupied. 🙂 Smile!

Checking in

Depending on the age of your child ask for a bassinet seat. There are a few seats that are in the front middle of the plane and have bassinets attached to the wall. We didn’t know about this when we checked in, but were lucky enough to have one bassinet still open. However, Zeek had to go up with Abe and sit in the one empty seat while I stayed back with Lupita. Then you are near other families and everyone is ready and expecting a little baby noise. You feel much less self conscience when your baby isn’t the only one whining.


When checking in they will give you tags for your strollers. You are able to keep your stroller with you up until the time you are entering the airplane door. At that time a crew member will ask you to fold up your stroller and they will store it under the plane.

When you land your stroller will be waiting for you right outside the door. Step out of the way to unfold your stroller and strap your monkeys in,  we did have one airline ask us to put the stroller in a plastic bag.  We had two strollers so obviously this took a little more time for us, however having a stroller is a good thing, you never know when you will need one.

Play areas at airports

Most airports have a kids play area. Some are nicer than others, but they exist. So use them. Letting your little monkeys stretch their legs is so important….for everyone! Research your airport play areas before you go if you can. They are normally near the gates and have a nice sitting area for parents and some fun activities for the kids. Don’t be too paranoid about germs at these play areas, yes you are in an airport and yes I am sure they are not cleaned extremely well. However lets imagine you don’t let your child play…then they might be sucking the airplane carpet for the duration of your trip. Let them play and wash their hands when they are done. Everyone is happy. We have taken full advantage of these play areas in Chicago, IL , Seoul,Korea, and Amsterdam, NL . Here are some more play area locations at popular airports. When traveling the globe, why not choose a kid friendly airport for your layover. Who knew that some day a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam could be the answer to everyone’s prayers.


Now you are on the plane and you have found your seat…and what are you suppose to do for the next 17 hours??? A few tricks that helped us get through the day, night, or whatever time it was…who knows.

Our kids were at different stages, our 3.5 yr old enjoyed much different activities than our 12 month old. What one enjoyed playing with the other enjoyed sucking. Packing dilemma!

We had Lupita bring her own bag full of lots of different activities for her and her brother. Abe’s carry-on only contained his essentials; food, milk, clothes, diapers, wipes, you get it. I found lots of little fun toys that helped keep her occupied, for him it was much harder because he had just learned to walk and wanted to conquer every inch of our seats. We only purchased three seats…he didn’t get one.

Suggestions to make everyone happier

  1. Don’t take all the toys out at once. They will get bored with all of them at once and you are in big trouble for the next 16.5 hours. Take one out at a time and put the others away.
  2. If you can buy some toys that are new and leave them in the packaging. This helped eat up some of the time by opening up the packaging and taking out the toy. Lots of fun for all of those around.
  3. Don’t give them candy!!! This might be an easy way to keep a kid quiet for about 30 minutes, which at that time might feel like you need it. However, remember that at the end of thirty minutes they are going to have to sit still now after having lots of sugar. No fun!!
  4. Cut your kids some slack. Try not to worry about them making too much noise. They are kids and if people can’t understand that children make noise then let yours give them a short lesson. We did feel bad for those that might not have enjoyed our kids’ screams and crying at some points in the flight, but hey what do you do. Our kids did pretty good.
  5. After an activity let them walk around the plane a little. This is good because it gives them regular exercise and will combat them getting too antsy. This way you also take regular bathroom breaks and don’t have your 3 yr old screaming that they have to go to the bathroom when the food cart is blocking the passage.
  6. Be prepared to be creative. As much as you wish your kids would just love all of the activities that you packed and be completely entertained for the entire flight it might not go down that way. I am just sayin.

Although we packed lots of great toys and fun activities, both our kids mostly enjoyed making a fort between our three seats and playing on the floor of the airplane. They had their toys, their little snacks and were having their own little adventure down there. It is a good thing that kids are small and that they felt that was enough room for their little activities.

Our favorite toys that we brought. 

  1. PlayDough…yes both kids love it. Although our 12 month old tried to eat it every now and then it was a big hit and we will forever pack a new pack of play-dough until they are 15. Play Dough is non-toxic and probably a lot safer than most things our son has managed to stuff into his mouth.
  2. Leap Frog activities. This isn’t the one we have, but is very similar and you can have lots of games with very little storage.
  3. Doodler, we all love this game. You can also play iSpy with it.
  4. iSpy books, our kids love iSpy
  5. Paper Doll activity book. We found a great paper doll activity book. You get to dress your doll and put different stickers on them. Lupita loved it. Then when you are done…they go in the recycle. Love those types of activities.
  6. Kai Lan Coloring Set, this was a present from Nonna Penny and we love it.
  7. Various rattles for Abe.

As you can see there isn’t a lot to bring for a 12 month old. So trying to make every activity last as long as possible and be as entertaining as possible is the real key.

Confessions…from our journey

Our little bundle of joy….Abe had about 6 hours that he didn’t want to sit or sleep, all he wanted was for his dad to carry him. He wouldn’t hold still for anyone else. So Zeek walked around holding Abe for almost 6 hours. We didn’t get a lot of sleep on this flight however we made it okay. No tantrums, no screaming for long periods of time, only a little fussing, and a little crying. Neither of us slept much and I don’t think the kids had a great nights sleep either.

We loved our layover in Seoul, South Korea!! I actually prefer lay overs or stops because you get a chance to get out and stretch your legs. We were able to use a normal size bathroom, change some clothes, and eat some good food. We also took full advantage of the very cool play area there.  You also  get cheaper tickets and a little excursion in the middle. At hour 12 everyone is ready for a change of scenery.

How did our flight end?

We were very happy at how everyone behaved during the trip. No melt downs, no fights, nothing extremely crazy happened. Everyone was in one piece and it had been an adventure. However, upon arriving to Hong Kong we opened one of our checked luggage pieces to find that Zeek’s work laptop had been stolen. Never ever check a laptop!!!!! We know this, but had been instructed to do so by the counter in Chicago because it’s weight was too heavy. We should have argued and not checked it.

I am sure in a few years we will laugh at how silly we were and look back and see how much we have learned. It is still a bit of a sore topic if you ask Zeek. I will let you know when that happens.

Have fun, and stay calm… and enjoy the ride.

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

17 Responses to Flying to China with toddlers

  1. Heather says:

    I’m so jealous they let you take play-dough. The one time I tried it security said no because it looked like C4.

    • Paz says:

      Yes, on our way to Italy they asked us if it was C4…we said no and they let us on our way. We weren’t even asked when coming to China. I guess it depends on the airport or guard on duty.

  2. Janette says:

    Our kids were 4& 6 moving from Phoenix to Hong Kong via San Fran/ Hawaii
    and 6&8 moving from Phoenix to Saudi through DC and Europe.
    -wrapped every toy- old or new. We thought it was funny that our children enjoyed every “present”.
    -bought “paint books” the ones that you use water and the color appears
    – made ten baggies of each snack. Total waste of baggies- but there was lots less waste and mess of food. Baggies are easier to pack.
    – brought a blanket that we disposed of for the floor of “forts”
    -brought finger puppets

    Good job on keeping your kids occupied. It is a difficult thing to do for long stretches (which is why when my dh said, “New Zealand” I said–nope!

    I have enjoyed reading about your family adventure.

    • Paz says:

      The baggies are a great idea and your disposable blanket. 🙂 The mess of all of their snacks and food was unbelievable. I for sure thought that we were going to get charged an extra clean-up fee when we leaving. Yes, now that we are thinking about other countries the idea of flying is not something we look forward to, but we know we can survive so that is a good thing. So glad you enjoy reading! Thank you!

  3. jimbojones says:

    playdough is awesome. it’s also a good toy for parents too. lol. you can use it to play games, make monsters, tell stories, and encourage your kid to use their imagination all while keeping them occupied on the plane.

    i think buying a few new toys in packaging, and wrapping them like a christmas present too would be a double wammy time eater.

    snacks like goldfish are good too (good for all ages of kids).

    depending on age, where’s waldo books or puzzle books can be awesome too. its a challenge for all ages and can provide precious minutes of concentration and quietness…

    • Paz says:

      Yes, you are right. Those are very good snacks to bring on the plane and kids love unwrapping their items to play with. It also uses up a bit of time. No need to rush on a 17 hour plane ride.

  4. Angela White says:

    OMG, I could have used this information 2 months ago with our travels to California! The last thing a one year wants to do is sit still. Granted our flight was 3 hours and not 17! And I thought ours was long. I really think you should write a book about traveling with infants – you have great advice. You’ll have a whole new experience when traveling back to the USA at different ages:) Oh joy!
    Miss you and Hugs.

    • Paz says:

      Ang- so sorry I didn’t post this earlier. I think I was just trying to avoid the topic all together. hehehe or not think about it. I am glad you like our suggestions. It kept us sane and alive after the whole thing. Yes, we have thought the same thing…now we will be at different ages so now what will we do. Our biggest obstacle of course is Abe and that is mainly because he never sits still, even for a second. So basically we have to prepare ourselves for 17 hours of being climbed on or carrying him. Maybe he will find his inner peace here in China and be better on our next flight. 🙂 Miss you too!!!

  5. Pingback: Best travel gear for toddlers | International CravingsInternational Cravings

  6. We love our Leap Frog pen and books, so do the kids. They could read for hours. thanks for the tips, thinking of jumping to US and have no idea how to do longer than 5 hours on a plane with a kid!

    • Paz Chentnik says:

      Great idea! I will have to get some for Lupita. She is all into reading right now. 🙂 Our trip from Kuala Lumpur to North Carolina was almost 27 hours of travel with 20 of those on a plane….ugh!!! Can’t complain other than us being very tired and dirty. hehehe

  7. Robin says:

    Great tips! We did a 24 hour journey to India with our 2.5 year old son and 3 month old daughter. The baby was easy. For my son we brought the car seat on the plane just because we knew he would sleep in it and I didn’t trust him to stay seated during take off and landing. Also, whole not everyone agrees with this, we loaded up the iPad with videos and new games.

    We also stopped over in Seoul on a trip when my son was 9 months old. They have a great kids play area and its right by where there are free computers to check you email and Facebook!

    And sometimes you just deal. My son and daughter screamed the whole landing on a flight from Mumbai to Rajastan. Afterward we went to the hotel, put the kids to bed, and had a drink. It’s important to remeber you will likely never see those people again anyway!

    • Paz says:

      I can’t imagine a 24 hour journey to India. Great idea on the car seat. What did you do with it while you were in India, I am guessing most people don’t use car seats in India. hehehe We so want to go to India but don’t trust our energetic 3.5 yr old to not run into the road! Love the drink after chaos. 🙂

  8. Oh man… the dreaded long haul flight! Sounds like quite the ordeal. Thanks for the tips. We’re expecting Baby #2 in a month, so we’ll be dealing with this soon enough…
    Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted..Photo of the Week: Powerful Statement at the Santa Monica PierMy Profile

    • Paz says:

      Yes, it is an ordeal, but I have to say that on the way back to the U.S. it went much better. 🙂 Good luck with baby 2 and happy travels.

  9. Jessica says:

    Wow! This is a great list for any parents traveling anywhere. Thanks for sharing.
    Jessica recently posted..Kids Travel Bag~A Review of TrayKitMy Profile

    • Paz says:

      Jessica! Thank you for checking it out. Hope it helps those of us with small ones. Traveling with younger kids can be the best and the worst all at the same time. 🙂

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