Taking a red eye flight with kids can certainly be a challenge. But it is often easier for kids to fall asleep sitting up than it can be for adults. Kids can usually fall asleep anywhere! In my teens and early 20s, I took many red eye flights and never remembered having a problem getting comfortable and falling asleep. But as an adult, I dread it each and every time – it’s hard to fall asleep, it’s hard to stay asleep, and the first morning after arrival is so difficult. There are definitely some things you can do to make the whole experience better, however. Here are my best tips for red eye flights with kids (and without).
Disclosure: Affiliate links within. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post helps support Family Travel Magazine®.
Tips for Surviving a Red Eye Flight With Kids
Red eye flights usually originate late enough that you’ll be tired. But definitely do your best to tire yourself and your children out. Wake up a little earlier on the day of your flight, and be active throughout the day. If you have time, go to the gym or at least workout a little during the day (but don’t exert yourself too much – you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t sore).
Eat Before Your Flight
Your sleeping time on your flight will already be minimal, so don’t waste time eating the meal that’s served onboard. On my last overnight flight, I was fast asleep well before the meal was served, giving me almost one additional precious hour of sleep. Eat before your flight at home or in the airport. I prefer to arrive at the airport early, so that I know I have plenty of time. If you eat your meal before you fly, you’ll be ready to sleep as soon as you get on board your flight. However, you may want to bring your own water on the flight. Either bring a refillable bottle or buy a bottle once you get through security. That way, if you wake up thirsty, you won’t have to find a flight attendant.
Get the Gear
A travel pillow is essential to get good sleep on the flight, but I don’t love the popular U-shaped pillows. Instead, I like this one. It rolls up and takes just a small amount of space, and is easy to inflate and deflate. Definitely test it before you head out, to make sure that you know how to use it. There’s also a cord that can be a little tricky to use. I removed mine because I was afraid I’d end up tangled in it.
I also like to bring along my own travel blanket. This is my favorite – it’s so soft and can also be used as a pillow. If you are sensitive to light, bring along an eye mask too. Believe me, it’s better to buy these items in advance, otherwise, you’ll be looking around longingly at the other travelers’ gear.
I always make sure that I am wearing a completely comfortable outfit for flying. I usually wear a baggy top with leggings. I also bring along comfortable socks, and wear my glasses rather than my contact lenses. I remove my makeup before getting on the flight, but bring along a little bit to put on when I land so that I look awake.
Pack Your Carry-on Appropriately
If you are checking bags, you’ll want to make sure that your carry-on is packed appropriately with anything you’ll need, including your toothbrush and toothpaste, and passport. I also recommend bringing along extra clothes for each member of the family – just in case. When we flew to Italy this past year, my daughter threw up on me right when we landed, and extra clothes would have been well appreciated (I didn’t pack any though). Toss a large zip-lock bag in your carry-on also – you never know when you will need it.
For my carry on, I like to pack a backpack to keep under the seat in front of me. As a bonus, I can use the backpack in my travels at my destination.
Once you wake up, take your sleep cues from the daylight. While it’s tempting to go right to bed when you land, try to adjust to the new time zone as best as you can. Open the shades in your hotel room and get on with your day.
Have you taken a red-eye flight with kids? What worked best?
Get Our Free eBook
Subscribe to get our complimentary eBook with tips, tricks, and info for family travelers.