How to amuse a 2-year-old on an international flight

Hands up who loves flying?

I know I do.

With kids?

Hmm, not so many hands up…

Long-haul flights are the pits.  When you live in New Zealand getting almost anywhere requires hours and hours of flying.  I have flown between NZ and Europe many times and it never got any better – even the one time I got to fly first-class due to my job.

So the idea of doing a long-haul flight with my kids makes me want to run and hide under my bed.  But fortunately for me, I don’t have to grin and bear it this time.  Sausage is off to the Netherlands with D and my mother-in-law, and their journey encompasses around 25 hours of flying time.  That’s just flying, not sitting around waiting for the next leg.  Chip and I are staying at home this time because a) we couldn’t afford for us all to go, b) expecting relatives to put up five of us would be a bit much, c) who wants to fly with my super-active 1 year old?  Not this lady!

Anyway, while I am expecting Sausage to be a champion flier (she is generally a great traveller), I decided to gather a few things together for to amuse her during the flights, just in case.  I also want my husband to remain sane.  I needed things that were inexpensive, light, fun and time-consuming for Sausage to play with.

I scoured our op-shops and our best local bookstore and got this haul:

Sausage's loot

Sausage’s loot

My favourite bookstore in Whanganui is Paiges Book Gallery, not the least because the owner is so knowledgeable and helpful.  She suggested this little gem:

Letters home to Mum are important

Letters home to Mum are important

In case you were wondering, Sausage is not a child prodigy who can read and write at the tender age of 2.5.  But she loves to scribble, she loves stickers, and she loves tiny envelopes.  This letter writing set is filled to the brim with beautiful stickers, teeny-tiny envelopes to make, and decorative pages to write scribble on.  She will of course need help, but this little set should keep her occupied for a while – plus I might just get some mail while she’s away (hint, hint D).

I picked these up at a local children’s store:

Hape make great toys

Hape make great toys

I am always on the lookout for dolls that aren’t blond Barbies or chubby-faced babies because I think it’s important that kids play with dolls of any age and ethnicity.  I snapped up these posable Hape grandparent dolls which have the added bonus of being light.

As you can see in the picture above, I also picked up a duck-topped pencil and a dinosaur sticker book.

At Paige’s I found these magic ink books:


I adored these sort of books as a kid myself, and while she won’t be able to fill them out properly, Sausage will still have fun running the pen over the paper and seeing things magically appear.  Plus the Frozen sisters and Dora are some of Sausage’s homegirls, so they are bound to be a big hit.

At the same mighty bookstore, I picked up a small two-sided puzzle.  To be honest, Sausage isn’t hugely into puzzles, but hey, it might buy a few minutes peace.

I hit the jackpot at a local op-shop, finding several excellent books for the journey.  One exquisitely illustrated book is called ‘Tiger’, about a little boy who doesn’t like parties at all, but finds courage when his face is painted like a Tiger.  I also picked up two ‘Little Miss’ books.  We have ‘Little Miss Splendid‘ already, which is a favourite with Sausage, so I know the two stories will go down well.  I was very pleased to find these books:


The Meg and Mog books are much beloved by everyone in our family and it was great to find one we didn’t already have.  Like most kids (myself included…), Sausage adores anything by Richard Scarry.  They are satisfyingly detailed books, so ‘Miss Honey’s Busy Day’ should keep her occupied for ages.

I was thrilled to find a pop-up book in mint condition.  I had recently remarked to D that we didn’t have a book on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so I picked this one up straight away.  This pop-up book is great, I mean just look at this:

Ugh oh.  Don't sit on that chair Goldie!

Uh oh. Don’t sit on that chair Goldie!

Told you so

Told you so


So that’s the haul.  I have bagged it up so Sausage gets something new for each leg of her trip to the Netherlands (D and my MIL will look for things for the flight home).  D is also loading up a tablet with some of her favourite shows to watch, and may include a game or two.  We don’t let our kids use any of our digital devices (despite D being an IT nerd), but I figure situations like being stuck in a tin can for hours and hours are emergencies, right?


Here are some tips for surviving an international flight with your two-year-old:
  • Anything new-to-them will buy you precious time.  You don’t have to buy brand-new as many great books, toys and games can be picked up at thrift stores.  This also means if things get lost or broken it doesn’t matter.  If they don’t like what you got them it isn’t a huge waste of money.  And an added bonus – you can simply leave it all behind if you need to when it’s time to go home.
  • Know what your child is into.  My kid is a huge bookworm, so lots of books will keep her happy.  If you have a particularly active kid, make some ‘busy bags’ filled with activities that keep their hands occupied  (you will find lots of ideas on PInterest).
  • Hang out at an airport a week or two before your journey.  Watch the planes and people come and go.  Show them the check-in counter, luggage trolleys, baggage carousels and other delights to your tot.  Our local airport is rather rinky-dinky, but even so it is a fun place for Sausage to visit.
  • Use books to prepare them for the journey.  We managed to find a couple of great books on taking plane journeys for toddlers.  One book, the excellent Knuffle Bunny Free is even about a little girl who goes to Holland to visit her Opa!  Knuffle Bunny, and Maisy Goes by Plane spell out all the steps that are involved with international travel.  Check in, customs , lovely flight attendants, and waiting.  Lots and lots of waiting and sitting and being bored.  Most tots are okay if they know what to expect.
  • Use role-play to prepare them for the journey.  Sausage and I have been playing ‘waiting’ – made lots more fun if chocolate is involved…  We’ve also played ‘suitcases’, and made tickets for our journey.  You could use your kitchen chairs to set up a pretend airplane and serve your tot food.  You could practice putting on seatbelts, flying, sleeping in the most uncomfortable position you can get into, you name it.  Again, a prepared child is a happy child.
  • Take some ‘loveys’.  Don’t forget to take a few of your tots favourite things in your cabin luggage.  LIfe would not be worth living if Sausage went without her beloved toy dog who seldom leaves her side.

Well that’s it.  Good luck to us all.  I’ll let you know what worked and what didn’t.  Fingers crossed she will sleep for a lot of the journey!

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