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Mastering International Layovers With a Toddler

Nov. 28, 2018
9 min read
Two children wearing straw hats looking through window to airplane on the apron
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Traveling with a toddler can be a handful, especially when flying for a double-digit number of hours. From knowing what type of carriers and strollers to take on the trip to tips for surviving long haul flights with kids, the information and options can almost seem endless. Everyone at TPG Family understands the struggle and is here to offer our firsthand experiences and advice to make sure traveling with your kids isn't a bust — especially when your itinerary includes an international layover with toddlers.

Sometimes your city pairs necessitate the layover, and there's just no way to get from A to C without first stopping at B. Award flight availability or airfare deals may lead you to book a connection when you'd really prefer that nonstop routing, or perhaps you want to break up the trip and stretch your legs.

kids at airport
(Photo by Jekaterina Nikitina / Getty Images)

Having traveled internationally with my son since he was 7 weeks old, I have frequently managed layovers with a little one. The layovers we've survived have consisted of multiple destinations and/or long hours in between flights. Because of this, a flight that would normally take 12 to 15 hours if you could go directly from your origin to destination, may run your family 20 to 30 hours with a connection.

Don't fret. Where there is a will, there’s always a way to make the most out of these situations by understanding how to get the most comfort for you and your toddler during challenging international layovers.

Pick Long Layovers With Airlines That Provide Free Perks

Yes, you read that correctly. There are airlines that provide you with free perks if you have a layover of a certain number of hours. With Qatar Airways, we had a 14-hour layover in Doha and received free overnight accommodations, shuttle pickup from the airport, drop-off to the airport and a meal voucher for dinner. Due to the layover being between eight and 24 hours, Qatar offered this “transit accommodation” perk.

(Photo by Hoxton/Tom Merton / Getty Images)

Here are other airlines with stopover benefits: Air Canada Stopover Program, Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad Airlines, Gulf Air, Hainan Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, SriLankan Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Xiamen Air. When taking advantage of any airline's stopover/transit program, check if the perk is based on a specific boarding class.

Take a Tour Between Flights

You and your toddler won't be tired on every layover, so stretch your legs and take a tour of the city. In Portugal, Greece, China and many other countries, the railway station is usually conveniently connected to the airport. Without having to worry about catching a taxi or car service, it is much easier to get off the plane and head to the train. Most railway systems are very easy to navigate and afford you the opportunity to get to the central part of the city to walk around, take pictures and sample local food.

When trains are not an option, catching a taxi or shuttle can be just as easy, but not necessarily as cheap. Knowing how much time it’ll take to get through customs and to the part of the city you’re looking to tour will help you use your time in the most effective way. Some airports — like Singapore Changi, Hamad International (Doha), Incheon International (Seoul) and Tokyo's Narita — offer free city tours in the event of a long layover. As long as they aren't too tired, toddlers usually love the opportunity to get out of the airport to see new and exciting things.

Singapore Changi (Photo by Pixabay)

Make a Plan to Play

Sometimes the saving grace in surviving international layovers with toddlers is having some fun time. I’ve done everything from riding up and down the escalator with my son (multiple times), riding terminal trains in a loop, to playing hide-and-seek in between the chairs of the terminals. Airports around the world also have play areas that are specifically for kids to enjoy in between flights.

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(Photo by Imani Bashir)

At Calgary International Airport, there’s a 5,800-square-foot center with donated items directly from NASA that’ll provide both entertainment and educational stimulation for your toddler. If your airport doesn't have a play zone, head to an information kiosk. Many, like the ones at London Heathrow, give out free coloring and activity packs for children. Here are our favorite airports for layovers with kids within the United States.

Utilize airport play areas when you can find them

Pack Necessities in a Carry-On

When traveling internationally with a toddler, it can be a bit easier to check bags all the way to your destination. If you’re anything like me, you prefer to have less baggage while you’re navigating the airport and customs — especially if you’ve chosen to leave the airport. Packing necessities for you and your toddler makes the layover easier, especially in the event of delays, cancellations and unfortunately lost baggage.

Typically, we are consumed with everything for our toddlers. Packing extra outfits, diapers/pullups, snacks and other essentials. But for myself, I also like to pack extra underwear and travel-sized toiletries in the carry-on in the event our layover allots us the time to shower, shampoo and shine. I also make sure to have layered clothing that can be worn in various ways, including leggings, cardigan sweaters, zip up or button up tops, and either flip-flops or lightweight shoes.

child with luggage
(Photo by © Naufal MQ / Getty Images)

Travel-sized essential oils, like lavender and eucalyptus, are great additions to have on-hand when taking a shower, bathing your toddler or simply for aromatic relief purposes. Having these items on hand lessens the stress of waiting around for other bags or waiting to make it all the way to your final destination before freshening up.

Map Out the Details in Advance

It may sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes there are missteps that can happen when in a rush or booking last-minute trips for you and your toddler. Follow these steps to avoid those hassles.

  1. Contact your bank in advance to ensure you're able to use any bank cards you need for your trip. This isn't always necessary any more, but there are banks that still prefer a heads up. Packing local currency, if you have it, is also a good idea. If not, just bring along a debit card to use at an ATM along the way. Credit cards can't buy you everything, especially abroad.
  2. If you opt to book a hotel, hostel or any accommodation, have your confirmation ready to ensure the ability to get into your room quickly with your toddler and have a smooth transition during your layover.
  3. Learn your layover airport in advance. Every international airport has its own website that allows you to study the floor plan of what is exactly in every terminal. You may be able to find lockers to store your bags, ATMs and changing rooms.
  4. Research nursing areas, play areas, lounges and kid-friendly eateries.
Photo by Pixabay

Sleep In (or Near) the Airport

Sometimes layover accommodations require extra steps, including leaving the airport and finding transportation. This can be tedious with a toddler. Staying in the airport is a safer option if you are worried about any delays causing you to miss your next flight. If you have lounge access through one of your credit cards, you'll have a (usually) quiet place to rest, Wi-Fi, food/beverage options and sometimes areas to sleep and take showers.

There are airports that also offer "mini hotels." During a layover in Guangzhou, China, we stayed in their hourly charged passenger lounge that included a clean bed with sheets, Wi-Fi, showers, a television, telephone and slippers. The best part was that I never had to leave the airport with my son. We were able to sleep, have a wake-up call, take a shower and head to our early morning flight with time to spare.

(Photo by Imani Bashir)

Other international airports that offer similar on-site, short-term accommodations include:

  • London, Heathrow (Yotel, Terminal 4)
  • Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson (Minute Suites, Concourses B & T)
  • Bergamo, Italy (ZzZleepAndGo)
  • Berlin, Tegel (Napcabs, Terminal B, Level-3)
  • Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike International Airport (Serenediva Colombo Transit Hotel)

Even if there isn't an official on-site option that charges hourly for a place to lay your head, airport hotels may offer day rates for a few hours of rest between flights so be sure and ask. Mommy Points was able to secure a day rate at the Crowne Plaza Changi between flights in and out of Singapore and found the virtually on-site rest worth every penny.

Bottom Line

Many international airports get the thumbs-up from families when traveling. But, even if your transit airport is less than ideal, TPG Family's advice and resources can help you get the most out of your international layover with your toddler. What are your secrets for keeping toddlers happy during layovers?

Featured image by Westend61 / Getty Images

Featured image by Getty Images/Westend61