How I survived a 16.5 hour flight with a 3 year old and no iPad – Packing an activity bag

I think all of us “imperfect” parents agree that an Ipad is an essential hand carry item when traveling with kids. Loaded with their favorite shows and games, even books sometimes, they are the key to an almost peaceful long haul flight or even a short one for that matter. You may be flying first class or economy but every kid faces the same problem on a flight, which is the lack of space to move around and parents trying to keep them quiet for the sake of fellow passengers who are trying to sleep. This leaves them with little choice but to do exactly what the parents don’t want them to do and have meltdowns. First world problems.

All in all since the iPad is so important, and honestly, I haven’t traveled anywhere without it since Manaal was born, I was horrified that it was not allowed on the flight to the US. And since it was our longest flight to date, 16 and half hours thank you, I was very seriously considering cough syrup. Okay, I was not! just to be clear I would never do that! But I had a few sleepless nights. No, I didn’t, it’s Ramadan so I stayed up the nights anyways!

Anywho, I came up with plan B. Which was packing an activity bag, praying all night that it goes well and keeping my fingers crossed!!!

It took me an afternoon to go through Manaal’s art and craft closet and a few unopened toys to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t. I made a list of things, already in the home (saving me the shopping trip while fasting), considered their size and in flight regulations, and narrowed it down.

Here’s what I packed, but remember, you alone know your child and what keeps them busy, All this worked for Manaal so I was confident about it. These are just a few ideas to get you started and you needn’t replicate this list:

  1. Fashion projector set – I found this among her unopened gifts that were too advanced for her age at the time. It’s basically a small projector with pre-made films of fashion models divided into faces, shirts, jackets, and pants. Kids can mix and match outfits and trace to draw a complete fashion model. Since Manaal has just learned to trace and enjoys it, I was in luck!
  2. Playdoh and Swooshi – Another something that I know keeps her busy for hours on end. It also helps her calm down so I almost always have a pack in my bag.
  3. Speak-it electronic pen (Arabic) – Manaal has been learning Arabic at school and is getting pretty good at it, so I thought that a little revision on the way will be a good thing. The only drawback is that we need to use a headphone for it. With 5 books and lots of colorful pictures, the pen can keep kids busy for a long time.
  4. Headphones – Although most airlines give kid-friendly headphones, it’s a good idea to bring your own. The jack on the airline headphones is different and won’t fit anything else. Also, being familiar with their own headphones may help kids keep them on for some time at least!
  5. Pack of crayons – Again it’s a good idea to check what the airline offers in terms of kid packs, but since most give color “pencils” (which younger kids don’t like to use), and just up to 4-5 colors, keeping a pack of crayons is a good idea. It doesn’t take a lot of space and you can also keep the triangular ones so they don’t roll off the food tray.
  6. Flashcards: ELC and Appy Kids – Again a good thing if you want to keep the kids connected academically over the summer vacations, and if your child enjoys it, it’s a major plus! I have been using the ELC flash cards since Manaal was a year old and love their quality. The Appy kids flash cards are to be used with the app on the iPad, but they can be used on their own too.
  7. School Zone: Get ready Preschool set – I bought this set from Costco in January and love that it’s an all-you-need educational kit to keep children busy. Here’s what’s on the inside – A 32 page preschool skills workbook, a pencil, a set of flash cards, a crayon set, 32 page coloring pad, 29 page write on/wipe-clean workbook to practice tracing, 25 write on/wipe clean flash cards, wipe clean marker and eraser, 8 sticker sheets and a 32 page skills practice pad.
  8. Make your own pirate set – This is a DIY crafting kit from ELC. I removed it from the original box and kept the contents in a ziplock bag for easy packing.
  9. ELC sew and lace animal cards – I have this in my baby travel bag since day 1. Not only does it keep the child busy for some time, it also helps with the development of their hand-eye coordination! win-win play time!!
  10. Misc. – It goes without saying that anything else that brings your child comfort is a must to pack. It could be a blanket, a pacifier, stuffed toy, anything at all. Also keeping their own eye cover (if they use one) is a great idea. I won’t go into any other details on what to pack etc, but you can check out my comprehensive guide on traveling with kids.

Here’s what we did for Manaal. Our flight was at 2am so we went about our normal routine the day before. However since we were getting ready to leave around Manaal’s bedtime, she didn’t go to sleep. She dozed off on the way to the airport though. We woke her up once we were in the waiting lounge so that she could have her dinner which was useless as she didn’t eat anything but I took her to the play area instead to stretch her legs. Once on board, i wanted her to have dinner before i put her to sleep. So she started watching a movie on inflight entertainment and once in the air i took out the fashion projector for her to spend time on until dinner arrived. 
After dinner I told her it was bedtime (which was met with lots of resistance but she was too tired to argue and went to sleep. She slept 2-3 hours at a time and then I would take her for a walk and the toilet, play with play dough and then put her back to sleep. I feel that since the time of the flight was during her bedtime it was a good start and added to the success of the flight. Two hours before landing we changed her seat to mine which was near a window and she was awake and just done wih breakfast. I put on another movie on the inflight entertainment and told her we were about to land in California. After that it was only questions about when we were going to land and looking outside of the window now and then!

Once again, every child is different and enjoys different things and as a parent, you alone can decide what’s best to pack for them. I will soon be posting a list of apps that I have on Manaal’s iPad, for those of you who are lucky enough to have it on board while traveling :P.

Have you packed an activity bag for your flight? What items have you packed? Do you use an Ipad on board? I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Also for those who don’t know, we have traveled to California for the summer vacations. You can follow me on my Instagram account to catch us exploring the Golden state on insta stories!

Disclaimer – I was not compensated for any of the above-mentioned products and I have bought all of them on my own. This is not an advertisement for any of the mentioned products.




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