Long Flights – How To Survive 14+ Hours in Economy (With a Tween)

Family Travel: How to Survive International Flights in Economy with Your Kids!

Traveling with tweens can be crazy fun or it can drive you insane. It’s a fine line. My 11-year old and I had been having some battles of will lately (and we still are) but we were Australia-bound to see her best friend and hopefully to do some bonding of our own.

Tween years are an emotional and hormonal roller coaster. And the two of us were going to be strapped in that rickety unpredictable roller coaster together for more than 22 hours. Heaven help us. How to survive this international flight? I had a plan.

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Total travel time is 22 hours and 37 minutes. Ugh.

The great news is we were flying Virgin Australia from LAX directly to our destination in Brisbane. I worked hard to find an itinerary that had us directly into Brisbane, rather than a very early morning in Sydney with Customs and Immigration, followed by a layover and another flight to Brisbane. The plan was to land, stumble through Immigration and Customs, followed immediately by a coffee greeting from our dear friends (“Hi! Welcome to Australia, Allie! Here’s a giant coffee.) and a shower.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…expect to encounter a little turbulence.

After we got off to a very rough start (TIP – you need a visa to visit Australia and it’s much more convenient to get it in advance rather than at the counter 25 minutes before your plane boards) and she was finally assured that the worst was behind us, we both began to relax. The thrill of adventure slowly seeped into her, a thrill tempered by the fear of the unknown.
Once we reached the Portland airport for our layover for our Los Angeles bound flight, we cozied up together and she pulled out her tablet. We started our holiday the way everyone should start their holiday, with YouTube.

Music Videos

Make sure to kick off the mood with Rhett and Link’s “I’m On Vacation” song. (Rhett and Link are the good ol’ Youtubers from Good Mythical Morning)
This helps set the tone that even though mom forgot the visas, at least we didn’t unleash the zombie apocalypse through a mutated virus in expired ice cream sandwiches and “everything’s okay, because I’m on vacation”. Throw in a little Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and you’ve set the tone for this trip.
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Yo. Everything’s okay. Cuz I’m on vacation!


I let her have the pick of the airport at our first stop, reminding her that we would eat at LAX and then again on the plane. (What’s a vacation about if not the calories?) She opted for a mango smoothie with boba pearls at a Bumbuza, a Vietnamese restaurant near our gate. It had approximately 4 billion grams of sugar. In general, sugar can solve most problems…at least for 20 minutes. I had a coffee with coconut milk as it was going to be a long day.


Once we reached LAX, we had a 2 1/2 hours of chill time in in the international terminal. However, this was LAX, so it takes Irish luck to find your way from the domestic terminal to international, through unmarked tunnels that are under construction. Ladies’ choice for dinner. The LAX International Terminal is a swanky, luxurious affair offering duty-free cigars, designer bags and of course, Panda Express Chinese take-out. Yup, out of all the choices in the terminal, she opted for her favorite comfort food: the General’s Orange Chicken with chow mein.


Silly Selfies

It’s time to start documenting this magical airport bonding time!

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Hiding from the paparazzi at PDX


Once we were settled into our window and middle seat on our LAX to Brisbane flight, it was time to get cozy for the long haul. Once again, the movie choice was all hers and we each took an earbud to share and watch “Rise of the Guardians”. In our daily lives, I’m too busy to sit down and watch a movie from start to finish. She loved that I sat there and quietly laughed and even choked up in all the right places. After that, we each watched a movie in sync on our back-of-the-seat screens.



After the lovely folks at Virgin Australia fed us (again), it was time to hit the sack. It helped that our flight departed LAX around 11:30 pm and by this time it was at least 2 am body clock time.

The first rule of sleeping on planes is not caring what you look like. In fact, the Unibomber look is conducive to actually sleeping.

My long flight sleep kit includes:

  • A comfortably loose hooded sweatshirt
  • A large pashmina (I actually packed two for each of us. One to use over our heads and one to use as an additional blanket.)
  • An eye mask
  • A pair of headphones
  • Compression socks
  • Travel pillows (one for the neck and an inflatable one to put anywhere I need.)

The key for me is also to get my feet as elevated as possible. Since Virgin Australia makes you feel like a rock star, even our seats in Economy had a foot rest that I combined with my backpack under my calves. When I woke up, I looked at the map on the back on the seat. Whoa, I actually slept. A lot. We were almost there.

survive international flight www.coffeeandpassport.com
Are we there yet?


My daughter slept for another hour until the announcements and lights came back on. She raised the window shade and we watched the sun rise over Australia, ready for our adventure together in the land down under.

survive international flights www.coffeeandpassport.com


We didn’t just survive this international flight. We nailed it. How do you survive your international flights?

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