Flying with a Toddler – 22 Tips on Travel with Kids
The thought of surviving an over 24-hour journey, flying with a toddler on multiple airplane trips to a destination, can be slightly unnerving. I’m the type of person who imagines every scenario that could possibly happen, and wants to prepare for the worst. I could just imagine myself taken to the limit with crying and kicking and the stares of the other unhappy passengers wanting to scream out “I’m tired of these mother #$%^@*! toddlers on this mother &8$%@!# plane!” (Sorry, I had to.) So when we prepared to travel to Colombia with our nearly two-year-old this past fall, my husband and I did a ton of research (we googled… that’s what most research is these days, amiright?) to figure out some plans for making the best of a long and squishy situation aboard our flights.
I was thrilled with how our flights went, and that we all survived feeling pretty proud of how we made out. While I have a ton of notes and ideas on further, more specific tips that I want to share with you (like the airplane toddler activity pack that kept my little monkey occupied), I feel it’s due time that I share these tips on travel with kids, for others to draw inspiration from for their own family travel adventures.
How to Survive Flying with a Toddler
Electronics are a very effective way to keep littles still. Plug them in, even if you’re usually against them. Make sure to try them out a few times with your little, so they learn how to enjoy using it before you need the distraction.
Make sure everything works without wifi. Download anything you will need before you get out of the wifi zone.
Bring some new, compact, engaging travel activities. (You can read of few of Z’s favourite travel activities here.)
One book with lots to see can go a long way, especially if it relates to traveling via airplane. We got a ton of use out of this Richard Scarry book, A Day At The Airport. This was also a great way to introduce and familiarize little Z with what we would see and do at the airport, which made things run smoother, too. (Affiliate link, just so you know.)
Snacks. Lots and lots of variety. Steer away from sugar to keep your sanity (and theirs). Bring some for the trip there, and the way home, too, if you’re not sure what kind of options will be available where you’re going.
“I’m sorry for my baby’s travel (non)etiquette” packs for other travellers might ease any tensions. (Note: We have not tried this ourselves.)
Forget about the other passengers (within reason). This is your little world, and you will all get through it, but the others judgements and grumpiness is out of your control (as is your tired, uncomfortable, overwhelmed and jet-lagged toddler, most likely).
Red eye flights for the win! Every situation is different, but our experience trying both led me to believe we should always aim for the overnight flights with our wee one.
Some parents bring Gravol or other calming medications, just in case the situation becomes overwhelming. (It’s also been suggested to test prior to flying – sometimes it can have the opposite effect to calming them down).
Bring any medications you might need in carry on: Tylenol, Camilia, Gravol, etc.
Try to get the rest you need, too. Your little one will be better behaved with a parent that can respond appropriately and with some semblance of patience.
Dress toddler in cozy clothes or PJs, slippers instead of shoes, and bring a blankie. Opt for long-sleeve or full onesie pjs, to keep clothes or sweaters from riding or bunching up uncomfortably.
Bring a change of clothes in case of diaper leakage or other unpleasant events. No one wants to cart around (or be) a little one marinating in their own soiled, stanky clothing. (For that matter, a change of clothes for yourself might be worth considering, too, especially if your little one is younger or riding on your lap for the trip.)
Toddler earphones (keep noise level in mind, and opt for the kind that sit on the ears, rather than ear buds).
Pack twice as many diapers and wipes in carry on as you think you’ll need. You never know when a bout of diarrhea will kick in and lead to three bum changes before you even board.
Bring a bottle or sippy cup for keeping pressure from building in those little ears when taking off and landing, and have your little drink when ascending and descending.
Invest in the extra seat for longer trips, even if your child is young enough to sit on your lap. Seriously. The extra $ is well worth the saved sanity.
Make sure you bring an child car seat approved for automobile and airline travel (there is a sticker), and that the seat is narrow enough to fit in the airline seats (19-inches worked for us – check your airlines). Alternatively, there is a “Cares harness”, but a comfortable seat will allow for an easier, supportively cushioned sleep. (I have a whole post about choosing an air-safe travel seat here.)
Put well-cushioned shoulder-strap pads on the car seat harness, to help your little rest well without their head flopping over uncomfortably.
If you can choose your seats ahead of time, the seats directly behind first/business class have considerably more leg room, which means your little one won’t be able to kick the seat in front of them in their efforts to stretch their little legs (a constant battle for our journey to Colombia), and they can even have room to stand up and move around a bit. The drawback to these seats, though, is there is no seat in front of you to store your carry on bags full of travel accessories for easy access (which is more convenient if your little is awake).
If you’re on a flight where you choose your seats when you board the plane, putting your little behind another child can be helpful in relieving your anxiety over kicking grumpy businessmen, and offer a bit of a distraction playing peekaboo with the other little one.
Always have napkins easily accessible. They are your very good friend, and welcome saviour from the many spilly, sticky messes that can and will happen. I’d like to say it’s all the baby’s fault, but my clumsiness is often to blame, as well.