6 Helpful Tips For Stress Free Flying With A Toddler.
Flying with a toddler is definitely no vacation, but with a bit of preparation, a dash of bravery, and these 6 easy tricks, you’ll be off to the races in no time and may even make it to your destination with most of your sanity still intact.
I’ve been there. And I’ve lived to tell my story.
I’m a nearly professional level traveller and single Mom of a young toddler (18 months at time of writing) with hundreds of flights under my belt, and 38 flights under hers, and I’m here to tell you it ain’t easy, but, it doesn’t have to be hard.
Over the past many months of Motherhood, we’ve transitioned from the easy, breezy, carry your infant in a carrier, breast feed in flight, totally fit the airplane changing table kinda traveller’s, into: a 26 Lb beast that treats a diaper bag as a feeding trough, would prefer to stand on the floor for 4 hours, “Hi neighbor, did you know that all your stuff is actually my stuff?” “my Mom lets me stand on the bathroom floor while she changes my diaper” kind of traveller’s. The struggle is real.
But do NOT be deterred by the above statement of truth. We’ve actually got it down to a semi-science, and for the sake of all things good and sisterly, I’m going to share my proven hacks for relatively painless flying. Toddler Edition.
1.Time your trip like your life depends on it. Because it does.
At least your enjoyment of it does. Gone are the days of catching a 6am flight because it’s cheaper and you get that much more of your day at your chosen destination.
When my kid was an infant it wasn’t a huge deal to slip her sleepily into her carseat and head off to the airport. Forget. That. Now. The first step you take towards an easy flight experience is a good nights sleep for everyone involved.
So what time IS best for your little traveler?
There are two schools of thought here, one is planning to fly during their nap time. The other is to fly after a good nap. What is not a good option, is a 5pm flight. I probably don’t even need to explain that part further than uttering the three dreaded words…”The Witching Hour”.
I’ve tried many flights that coincide with my daughters nap time and had about a 20% success rate. For you math whizzes out there that means 80% of the time we botched our naps and I arrived with a salty toddler and a frazzled self.
I HIGHLY recommend getting a good nap in first, then flying. The sooner you release that expectation of in flight naps, the happier you’ll be, and if it does miraculously happen, then that’s just a bonus!
That said, if you’re taking a 12 or (God help you) 22hr flight, you still should get that 1st nap of the day in before heading to the airport then stay as close to your wind down routine as possible as you near bedtime.
For you redeye fliers, don’t leave home without the following wildly important items in your carryon.
- Favorite Blankie & Comfort Item (Stuffie etc.)
- Sleepytime music downloaded onto your phone
- Inflatable travel footrest pillow/travel bed for kids
2. Book your little dear their own seat, near the back.
And yes, you have to sit near the back too. Now, booking a separate seat isn’t even an option for those of you with toddlers 2+ years old, you folks HAVE to buy your kids a seat, but you thrifty parents of the younger set may still be attracted to the less expensive option of a “Lap Infant”, and I hear you.
I’m pretty budget conscious in some key areas of my life, and plane travel is one of them. But I’m rapidly changing my ways. There are some problems that I’ll happily throw money at to solve, and this is one.
The older my child gets, the less she wants to stay on my lap. In fact, as she starts yearning for independence in other areas of her life, clearly enjoying the “Big Girl” seats anywhere our buns may find us, the airplane has proven no exception.
Yeah, but why pay for an extra seat?
The #1 benefit of putting your toddler in their own seat is their safety. In the instance of severe turbulence, you likely will not be able to safely hold them. I would invest in a lightweight and FAA approved CARES Harness to secure them in their own seat (more on that in the gear section below).
However, if you asked me 2 hours in to any flight, I’d say safety was the #2 benefit and sanity was the #1. A kid that has their own seat is 100x easier to manage, placate, feed etc.
I choose a window and a center seat and just bother the neighbor with bathroom requests. (This varies from traveling with lap infant, where I recommend an aisle seat so you can easily get up without “permission”) Additionally and worth noting, CARES Harness are not allowed in aisle seats.
I like to think of the window of the plane as a 2nd parent, entertaining during takeoff and landing, and helping corral the kid into their seat the rest of the time, then if kiddo wants to get up and move, I’m between her and the aisle as a buffer.
Okay, but why the back? I don’t wannnnnnaaaa…
I know I know. I don’t want to either? Bathrooms, yuck. Being last to disembark? Yuck. BUT, unless you’ve achieved baller status and can hang in first class, AND don’t mind getting the stink eye from a neighboring businessman, tickets are often cheaper near the rear, it’s generally less crowded, and there will most likely be more families and kid friendly folks around you. Plus you’ll be closer to the potty, which is becoming increasingly more necessary.
To put it simply, you know how when you go out to eat with your kid(s) and you really WANT to sit in the prime part of the restaurant with other lovely adults and pretty centerpieces but then your sat in the family section near other parents who don’t glare at you for your kids banging silverware, dropping food on the floor and throwing the occasional crayon? This is that. At 30,000 feet.
That being said, if you have a tight connection, be up front, you’ll still survive.
3. Arrive earlier than your solo self ever would dream to.
That means, at least 1.5 hours ahead of your flight if not 2. I’m not talking crazy amounts early but enough that you don’t sweat a long bag check or TSA line. However, I 1000% recommend getting global entry or at least TSA Precheck. Saving yourself the hassle of removing shoes and iPad alone is worth the money and time of getting it.
The numero uno, number one benefit of arriving early, is that this is one of the easiest things you can do to eliminate travel stress. You can pee, check your bags, pee again, let your kid put on their own shoes after TSA, repack your diaper bag after they inspect all of your liquids, and get a latte or some other equally invaluable beverage all before arriving at your gate.
4. Bring only the right gear onto the plane.
When I travelled with my infant, I carried her through TSA and the airport and onto the plane in her carrier. I also brought a convertible stroller/carseat, diaper bag, and a rolling carryon. I gate checked the stroller/carseat so I could get in, and then the hell out of the airport as fast as possible.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Gone are those days. I’m eating crow on all the smack talking I did, pre-baby, about parents and ALL THEIR SH*T in the airport. I get it now. But I’m still actively trying to avoid it. Mostly because I always travel without a 2nd adult. I literally cannot handle it all on my own. That said, there are a few items I can’t live without.
“MUST HAVE” GEAR:
- A CARES Harness. This is my alternative to flying with a carseat. The CARES harness works for kids 22lbs and over and packs into a small bag that weighs just 1lb.
- A carrier. They’re bulky and I rarely use one anymore, but the one time you don’t pack it, your flight will be delayed 3 hours. Fact.
- Diapers. So. Many. Diapers (and wipes). See above… don’t count on diaper availability in airport stores, and there is no travel terror quite like facing a long flight after a longer delay with just one diaper left. (don’t forget the wipes).
- Other diaper bag essentials include a change of clothes for them (including socks), at least a change of shirt for you, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and refillable water bottle.
- An Activity bag. Including a variety of toddler friendly toy/books/activities to dole out at intervals. A good rule of thumb is 1 activity per 30 minutes of flight time. See below for ideas.
- Snacks. And snack sized meal items. See below for ideas.
SO. MANY. ACTIVITIES. Yea I’m yelling at you, but it’s for your own good. By now in your parenting journey you’ve likely learned never to go to a restaurant (or anywhere) without some kind of activity bag… a bag of tricks as it were.
Now multiply that times a hundred, and bring that on the plane. Really. I think of my flights as a series of 10 minute survival challenges… 12-12:10 snack, 12:10-12:20 painstakingly pull out the sticker book, 12:20-12:30 sticker everything in sight, 12:30-12:40 remove said stickers… and so on. Now that I think of it, that’s kinda how life with a toddler is in general amiright?
- Sticker books (duh)
- 2 favorite books
- A couple new books (simply wrapped for the thrill of it all)
- Triangular crayons + paper (I also bring tape to tape the paper to the tray table)
- Dollar store treasures individually wrapped to be doled out sloooooooowly
- Play dough (if it hits the ground its bye bye for the dough)
- I’ve also been loving Wendy’s Kids Meals, ahem I mean Wendy’s kids meal toys, lately they’ve consistently been art supplies
- magnetic drawing boards for younger toddlers
- older toddlers may like things like travel bingo
- water paints
- busy books
- kids headphones for chill music or books on tape from your local library/overdrive
- and at the very very very last moment, an iPad or phone to watch shows
This bit is as much for you parents as it is for your kids. Traveling with a toddler is an endurance race, you both need fuel, and for at least one of you, that fuel, is also a delicious activity. You can’t count on food being an option on an airplane anymore these days, so pack some treats and some actual meal items. You can easily buy things at the airport but they are SO EXPENSIVE, hello $6 water, so try to pack your own, but remember, TSA CAN and often WILL limit sizes of non breast milk liquid-ish items such as yogurt/applesauce etc. though I’ve made it through more often than not.
- squeeze yogurts- choose the resealable pouches and consider freezing them the night before. Makes them less messy and they can keep other stuff cold too.
- Quesadillas, surprisingly good cold.
- granola bars or similar
- I generally eschew goldfish crackers, but, goldfish crackers
- string cheese (packed near the yogurt)
- Turkey Rollups
- Clean fruits, like sliced apples or grapes or mandarin oranges (yay activity!), **berries become messy FAST
- Hard boiled eggs (in the shell cuz that’s an activity too)
- cereals or puffs in a spill free snack trap.
- Worth noting: aim for salty rather than sweet items, you DO NOT want a sugar high/crash on an airplane (or ever really)
- also remember: milk is NOT served on planes, if you have a milky kid, be sure to bring a couple little single serving milk boxes/bottles.
** reminder! Milk is generally NOT served on planes, so if you have a milky kid, be sure to pack a couple single serving milk boxes/bottles.
And there you have it folks! 6 painless tips get you up up and away! As always, I’d love to hear your ideas… I’m always looking for ways to make my life (and yours) a little easier!
Thanks for reading!