Tried and true travel tips to keep your toddler happy and mama sane
School is in session, and the burgers and kebabs are still burning on the grill (it wasn’t my fault this time).
If you’re like most families, you might be itching to plan a holiday vacation to a sunny beachside destination or a fun cross-country trip to visit those relatives, you only seem to talk to on Facebook
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There’s just one slightly scary part:
It involves traveling with young kiddos on a plane!
Ahhh!! The horror!!
Oh, I’m just messing with you!
I’ve flown on a couple of overseas flights (10+ hours) and have rocked many domestic flights with kiddos by my side.
And I survived to bring you these pointers.
It is possible to travel with toddlers and babies on a plane with your sanity intact. You just need to be a tad more prepared.
Check out these 12 tips for flying with toddlers and babies from this globe-trotting mama who rocks these tips with a vengeance.
1. Pack as little as possible
Kids are everywhere, no matter what city, state, or country you visit. Do you know what that means? If you realize you need more baby wipes, diapers, or food pouches, you can always snag it at your destination. The same goes for your baby gear.
Why break your back schlepping the car seat, mini high chair, playpen, and kitchen sink when you can easily rent the baby gear? Most baby gear rental companies will even deliver and set it up for you. A total win-win, and I’ve found it cheaper at times than paying the checked luggage fees. Unless you’re going to a third-world country (in that case pack what you need), most things you need will be readily available.
If you need to use your toddler car seat for the airplane, there is an easy to attach mechanism that will strap your child’s car seat to your rolling carry-on suitcase so you don’t have to carry it around (and the baby can still stay in the chair!) You need all the extra hands you can get.
I also highly recommend for travels that you invest in a pee pad. A pee pad is a waterproof seat liner that protects the car seat or stroller from diaper leaks and icky potty-training accidents. Nothing is worse than your child pooing and peeing all over their car seat, and there is no way to clean it out.
Most plane bathrooms are the size of a broom closet, and flight attendants cannot grant access to their food prep area to rinse your child’s unsanitary explosion. I’m sure you can understand.
2. Don’t vaccinate and travel
Like you really want to deal with explosion diapers, fevers, and extra crankiness on your day of travel. Babies and toddlers are forever getting shots. Make sure you book vaccinations at least one week before upcoming trips to avoid potential issues.
I learned this the hard way when my daughter experienced a bout of diarrhea on a road trip one day after her 6-month wellness checkup, which included several shots. Poo was everywhere.
It was like we dipped my husband’s truck in a Coachella port-a-potty. We had to find a gas station to take apart her car seat and hose it down. It was BAD. Learn from my mistakes.
3. Arrive to the airport with time to spare
You know how long it takes just to get out of the car with kids, well imagine checking in, dropping off luggage, going through security, with hundreds of people, then trekking to your gate. You only hope your child doesn’t have a tantrum or accident, which forces you to stop and drop.
You don’t need the added stress of rushing from one spot to the next. It’s not fun to run with toddlers and crap laden on your back like a turtle shell. Carve in plenty of time to arrive at your departure gate peacefully.
4. Master the art of negotiation
Incredibly, you don’t have to pay for children under two years old to fly (if they’re a lap baby). Hosting a baby on your lap who just eats and sleeps typically is easy peasy. Hosting a growing toddler on your lap whose soul sister is a wild chicken, however, can be rough.
If you are flying with a toddler on your lap, don’t fret.
Even if you didn’t buy a seat for your toddler, that doesn’t mean you won’t get one. If you are lucky to have empty seats on a flight, most airlines will try to help families to gain one for their lap kiddos to use.
For domestic flights, we typically use Southwest. Because of its open seating policy, if there is even a single extra seat on the plane, you’ll likely be able to snag it for your child. Just check with the gate agent, bat those eyelashes, smile, and ask nicely. I’ve never heard no, even when traveling during peak travel periods. Not saying that will always be the case, but kindness goes a long way.
With United, Delta, and Alaska, it’s a tad more difficult because you have fixed seat assignments. You can ask the gate agent to rearrange your seats and see if they can leave an empty seat next to where your family is seated, but chances are slimmer. I’d recommend during booking time, arrange for you and your spouse or other kid to sit on an aisle and window seat and leave an empty middle seat in the back of the plane.
Typically, these are the cheaper seats and are less likely to be filled. You might luck out.
5. Split up
Send the hubs, or trusted travel partner, ahead with the carry-on luggage to snag that overhead storage space as you and toddler wait in the gate area. While you’re waiting, get that baby tired! When I’m traveling alone with my toddlers, I only don a backpack that can fit under the seat in front of me. You can check the strollers and car seats at the gate.
6. Embrace technology
I try to limit my toddler’s iPad use to when I shower or when we’re traveling. It’s a special treat for my toddler, and it can entertain her for hours. While I know we don’t want our kids to be glued to electronics non-stop, I think travel is an exception to the rule. If it keeps the kid calm and quiet, I’m game.
Download some kid-friendly movies or fun kid apps in advance that don’t require wifi and let them play away! If you have a Netflix account, this is a fantastic app to have when traveling. You can download their favorite kiddie shows straight to your iPad or phone to watch without streaming.
My 5 Favorite Toddler Apps That Are Free
7. Bring non-electronic activities too
Other toddler airplane activities that we love to use on the airplane is the doodle pro, mess-free color pad and markers, reusable sticker books, and a sandwich bag of matchbox cars and a few mini farm animal toys. Anything mini. These items can easily fit in your purse or backpack.
8. Pack an extra outfit
Your toddler might not be spitting upon herself every hour as she did as a baby, but she can still rival Pig-Pen in the worst way. Don’t forget to pack an extra outfit for the kiddos in your carry-on bag! If you forget, I am sure your kiddo will still look cute, rocking Mom’s scarf like a toga.
9. Bring snacks galore
Toys are great, toys are grand, but nothing makes you happy as snacks in your hand! Veggie straws, fruit pouches, puffs, crackers, bananas, I have them all when I fly. Like a magician, I have an endless number of snacks coming out of my hat.
Just please remember, do not offer sugary sweets or even juice. Nobody wants to deal with a hyped-up toddler at 35,000 feet for several hours. You might never want to travel again.
Oh, and don’t pack those goody bags full of snacks, earplugs, and love letters for those sitting around you. It’s too much. These grown men and women are more than capable of taking care of themselves. If they can’t handle the risk of being on a public plane with a child, they need to invest in a private jet.
10. Book a night flight
Book an evening or red-eye trip whenever possible so your child will be tired enough to rest. If you take a red-eye trip, follow a similar bedtime routine that you do at home. Put on jammies, read a story, and then nurse, or give a cup of milk.
Most flights will have dim lighting on the late evening and overnight trips, but you should still try to cut out as much light as possible (turn off reading lights, lower the window shades, etc.)
11. Be prepared for pressure
Make sure your kiddo’s jaws are in action during takeoff and landing to ease ear pressure discomfort. Whether it’s crunchy snacks, water, pacifier, chewy toys, or singing Elmo’s latest song, you got to make sure she’s gabbing or snacking. Should hopefully be easy, they do it all day long, right?
I always make sure to bring Tylenol or infant ibuprofen in my carry-on, too, just in case my child experiences pain later.
12. Walk it off
It’s hard enough for adults to sit down for several hours, let alone an energetic child. Don’t be afraid to walk the aisles with your kiddo. Just a quick walk up and down the aisle can help prevent your sweetie pie from turning into a screaming demon.
Hopefully, these travel tips will help you feel more prepared, organized, and ready to face the world with minions in tow. Just remember, life is an adventure, and you should embrace it as such.
Even when your husband burns the burgers and kebabs, and your toddler has a tantrum over a broken cracker