As much as I love to travel with my family, flying with a toddler is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. After flying frequently with my five kids for the past 13 years, I have learned a few things to ease my anxiety and make travel a little smoother. Good preparation goes a long way to making your travel experience as pleasant as possible.
Did you know you can take a bottle or sippy cup with milk, formula, or juice through security? Offer it to the TSA officer at security and it will be tested for chemicals. You don’t have to dump baby’s favorite drink just before boarding! Also, if you need to mix a warm bottle on the airplane, the flight attendants are happy to give you warm water for a bottle.
When flying with a toddler, I always travel with empty sippy cups or water bottles so when the beverage service comes the kids can get a drink, and I don’t have to worry about it ending up all over them or me. Drinking can help kids’ ears pop on take off and landing, so I always offer plenty of liquids. WARNING: Diapers may fill faster than usual when baby drinks a lot of liquid so check and change often.
Too many toys in the diaper bag weigh you down. Last summer on a flight by myself with my four youngest children, an electric toothbrush kept my 15-month-old son entertained for 30+ minutes. That same flight, my 3-year-old daughter was in heaven sticking band-aids and medical tape all over her baby doll and herself.
If I could choose only one toy when flying with a toddler, it would be stacking cups, such as the The First Years Stack N Count Cups. We love to hide goldfish crackers or fruit snacks under them and let the kids search for them, stack them, name the colors, etc. They also make great bath toys in a hotel room. Wrapping a few new matchbox cars as gifts for a little boy can make the whole flight dreamy. Sticker books are perfect for the older toddler, but babies also love peeling stickers off their arms and noses and sticking them all over you. If you are buying a new book, I suggest a lift-the-flaps book, such as Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book
Airplanes are filled with fun things for babies. Once my baby spent an hour searching for raisins one at a time that I hid in the air sickness bag. A small pack of crayons quickly turns air sickness bags into hand puppets. Ask the flight attendant for a cup with ice and a small straw. Most babies love playing with ice, threading it on a straw, and touching it. Ice can be a choking hazard, so be careful. I also love thumbing through airline magazines, searching for pictures my little ones recognize.
Check out our top 10 travel toys for kids here.
Obviously you want to bring a change of clothes for baby, but consider dressing yourself in layers in case you need to shed one due to spills or excess bodily fluids. My friend’s son threw up all over him, and he ended up wearing his wife’s hoodie for the entire flight. He was so grateful she had tied it around her waist.
As tempting as it is to bring every sweet thing I can think of, I try to avoid too much sugar when flying. My favorite foods that travel well:
- string cheese
- granola bars
- apple slices
- fruit snacks
If you do bring a treat, I learned the hard way that chocolate is too messy for airplanes. I always store a few Dum Dum suckers for emergencies. Having the emergency Dum Dum sucker is like knowing there is a flotation device under your seat—you rarely need it, but are so grateful it is there just in case.
It’s a big debate whether to haul a car seat through the airport and buckle it in to a seat on the plane or just check it to your end destination. I’ve done it both ways. On a flight that isn’t full, it can be heavenly to have an extra seat to buckle baby’s car seat in and set her down once she falls asleep. Babies are used to being buckled in car seats and having free hands to help another child or just rest your arms can be wonderful. However, if you don’t have an extra seat next to you, you will have hauled the car seat through the airport for no reason and will have to gate check it with an agent. For some of my young toddlers, a car seat was perfect to help them stay put. It gave me free hands to interact with them and entertain them.
However, for some of my other children, a toddler car seat was a terrible idea. My son hates to be restrained and he wants to be “big” just like his older siblings. He does better when his little legs can’t reach to kick the seat in front of him and when he has some room to crawl around me. Consider your child’s needs and make your best gamble and hope it works out. I usually travel with the car seat for babies under a year, but when flying with a toddler I usually check the car seat.
Thankfully, flying with a toddler is a bit like childbirth. Once you get to your destination and start enjoying your vacation, you begin to forget the pain of your flight. And every once in awhile, a flight will go extremely well and you will wonder what you were so worried about in the first place. Do you have a great tip that has made your flight with little ones successful? Please share in the comments below!