I am constantly peppered with questions on how to travel with a toddler. Our son has been on over 30 flights in his first 2.5 years, so he is already a seasoned traveler but it didn’t come without some trials along the way. Here are our top tips for flying with a toddler (short or long distance).
Get a Window Seat
Choosing a seat is very important when traveling with a toddler. A window seat gives them a little extra room and of course a view to whats happening on the outside world. Our son will keep himself occupied well after takeoff and a good portion of time prior to landing with looking out the window. If your child is still eligible for a free flight without a seat, remember to ask at the check-in counter if it’s possible to keep the middle seat free and once on the plane ask the flight attendants if its possible to move the person in the middle seat if another seat is available. It is always worth asking!
Let your toddler pick a couple of their all time favorite small toys to bring on the plane with you. Also pack some new toys (Dollar store type toys are good for this) to pull out when boredom strikes. We always include a toy airplane and one or two airplane/airport books. Reusable stickers and washi tape are great for long plane rides – they can be played with on the window, tray table and the sticker book. Coloring books, small art projects (gluesticks with pre-cut paper or old magazines to destroy) and little toy animals, cars, dolls. Come up with some new activities, such as travel bingo if your child is old enough or a travel map with items that they need to find on the flight or at the airport. I-spy type games and card games are also fun.
Break out the iPad, iPhone, tablet or other entertainment devices for long flights. I try to keep them out of sight until after take off since they cannot be used anyway. Otherwise you might have a meltdown on your hands. Remember to load the device with new games, movies or TV shows as a surprise. Don’t forget the headphones (we love these as first headphones)!
Pack LOTS of Food
Do not count on airlines providing you with meals or snacks for your toddler. If your child is in their own seat, they will be given a meal, but those meals almost never arrive at a time when your child is actually hungry. Pack enough meals and snacks for the duration of the flight and extras for unexpected delays. Also remember to include water and milk as many airlines no longer carry milk. Favorites on our trips include: seaweed snacks, carrot sticks, crackers, gold fish, pretzels, fruit, dry cheerios (make into a necklace or better yet, let them make it themselves!), cheese and trail mix. Meals that last well include beans (chickpeas, black beans, etc) and rice, pasta, couscous, vegetarian chicken nuggets, etc.
Make Use of the Aisles
Before your flight, let your toddler walk and run around the airport as much as they want. They have lots of energy that needs to be used up somewhere. If you happen to be abroad, many international airports have small play areas for children. While on the plane, spend time letting your child walk up and down the aisles. They need to keep their little bodies moving and so do you. Even though it’s crowded we always go to the bathroom together just for an adventure and we take walks around to see what the flight attendants are doing.
Pick the Best Flights
Direct flight or make a stop over? Red eye or a day time flight? You know your child best and what type of sleeper s/he is. From our experiences, I suggest direct flights for 6 hrs or less. But for flights of 10 hours or more, it often makes sense to break the journey up, unless it is a red-eye flight. Red-eye flights are useful to save time, but if you or your child do not sleep well on a plane, you might take day time flights instead. If you do take a red-eye, make sure to plan lots of fun activities for your child before the flight and if possible to not put them to bed until the flight. It’s also helpful to know you will have a helping hand at the other end when you are both exhausted from lack of sleep on a red-eye flight!
It is tough for toddlers who are used to sleeping on their own and in their own beds to get comfortable in airplane seats. Try to stick to your normal schedule, but don’t wear yourself out trying to make something happen that isn’t working. Our son rarely takes his nap on flights, but will always sleep on red-eye flights. Our top tip is to bring a light blanket that can be draped over the seat in front and your own seat to provide a tent. This helps block out light and give a private space for your child to sleep. Also grab a few extra blankets and pillows to cushion the seat belts and gaps in the seats to provide a little bed for your toddler. Remember to bring all of your child’s regular sleeping cues (lovies, blanket, sleep sheet, pacifier, etc). Conduct your regular sleeping routine just as if you were at home. This helps them realize it is time to sleep.
Pack A “Flight” Bag
This bag will include many of the things listed above (sleep aids, food, toys), but will also include a change of clothes for your toddler, an extra shirt for yourself, a long sleeve/hoodie in case it is cold on the flight, diapers (if needed), wipes and old muslin burp cloths for messes. You will also want to include your headphones, a long-sleeve and any other travel essentials for yourself.
Our son loves having his own little backpack or suitcase to be in charge of. We use the bag for his necessities and toys. It gives him a sense of ownership over his things and helps keep him focused when moving through the airport. He also enjoys packing it up before landing, which always helps whittle away a little more time! See our tips on what to include in your toddler’s carry-on bag.
Most important of anything when flying with a toddler or alone is patience. It is exhausting entertaining a toddler in a small space for a long amount of time. Be patient and don’t plan on getting time to read magazine, books or watch a movie. When you try to do your own thing is when you find yourself easily frustrated at their constant interruptions!
Good Luck & Safe Travels!
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