Flying with a toddler can be a fun yet exhausting experience. I have flown several times with my children when they were babies and toddlers, from ages 6 months old and up. I think the hardest age is from 2-4 years old. At this age, the airline requires them to have their own seat and they have to be buckled during take off and landing. For me, it was easier when they were babies and I could hold them the whole time. Planning ahead and being prepared is definitely the best way to help them and those around you to be relaxed and enjoy the trip.
These tips will save your sanity when flying with a toddler:
1. If possible, don’t book the flight at a time when your toddler is naturally tired or cranky. It can be really hard to get them to fall asleep during their usual nap or bedtimes. I learned this the hard way. Unless you have a child that falls asleep easily no matter where you are, it’s better to fly during their happy and alert times of day. The over-stimulation caused by the noise, lights, and people can make it hard for them to relax and fall asleep. If they get overly tired, they are more likely to have a tantrum or get cranky.
2. Get a diaper backpack that’s easy and comfortable to carry around. We love our diaper bag backpack. It has tons of pockets on the outside and inside. It’s great for any type of travel, but especially when flying with a toddler or baby. It’s much more comfortable and easy to carry through airports and on outings than a traditional diaper bag.
3. Make sure you have the basics: sippy cups, binkies (if they still use one), a favorite small blanket, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, and a change of clothes. If there are any other small comfort items, bring that too. I like to fill two sippy cups with water or juice so they are ready whenever I need them. You are allowed to take bottles or sippy cups with liquid in them through security but they will want to test the liquid inside (only takes a few seconds). When my son was one and used binkies, I always made sure I had a couple extra stashed in an inside zipper pocket in his diaper bag. I also love those clippys that you attach to the handle of the pacifier and clip the other end on their clothes. It helps them not get lost and stay clean.
4. Bring lots of snacks. Pack a couple favorites and surprise them with something new. I love the Munchkin Snack Catchers (Amazon Affiliate Link) to hold my toddlers snacks. He can easily get his hand in there to grab them but they don’t spill out. It’s an amazing toddler product that has made my life easier. Some of our favorite toddler snacks are Ella’s Kitchen Nibbly Fingers, Gerber Graduates Cereal Bars, a small box of raisins, animal crackers, goldfish crackers, pretzels, dry cereal, and fruit snacks. Don’t forget sippy cups or juice boxes.
5. Bring a variety of activities that are easily packed and transported. Some of our favorites are in my 10 Quiet Activities for Busy Toddlers article. Also, it can be fun for them to have a surprise little present of a new small toy or activity. The Dollar Tree or Target dollar spot is great for this. I have found little coloring book travel packs that have a small book and a few crayons, stickers, books, or small toys.
One of the best things we have done is to put several apps on our kindle and ipad that my toddler loves. Smart phones are great for this too. There are a lot of baby and toddler friendly apps that are free or really cheap. My son especially likes Pixel Envisions puzzle games. These are simple puzzles where they drag over a picture and match it to the cut out space where it belongs. After they match the puzzle pieces, balloons fly up that they can pop. It makes really fun sounds too. They are worth the extra $1.99 to unlock all the puzzles. There are a few different themed puzzle games available. He also loves the Video Touch apps by SoundTouch Interactive. The free ones are decent, but we loved them so much I bought a couple as well to unlock a lot more videos. They have a theme like “Vehicles”, “Animals”, or “Bugs and Insects”. You click on a picture and it plays a quick video that’s a few seconds long with whatever you clicked on doing something interesting. For more ideas on toddler and preschooler apps, read my article 11 Favorite Preschooler Learning Apps.
6. Try to stay calm in moments of fussiness. When flying with a toddler, sometimes they are too overstimulated or too tired for any of the above tips to work. If you get lucky, they’ll crash and fall asleep. If not, try singing softly, talking gently, or ignoring the fit. It’s stressful in the moment, especially when stuck on a plane with strangers, but it will pass. Try to keep your cool. Listen to music with headphones in one ear so you can hear the music but you can still listen for problems with your child. Sometimes you just need to tune out for a minute, decompress, take a deep breath, and try again.
Do you have any favorite tips and tricks for flying with a toddler?
You might also enjoy my article My Favorite Way to Stop Toddler Tantrums.