Toddlerhood’s a real trip! The tantrums, the cuddles, the utter whiplash of big milestones and even bigger emotions. We get it. There’s a reason why each toddler year has an “endearing” nickname: Terribly Twos, Three-nagers and, of course, F*&kin Fours! We try to plan fun activities and occasional cool trips with our families and we’re always on the lookout for ways to survive (and maybe even enjoy) long flights and tricky, sticky situations. Air travel with a toddler can be an adventure in and of itself! Here are 16 tips we use with our own little ones to make sure everyone gets to their final destination sane(ish) and happy! (hottest tip: gin. gin is always the answer.)
1st tip: get on last! I repeat: Get. On. Last. Yes, I know they allow pre-boarding. So if you’re travelling with another adult, send them ahead with the bags. But even if you are solo-travelling with your toddler, give yourself that extra time outside of the plane. You don’t want to be out of tricks right around the time the cabin doors close.
Run, run, run! Move a LOT in the airport before boarding, between connecting flights and even as you wait for luggage. Let your kids push their umbrella stroller or race you in a corner. Some airports even have kids’ play areas. Check their websites before you fly. Get those wiggles out and go, go, go!
Basically, you need to plan in 5 minute increments. Know that some activities or toys may work for 12 and a half minutes and some for less than 2. Seconds. You will never know in advance. Better to have a long list of left-over fun things you could have done than to be out of ideas halfway through your flight.
Use a backpack instead of a diaper bag. This keeps your hands free to catch runaway toddlers or quickly grab snacks and diapers. It also keeps you balanced and light on your feet. If your toddler is over 2, throw a small backpack on them as well. They can carry a snack or a few toys and they will love feeling like a “big kid.”
Personally, we adore Love Taza’s recent luggage collection at Target – affordable, colorful, and super kid-friendly!
Only bring toys on the plane that you don’t mind losing if they drop under a seat or get lost during a layover. You don’t want to be on your hands and knees searching frantically under a seat for a can’t-live-without favorite.
Some people suggest getting up and walking with your kids during the flight to help distract them. In our experience, this works best before children are mobile. Once they’re toddling around, kids don’t need to know that you can walk on a plane. It can be hard for them to understand why walking’s not allowed at some times, like during takeoff, landing, and turbulence. Even harder yet is trying to explain those rules in the heat of those emotion-charged moments.
Bring a clean t-shirt and snacks for yourself. Hangry and pee-stained is not a good combo for anyone! Even if you think you’ll arrive at your destination sooner than later, granola or fruit bars can keep you going until the next stop, delay or not.
Wear a hoodie with deep (maybe even zippable – is that a word?) pockets. If you pair that with a cute pair of cargo pants, you can load pockets with toys to “find.” Proceed to stuff fruit bars, wipes and tissues in those easy-to-reach spots. Yes, you may look like a pack mule, but easy access is the key here. Remember to wipe down the tray before using it but also know your toddler may just as easily turn and lick the window… just ’cause!
If you’re just not that into cargo pants, New York Mag’s The Strategist recently published a round-up of awesome travel pants for women ranging from $45 to $why-would-I-pay-that.
If anyone offers to move (bless their heart) or there’s a couple of empty seats at the back, ask for them. Your toddler will love having more space to themselves and a tray to line blocks and toys on. The more space you have, the better for everyone.
Download a couple of videos or use Netflix offline – but remember that distraction may only work for 2 minutes at a time. Don’t forget to lock your phone on Guided Access so they don’t accidentally delete all the Christmas photos from forEVER (or send an oddly worded text to your boss).
There’s a lot to see in an airport and on planes. People usually chat with cute kids so your kid may end up feeling super stimulated. This can mean they nap hard or it can mean they stay awake for 10 hours straight. Plan for the awake option and be grateful if the nap option wins!
Wait to order drinks on your flight unless your toddler’s asleep or someone else can hold the cups on their tray (not next to you). It’s all within much-too-easy reach. We get it – mama needs her wine. But a wine-stained outfit and grumpy parent doesn’t set a super positive tone for the flight. On the other hand, a few empty plastic cups from the flight attendant for your toddler to play with can be a real lifesaver!
Before you go, make sure to get travel meds and vaccinations as needed. Bring a travel kettle if you need to boil water for formula and a travel laundry detergent if you won’t have access to laundry for an extended period of time.
Pack as many diapers as you think you could possibly need on the plane… and then pack 10 more. Diarrhea, blow-outs, pee marathons – they all seem to get saved up for those tricky times when you can’t access more diapers and wipes.
For sure these tips help prepare for the worst-case scenario, but planning ahead goes a loooong way. Chances are things will go smoothly, your child will nap most of the flight, you’ll be offered free wine, and chat up a cute seat partner (we’ve never actually experienced this, but we’ve heard it’s possible…). But on the off-chance that you’re like most mamas out there with a toddler and your hands full, it will be okay – take a deep breath and remember – you’ll be there soon enough!