Airline Travel with a Toddler- Tips and Tricks

This was formerly on my travel tips page, and in a minor revamp of the blog I decided it deserved a post. During the past year, we have flown internationally five times, four times to Asia. From my experience flying internationally with a toddler, here are my top tips for a smooth and easier travel experience:

1. DON’T PANIC! In the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, these words are on the front cover. This applies so well to traveling with a toddler. Kids pick up on the “vibe” that their parents are giving off. If parents are getting frustrated, angry, stressed, despondent, or any other emotion besides calm, kids are going to notice and begin to act that way as well. For example, we found out we were flying back to the US from Korea only two days prior to our departure date. We were trying to book tickets and pick seats using three separate reservations, so Austin and I were both very busy/stressed. Landon thought it was the perfect time to climb all over us, whine and scream. He doesn’t do this otherwise. So the bottom line is- no matter what, remain calm and collected. This takes practice and self discipline, because being head-butted in the nose for the 5th time is not something that makes me calm.

2. BE PREPARED: Prepare yourself and your child for the journey. Begin talking about going on a LONG airplane ride long before the day of departure. Talk about the process of going to the airport, going through security and finding the big plane. Talk about all the fun things you will do in the airplane, and the fun special snacks, toys and games that will help pass the time. Talk about how they will even get to go to bed on the airplane! How fun! It is amazing the difference between a kid who is well-prepared for the journey and a kid who is surprised with this shocking change of routine. The other side of this is to make sure that as a parent, you have prepared the fun things for the journey. Buy special snacks that will surprise them and make them happy. For younger kids, “pop the bubble” apps on a phone or other device is great, as well as stickers or coloring materials. Just be prepared for each activity to only last a few minutes. Have some fun videos or songs for them to listen to. Because of our frequent travel, we bought our son a Fuhu Nabi 2 tablet for apps, movies, games, puzzles, songs, and books all in one place. We love the tablet and as our son has gotten older, he has been able to use it more and more. Older kids love surprises. I have heard from several people the idea of wrapping up dollar store toys in wrapping paper, and present the toys every so often on a long plane trip or car ride. Bottom line- prepare your child mentally, and prepare your stuff beforehand to help your child pass the time.

3. Think Through Logistics: Airlines typically have limits on the weight of checked baggage. Having a toddler traveling with you means that there is usually less “free” time to redistribute your junk into different bags while checking in. Get a luggage scale to help weigh your luggage. Put all your liquids in one bag in an accessible pocket for security, along with any electronics. Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off. Consolidate baby liquids/applesauce pouches so that they are easily removed for security. Know how to take apart your stroller in case it doesn’t fit in the security screening tube. Think about how your are going to get your car seat (if your kid has their own seat) from check-in to the airplane, and what you are going to do with your kid and all your other bags. Some things we have found that are helpful include: 
  • Stroller: This is my most prized possession. In an airport, we can throw everything on the stroller- our diaper bag, toddler toy bag, stroller bag, and car seat. It is a little mobile vehicle to move through the airport. Traveling with a car seat without a stroller or other system to be able to roll the car seat is very difficult
  • Baby sling/wrap: If your baby is normal sized, wearing your baby is the best way to go! I still bring my stroller so that I put him down occasionally, but for security and getting on the plane, wearing children is easiest. That being said, my child is long and heavy so the time frame where he could actually be worn was smaller than most.
  • Stroller or car seat bags: This is more a matter of preference. We recently invested in a stroller that is more easily messed up without a bag, and is a much bigger investment than our previous stroller. We purchased a stroller bag to keep our stroller safe. The added perk is that there is room in the stroller bag for other things as well- like extra clothes that put our big suitcase over 50 lbs. Car seat bags help to protect the car seat if you are checking it vs. bringing it onboard. We did this when our baby was a lap baby, but now he gets his own seat on the airplane because he is two! Those last few flights as a lap baby, though, I was craving that extra seat and the ability to strap him in!

4. Respond with Kindness: Here we are getting more into parenting tips, but inevitably, kids get grumpy on airplanes. They are confined in one space, it is uncomfortable, and most likely there will be points in the flight where they are tired and over it! To be honest, as an adult I am feeling the same way! Responding in a positive tone and trying to make sure all their needs are met throughout the flight can help to keep these grumpy episodes as short as possible. For example, my son was getting fussy on a flight. I offered him some snacks and he acted much better for a few minutes. After awhile, he was fussy again. Turns out he was tired. I sang him some songs and he played with my hair and eventually fell asleep. Responding in a negative tone will most likely lead to more and more negativity on both sides and will be difficult for everyone. 
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