Traveling with toddlers compared to traveling with a child or baby surprisingly presents many more challenges. A baby on a plane will cry, but a toddler will cry while squirming, kicking, and laying on the plane floor (been there). They are more defiant and energetic at this time of their life, and traveling on a plane with a toddler can be stressful for parents.
By the time they were four, my kids had more frequent flyer miles than most adults. We lived in Florida and now live in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas and our family is on the west coast. As much as we flew and I tried everything to keep them busy, we still had meltdowns, crying, lost shoes, and me crying myself.
Making those long flights were challenging, and I learned a few tricks of flight survival with babies and toddlers.
That being said, toddlers are more difficult to handle when flying or taking a road trip. They have an insatiable amount of energy, and sitting still for long periods at a time presents challenges.
Here is what I found has worked with my four children over the years when flying. And please, mamas, let’s get the idea of mom-shaming out of our heads. Do what you need to as a parent, and do not worry about everyone else, especially on a plane.
Manners for Flying With Toddlers and Kids
Before getting on the plane, a couple of days or so, start talking to your toddler or child about flying. They may be little, but they understand. Teach them that we have to behave on planes and there are things we cannot do. Do not be that parent that allows kids to do whatever and slam the trays, kick the backs of seats, etc. Always teach your kids about manners on a plane:
- We are flying with others that purchased a ticket too. We are to use inside voices on the plane.
- We do not play with the trays or seats around us. Our seat is where we keep our hands, feet, and toys.
- We have to wait our turn sometimes.
- We say please and thank you to the other guests and the flight attendant
- Our feet do not touch the other seats, especially in front of us.
- If we want to listen to the iPad or phone, we must have headphones on so others cannot hear the sound.
Preparing for Traveling with Toddlers on an Airplane
- Download your movies on YouTube videos, Disney+, and Netflix BEFORE you leave for the airport. Try to download a couple of new things for your toddler to keep them entertained. Buy some child-sized headphones to be courteous to the rest of the plane. They do not want to hear baby shark play four million times.
- My best tip, which I discovered on my last flight with my toddler, is to make a file on their iPad, tablet, or your phone with all videos and photos of them. My toddler watched videos of herself and scrolled pictures of our family, our dog, and herself for an hour and a half.
- If possible, apply for TSA PreCheck®. This will save your family a lot of stress going through security and will make your trip with your toddler much more smooth.
What to Pack When Traveling With Toddlers
- Pack items and toys your child has never seen or played with. Start collecting items before your flight, such as: pop-its, figurines, Toobs, stickers (these stickers, a toddler can peel off themselves), notebooks for the stickers, felt boards, and silly face sticker books.
- Purchase items, activities, and toys for the plane that your kids have never seen. The dollar store has tons of little things to pack. This keeps the kids intrigued longer when they haven’t played or seen the items.
- When traveling with toddlers, pack a couple items that are familiar and will make them feel comfortable. A blanket, a travel pillow, or even let them wear comfy jammies on the plane.
- Pack an extra easy slip-on outfit, socks, underwear, and cheap pair of flip-flops. Flip flops? My toddler once lost her shoes in the airport, and those $2.99 extra pair of shoes saved us. Load all this into the bottom of the bag you are putting under your seat. I use a JanSport Backpack to pack all the toddler’s things and my items in one bag. These bags last a lifetime and work better than diaper bags to get everything in and out.
- Pack some snacks like puffs, pretzels, crackers, and cheerios. It keeps your toddler’s jaw moving. I pack Dum Dum lollipops, skittles, and gum for the ear and head pressure from the plane air pressure. This is a known disturbance for children on a plane, and it’s painful for them. I bring some extras of these items for struggling mamas on the plane. It’s an emergency measure, but it’s survival.
- Instead of crayons and markers that fall on the dirty plane floor, order one of these colorful and affordable tablets for drawing and writing. They are affordable and thin and light for your bag.
At the Airport Prior To Your Flight
- If you are traveling with a toddler or baby, most airlines allow you to check your regular car seat travel car seats (make sure you have a durable cover), strollers, baby items, and portable toddler bed (which is the most awesome travel needs for a toddler) at no charge. I suggest checking all these items, including the stroller. Strollers are a pain to get through security. It also gives your toddler a chance to get their sillies out by walking and jumping through the airport.
- Check all your bags, too. Anything you do not need on the plane, check it so you have your hands free for wrangling your toddler.
- Try to get a seat close to the front, Not the very front seats because you have to put your bags in the overhead bin. You want to have easy access to your backpack full of goodies. The front is also close to a bathroom.
- Before getting on the plane, let your toddler walk, jump, and have fun through the terminals while waiting. Take long walks with them. These ride-on suitcases for kids are simply amazing. Get their extra energy out before even loading the plane. If you have assigned seats, do not hurry onto the plane, let people load at least halfway, then load. There is no reason to make your toddler stay on the plane longer than they have to.
Traveling with a Toddler During COVID
If you are traveling with a toddler during COVID, and he/she gets out of hand or will not keep their mask on (if that is still a requirement), recruit help from the attendant. Ask them if they will ask your child to color them a picture or put their masks on.
Sometimes children listen to a stranger better than their parents.
Do not be afraid to ask for help, especially if you are overwhelmed. Even recruit another mom or offer help to a mom nearby. It comes full circle.
Also, have a variety of fun masks for your toddler to choose from. Giving them a choice helps. They can switch it out if needed. If your toddler is snacking or eating, they do not have to have their mask on constantly, too.
Traveling with Toddlers-The Flight
- Reassure your toddler you are with them, and the plane is fun. Getting on a plane full of strangers must be scary to little people. They might act out just because they are frightened.
- After exhausting all entertainment, have your toddler relax for a nap or quiet time, rub their backs, and have them cuddle with you.
- Take the time to play some games with your toddler on the plane. Practice numbers and letters and take the plane ride as a chance for some undivided, unplugged time with your toddler. They will enjoy it and so will the other passengers.
After Your Flight-Travel Resources
Don’t make traveling with toddlers or children more difficult by waiting for hours for your rental car. If you are renting a car at your destination, I HIGHLY suggest Budget Rental Cars Fastbreak Program.
This has saved me hours standing in line with an exhausted baby or toddler. You will not stand in line; you literally grab your keys at a designated location at Budget to your car and go. It’s really that simple, and I am shocked more people do not know about this service!
You Made It!
Traveling with toddlers on a plane can be overwhelming and exhausting, but there are ways to make it easier. It is important for parents traveling with a toddler to have patience and plan to get through the trip without issues.
If you have any tips or tricks for traveling with an infant, baby, or child, I would love to hear them! Give yourself some credit, too; traveling with kids is stressful, and you do your best.
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