Once your baby is officially toddling, traveling becomes interesting. It begins with chasing them in the opposite direction of your departure gate and getting them to sit still to buckle up to opening and closing the tray table a hundred times and sharing partially chewed food with your neighbor. Challenging, yes, but it is not impossible. The financial burden of paying for your 2+ year old’s seat is offset by the space, Since your child will still want to sit/climb all over you, having the extra seat and floor to spread out will feel like first class. Ok, not really, but it is much better.
Tips for Traveling with a Toddler:
- Time: It’s a given, but you will need extra time to get through airport security.
- Identification: Check with your specific airline on their identification requirements for children. You need to provide proof (birth certificate) if they are a lap child under 2 years old. Otherwise, it varies.
- Boarding: If you have assigned seats and do not need to use the storage bin above your seat, wait until the end to board. Let your child continue to run, jump and climb as they will be confined for longer than they are used to. You may experience up to 30 minutes or longer prior to takeoff and taxiing after landing. It is during these times when my kiddo tends to lose it. If you are traveling on Southwest and have a boarding pass in the B or C group, they allow families with small children to board immediately after the A group. Stand to the side near the ticket agent and wait for the announcement.
- Seating: It’s all about the window seat for your child and the middle for you. If you’re traveling with 3, then the whole row! More than three, take two rows parallel and put your toddler in the second row (for example: 22 ABC and 23 ABC: toddler goes here). The full row across may sound like a good idea, but playing peek a boo between/above seats is easier than across the aisle. Also, when your child is kicking the seat in front of them, it’s family not a glaring stranger.
- Snacks: Did I mention snacks? Even though your child just ate a full meal, they will inevitably “need” snacks. My favorites: apple sauce pouches, Annie’s Organic Crackers, Pirates Booty, Little Duck Organics (freeze-dried fruit/veggies) Bobo Bars or similar granola/fruit bars (look for low sugar). In a separate location, I will hide fruit snacks (Little Duck’s are made with real fruit/veggie juice and have probiotics) for real meltdowns/emergencies.
- Milk: I was going to recommend brining boxed milk (like Horizon Organic) in a ziplock in your carry on, but I’ve run into too many issues to give you the approval. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Depends on the airport. Also, I was recently informed by a nice TSA employee that once your baby is “toddling” (ie. walking and talking), bringing milk or water through security is no longer allowed. You will need to purchase from a vendor past the security checkpoint. That said, I recommend finding milk (if your kiddo is a milk guzzler like mine) prior to boarding. I’ve been on two flights recently that did not have milk because they were not restocked properly, but offered Sprite or cranberry juice. Hmm.
- Potty Time: Diapers and wipes. If you’re potty training, bring additional outfits and be sure to have an aisle seat for quick exits. The new environment will cause distractions and accidents, unfortunately.
- Entertainment: The hardest part. Will your toddler suddenly hate their favorite toy or refuse to read any of the books you packed? It’s possible. So, pack a variety and ideally “new” activities, but only what you can manage. A list of favorites from myself and friends:
- Reusable sticker pads (princesses, vehicles, animals, etc.)
- Crayons & coloring books
- Melissa & Doug, Water On-the-Go Coloring Books
- Books with lift flaps/activity built in
- Blue painters tape: Tape the paper to the tray, make shapes, or simply let them play with a long piece.
- Your child’s favorite small toys. Mine is matchbox cars.
- Check out the dollar store or $1 bin at target for many of these items. Wrap them in tissue paper to allow your child to burn time opening them.
- Swaddle blanket to play peek-a-boo/build a mini fort (over their head)
- Last, but not least, Technology. A few educational apps or shows will save the day in an emergency. I like Peek-A-Boo Animals, nursery rhymes and puzzles. Boundin’ by Pixar is a 5 min short film with a nice lesson.
- On the plane: The plastic cups make for great rattles. Ask for a lid and a couple cubes of ice (if you don’t mind a little water) or fill with a few snacks and shake, shake, shake. Use the inflight magazines to search for dogs, cars, flowers, etc. And, they all seem to love the safety procedures card. It’s dirty, but so is whole airplane. Wipe their hands down periodically throughout the flight with a baby wipe.
- Bag: A crossbody bag or backpack is key to traveling a toddler. At some point, you will be chasing them. I now pack a few of my toddler’s snacks and toys in his backpack, leaving room in my bag for diapers, wipes and my essentials. You most likely will have to carry them both, but it provides more room for bringing everything you’d like.
- Naps: It’s best to plan your travel around nap times – as in, fly before or after your scheduled nap time, if possible. Very rarely will mine sleep on a plane even if it close to nap or bedtime. They become wired and a little crazy.
- Car seat: Most people opt to bring, as it’s safer, cheaper and more convenient. However, the convertible car seats are heavy, bulky and hard to manage with a toddler. If you bring it with you, invest in a wheeled carrier. I still leave mine at home as I frequently fly solo with my son and use our rental car company or sites like Baby’s Away to rent gear at my destination.
- Strollers: I still check mine, but I can see how a lightweight/umbrella stroller can come in handy, especially if you’re traveling near/around nap time or are running late and you need to strap your little one in a sprint through the airport. Gate check it right before you depart.
- Meltdowns: We’ve all been there. Take a deep breath, don’t apologize and speak calmly to your antsy/exhausted/overstimulated babe. Remember you have hidden fruit snacks and new special toys to distract them. You will land soon and you will (most likely) never see any of the passengers again.
You made it!
As always, please add your own favorite tips below. Next up, traveling with a newborn and a toddler internationally… Will report back in August!