How to Fly with Toddlers

My oldest son has been on over 100 flights to date (he’s 6). I stopped counting at 60, so this is my best guess.

When our second son Noah joined us, we didn’t stop travelling. It got 80% more difficult, yet we still persevered.

We thought one toddler was a handful. Imagine two?! The first time we travelled across the continent as a family the boys were 1 and 2 years old. Likely the WORST age to travel. Despite the craziness, we managed to log several thousand miles and hundreds of hours in airports and on planes. Malcolm Gladwell would say we are experts at this now, so I thought I’d share our travel tips.

Here is my airport and flight prep checklist:

  • Change of clothes. Pack two changes of clothes and pajamas regardless of expected travel time.

  • Comfy clothes. Who cares how they look. I once saw a fashionista momma who had her four kids all dressed up for a long flight. Poofy dresses, tight jeans, fancy shirts and slicked back hair even for an adult on a 6 hour flight isn’t fun. Respect the child in them!

  • Breastfeeding items. For newborns (breast feeding momma’s), bring spare bra pads, a change of clothes for momma and at least three sleepers for the baby. Newborn poop leaks, if you didn’t already know.

  • Bottle feeding items. For bottle fed babies, bring 2-3 sterilized bottles. Prepack the formula (I used a formula dispenser) and, where you can, your own bottled water.

  • Baby wipes. Baby wipes and a change pad (I used the Skip Hop travel change pad.) Airplane and airport restrooms are dirty!

  • Diapers. This isn’t the place for fancy cloth diapers (sorry momma’s). Pack enough disposable diapers that would last your journey. My rule of thumb is to 2x the amount of diapers I would normally need, especially for newborns. And note, most airlines do not allow you to change a diaper on the seat so you have to use the tiny bathrooms — so bring disinfecting wipes too.

  • Hand sanitizer. Pack a small bottle of hand sanitizer (I use the GermX spray natural hand sanitizer).

  • Snacks. For toddlers, lots of cut up healthy snacks, water and/or juice. Airplane food is extremely salty and not a very healthy option for kids, let alone anyone, so avoid feeding your kids that food. Plus if you’re at the back of the plane and your kid is hangry, you’ll have to wait until the food cart reaches you, which could take a looooong time – they serve the front first. With my kids, they like to snack more on the plane than to eat a meal, likely because they get bored fast. So by preparing some healthy snacks before you leave, you can fill in some time by letting them graze. Cut up apples, a banana, some low-sodium crackers, cheese, and veggie straws.

  • Sippy cups. Pack cups with spill proof lids (use the Born Free sippy cups with straw). Bring empty one’s with you and fill up at the water fountain in the airport or top up with the water from your water bottle. Avoid buying water bottles #savethewhales.

  • Entertainment. For toddlers, if you’re OK with screen time, download tons of educational games, shows and music on their iPads/tablets. If not, go to the dollar store and grab some crayons and coloring books. Keep them occupied, especially suing takeoff and landing where nerves and eardrums become another issue.

  • Headphones.  I like the sound control headphones so they don’t blow out their eardrums.

  • Comfort toys. Never forget their blanket and stuffed animal, pacifier or small item that helps to comfort them.

  • Travel Playdough. A little pack of playdough keeps little fingers busy and helps to develop motor skills. Great tip thanks to Julie of Mothers Quest.

  • Duplicates of photo ID. Photocopy of their passports\ID.

  • Passports or photo ID. Their passports. Regardless of the rules in your country, it’s always good to have photo ID of your kids for safety reasons. So if you don’t need a passport, consider any alternatives that include an up-to-date image of your kid(s).

  • Notarized letter. If you’re travelling solo with your kids for any lag of the trip, get a notarized letter for each of the spouses. I had one but never had to use it, however I have had some friends that did. It’s a precautionary thing some TSA agent or border guards/customs person may request to verify the child’s identity and guardianship. With the increasing incidents of child abductions, including custodial abduction and illegal trafficking of children for child pornography and prostitution, it is a mandatory document these days.  Here are the Canadian standards, and the US templates.

  • Medication. Keep all necessary medication on you. DO NOT check it. Bags get lost all-the-time and that last thing you need is to scramble to fill a prescription in an unknown country.

  • Gravol. Great for kids who have sensitive tummies. As for the ‘sleep effect’, it works 70% of the time, but don’t rely on it to put your kid to sleep. It can cause restlessness too. I experienced that the first time and it was c-r-a-z-y!

  • Car seats. You can use a certified car seat on a plane, if you pay for the seat. We have never used it and truthfully, I don’t see many people using them. It’s a lot to pack and manipulate. But if your momma gut says to, then do it.

  • Nap timing. Time your naps according to your travel plan. Most kids tend to sleep on planes (I’ve been on hundreds of flights so I know this!), so push back or move ahead nap times in order to accommodate that down time.

  • Don’t pre-board. Pre-board — NO!  Let your kids actively run around the airport to get some of their toddler restlessness out of the way. If you’re travelling with your husband, wife, nanny or friend, get them to pre-board to take advantage of the overhead bins and set up the kids stuff while you let your little ones run around.

  • Pee break before boarding. Bathroom break right before boarding. Always!!!

  • Breastfeed/feeding strategy. Breastfeed/feed 80% of the feeding right before boarding. You may not likely be able to feed during take off so make sure your baby is comfortable during that 20-30 min period. Save the remainder of the feeding for cruising altitude to comfort the baby and, hopefully, put him/her to sleep.

  • Strollers. Use one in the airport until they are about 2.5 years old, after which let them walk! (unless you have tight connections and need to hustle between flights, then pack a stroller, you’ll need it!).

  • Special needs. If your child has any special needs, please inform the cabin crew as you’re boarding and mention any conditions or needs to your surrounding passengers. By informing anyone early on will allow them the time to change seats or make accommodations as needed. There is nothing worse than being stuck next to a grumpy old man while you need someone to help you hold your baby!  I’ve held a newborn a few times during a transatlantic flight to allow the mother to eat. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • Momma’s entertainment. For momma’s, don’t forget your headphones and your charged up Kindle/eReader. I always advocate for the Kindle over a book as it’s lighter, takes up less space, and can be used with one hand.

  • Battery packs. Using your phone, tablet or laptop for entertainment? Charge up before take off and bring a battery pack! We use the MyCharge charger as it comes with both an Apple® Lightning™ cable and an integrated micro-USB cable - perfect for charging your Kindle and iPad/iPhone/new Mac.

  • Change of clothes. Don’t forget a change of clothes for you too! Totting babies and toddlers around you’re sure to end up with juice or something sticky on you. I always pack a black long sleeve and change of bottoms (light leggings will do).

  • Choose your battles. Ohhh this one is SO real! This is the time to just let somethings go as a parent. On a plane there is no privacy. Your screaming child affects all those around you. And while you might have the I-dont-give-a-sh*t attitude about the other passengers, they DO give a sh*t. Perfect example: On a flight to Utah (see next point below), Max kept kicking the seat in front of him. He was squirmy and restless (I don’t blame him). Despite my best effort, he wouldn’t stop. I felt SO bad for the lady in front of him. After 45 mins of me putting in my best effort to stop him, she finally turned around and screamed at him. AT HIM. Screamed. Of course I was mad at her with how to she reacted, but when I look back at the situation, I realize that there were things I should have just let him have, see, eat to keep him calm.

  • Delays happen, a lot! Remember, delays happen. So your 2-hour flight could turn into a 10-hour journey. Prepare for that! We were once heading to Utah from the east coast and with flight delays and cancelled flights, it took us 24-hours to finally reach our destination. This was when the boys were 1 and 2 years old. Thank God we were prepared — food and clothes-wise at least.

There are likely some tips and tricks I have missed, so please feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Safe travels!