Tips for Traveling with a Toddler: What I Learned Over 18 Months
By Maddie Porter | March 30, 2020 | Flights from Home
Did you ever fly with your little one as an infant? Okay, so take that experience and magnify it by the tiny-tornado capabilities of a toddler with heightened awareness and less patience than your once-snuggly baby, and there you have it.
Traveling with a toddler comes with a whole new set of challenges, but here’s a list of tips that will hopefully make your experience less chaotic!
FLY DURING NAP TIME
Though it may not always be feasible, selecting your flight based on your toddler’s nap schedule gives you a better shot at a smoother flight experience! If you can’t get a flight during nap time, the next best option is to select a flight time coinciding with the time of day your child is usually happiest!
This one probably goes without saying, but whenever you have the option, choose the nonstop flight. Eliminating the layover will eliminate stress.
TAKE CHEAP NEW TOYS
Rather than taking their favorite toys, consider buying a few cheap toys on Amazon (or from the dollar store) that you wouldn’t mind losing, because odds are, you’ll lose them. Introducing *new* toys on the flight will keep your little one entertained because, well, they’re new — and that’s exciting! Thus, eliminating the possibility of a meltdown over the tragic loss of any favorite items.
PACK EXTRA OUTFITS FOR BOTH OF YOU
It goes without saying that you should always have a change of clothes on hand for your little one. Personally, I always pack an extra outfit for each of us in the bottom of the diaper bag (usually just some leggings and a t-shirt for me to save space). Toddlers have minimal control over their little bodies, and because you are sharing such a small space, anything on them is likely to get on you, too.
BRING DISINFECTANT WIPES
Bringing disinfectant wipes is great practice regardless of who you’re traveling with, but even more so when you’re traveling with a toddler. Wipe everything down before you sit. I’m talking seats, arm rests, seat belts, tray tables, everything. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did when in the split second you took to grab something from your diaper bag, you turn to see your child licking the arm rest.
DOUBLE CHECK A PACKING CHECKLIST
Lots of times as parents are so hyper-focused on making sure we remember every little thing to pack for our little ones, we forget the essentials for ourselves. Before heading to the airport I always double check a generic packing checklist to make sure I’m not missing anything for me. Even though I don’t usually need everything on their list, it always reminds me of anything I’m missing.
GATE CHECK YOUR CAR SEAT + STROLLER
Controversial in the world of traveling parents but let me tell you why I recommend gate checking these items over checking them at the ticket counter when you get to the airport. Not only will keeping them with you make navigating the airport with all of your other belongings easier, it also means fewer opportunities for your car seat + stroller to be mishandled and broken.
I know, now that they’re toddlers it isn’t as easy as a car seat/stroller combo. Since my little one outgrew her carrier car seat, I’ve invested in a car seat travel bag with straps that allows me to wear it like a back pack — making her car seat easy to transport. The bag is also padded, adding an extra level of protection!
CAR SEAT TRAVEL BAG
One of my favorite items — here is a car seat travel bag with straps that will allow you to wear it like a back pack — making your car seat easy to transport. I recommend this item regardless of when you check your car seat. If you check it at the ticket counter, it’s added protection to make sure your car seat doesn’t get damaged. If you check it at the gate, the travel bag gives you the option to wear your car seat like a backpack.
INVEST IN A CAR SEAT SPECIFIC FOR TRAVELING
When my daughter outgrew her baby carrier car seat, I (very naively) tried to take her new car seat with us — I’m convinced there has never been a 23-pound handle-less item more difficult to transport. If you’re going to take more than one trip with a car seat, I recommend the Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat. It passes the same safety tests as other similar car seats, and only weighs seven pounds.
My holy grail of traveling — this is a great way to maximize space for your kids to spread out and play. Easily inflated and you can adjust it to the exact height of the seat to give them a nice level space to play. You can check it out here.
MOUNTAIN BUGGY BAG RIDER
This item is pricier, but the best money I've spent as a mom to an 18-month-old since we travel so often. It’s a practical alternative if you’re leaving the stroller at home. You simply attach it to your carry-on suitcase, and strap your little one in. It’s a huge hit with my daughter every time. You can learn more about the coolest parent travel hack here!
Taking a copy of your little one’s birth certificate isn’t typically required by airlines, and it’s not a hard and fast rule, but TSA can require you to have it. Just print a copy to fold up and keep in your wallet or diaper bag — you’ll never know when you might need it, and you don’t want to be stuck without it.
TAKE AN EMPTY SIPPY CUP
Gone are the days of getting away with taking milk through security — ugh! Taking an empty sippy cup through security is the next best thing. Buy a drink on the other side of security to pour into your little one’s sippy cup to reduce the possibility of a spill — or even use the water bottle stations available in most airports. Here’s my favorite cup for traveling with toddlers!
WHAT TO TAKE OUT OF YOUR DIAPER BAG BEFORE SECURITY
Make sure to remove your wipes + any baby food pouches from your diaper bag before sending it through the scanner. It’s a lot easier for you to do it — otherwise, TSA workers will pull everything out of your diaper bag leaving it a mess for you to repack.
DIAPER CHANGE BEFORE BOARDING
If your little one isn’t potty-trained, 15-20 minutes before boarding, run to the family restroom for a diaper change. Trying to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom is nearly impossible — pure chaos. Just trust me on this one.
DOWNLOAD MOVIES BEFORE YOU GO
Make sure to download your Netflix and Disney+ movies to your devices before you go. Even if you buy the wifi available on the aircraft, often times the streaming for those services isn’t great — don’t depend on it. Bonus tip: Save the movies as a last resort. Entertain your little one in every other way possible, that way by the time you have to bust out the movies, you can almost guarantee they will be occupied until you land!
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PRE-BOARDING
Each airline does things a little differently, but I have yet to travel on an airline that doesn’t offer pre-boarding for families with young children. Pre-boarding will give you the extra time you need to get settled without worrying about holding up other passengers behind you.
Specific to Southwest (or any airline with open seating), another reason to take advantage of pre-boarding is that you’ll have access to better seating.
GETTING READY FOR TAKEOFF
Before takeoff, make sure you have toys and snacks at the top of your bag to make them easily accessible throughout the flight — digging through a diaper bag during your flight is not easy to do!
THE AIRPLANE RESTROOM IS YOUR FRIEND
I never imagined I’d say that, ever, but here I am. Though airplane bathrooms aren’t ideal for diaper changing, when your restless toddler has had enough, it’s the perfect place for you. It’s the only space where they can be as loud as they want without bothering anyone. Just make sure to bring disinfectant wipes to wipe down the changing table + sink first!
Sometimes it’s inevitable, no matter how well your toddler travels, at some point they are going to break down. I always have earplugs on hand to offer to those around me for those times my little one is completely inconsolable. It completely changes the mood from people being frustrated and annoyed because they realize you care, and you’re doing the best you can.
No, really, bring treats. You likely won’t forget to bring food for your small human cargo, so don’t forget to bring your own snacks either! Heaven knows you don’t want to stop for snacks after going through security (and you’ll go without before making an extra stop). Just do yourself the favor of packing them ahead of time!
Finally, relax. Your toddler will sense your stress and they will mirror it right back to you — in the form of acting out and throwing fits. Just be as prepared as you can be using the tips above, and above all else — remember to breathe through it!