Travel with Toddlers

Last weekend I flew with my son to see family. While I wish it weren’t the case, we currently live quite far from both sides of our extended family. Long trips with a young child aren’t my ideal, but they are my current reality. As our society becomes more mobile, I’m willing to bet that many of your families are in the same situation. Because I was flying alone with my two-year-old, but determined to make it a pleasant experience for everyone, I did a little reading and planning ahead of this trip. I’ll share a few of my own tips that worked well, as well as some wonderful resources I found.

Fly with your infant. First, I’ll say this. Flying with infants is infinitely easier than flying with toddlers, in my opinion. In general, they sleep much more easily and frequently. They don’t require toys and books and snacks. I wish now that I had travelled more during my maternity leave. If you want to introduce your little one to relatives or take that first family trip, do it now. Many parents ask how old an infant has to be in order to fly. The FAA allows air travel with infants older than one week of age. But, travel does potentially expose young infants to infection. As Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson states in her post on this topic, “Because we take fever very seriously in babies under 3 months of age, we want to avoid infections when possible. Take precautions, wash your hands frequently, and wipe down seat backs, tray tables, and seatbelts on board.”

Now, on to the toddlers.

Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make a list of everything that you need for your carry-on bag and for your checked luggage. Check it twice. If you’re going solo, you might even want to run through in your mind how you’re going to navigate security or board the plane. For more on getting through security and what’s okay to pack in a carry-on, check out the TSA’s “Traveling with Children“.

Explain the trip ahead of time. Much like I wrote previously about doctor’s visits, kids do better when they know what to expect. Outline the trip for them ahead of time, and then narrate your day step-by-step. I really emphasized this for our trip this time, and was amazed by how well it worked. My son seemed to feel more a part of things and there were no surprises. If your child has a lovey or particular stuffed animal they are attached to, bring it along. It can provide comfort and companionship on the plane.

It’s okay to hope for a nap, but don’t expect one. Of course all parents hope that their child will sleep through the flight. But, there are many reasons they may not. It is a new environment, with lots of people, and many things to look at. I have found that if I expect that my son may not nap, and plan activities appropriately, then I am pleasantly surprised if he actually does fall asleep. If, instead, I expect him to sleep, then I spend the flight nervously waiting for that to happen, and feel that I’ve failed if it never does.

Make it fun. This may sound like too much to expect, but I really went into this trip talking up the flight and how much fun it was going to be. And, at least this time, it worked. Get a window seat, if you can, and spend time looking at all of the planes taking off while you taxi to the runway. Bring a new toy for them to open as a surprise. Bring a few favorite books. Find fun new snacks or even a treat that they might not usually get. Make technology your friend. We usually try to limit our little guy’s screen time. But, in my opinion, if Elmo or Mr. Rogers holds their attention during a flight, go with it.

Relax. As much as you can, plan ahead. But, then. . . expect the unexpected. Things may happen that are out of your control. There may be a delay. But, there’s not much you can do about it at that point, and stress won’t help matters any. In addition, your toddler will know you are stressed, and may feed off of it, which just makes a bad situation worse. As much as you can, go with the flow.

For more informatiion check out the always wise Seattle Mama Doc’s post, “Flying with Toddlers: Tips for Distraction, Tips for Tantrums.”

I also recently discovered Alice Callahan’s wonderful blog, “Science of Mom“. Her “20 Tips for Smoother Travel with a Baby or Toddler– Fresh from a Travel-weary Mama” is filled with great ideas.

Finally, fly safe. The Federal Aviation Administration has recommendations for child safety while flying.

Happy travels! What tricks or tips worked for travel with your young children?

6 thoughts on “Travel with Toddlers

  1. Thanks for linking to my post! This is timely for us. We’re traveling with our toddler – on a red eye no less – tomorrow night! This will be a first for us. Fingers crossed for sleep! Otherwise, we have a bag packed full of goodies for a long flight:)

  2. I frequently fly solo with my 20 month old and just turned 4. My main tip is to be willing to ask for held if you need it – from flight attendants first, and other passengers if desperate. My experience has been really positive of others being willing to help me out if things are tricky.

    • I completely agree, Danielle. Contrary to popular belief, I have found both flight attendants and other passengers go out of their way to help out (especially when I’m traveling alone with my son). I would also say that I think it helps to be kind and say hi to those around you early in the flight. I have found they are then more likely to be understanding of any moments of fussiness or crying.

  3. Pingback: Toddler Travel: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned | Science of Mom

  4. Pingback: Happy Holidays from My Two Hats | My Two Hats

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