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Travel

26 Tips for Flying with Toddlers and Babies.

June 15, 2017

Toddler Travel Tips       

 

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My 2 and 1-year old have flown quite a bit already. At last count, Miles, who will be 3 soon, has been on 28 flights while Violet has been on 13. Most of them have been domestic flights and none of them have been overseas. But we definitely have had time and practice for establishing a system and “best practices” for our time in airports. 

 

Our last flight was maybe the first time I’ve flown with one or both of our little ones and felt like “Hey, we’ve got this!” Mark and the rest of us flew out on separate flights, but went to the airport together and were able to spend our pre-airport time in one of DFW’s airport lounges which made the whole trip a lot more exciting and fun (even for the grownups;-))  . I am that crazy mom that never lets my kids touch the toys in the waiting area or the play area of the restaurant or whatever, but in line with my philosophy about normal household rules being suspended during air travel, I let Miles and Violet play in the kids area of the lounge and they went to town on the fun toys and cushions. 

 

I realized it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about traveling with little guys, but I feel like we do it constantly, so here’s a random collboration of some of my best tips. I’ve also written about flying with infants here and here before, but flying with two toddlers (mostly as a solo parent), is a different ball-game, so it probably merits its own list.

 

I’d love to hear from you – what did I miss in this list? What is your best tip for flying (especially solo!) with little guys? 

 

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Planning

 

1. When traveling, I read somewhere once that the easiest way to deal with schedules and naps when traveling is to stick to a regular schedule as closely as possible and to use the time-zone of the destination.

2. So if we’re flying during naptime, I plan for naps on the plane. It’s a great way to kill time. The caveat is that my babies have always been pretty reasonable about falling asleep on the plane if it’s near naptime or bedtime. If your toddler or baby will not nap on an airplane, then fly early enough to make naptime irrelevant or fly late enough so that they can nap before-hand.

3. Once we land, we use that time zone. So if we fly from Dallas to California and it’s two hours early, bedtime is still as close to 8:00 as I can push it (even though the little guys will feel like it is 10:00). There is obviously always some flexibility here but it helps to have the new time zone as a goal-post and kids normally adjust to a new time zone very quickly. Adding an extra meal or a snack into the day sometimes helps get us to a bedtime that’s later than it should be.

We have never been one of those families that buys the seat for the infant. If you are, you’ll want to bring your car-seat on board instead of your stroller (see below). All of the advice below is applicable mostly if you have an infant-in-lap or an infant-in-lap and a toddler in a seat.

 

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Packing

4. Most airlines will let you carry a dedicated bag for each child for free, plus your personal bag and/or carry-on. My advice? Don’t. Unless you have one adult whose entire purpose is that of a sherpa. The last thing you need when flying with little ones is a ton of stuff to juggle. I normally carry one generously sized personal bag and put everything we need for the flight (AND ONLY THE FLIGHT) in it. Sometimes I tuck a small purse inside so that I can more easily access my wallet and personal things, sometimes not.

Less is more. Unless you are going to be on a looooong flight, be brutally realistic about how much stuff you need in that one bag

5. Essentially, DO carry:

Enough bottles, formula, milk etc. for the actual flight time as well as the pre-boarding and luggage-waiting (and post-airport drive if that’s long).

  • A couple of diapers and wipes
  • An extra onesie or small outfit, because they day you don’t will be the day you have a disaster during take-off. Also, if you have plans immediately after landing, you can easily change their clothes and shed the airplane yuckies without digging into your luggage.
  • A FEW familiar toys for the flight. Wooden bead necklaces, small board books that can be cleaned later, and our Viking vehicles are always a big hit, as well as any naptime toys or blankets that are the norm (if you want the kiddos to nap)
  • Small snacks. It’s easy to go over-board here. Snacks are essential but small kids eat small portions. Bring food that isn’t sticky or ultra-messy. Goldfish, cheerios, pretzles, dried fruit, etc. Double points if they can hold it while they eat.
  • Anti-bacterial wipes. I love these.
  • Empty water containers to fill after security for the little guys. We have these toddler-size Contigo jugs for water. They never leak and even Violet, who refuses to use a straw, likes to use hers.
  • A water bottle for the parent or parents. 
  • A phone charger.
  • Your phone.
  • Headphones if your kiddo will wear them. 
  • A trashbag (see below)
  • An empty ziplock to store anything particularly soiled
  • A nursing cover, blanket, or sarong for nursing babies.

6. DO NOT carry:

  • An absurd number of diapers that you will never use. The likelihood is that you will not be stuck in the airport for 3 days. If you are, airport shops carry diapers. Plan accordingly.
  • Tons and tons and tons of extras. The frustration of sorting through too much stuff will always outweigh the convenience of that one tiny thing that you brought just in case and actually used that one time.
  • Toys that make noise.

7. The one thing I do always pack is a trashbag, because who wants to use those airport changing pads? This probably makes me the weirdest parent in the world but ohhh my gosh never. I find a dark empty airport corner, lay out a trashbag, lay the changing pad on top of it, and voila. Diaper changing station. When we’re done, I just flip the trashbag inside out so that it’s ready for another emergency change if one arises.

8.We normally check our carseats with our luggage. Is this remotely risky, since the airline could lose them? Sure, but they could lose them at the gat too. If we were traveling overseas, we might not do this, but for domestic flights, it has never been a problem. If the toddler (Miles is) is big enough to require a purchased seat, I just let him sit in the seat, buckled, without a carseat. If your children are the kind that will happily sit in those little stroller wheely things and you can check your stroller, or you definitely want your toddler in a car-seat, great. I always prefer to fly with my ultra-light, collapsible stroller.

 

9. This is where the magical carseat bags come in handy. I love ’em. I’ve tried a few different brands, but these bags are cheap, durable, and great. Use them a few times and then replace them. I love arriving, knowing that I’m puting my kids in clean {to them} carseats, rather than seats that have been touched by who-knows-who and placed who-knows-where. Yeck. If you are concerned about your carseat getting tossed around, just attach some packing material to it inside the bag to cushion any falls.

10. TSA will let you carry bottles through security. They get a little annoyed once you start hauling jugs of milk for toddlers through, but if you have a baby and a toddler, you can normally pull off an extra cup of milk (I like to bring my own along because it’s hard to find whole milk in the airport EXCEPT at Starbucks, which always carries it). However, if you pack things in small amounts, they won’t even make you open the bottles. For two toddlers, I normally take two empty water bottles/cups to be filled after security and two milk cups, which TSA check’s with their little magic wand things.

11. I also never travel with my computer in my carry-on these days. 1. It’s a completely useless appendage on the plane with two little ones and 2. It’s another thing to pull out during security. We don’t own an iPad (yet?), so the only electronic I have with us is my iPhone.

 

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Security

12. Go through the Global Entry process and get TSA pre-check approved. Children under 12 can fly with parents or guardians that are TSA pre-check approved

13. Make SURE that the gate agent places your pre-check approval on your boarding pass, “infant on lap” on your boarding pass if you’re flying with a child sharing a seat, and “pre-check” on the boarding passes of any other children under 13. We’ve experienced several variations of mistakes made on this front. One of them resulted in me waiting in line at security with a toddler and a six-week-old, discovering that my infant wasn’t on my boarding pass at all, and returning to the front desk after waiting for 20 minutes in a security line. NOT FUN.

But once you are TSA pre-check approved, security becomes SO much easier with little guys. You just literally walk on through. They check the liquids and the stroller. Bam. All done. 

 

14. Buy a light stroller. We like to keep our baby equipment pretty minimal, so our main stroller is this double Zoe, which is light and easily folded and unfolded with one hand. It makes flying with two minis a cinch. If you normally use a heavier stroller, make sure you travel with one that is light. Several of the airlines have changed their stroller regulartions and will only let you take light small strollers to the gate. On our first flight with Violet, American Airlines had just changed their rules and took our stroller, leaving us to carry both kiddos through DFW.

 

Boarding

 

15. If you have a toddler that can walk, use the time right before boarding to let him run, jump, spring, whatever. Burn some energy. 

16. I normally change baby diapers immediately before boarding so that I can avoid an in-flight change if at all possible.

17. I also normally do a quick assessment of my bag at this point to make sure the things I need at the beginning of the flight haven’t shifted into the dark depths of my bag.

 

18.If you have a baby, board with him or her in a carrier or wrap so that your hands are free for your toddler, stroller, bag, whatever. Our Ergo has been ridiculously valuable for this – I have used it for boarding past 1 year with both Miles and Violet. I put Violet on my back for the first time during this last trip and she loved it. If your kiddo will sit contentedly on your back, even better.

 

19.Miles normally sits in the stroller until the end of that boarding passageway. He has flown a ton and is super accustomed to boarding and all of that, but if you have a toddler that tends to run, this is where it’s a good idea to maybe hand him off to the flight attendants while you fold up the stroller. Either way, fellow passengers are normally enormously understanding and helpful for those occassions when I’ve needed an extra hand.

 

20.Once we get to our seats, OCD parent that I am, I whip out an anti-bacterial wipe and wipe down the backs of the seats, the armrests, the window (BECAUSE THEY WILL LICK THE WINDOW) and the trays. Am I weird? Oh yes. But it gives me a slight peace of mind on the flight to know that I at least tried to clean off the millions of creepy airplane germs as Violet frantically tries to eat the armrest.

 

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Flying

 

21.The airlines won’t let you keep an Ergo or any kind of carrier with a clip or buckle attached during take-off. When I’ve had little babies, this has been an issue because sometimes they’re asleep and WHY WOULD YOU WAKE UP A SLEEPING BABY AT THE BEGINNING OF A FLIGHT? If this happens, just unlatch the latch behind your neck. Your baby will think he or she is still cozy and secure and the attendants can’t argue with this.

 

22.The beginning of the flight is the best time to nurse or give your baby a bottle if it coincides with their normal schedule. It will alleviate any ear pressure during take-off and mine normally fall asleep which is a double win.

 

23. Now that Violet is older and only nursing during a couple specific times of day, our system is a little different. Miles gets headphones (wireless – how cool is my 2-year-old) and my iPhone once we take off. He snuggles up with his paci and stuffed elephant and tends to be perfectly content that way for at least an hour. This is what happens when you starve your children of technology during normal days.;-)

 

24. Unless it’s time for her mid-day nap, in which case she’ll nurse and fall asleep, Violet is pretty content to play on my lap, read a book with me, sing, snack, whatever. She’s 14 months though and this is honestly THE WORST age for flying. When they don’t have their own seat, they want to crawl and climb, and they can’t move. It’s torture for everyone involved. Just keep them occupied and entertained. Snacks always help. At this age, a bottle or paci during take-off will still help with ear pressure.

25. If you can take advantage of airport lounges, do so. Depending on the individual airport USO policies, military families can often access the USO even when not flying with a military spouse. Check the benefits list on your credit card. You may be able to access one of the other airport lounges. The extra space to let little ones burn off some pre-boarding energy, the slightly-more-private space – totally worth it with kids.

26. Make flying fun! Bring snacks and juice treats that aren’t usually allowed. Break the household electronics rules. Sing. Play silly games. Chances are that your little ones will love flying. It’s a huge adventure for them. They love the activity, the vehicles, the novelty. Miles talked about our last flight every day for two weeks before we boarded. Just relax. Flying with kids can be stressful and it is definitely a lot of work, but with a little preparation (and a lowering of all germaphobe standards, Hi Self), it can be just another memorable experience you and your little ones get to enjoy together. 

 Hungry for some more ideas? Hailey writes a lot about their family’s current travel project and this post about a day in Paris with a toddler is full of great general trips for traveling with toddlers while Ashley Ann’s posts about traveling with her kids are just incredible, period. 

 
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