Traveling with a toddler can be intimidating, but I assure you that it can actually be fun if you well prepared. Here are my best tips for How to Travel with a Toddler.
With wanderlust parents and grandparents living out-of-state, our my 19 month old has been exposed countless flights (9 and counting) since she was 3 months old. But let me be the first to admit, that traveling with a baby is VERY different than traveling with a toddler.
Here’s the deal. Toddlers can move (A LOT). They can climb. They have an opinion. They throw tantrums. All of this makes traveling much trickier. But not impossible by any means.
To successfully travel with a toddler, even in your lap until the age of 2 when they must purchase a seat, you simply have to come prepared. The tricks of Traveling with a Baby, although highly effective for babies, will not work with a toddler. So let’s modify them for your busy tot.
Here goes! My 100% tested best advice for traveling with a TODDLER:
1. What to pack in your Airplane Diaper Bag
When Poppy was a baby I traveled with a cute and practical diaper messenger bag. But recently I’ve found that traveling with a backpack is much more practical when I have to push a stroller and roll my other carry-on. Just make sure your backpack complies with the carry-on specifics and is easy to carry and access.
With your diaper bag is selected, it’s time to pack it. First make sure you have all of your flying essentials (wallet, ID, phone, boarding pass, liquids in a baggie and water bottle for you). With that covered, let’s pack for your toddler.
#1-4: All necessary basic needs.
#5: Bring a change of clothes for you and your kiddo in case of a diaper or vomit accident. Personally my kid is prone to throwing up, so I bring myself 2 tops and 1 bottom change, and her 2 full back up outfits.
#6: If you are not paying for a seat for your toddler (under age of 2), you must bring a copy of their birth certificate as you will be asked for it at the ticket counter. Honestly though, it is not a bad thing to bring this along every time you travel with a toddler.
#7: I like bringing 2 sippy cups in order to fill one up with water once we get through security. Then on the flight, I ask the flight attendant for juice to fill the other. Since my kid never drinks juice at home, having a juice treat on the airplane is always fun for her.
#8: Snacks are critical! Try to pick things that do not need to be refrigerated and are easy for your toddler to eat without utensils. Our favorites include: crackers, cheese sticks, berries, bananas, dried fruit, cereal or PB&Js.
#9: Toys are totally up to you. But I would recommend not bringing too many and nothing too small as they are easy to lose on the airplane. I like taking a trip to the dollar store or the dollar section at Target to buy 2-3 packable things will be new and exciting to my tot. Examples include: coloring books, stickers, small book, doll, truck, etc. But feel free to simply bring their favorite stuffed animal, lovey or blanket too.
#10: With a vomit prone baby, plastic bags always come in handy. They are also useful if your baby has an accident or spills something.
#11: My toddler does not watch TV regularly at home. However, on a flight, a bit of screen time is so helpful! It is truly a lifesaver. You can either download a movie or show, or use Netflix’s new free download feature. Also I’d recommend getting a pair of these toddler headphones.They have a volume limit, are collapsible and are very comfortable for toddlers of different ages and sizes.
All baby items including a stroller and car seat + base can be checked for free. Go thru security and ask for a pink tag at the ticket counter once you arrive at your gate. Then drop off your items when boarding the plane. Make sure your stroller is collapsed and fastened somehow. Purchasing Velcro straps can be helpful if your stroller needs a fastening system.
Once you have a toddler that can walk for themselves, chances are they are either not very speedy or hard to control. And as my toddler is close to 30lbs, the baby carrier is not the most comfortable option for me any longer. My solution is the old school, affordable Umbrella Stroller.
With an umbrella stroller you can wheel your tot through the security line and through the airport easily. It folds up super quickly and is easy to throw on the conveyor belt. I was a little unsure about taking a stroller at first, but it was the absolute best thing I did. Even if you end up not using the stroller at your destination, umbrella strollers fold up so nicely that it won’t bother you or take up space.
Aside from the umbrella stroller, toddler and my handy diaper pack back you can either check a bag or bring a carry-on with wheels. On my last trip, I did not check a bag (to save some money) so I brought a small carry-on with wheels.
Once at security, you will need to throw your liquids, diaper bag, any other carry-on, and folded stroller on the conveyor belt. Then you and your toddler will walk through the airport metal detector as directed by TSA.
Note: if you are pregnant, make sure to mention that to the TSA agent so that you do not have to go through the full body scanner. This was a recommendation by my doctor.
4. At the gate:
If you are traveling with an “infant in arms” (or in your lap), the most important thing to do once you are arrive at the gate is to ask the gate agent if the flight is full. Tell them you are traveling with a kid in your lap and they will try their best to block the seat next to you if the flight is not full.
This is not a guarantee but it is totally worth asking! We have been lucky enough to get several open seats just for asking.
Lastly, always gate check your stroller and any large carry-on that would otherwise be in the overhead compartment. That way you do not have to worry about rolling it down the aisle or throwing it into the tiny overhead bins. Keep your diaper bag under the seat in front of you.
5. Flight Tips
Takeoff and landing
We do not travel with milk bottles anymore (for flights under 5 hours). Instead I try to give Poppy water (or juice) to drink during takeoff and landing to help with her ears popping.
The biggest tip on the flight is to have some sort of entertainment for your toddler. We do not own a tablet, so we opted for a phone and downloaded a few Netflix Curious George movies.
Using our favorite volume controlled toddler approved headphones, my Poppy was able to comfortably enjoy her movie for most of the flight.
Create fun breaks
When the flight staff comes around with food/drinks, we like to ask for cookies or something kid friendly along with apple juice. Then when your toddler takes a break from the movie they can have a fun snack.
You can also slowly introduce new toys or activities throughout the flight to keep them engaged. Snacks, stickers, coloring books, toys, anything can be a fun new surprise.
Getting off the plane
Personally I have found that when I check into a flight with an “infant in arms” I always get placed towards the back of the plane. If that’s the case I like waiting for everyone to de-board the plane and then I can take my time to collect my things and my toddler. Less stress, less chance of a meltdown for us both.
6. Things to keep in mind:
- Think about your flight time. When will your kid be the fussiest? For us the best flight times are during the day since our little one never sleeps on flights anymore.
- There is a chance they will not sleep. Some kids sleep on planes, others don’t. Either way come prepared for the worse. Arm yourself with activities and consider a layover to break up very long flights.
- Not all planes bathrooms have a changing table. Bring your changing pad and place on top of the toilet (lid down!). And don’t forget to thoroughly wash everyone’s hands!!!!
- Do not be afraid to ask airplane staff for help!
- If your child is in your lap, you will likely not have enough room to lower your tray table to enjoy a beverage. Instead come prepared with your own water bottle for easy access. Flight staff can fill your water bottle with a beverage as well.
Do the best you can and try to enjoy the experience. Think of how fortunate your toddler is to be able to travel and experience something new!
Traveling is the best gift you can give your children so try to have fun with it ✈️️ ☺️️
And don’t forget to check out How to Travel with a Baby for all of you with little babies!