Toddler on a Plane {Not a Horror Movie}

Holiday travel season is upon us. Some of you will hunker down, and family and friends will come to YOU. Some of you drive 30 minutes to see family … some drive full days. And some of you will fly. WITH KIDS.

If you have never flown with a toddler, let me be the first to encourage you: it’s not that bad!! I do it a lot. I live in Baton Rouge and work based in DC requiring travel about once every 4-5 weeks; most of the time my parents watch my son when I travel, but my toddler travels with me every third or fourth trip. In fact, I just booked his 26th and 27th flights!!

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Baby’s first flight! Eight days of travel in one suitcase!!

What does prepping for a plane trip WITH a toddler look like? It looks like accounting for every worst case scenario then taking half of what you think you need to pack and putting it back in the closet. Here are some of the ways I prepare to travel with my squirt and a few tips to make it as easy as possible for ALL involved:

  1. Always fly direct. I drive an extra hour to the airport, no questions asked, to ensure there are no layovers and no potentials to get stuck.
  2. Plan your travel around your child’s schedule if at all possible. Sure that 6am flight is a little cheaper BUT that would involve leaving the house at 4:00am and waking my son up at 3:45am in hopes that he falls back asleep … NOT WORTH IT. I book flights for mid-morning and mid-afternoon for my sanity and his sleep schedule.
  3. Figure out how many snacks your kid normally eats and quadruple it. Make sure they aren’t liquid or sticky (bananas can be tricky on a plane, but cereal bars are great). And put those snacks in zippy bags. Gallon ziplock bags should be your best friend when traveling with a kid.
  4. This one is going to sound counterintuitive, but pack light. I fly Southwest almost exclusively (come on companion pass!!), so we check one bag and bring no gear. When he was an infant, I would wear him in an Ergo through the airport, so I was mostly hands free which makes security and boarding SO much easier! I typically have the option to borrow a stroller on the other end of our flight, so we can leave that extra piece of luggage home! If that’s not an option, do bring a stroller (but note strollers are sometimes better for holding bags while you wear the kid).
  5. Utilize carry-ons wisely. I typically carry a backpack for my son with all of his things: sippy cup, snacks, iPad, diapers, etc. plus a larger purse for me. Gone are the days of looking at magazines while on a plane, so I don’t need much more than the contents of my regular purse.
  6. Provide entertainment. This isn’t the time to pretend that screen time isn’t for a reason. We try to pre-download one movie for each flight. Pack earphones too! Sticker books are also great for airplanes or magnet toys! I found some great magnet paper dolls for my niece before a long flight.
  7. Bring ziplock bags. I mentioned it once. I’ll say it again. Bring at least three one gallon zippy bags for everyday of travel. They are great for snacks, for a change of clothes, for putting the dirty clothes in after you’ve CHANGED into the clean clothes.
  8. Leave the car seats at home. I very rarely fly with our car seat. This is for multiple reasons, but mostly because they are big and heavy. We either use stroller/public transit in DC (and other major cities) OR borrow a car seat OR use Uber! Many Uber markets offer a car seat option. You pay a premium for it, but it saves breaking your back trying to carry ANOTHER thing.
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    I let Henry pick a movie ahead of time, which gives him something to look forward to!

Toddlers on planes don’t have to be the most dreaded passengers. I have received many a glare when walking onto a plane only to get “He was so good on the flight!” upon exiting. Always prepare and maybe throw in a few extra snacks just in case…

Happy holiday flying!

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