We have traveled with Aidan since he was 6 weeks old. By the end of June he will have flown in over 20+ plane rides, ranging from quick 1 hour flights to Atlanta to the 6+ hour flight to Ireland. We’ve also experienced these trips from birth to nearly 2 years old and I must say each age group has its own perks and drawbacks. After speaking to several friends about our adventures, the overwhelming feeling I’ve received is a sense of fear to travel with a toddler. You hear so many horror stories of things going wrong, that you find it easier to just stay close to home in those first few years. If you have multiple kids, that 3 years becomes 6 and before you know it you’ve spent nearly a decade with no travel simply out of fear.
I’m hopeful through my experiences to share some easy tips to make traveling with a toddler seem easy, stress-free and even…exciting! While we have many incidents & stories to share of our travel days, looking back at pictures of all of our trips makes it all worth it!
1. Pick a Convenient Flight Time
We schedule our flights around Aidan’s sleep schedule (which varied as he grew up). You don’t want to have to wake him up early or keep him up super late. You also want to be aware of nap time and we’ve found morning flights (around 10AM) are the best for us. Aidan is happiest in the morning, if it’s a short flight we land and get to our destination in time for naptime, and you have the day to get situated. We’ve had times where we travel at night and if he sleeps the whole way it ruins our first night at the hotel.
It probably goes without saying that where possible, a nonstop flight is preferred.
2. Pack Wisely
I’ll dedicate a post next week on what to pack EXACTLY, but ultimately our packing list varies depending on duration of a trip and destination. If we are visiting family, we usually pack light. For example, most of our family has extra Pack & Plays, toys, wipes/diapers, food, cups, car seat and most comforts from home. Most hotels also have the essentials, and car rentals have car seats.
We usually just pack clothes, his sound machine, monitor (when he was little), and stroller. It’s really that easy. I’ve also learned to buy things when we land – like milk, food, and diapers. I pack enough to get us there, and buy the rest at our destination.
We’ve also mastered a few hacks – like strapping the carseat to your roller bag so you can be hands free. Or taking a duffle bag that will hang from the stroller so you don’t have to push a stroller AND roll a bag.
Also, don’t forget you get an extra carry on (diaper bag) even if your child does not have a seat. If they have a seat, don’t forget to maximize their 2 carry-ons plus the extra diaper bag!
3. Be Cautious about Food on the Plane
“Do it once, shame on you. Do it twice, shame on me.” Yeah, this lesson I should have learned after the first time. When traveling to Ireland, we literally boarded a 6 hour flight and about 30 minutes in realize Aidan is SOAKING wet. Of course our first fear was that he peed through the diaper. I mean, he was just turning 1 so that never happened, but what else could it be? I grabbed his sippy cup and sure enough it was completely empty. Turns out, like your own water bottle on a plane, the pressure at take off made it “explode” all over him. This happened on our way home from Atlanta (when I was flying alone with him), too.
So lesson learned: avoid giving them a sippy cup at take off (bottles were fine) and open slightly to alleviate some of the pressure.
4. Distract, Distract, Distract
Aidan loves sitting by the window now that he is older. We also have introduced the iPad for our trips. We “try” to limit screen time at home, so this is a special treat for him. My motto as we travel is “whatever works”. If that means he eats extra snacks, treats, watches more TV, or gets extra spoiled, traveling is not something we do every day so I don’t believe it is causing bad habits. It also makes traveling FUN now that he knows he gets to watch Mickey and eat Teddy Grahams.
We also try to limit all of the “fun” stuff leading up to our travel. We have found that if we let him watch Mickey in the morning and then again in the car to the airport, by the time he gets on the plane he’s over it. So try to save the fun surprises for when you need it – if it’s the car ride, do it then, if it’s on the plane, do it there.
5. Board When You Feel Comfortable
Some airlines (shout out to Southwest & Delta) let families traveling with children board early. While it’s tempting to board early and make sure you get on & situated, it adds about another 20-30 minutes of time on the plane. If you have a little baby, it may be worth it, especially since it’s likely your first trip with him. As they get to toddler age, it just means more time they have to sit still. We usually have one of us board the “stuff” and the other runs around until the last minute to be on the actual plane for the least amount of time possible.
It’s a matter of preference, but don’t get sucked in to thinking you need to board early!
6. Bring Extra Change of Clothes in Your Diaper Bag
Going back to point #3, one of the instances of our “spilled milk” scenario we had a spare change of clothes (thank goodness that was Ireland), while the other, Aidan had to stay in wet clothes the whole hour. I felt really bad for him, although he didn’t seem to mind. You don’t want to have to open up your suitcase, even if you carried on, so having a quick change of clothes in an easy to access spot is critical.
7. Bring a Copy of His Birth Certificate
We actually have a copy on our phone in an email, just in case we ever forget (which has happened)…but if you are overly cautious I’d print and bring a hard copy. I had one “scary” moment where a TSA agent asked for Aidan’s ticket when he was about 15 months old, and I told him that he was a lap child. Well, he for whatever reason, thought Aidan was closer to 3 and for a while was giving me a hard time about it since I didn’t have a birth certificate. I thought we’d be stuck for sure. Now that he’s approaching 2, we get asked all the time. I would say from 1-2 you will need the birth certificate. After 2, you need a ticket anyway.
8. Be Prepared to go Through Security
Security is actually pretty easy with a little one. You get to go through the metal detector and they wipe down your carseat/stroller. The trick here is to keep your little one strapped in the stroller while you get all of your stuff on the belt. You can bring milk & food for your little guy, but it takes a little extra time for them to test it. Same with breastmilk. Little ones can keep their shoes on and the real challenge is if you fly alone, letting your little guy out of the stroller so you can fold it and put it on the belt. Many times I thought Aidan would just start running while I was occupied. Luckily, plenty of nice people are around (and bonus if you travel with your spouse for their extra set of hands).
Always check with the government guidelines, but you can bring a lot of things for a baby you wouldn’t normally be allowed to have!
9. Plan Out Your Destination & Travel Day In Advance
It sounds silly, but the more your know, the less curve balls to be thrown your way. I know that one thing that makes our travel day goes smoothly is that we plan & prepare in advance. Bags aren’t packed last minute. The car is full of gas. I have our boarding passes ready to go. I know our confirmation numbers at our destination for a car rental & hotel. I’ve called and made sure a play pen is in our hotel room. We’ve scouted out our restaurant options and know what is child friendly. We aren’t so prepared that we can’t be flexible, but knowledgeable enough that we aren’t stressed or surprised. Trust me, just do your homework and you’ll be thankful!
10. If You Are Nervous, They’ll Be Nervous
Babies/Toddlers can feel your fear & anxiety. We try so hard to be extra calm and nonchalant on travel days. If we’re cutting it close we relax, if our flight is delayed we try not to show frustration. By acting like it’s a normal day, they won’t get worked up about their new surroundings.