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Toddler Travel Tips for Uneventful Flying

Last week, we took our two-year-old on a five hour plane ride with a layover. Compared to traveling with Mazzy a year ago, it went surprisingly well. This probably has to do with her having her own seat (it’s required starting at two-years-old) and unlimited use of her favorite electronic device— the iPad.

We also made a decision to leave the stroller and carseat at home. Mazzy does not like being confined and we knew that bringing one or the other would just result in us lugging around an extra item while chasing her around the airport. Instead, we rented a carseat with our rental car once we go to our destination.

Here are my top 12 tips for uneventful flying with a toddler:

1) Determine Your Car Seat Strategy. As I mentioned, we left our car seat at home which worked out well for us. My mom gave us a ride to the airport so we didn’t have to pay to park the car for a week and she dropped us off right at check-in. If you feel you must take a car seat or stroller, there is a popular car seat attachment called the Gogo Kidz Travelmate which adds wheels to your car seat so it doubles as a stroller in the airport. You can bring it all the way to the entrance of the jetway, at which point someone will store it under the plane. You can also opt to put the car seat in your kid’s seat but we thought it would be much more comfortable for Mazzy to sit freely.

2) Check-in Ahead of Time. To avoid long check-in lines with an increasingly antsy toddler, check-in online before you get to the airport or see if your airline has a check-in app. We used an iPhone app for myself and my husband and printed Mazzy’s ticket out at home. Dress your toddler in easy to remove shoes in case airport security makes you scan them.

3) Pack A Variety of Snacks. Preferably snacks that won’t require a lot of napkins. We packed pretzels, crackers, almonds, dried mango and whole peeled carrots in addition to some yogurt, roasted turkey and string cheese for lunch. I’d also recommend packing an emergency treat, only to be brought out when extreme circumstances warrant.

4) Scale Back on Carry-Ons. Pre-kids, the goal was always to pack lightly so you could carry everything on the plane. Having to wait at baggage claim was the equivalent of failing. It’s exactly the opposite now. Put as much under the plane as possible. Wrangling a two-year-old and multiple carry-on bags at once is near impossible. My husband carried the bags while I was handsfree to hold/run after our daughter.

5) Make Room for Travel friendly Toys. Space might be precious but your toddler owns it. Meaning, when it comes down to your daughter’s favorite Cookie Monster plush toy vs. your stack of gossip rags, Cookie Monster wins every time. Additionally, we brought Sesame Street figurines (in a little bag Mazzy proudly carried herself), crayons, a coloring book, a stack of soft cover books, stickers and a fabric tea set. I also recommend packing a small make-up bag of surprise dollar store toys. Don’t show them to your kid before the plane takes off and introduce each item one at a time. Other activities you could bring that take up very little space are sticky coloring placemats for the tray, photographs of her friends and pipe cleaners.

6) Tire Your Kid Out Pre-Flight. Travel during nap time to up your chances of your kid conking out for a portion of the trip. Let your toddler run around the airport pre-flight to let out some energy. Similarly, once on the flight, take your kid for hourly walks down the aisle. It’ll be something to do and help avoid your toddler from getting bored. PLUS, there is the added bonus that he/she can’t go very far.

7) Put your kid in a hoodie. This is a weird one but I found it useful to have something to grab onto in the event that my daughter tried to flee the scene— especially while waiting on the security line. Kind of like using a leash except without the judgmental glares from other parents.

8) Bring Extra Clothes in Your Carry-on and More Diapers than You Think You Will Need. Mazzy has been known to have blowouts on take-off and landing. I guess her body reacts to the pressure change. She also drinks alot more than when she is actively running around. So much so that she peed through her pants and we had to change her clothes. Thank goodness we had them. I know someone who had an incident and didn’t think to bring a change of clothes in the carry-on. She was stuck with a child screaming at the top of his lungs for pants. Not her proudest parenting moment.

9) Lose the iPad Restrictions. If you are not a fan of letting your toddler use an electronic device (ipad, smart phone, LeapPad, video player etc.) I’m not sure I can help you. But if your toddler is anything like mine and you are willing to do away with all electronic limits while on the plane, this has the potential to keep your child occupied for the majority of the trip. Child-friendly headphones are usually not recommended for kids under three but we were able to put the iPad on low volume which kept Mazzy entertained while the engine sufficiently drowned out the sound for neighboring passengers.

Note: My daughter is a fan of using the iPad to watch YouTube videos but unless you want to pay for wireless on the plane (if it’s even available), YouTube is not going to be an option. Lack of wireless is very hard to explain to a toddler so I suggest moving the YouTube icon all the way to the back and placing it in a folder where he/she is less likely to find it. Then load up on games and iTunes videos.

10) Introduce Your Kid to The Person In Front of Her. I was worried about Mazzy continually kicking the seat in front of her but as it turned out, Mazzy’s legs were too short to reach. One suggestion if this is not the case is to introduce your toddler to the person in front of them before the flight takes off. This way if your kid is kicking the seat, you can say, “Stop kicking Steven” and they are more likely to understand the consequences of their actions.

11) Make sure you bring extras of any security item. Mazzy is attached to a small homemade blankie so we made a few more before we left for our trip. Two to take and one to leave at home. There would be nothing worse than trying to get Mazzy to sleep in a strange place without one.

12) Divide and conquer. When we arrived at our destination, I took Mazzy to baggage claim while my husband went to rent the car. This way Mazzy could run around and the whole ordeal took half the time. When my husband pulled up in the car, I got Mazzy situated in the carseat while he retrieved our bags. We did the same thing on the return trip. My husband dropped us off with the bags at check-in while he returned the car.

These are the things that worked for us. If you have any more tips, please share them below.

Happy travels!

Read more of Ilana’s writing at Mommy Shorts.
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