Flying in general can be stressful, and adding kids (especially toddlers) into the mixture can make it a bit crazier. There is an element of uncertainty – “What if they cry the entire flight.” Or “What if they become a complete terror and throw the meltdown of the century and we can’t escape!” If you have flown with a toddler you have likely had these same thoughts. I get it… I have two daughters and have had our fair share of really great trips, and ones that could have gone better.
While I can’t promise you a trip with no meltdowns, there are at least a few ways you can be prepared and hopefully keep sane in the air. Here are some of my go-to tips for flying with a toddler.
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TIPS FOR FLYING WITH A TODDLER
LOAD UP ON “TIME OCCUPIERS” FROM TARGET DOLLAR SPOT
This magical aisle can be found in Target (usually by the entrance) and is filled with cheap (usually $1 – $5) toys, crafts, stickers, games and other amazing little things that can keep your child occupied on a plane. (Select items are also now available on Target’s website in the Bullseye Playground page.) Their inventory is constantly changing, so I like to check it out whenever I go to Target and stock up when I see things that my daughters will enjoy and will keep them occupied for some time. (And if you don’t use them on the plane, they are great to through in your bag and use when you go out to eat, or whenever you need a quick distraction.) (One of my favorites for plane rides are their window decals.) And if you are not near a Target, I’m sure you can find several similar “time-occupiers” at your local Dollar Store.
Tip: Only give one “toy” at a time and if your child is at the age where they can open it (or attempt to open it), let them have a go. (It will give you an extra 5 minutes.)
YOU CAN BRING MILK THROUGH SECURITY (At least at the time of writing this post…)
My daughters love their almond milk! Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest to find outside of grocery stores, so when we travel, I’ll bring the smaller boxes of almond milk with us. When going through security, I take the milk out of my carry-on and put it in its own tray on the security belt. If the milk is in a container that can be opened, they will “swab it”, meaning they open it and run a paper test through it to make sure it’s safe. If it cannot be opened, they may take it to inspect it, but will also do further screening on you (hello pat down) as an additional security measure. Most TSA are very helpful and friendly when you ask them how they want to handle. And if you do run across someone who hesitates in allowing you to bring it, don’t be afraid to ask to speak with someone else!
Traveling with breast milk is very similar. There is no limit to the amount of breast milk that you can travel with and you do not need to have a baby present with you. When I’ve traveled with breast milk before, I brought along a small cooler bag (like a soft over-sized lunch box) and stored my milk in breast milk freezer bags. (Tip – Put the breast milk bags in a zip lock bag for added protection in case of leaks) Before leaving for the airport, I would fill a zip lock bag of ice to keep the milk cool, and then toss the ice right before getting into the security line. (But save the zip lock bag!) Within the security line, TSA would test the breast milk by “swabbing” it as noted above. After going through security, I would stop at a restaurant or café and ask them to refill my zip lock bag with ice. If you have a longer flight, you can also ask your flight attendant to refill your bag with ice throughout your flight!
BRING LOTS OF SNACKS. BABY FOOD AND POUCHES ARE ALLOWED TOO!
I swear my kid’s appetites triple when they are flying. I don’t know if it’s just out of boredom or being in a new location, but they eat non-stop when flying. (I’ve heard others say the same, so it can’t just be our kids!) With restaurant food being ridiculous expensive, do yourself a favor and pack snacks from home before you leave on your trip.
For toddlers and babies, you can pack baby food and pouches in your carry-on as well. (TSA follows a similar protocol with baby food and pouches as they do with milk. (And no, they do not have to be under the 3.0-ounce limit!)
CLOROX WIPES ARE YOUR FRIEND
My girls have a tendency to put everything possible in their mouth. (Or put their mouth on everything…) As soon as we get to our seats, I take out my pack of Clorox wipes and wipe everything possible. The seat, the window, the tray – if they can get their hands on it, I clean it. And depending on how the flight goes, I’ll try to do the same at the end of the flight so they next person who sits there can enjoy a seat that isn’t filled with gold fish crumbs and sticky who-knows-what.
ENCOURAGE SUCKING/SWALLOWING WHILE TAKING OFF/LANDING
For young ones, this can be achieved by breastfeeding during take-off/landing, feeding a bottle, or encouraging a pacifier. For older children, you can offer them a snack or drink, or if old enough, a piece of gum. This will (hopefully) prevent them from building pressure in their ears, causing their ears to pop and ultimately be miserable the whole flight.
CHOOSE A TIME TO FLY THAT WORKS BEST FOR YOUR TODDLER’S SCHEDULE
I know that this can’t always be done as there are other factors like cost, availability and timing that may impact which flight you take. But if you can be picky, try to choose a time that works best for your toddler’s schedule. For us, I prefer to schedule flights during afternoon nap time, or in the evening. (But my girls will also sleep basically anywhere, so this may be different for someone else whose child will not sleep on a plane and will become overtired.) When scheduling, keep in mind the time it may take for you to travel to the airport and wait for your flight. While an 8:00 am flight might sound appealing pre-kids, for us it now means waking the kids up at 4:00 am, driving an hour and half to the airport (while they are no longer sleeping) and then having overtired kids for the flight, ready for a nap just about the time that we arrive at our destination, when naps may not be feasible.
BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES FOR EVERYONE
Accidents happen. Yes, I have gotten pooped on during a flight. (Diapers sometimes don’t catch it all!) I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if I didn’t have a spare set of clothes (for both my daughter and I) to quickly change into.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING EARPHONE/EARBUDS
When all else fails, we pull out the earphones and hook up to either the in-seat screen or iPad. We have these earphones which allow both girls to listen to the same thing using one cord. (LilGadgets Connect+ Premium Volume Limited Wired Headphones with SharePort for Children / Kids (Pink))
IT’S 5:00 SOMEWHERE
Remember, you are on vacation! You should have fun too, and if that means an 8:00 am Bloody Mary, you go for it! The first time I got a cocktail flying with my daughters, I almost felt guilty and nervous others would judge me. But a few sips in, that feeling quickly passed and I allowed myself to enjoy the moment as well. (Of course, you are the adult in charge, so don’t get too crazy!)
Do you have other tips for flying with a toddler? Please share in the comments.
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