Surviving Air Travel with Your Toddler - Tips for Travel Prep, In the Airport, and In-flight
"Unless we can teleport, I'm staying home!"
The stress and gear required for air travel with young children can make even the most cool-headed parents want to throw their hands up and stay home. However, until we can teleport ourselves a-la Star Trek to grandma’s for the holidays, we’ve got to make the best of it. What follows are some critical tips and tricks for successful travel with your kiddos.
Before You & Your Toddler Leave for the Airport
Many of the things you can do to ensure a more pleasant flight with your toddler happen before you even leave for the airport.
Sleep: A rested child is going to be a lot easier to keep happy on a flight. When possible, keep the night before travel a low-key one and get your child to bed at his or her normal bedtime. Also, keep their nap time in mind when planning your day. Get yourself a good nights sleep while you are at it as well. In fact, a well-rested parent is al least as important as a well-rested child when it comes to handling a day of travel.
Snack Attack: A hungry child is a grumpy child, so pack well. Here are some tips.
o Skip the sugar! The highs and lows of a sugar rush are problematic any day, and especially when traveling.
o Make sure your snack choices are easy clean up and invest in some snack traps to reduce the risk of spills.
o Remember to pack any drinks in clear plastic zip-up bags because the cabin pressurization can result in leaks even in the most otherwise spill proof cups.
o Don’t forget that airport security is going to want to see any liquids in your bag. Keep all liquids together (don’t forget any medicines you may be bringing) and keep them in one container so you can easily show them when asked.
Timing is Everything: What is more frustrating then getting through airport security with a huge baby bag, a stroller, a car seat, and multiple personal bags? Doing it in a huge hurry! Leave early and give yourself plenty of time. Any extra time comes in very useful for the following tip.
At the Airport with Your Toddler
Check Your Stroller at the Gate. At lease consider this option rather than checking the stroller with all your other luggage. It could come in very useful for carting the legal limit of carry-ons from the security checkpoint to the gate. Even if your child can and wants to walk, think of it as your airport grocery cart.
Bored While Waiting to Board? Play! Bring a stroller, pack up your gear and let your kiddo wander around while you follow them. If you are traveling with someone, leave them to watch bags and give your child some freedom to wander and play before being confined on the plane.
In-flight Toddler Activities & Entertainment
Keeping your child entertained during the flight is the best way to keep is as stress free as possible, so plan on bringing several activities in case your child gets bored.
Mess Free Coloring: Technology meets toddler with the invention of pen and paper coloring sets for kids whose specially designed pens will only leave marks on the coordinating paper. Your little Picasso can color away with no worries of marking up themselves, your new shirt, or the passenger on the other side.
Books: A timeless classic! You can either read (quietly folks, the other passengers may not be as into The Little Engine That Could as your kiddo!) or just let them flip the pages. Board books are great for aggressive toddler hands and interactive books with textures or flip up pages can keep them occupied for a while as well. Sometimes its great to bring a reliable favorite, but the novelty of a brand new book they see for the first time on the plane might engage their interest for longer and be well worth the investment.
Electronics: Since most airlines allow electronics to be used after takeoff, there are a couple good options in this category.
o Ahhhh… the magic of the DVD player. OK .. ok.. so I know the experts say its not the best idea to let your toddler watch too much television, but if there was ever a time when the cost-benefit analysis of a little video-watching makes sense, its on a plane. If your child is engaged by watching their favorite TV character, pack some DVDs and set them up. Don’t forget - learn how to use the portable DVD player before you leave for your trip and make sure the battery is charged. You may want to consider a secondary battery since some DVD players lose their charge in less than desirable time frames, so check that out and plan ahead.
o Mini-computers and video games have come a long way, with excellent educational games and activities to keep them occupied and learning at the same time. Help them with these tools, but let them ask you for help as they want help, so that it does not become a power struggle over playing the game “by the rules.” That's no fun.
o Does your child have some favorite music? You can also bring a portable music player such as an iPod or portable CD player. My husband and I did this on a recent flight and got some laughs out of our 3 year old occasionally busting out some lyrics - oblivious that we weren't all listening with him.
A Few In-Flight Warnings
Changing Diapers on Airplanes is FUN! Yes, it is ridiculous, but some airlines provide even less than that flimsy diaper changing fold-down table in the bath stall. They, in fact, provide nothing. Sometimes, the only place you have to change your baby in either in the very seat that you or they are sitting in, or else, as I opted to do in the photo to the right, on the floor in the very tight area just in front of the bathrooms in the back of the plane. Bottom line, bring disposable chaging pads to protect your baby from the filthy floor.
Don't Count on In-Flight Food Service. In the process of cutting back costs, many airlines no longer provide in-flight meals. Also, if you child is a big milk drinker, you may want to bring your own, as the availability varies depending on which airline you choose.