If you’re looking for tips for flying with toddlers, you’ve come to the right place. Even though my four kids are now teens, they were once toddlers, and we used to travel a lot. That means there was a time when I was on a plane with toddlers and babies, all by myself.
These are my tried-and-true tricks for surviving long flights with my littles, which I’m sharing on behalf of our sponsor BabyGate, which makes your phone safe for little hands, and gives them access to only kid-friendly, parent-approved content. And not like, your work email. Or your photo gallery. If only this app was around when my kids were little!
Here’s hoping these 5 tips for flying with toddlers make your holiday travel (or anytime travel) a whole lot easier and slightly more enjoyable. (Hey, just being honest).
1. Manage your expectations
Before you get on that plane, you (and your partner, if that applies) need to keep your eye on the prize: making it to your destination. That’s it. Period. It’s not a competition. It’s not a teaching moment. It is literal survival. So, take it easy on yourself. The way your kids act in the airport and on the plane is not a reflection of how well (or how poorly) you have parented them. In my experience, by setting the bar very low, any small victory is a big victory, and you’ll want as many of those as you can get.
Pro tip: Everything takes longer than you might think it will. Give yourself a whole lot of extra time.
Bonus tip: When it comes to the pre-board, send your partner (if you’re traveling together) with all the gear during that time; you (or they) go on at the last possible minute with the kid.
2. Dress like you are a walking napkin
It will be nothing short of a miracle if you get to your destination without a stain, crumb, or slobber on your (or your partner’s) person. For the next however many hours, you are a tissue, blanket, and bib. It’s just the nature of this beast. My suggestion: Wear a comfortable outfit (hoodie and leggings, sweatsuit), that’s layered so you can take off the top layer when you arrive and feel a bit more like a human and less like a walking napkin.
Pro tip: Wear slip-on shoes. Ain’t no one wants to deal with laces at security when you’re dealing with a toddler.
3. What happens on the plane stays on the plane
I totally understand that you want to be consistent with your parenting as much as you can, but I am under the belief that one three-hour flight will not undo all the work you have done with them. Whether it’s keeping your kids on a tight sleep schedule, to monitoring the amount of screen time they’re getting, my rule is: whatever you need to do to get through the flight in the most pleasant way possible without forcing an emergency landing.
So, if they’re napping, let them nap! If they’re entertained by the game on your phone, let them play!
Pro tip: The more of a sense of humor you can have about the whole thing, the better it will be. As we often say here at CMP, if we weren’t laughing, we’d be crying.
About our sponsor: BabyGate
Speaking of screen time, BabyGate allows your child to play safely on your phone without you having to worry about them calling 911 accidentally. When a few taps of the side/home button (once BabyGate is installed), your phone becomes baby safe, keeping your toddler entertained for hours with baby apps like a phonetically correct Alphabet App, an Animal Kingdom app with animals and their sounds, a Babygram app for babies to scroll through, and BabyTube for kid-safe videos.
It’s a must-have for travel or any other time you need a little help keeping your toddler occupied and you don’t want them accessing the inner workings of your phone.
4. Pack little surprises, from food to toys, and everything in between
I’m all for packing their fave blanket or lovey (with a Tile or AirTag attached), but when it comes to keeping them entertained, I’d grab a bunch of small, new little toys or fun items to bring with you, and… if you can… wrap them up. It’ll burn time, and it makes whatever is inside way more interesting. Keep in mind that these don’t actually have to be toys. Think things like tape, wipes, cotton balls… to be honest, the weirder the better.
As for snacks, I’d pop little snacks in bento boxes, and don’t skimp on the treats. Now is not the time to institute a no-sugar rule. You don’t need to hand them a bag of Swedish Fish or anything, but mixing in healthy snacks along with some treats is a very good call in this sort of situation.
Pro tip: Food games can be fun (don’t worry about the mess). Counting Goldfish crackers as you put them in a cup. Hide a treat in your hand and have them guess which one. You get the idea.
5. Your carry-on bag is your life
I know it’s a little tricky checking bags these days, but here’s the thing. You want your carry-on bag to be your survival kit for the plane or if you happen to get stuck in the airport. So, while you may not want to spend the extra money to check the bag and all of your holiday gifts, you’ll want to be able to have everything you need for your trip (and one extra) in your carry-on.
Pack 1-2 extra of what you think you’re going to need, especially diapers, Pull-ups, and those kinds of essentials. And pack a change of clothes and a Ziploc bag for them, just in case. It’s not a bad idea to pack one for yourself, too.
Pro tip: I used to dress my kids in an outfit or onesie that they were close to outgrowing because if they had an accident, I would just toss it versus worry about walking around with a stinky bag.
Thanks to our sponsor BabyGate for making holiday travel (and any other times we need a little extra help keeping our little ones occupied) easier. You can download their app now!