Wow — traveling with a toddler is light years different than our experiences traveling with a baby. Babies mostly sleep or just hang out for the duration of the flight. Toddlers are active and have opinions… this trip was certainly an education!! We recently had two cross-country flights (Seattle to New England and then back again) and they felt especially long with a toddler in tow. 😜
I am pretty proud that my husband and I have already established a pretty solid system / routine for navigating the airport / TSA / plane with all of Sophie’s gear (you can read my post about what products we have and love here). However, now that Sophie’s mobile and wants to be actively busy 24/7 we have definitely had to pivot on how we manage things during the actual flight.
It’s worth noting up-front that when it comes to packing, I try to toe the line between prepared and minimalist (haha — those ideas don’t always align, do they?). I created this list with the intention of all items being able to fit into her travel diaper bag with everything else that we usually carry so they needed to be both functional and efficient. With the two recent trips under our belt, I wanted to share what worked for us as well as what we learned for our future travels.
Firstly, I am NOT above toddler tablet use in public spaces, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months steer clear of screens — phones, tablets, TVs — altogether. I’m not sure that I want to allow Sophie to watch movies / shows regularly, BUT I personally feel that all bets are off when you’re in a confined space surrounded by strangers; it’s straight up #survivalmode. I’m going to do my best to manage my little one, but at a certain point kids are going to be kids and there’s only so much you can do.
We bought a tablet specifically for Sophie to watch shows and movies to keep her occupied while we are in the air / out to eat without having to give up our phones (which may be needed for getting directions or ordering a meal). We ended up just biting the bullet and getting an actual iPad mini for her… mostly because we’re already so familiar with the iOS interface (being an Apple product-heavy household) and because we had a few available gift cards from trading in older Apple devices through their trade-in program. I found this shockproof case for it that includes a screen protector and has a handles on the top that makes it easier for small hands to carry / hold as well as two little fins that can unfold from the back so that it can be propped up for hands-free watching!
We also got Sophie some headband headphones (don’t forget the headphone jack adaptor!). I wasn’t sure how she would do with them because we didn’t “practice” ahead of time to get her familiar with the sensation and how they work so, sure enough, she just wanted to pull them off her head and play with them instead of wearing them. I’ll know better for next time (we just ended up watching everything without audio and that worked just fine).
Before we left on the trip I downloaded a few movies (“Moana”, “Encanto”, and “Beauty & the Beast” to be exact 😅), and downloaded a full season’s worth of “Bluey” episodes as well as “Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” to her device on the Disney+ app to make sure we had plenty of entertainment to get through a flight or a meal when off of wifi.
If Apple products aren’t for you, I’ve heard good things about Kids Kindle Fire devices, but can’t personally speak to them. I would recommend reading @thegamereducator‘s expert advice around them before making your decision on which model would be best!
** Top Tip: Be sure to pack the dedicated charging cable for each device so that no one is competing for a cable to get a battery boost!
These little brightly-colored silicone suction cupped shapes are so fun and will attach to almost any flat surface. There are many Squigz in the starter package canister, but you only need a few for your trip. I just tossed a handful in my bag (maybe ~5?) because Sophie is still too young to really be “building” anything with them. Right now she’s mostly just sticking and unsticking them to surfaces and trying to figure out how stick them to each other.
Sophie also really enjoys these suctioned spinners that have the silicone poppers on them!
** Top Tip: May I suggest not bringing the smaller sized Squigz (such as the orange one in the photo above) that can fall on the floor and roll away or even fall into weird nooks and crannies in the seats, never to be found again. The larger, weirder shapes will be optimal for retrieving while you’re on-the-go.
This was a parenting hack I saw forever ago (probably on Pinterest?) and man… it actually kept Sophie busy for a while! Pulling the pages off the pad and sticking them alllll over around her seat was apparently super entertaining. Literally any sticky notes that you have on hand or can find at the store will work. I’ll admit that I am partial the OG Post-Its brand because they have the best “stick”, so they’ll last a bit longer with play, but because you will ultimately end up trashing them it doesn’t matter what brand they are!
I specifically packed two pads for the flights… one to help get us to our destination and one to help get us back. The pads are so slim you could definitely bring more than just two if you think they’d help keep your kiddo busy for longer… or you could even bring multiples of the mini pads in an array of colors, but these standard sized pads were what I already had at home so they’re what we used and Sophie loved them.
I feel like a broken record with these booklets, but these are seriously some of Sophie’s favorite things to flip through on her own and to read together — literally every day we read at least one. They’re full of educational activities and pictures to get kids talking and engaged. We were gifted a subscription when Sophie was born and they’ve been such a huge hit!
My personal favorite aspect is that they’re practically indestructible so Sophie can handle them on her own. I’ve had to repair so many of her other “toddler proof” books, but never once with these!
Lastly, they’re slim enough to bring with you in your diaper bag even if it’s just a day of errands, but are especially great for traveling! I can’t recommend them more.
It seems like everyone swears by those tackle boxes full of snacks for toddlers and I can’t help but love the idea of these “snackle boxes”! Unfortunately, our snacking options are a bit limited re: choking hazards at her current age, but you’d better believe that we’ll be making these when she gets a bit older because they’re such a fun and cute idea. I’ve also seen parents use pill organizers to do this because each section has a lid so there’s less opportunity to spill (if they don’t decide to open them all at once, anyway 😜)! For now, we’ll be sticking with Cerebelly bars and Cheerios or Rice / Corn Chex in her usual travel snack cup. 🤣
(1) If your little one is on.the.move, let them cruise around the terminal / near your gate to get some zoomies out before you board. It is possible to let them do a little walking in the aisle while on the plane as a last resort, but with all of the activity (carts, people on their way to the lavatories, etc.) or turbulence, that’s not always possible. If you have the time and opportunity to move around while still at the airport, I encourage you to take advantage of it (those moving sidewalks in some airports are PERFECT options for this, just go in reverse like you would on a treadmill!). Allow your littles to wear themselves out before you board and maybe they’ll even get some sleep on the flight!
(2) If you are traveling with another person (your partner, family member, etc.) consider splitting up the boarding process. Now, hear me out — this idea is something I never would have thought of on my own and I don’t even remember where I read about it, but this divide-and-conquer approach is pretty genius. One of you should board with your ticketing group so that you can secure overhead storage space and get set up in your seats, and the other person should stay behind at the gate with your kiddo(s) and board toward the end of the process. This allows your tiny companions to continue getting their wiggles out instead of having to sit in your seats while everyone else boards (which can often be pretty slow and adds additional time to their already challenging “sitting still” period 🥴).
(3) I know that the expense of having to pay for additional seats once your kiddos turn two is undesirable for your wallet, but having the extra space and not having to try to wrangle a squirmy octopus in your lap for the duration of a flight is honestly game changing. We’ve been buying the additional seat ever since Sophie was a baby, but as she has entered toddlerhood I appreciate having it even more now. We also bring Sophie’s travel car seat on the plane with us so she has a safe place to sit on the flight as well as in the rental car once we reach our destination. Yes, you can rent car seats from rental car companies, but I am paranoid and don’t trust them. Sophie’s safety is too important to skip bringing our own car seat; plus, I know how to use the one we have (where the belt paths are, etc) and feel confident in its ability to keep Sophie secure. If you’re considering purchasing gear for traveling with your little ones, you can read all about our beloved travel products here.
(4) Regarding said squirmy octopus kiddos, I recommend buying your own bottled drinks at the airport once you get through security and skipping the cart service on the plane unless absolutely necessary. Having a bottle with a cap will prevent spills, you’ll have the use of your hands (instead of using one to hold a drink constantly to hopefully avoid spilling), and you won’t need to keep any tray tables lowered to rest open cups on because let’s be real, those tray tables are going to get kicked / hit / bumped.
(5) We got this toddler carrier ahead of our trip because Sophie finally outgrew her BabyBjorn Free baby carrier. Sometimes you just need to carry your little one (even if they’re able to walk), but also need to have the use your hands, such as going through TSA security or schlepping everything onto the plane. For those moments, I think this is a great option. BabyBjorn has their own option (that can be used for toddlers) that I definitely would have purchased if I had remembered to order it in enough time, but the one we bought was also highly rated AND it was available for next day Prime shipping ahead of our trip!
(5) If you’re looking for even more toddler activity suggestions you can find some amazing ones by Lovevery here as well as by @busytoddler (my favorite [related] articles are found here and here)!
I’d say that my biggest recommendation is to just try your best to stay calm during challenging moments — kids feed off of your energy and if you’re frantic, chances are they will start to melt down too.
Additionally, other people are more understanding and helpful than you’d expect (so many kind strangers have offered us their assistance when we’re scrambling to get on / off the plane 😅). If nothing else, take comfort in the fact that you’ll likely never see any of these people ever again and this is only temporary moment in time (albeit a tough one).
Just breathe and give yourself some grace. You’ve got this, friend!
Sending big hugs —
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