Remember the days of when you would stroll into the airport, a single bag & a carry on in hand, headphones & an iPad filled with your favorite TV shows or movies? You’d check your bag and patiently wait to get through security, thinking about the latte you’re going to get before stopping into Hudson News to grab your guilty pleasure tabloid and a snack or two. After you’re fully caffeinated and stocked up with snacks to watch your movies with, you go to your gate and sit and scroll your Facebook feed while waiting for your boarding group to be called.
Before you know it you’re in your seat, and the only problem you have is when you realize that you shouldn’t have bought those snacks or extra movie from iTunes because you’re about to take the greatest in-flight nap ever. Rough. Then the most important question arises…to cocktail or not to cocktail? Do airplane peanuts even taste the same without one? You choose to splurge and go for it (you also probably have a drink voucher or two), luckily it helps you out with that nap so you snooze your way through the skies. You’re only awaken once because your fellow passenger in the window seat has to pee and was too scared to wake you earlier in the flight. Your plane lands, you leave feeling somewhat rested (or tipsy), grab your bags & boom. You’re done.
Does this sound like a fantasy to you? Are you salivating at the idea of reading a trashy magazine while sipping tomato juice (because it’s way better on airplanes), solo in your assigned seat? If so, you might be a parent. And in that case you can kiss that sweet dream goodbye. The only snacks you’re getting are going to be matted into your hair from your sticky fingered toddler, and as far as a nap goes…well, maybe if you add up all the eye rolls you will make between take off and landing you might be able to consider that a small one.
Is flying with young children the worst thing in the world? No. Is it a close second? Quite possibly. I’ve done my fair share of traveling in both long road trips (16+ hours) and plane rides with my two children (2 years and 9 months old) both with my husband as well as solo and I must say, I definitely used to have more years on my life span. I’ve had some good experiences and I’ve also had some bad ones, but with each I learn so much about what works and what does not. Of course, these are all things that work personally for me and my kids and I am 100% not an expert but here are some things I’ve learned through my induction into the Mile High Meltdown Club.
1. Preparation is KEY & so is Amazon Prime. For a toddler, successful travel is all about keeping them busy and happy. Preparation the night before travel looks a lot like making sure your toddler has their own small carry on and plenty of activities to keep them busy (preferably with things they have never seen or have not used in a while). I like the Skip Hop toddler backpacks. They’re small and light enough for your kids to carry on their own but they’re also adorable so your kid gets excited seeing it. I don’t like to keep the backpack out all the time when we are not traveling so it seems like something special when it is brought out. Preparation also means SNACKS, which I will get into later. Amazon Prime is clutch for SO many things for flying. Make sure to stock up on binkies, wipes & snacks.
2. Airplane busy work makes the dream work. Little trinkets and toys might seem like a good (& cheap option) but they get lost so easily and therefore last for just a second. Toddlers don’t have the greatest ability of keeping things in their lap or tray (SHOCKING I KNOW) so stay away from small toys.
Lost play things = meltdowns.
Meltdowns = chaos.
Chaos = tears.
My personal favorite are stickers. They aren’t messy (unlike markers or even crayons) and it takes them a while to get each sticker off (at first) so it’s almost like busy work. You can order a small blank notebook and a pack of 100 stickers (or target $ section is great for this) and chances are your kid will be pretty happy. Play dough can be a good option if you have the ability to pay attention. When I’m alone with both girls it’s hard to police how much play dough is being eaten and how much is making it back into the container.
I don’t have an issue with giving my child an iPad so she can watch a movie on it, especially while on an airplane. I ordered a this case for our iPad mini and have used it for every single trip we’ve ever been on. It’s been amazing in cars & planes and is super easy to get on and off the headrest or tray. It is sometimes difficult to get a toddler to keep headphones on so don’t feel bad for playing the movie out loud, most people can’t even hear it anyway.
3. Less is more, unless we’re talking diapers & change of clothes. This is especially true when traveling with an infant. You never know when a blow out might strike or where it goes so you definitely don’t want to be caught without a spare change of clothes for yourself as well. Contrary to what Billy Madison says, you’re definitely not cool if you pee your pants, and it’s DEFINITELY not cool if someone else poops on them.
On my last flight with the girls we had a connecting flight that was around bedtime so I brought pajamas for them to change in. I think that just them getting into their PJs changed their mind set. PJs = bedtime.
ALWAYS bring more diapers than you think you will need. Same goes for formula if you’re using it. I like to prep 4 bottles with the formula already in it just waiting for water, and then pack the rest of the formula in my backpack diaper bag. One time, I was flying solo with Blake when she was a baby and we got stuck in Denver and ended up having to spend the night without our bags or anything. Thank goodness I was still nursing because I literally had nothing with me. There was a snow storm that had shut the airport down so it’s not like I would have been able to run to the store for more formula. Always better to be safe than sorry, right?
On the other hand, do not bring a suitcase carry on unless absolutely mandatory. It creates way too much for you to carry and keep track of. I bring with me a stroller, carrier (when I’m flying with both girls), my Fawn Design diaper bag, purse (which is mostly just stuffed with the girls’ things), kids (obv) and Blake wears her backpack. I check both carseats before security (these Gate Check carseat bags are the best and they check for free-you can also pile a few things in there if you’re sneaky about it to save room in for suitcase) along with my suitcase & the girls’. I like to put a crib blankets in the carseats and pack their sound machines & night lights in between the seat & blanket. It keeps them safe but also leaves a lot more room in our suitcase for other important items.
4. SNACKS ON SNACKS ON SNACKS. Does your kid have a favorite snack? Bring it. Zip lock baggies will be your best friend. One time I brought lollipops for my oldest thinking it would be a good substitution for her sippy cup or binky on take off and landing, no. It wasn’t. It was a sticky, awful mess and resulted in a meltdown when it was all gone/I wouldn’t let her eat the stick (she was around 18 months at the time but who am I kidding…she probably still would want to eat the stick now at 2).
Sugar is an awful idea. It backfires no matter how badly you want to “treat” your child for being well-behaved. Maybe save it for the car ride after the plane ride, at least that’s what works for me. I like to “treat” my toddler with a new notebook and stickers, a small little toy & a movie that she either hasn’t seen in a while or ever before.
Watered down apple juice has been a good one for us though because it’s diluted and something that she doesn’t get at home. I find it really helpful for take off and landing for the sucking motion which helps with not letting her ears get plugged.
My favorite snacks to pack for my 2 year old are, fruit snacks, goldfish, apple slices, rice cakes, Cheerios, yogurt melts and puffs (for my 9 month old, but they work for Blake too). Also, depending on how short your trip is, consider packing extra for the return flight in case you don’t have time to go to the store and restock.
5. Picky babies and warm bottles. My youngest is extremely picky about having a warm bottle and this was very worrisome for me when I flew for the first time since I had stopped nursing. I bought an on-the-go bottle warmer that was POS and didn’t work at all (luckily I had tested it the night before), so I was so stressed with what to do. I ended up asking the coffee & bagel places for hot water and filled up two bottles pre-flight. I know, I know. It’s not purified water, blah blah blah. It’s that or you have a hangry, hurting baby with pressure in her ears and no food in her belly. Again, I know, I know. That water is f***ing hot. They will warn you a million times about how hot it is too. It worked out great if filled a hour before take off and I asked for a cup of ice as soon as I was settled in my seat. Then I would test the milk, and if for some reason was still too hot, I just dropped a few ice cubes in and BOOM, warm milk. It worked WONDERFULLY.
6. Drinks and Binks all around for take off and landing. Nothing is more terrifying about flying with young children than the thought of them not being able to pop their ears while in flight. We all know how painful that can be so MAKE SURE they have something, ANYTHING to suck/chew on during take off and landing. My go-to is always a bottle for my infant, and a sippy cup for my toddler. The trick is not to deprive them of any type of liquid before but just long enough to make sure they’re thirsty. For babies, if you wait too long they will never make it off the runway without it and then you’re just SOL if they decide to be done feeding before you’ve reached cruising altitude. For my toddler (Blake), I like to make sure she has something to eat before boarding, but I don’t give her her milk or watered down apple juice (or even let her see it) until we are wheels up. As soon as both are done with their beverages of choice, I stick those binkies in and say a prayer that it works or they fall asleep.
7. To carseat or not to carseat? That is the question. I’m just going to tell you right now, DON’T. Cough up the $70 and buy this Airplane Travel Harness. Your wallet will be lighter but your travels will be so much smoother. It is so easy to install and keeps those little stinkers locked in. The first time I traveled with both girls my husband came with and even with the two of us it was hard. It made me so nervous about ever traveling by myself with them. We had to lug around so much CRAP including my toddler’s carseat and installing it on the plane was tough work. Think about how fun it is to install in a car and then multiple that by 10. All the while you’re trying to wrangle your tiny little bull trying to get out of her pen. I did it once solo and it was even harder with a 6 month old strapped to my chest, so for my next flight I decided to ditch the carseat completely and go with the harness. It was SO MUCH BETTER. Seriously, just do it.
8. Nursing Pillows. For some it might seem like a lot to bring your boppy on the plane with you (not to mention how dirty it can get), BUT for small babies especially who are nursing it is a lifesaver. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to try and make room to pull your boob out of your shirt with a little human quite literally chomping at the bit to get at it and not flashing the entire plane? The nursing pillow is a message to your neighbors that, hey, I need my elbow room and this is how much you’re giving me. After I stopped nursing my girls were usually big enough where the pillow became too much, but in the early months it was so nice! Plus, you can bring an extra cover & wash the dirty one, fascinating concept.
9. What to check at the gate and what can go before. In my experiences, bringing my stroller to the gate has proven to be far more effective. I strap my youngest into the carrier and have my toddler ride in the stroller next to the carry ons. I don’t know about you but I would much rather have a spot to throw all that junk and carry a little baby instead of a diaper bag. Not to mention it keeps your little flight risk in a safe spot where you can go gate to gate, etc. (also allows you to pee in “peace”), without having to stress about where they are.
There does come a time when the poor kid just needs to stretch her legs and I never thought I would leash my kid BUT hear me out. This Anti-Lost Wrist Link is a game changer. Blake is able to run next to the stroller in between flights or on the way to baggage claim and burn off all that toddler energy. The best part? She was stuck to me. Our wrists were connected and I didn’t have to worry about her. If you did not want to bring a stroller at all (or wanted to check it with your bags) this is your best bet for a stress free airport experience with a toddler.
I used to fly with my Uppababy Vista double stroller but it just became too much of a beast for me to handle on my own. Not only is it a small car payment to purchase, it has lots of parts and to fold it down requires removal of seats, which then requires seat bags (to keep your small car in nice shape). I purchased a double umbrella stroller for my last solo flight and it made all the difference (I went with the Uppababy G-Link stroller. Before when I only had one kiddo I had the Maclaren and was wonderful too). As much as I love my Vista, it’s not great for traveling, even in the car because it takes up so much space and I was always stressed about how they were treating it while loading it into the plane. The scratch marks on it are proof enough that it is not handled with as much care as I would like. Why do I chose to gate check my stroller? Because despite the small scratch marks, it’s less for my poor stroller to go through. It gets loaded last, and taken out first. Simple as that.
10. Boarding early is not always best. Too much time on the plane before take-off can lead to antsy kids & hungry babies. It’s usually a solid 20 minutes from when the wheels start to move before you’re rolling down the runway for take off anyway, so don’t add extra time by boarding early. Sometimes it is nice because you can get settled without a bunch of people waiting for you to get in your seat, but don’t worry about them. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. Boarding too early can also result in extra diaper changes and if you have multiple kids you’re flying with this becomes near impossible to accomplish. You can’t leave your older child alone in the seat (at least I can’t, she would lose her mind), and your other option is to take them out of the seat you just managed to get them in and somehow make sure they don’t touch a thing in that teeny tiny airplane bathroom. I always change diapers RIGHT before I board. I literally take them over to the side of the gate in a secluded spot, change them & hop right on. I want to make sure I wait until the very last second so I can try to avoid changing one on the plane at all. Typically, if you have a lap child you can just stealthy change on your lap (if you roll your eyes about changing a diaper in public we cannot be friends). Gotta do what you gotta do, right?
11. What to do when your kids are losing their sh*t. It is SO hard to not lose your cool when your children are throwing fits, especially in public. I’ve had multiple experiences where I find myself crying in public because my toddler is being a straight up a**hole. Kids completely feed off of your energy. If you’re acting stressed out and tense, they pick up on it. I found this especially true when you have a lap child who is an infant. One time, Charley, my sweet, sweet, Charley, SCREAMED HER HEAD OFF FOR 30 MINUTES STRAIGHT on a flight. Lucky for me, she was the only one with me so I didn’t have to tend to Blake as well. I was panicking. Like, majorly panicking. I was stressed about what everyone on the plane was thinking of me. I just wanted to scream out to the plane, I swear I’m a good mom! She wouldn’t nurse, she wouldn’t take her binky, she didn’t want her toys. Nothing. As soon as I started to calm myself she started to slow down, then started to close her eyes and eventually fell asleep. It was all because I decided to stop trying to fix her and instead I put myself in check. She needed me to console her, not shove nipples and binkies down her throat.
12. Dress comfortably, not stylishly. This applies for both you and your littles. Babies need to be in something that can be easily taken off for diaper changes, etc. but that is also comfortable. For toddlers, the more basic the better, comfy shoes and a comfy outfit. It is not about looking like you just stepped out of magazine, ESPECIALLY if you’re planning to nurse on the flight. Be practical, and remember the goal of the day is survival, not to make it into Vogue.
13. Accept help when it’s offered. Typically people are VERY kind to parents traveling with kids. In my experience, most have been impressed and just want to give me a hand in anyway they can. I used to not accept it because I was too proud but now I gladly take it. You want to carry my bag off for me? PLEASE! You want to help me pack up my toddler’s backpack? THANK YOU! It truly takes a village to raise a child and though these people on the plane are not necessarily shaping who your kids are going to be one day, they are giving you something you desperately need…a break.
Traveling is a huge task to ask of you as a parent and not to mention a lot to ask of young children so when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re a freaking badass and one day your screaming little kid is going to grow up and appreciate the experiences you allowed them to have because you were brave enough to take them with.