How is travelling with a young toddler different than an infant? We culminated our best thoughts on this in Traveling Tips: Toddlers & Airplanes. These little people tend to be mobile, verbal, extremely animated, enthralled with their surroundings and at times determined. Imagine the cutest, most unfiltered, unapologetic pint-sized version of you, your partner or distant relative taking to the friendly skies, knowing they might go through the entire range of human emotion within a span of 2 minutes flat. Ok, maybe 1 minute.
That’s what we were worried about with our toddler when flying from Colorado to Ireland with a layover at Heathrow. We didn’t want to believe our friends who told us that once they had kids, there was no such thing as vacations – only “trips”. Talk about joy-killing it! We ignored them, worried a bit and tried to anticipate challenges.
Traveling Tips: Toddlers & Airplanes
Here are some things that helped us on our travels…
Booking Your Flight
When we take short domestic flights, we usually skip purchasing a seat for our kid. They typically fly free on your lap until 2 yeas old, so with a little luck and solid engagement, this helps save some cash. If you’re able to get a couple of bulkhead seats, next to a window, it might help. The extra leg room could give your child space to stand without having to roam the aisle and be clobbered by a snack cart.
Any flights that are longer than 4 hours, we hunt for the most affordable fares that would allow him to have his own seat. We’ve encountered too many parents who tried traveling 8+ hours with their kid(s) on laps to know that we weren’t attempting that stroke inducing adventure. Hats off to those who master this skill.
Be sure to look-up car seat specifications for use on the flight. We bought a sturdy, lightweight, compact one. It gave us peace of mind for our final destinations knowing that we had a trusted car seat that wasn’t involved in any accidents.
We always research our seat options before finalizing reservations by checking out Seat Guru. You can see how much leg room you’ll have, if your seats recline and how much of a window your little person can bang on.
Aside from staying with family, we booked a lot of travel through sites that offered private residences. It gave us the opportunity to rent an entire home or condo to ourselves instead of being in a one room hotel. We loved being able to have a kitchen, yard and washer/dryer. Also, each place we booked had hosts who provided travel cots (aka playpens) and linens at no extra charge. We even had one host in Ireland who put together a crib for our stay. This gave us options to look at places that were walking friendly and near parks, where we connected with other parents while our kids played. They gave us tips on local happenings that we didn’t see online.
When we traveled to Ireland for two weeks, we weren’t sure what the weather was really going to bring, so we packed for many possibilities. In this case, rain boots, rain/mud coverall, 2 hats, mitts bibs, sunscreen and two extra pairs of shoes in addition to the rain boots. We used everything. The rain boots and coveralls were awesome. He was able to sit on the sand with the waves surrounding him without getting wet. That saved on laundry time. I ordered it a size up so that he could use it for more than one season. This is what we bought: Tuffo Unisex Baby Muddy Buddy Coverall.
The key to your carry-ons is to try to keep things light, compact and easily accessible. Our little guy was quite a walker, so we didn’t bother with the baby carrier unless we had to travel quickly through the airport or he fell asleep when we had to get off the plane. It might also come in handy if you decide not to book a seat so you can have support for your sleeping babe. Another tip, if you’re little person is able to wear pull-up diapers, that might save you time and aggravation in airplane bathrooms. Here are some of the carry-ons we loved:
Car Seat Transporter
If you can rent or borrow a stroller once you reach your destination, you can get away with using this to roll your toddler through the airport while they’re sitting in their car seat. Our little guy liked the view as we rushed to our gates and at times we’d hear him exclaim, “weeeee!”. The version we use is a collapsible one that is compact enough to fit in the overhead bin, depending on what plane you’re on. We purchased the Brica Smart Move Car Seat Transporter, but this is another option: GO-GO BABYZ TRAVELMATE Car Seat Travel Stroller for Toddler Car Seats. We also pack his Britax Back Seat Mirror in our checked luggage. It’s nice to check in on him while zipping around in our ride.
Pack lots of different options, but don’t let them know it. The last thing you want is to go into negotiations with a toddler or two about what’s in your bag and what they want first. We like to pack a pill box that he can hold and choose his own adventure with while on the plane. Just grab one at a dollar store and load up each container with fun things like crackers, cereal, marshmallows, & chocolate chips. Bring a couple of empty sippy cups or one with multiple lids to swap out. And don’t forget the wipes just in case they drop a cup or pacifier and you can’t easily get to running water! The cups we use are the Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup and Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup with Handles. We find that the handle option makes it easier for our little guy to drink. We ordered all four, packed two cups and all 4 interchangeable lids. Just in case one lid is dirty, we easily switch it out.
Pack items they have never seen and that won’t annoy other passengers. Use manila envelopes that aren’t see through for the Activity Envelopes below. This will keep them from seeing what’s in store as you pull an item out. Also, be sure to pace yourself in giving them new items from your bag. We made sure to spread it out for the entire two weeks we were abroad. Here’s what we had in this bad boy.
Old Cell Phone – Swipe it of all info in case lost. We created a dummy email account and loaded it with songs from Amazon Prime that could be played offline, offline videos, and offline apps.
3 Activity Envelope Ideas – I purchased all items at the dollar store so if lost or broken, it wouldn’t hurt as much. Here’s some of what we had: window clings, bendable hair curlers, 3D cards, small board books, notepad, triangular non-rolling crayons, all types of stickers, sticky notes (small and medium sized) for him to put all over the window and tray table, pipe cleaners, non-rolling spice jar with holes to stick pipe cleaners through, small pom poms to stick in spice jar, magnetic writing tablet, mini flashlight, toy cars (girls like ’em too), tiny dinosaurs and farm animal figurines, and some bounce balls. Go nuts! That place makes you feel like a gazillionaire when you’re in there with your kid.
Research the Airport
If you have time to research the airport you’ll be flying through, do it. We scoped out areas like family lounges, play areas, and family bathrooms. Subscribe in the top or side bar of this page to receive a list of U.S. and International airport maps for free! I’ll include what there is to do at those airports and baby gear rental resources available on and off site.
- Don’t worry about the kids adjusting to the time difference. Most likely, it’ll be easier for them than you!
- Check out more tips on this blog post: Tips for International Travel with an Infant
Before welcoming our little person, we promised to keep traveling. It’s provides us with the opportunity to learn about cultures, food and language in the “choose your own adventure” sort of way. I’m not going to tell you that every adventure we’ve been on has been blissful or smooth. No, we’ve had our fair share of public tantrums, HANgry outbursts and waking/sleeping at the most inopportune times. No matter, we still feed our wanderlust in hopes of fostering that love for our travel buddy.
What advice or questions do you have about traveling with a toddler? Comment below!