I’ll be the first to admit that air travel with a toddler can be hard. Our son Oliver doesn’t sleep—even on a long flight—and his attention span for books or even cartoons tends to be low when stuck in his seat on the plane. So after our first few trips together as a family, we regrouped and assessed what we could do to make life easier while traveling. And it worked! We just returned from an almost three week trip to visit both sides of our family, and I’m hoping a few of our tried-and-true air travel tips will save you some stress this holiday season—or any time throughout the year.
Lug Less on the Plane
I made list upon list before we traveled by air for the first time with baby Oliver: We had ample diapers in the carry-on and suitcase and multiple bottles. While this often brings a lot of comfort to parents of newborns (or at least it did for us), as kiddos get a bit older, it’s good to remind yourself that—unless you’re heading backcountry camping—you can likely purchase these items at your final destination. What we always want with us? Wipes. You’ll inevitably need those on the way to the airport, at the airport and on the plane.
Bring New Toys
When I packed for Oliver’s first overnight trip I figured I’d bring a few of his favorite toys, so he’d feel right at home in a new environment. Little did I know that new toys or objects kids have never played with are actually far better at grabbing (and keeping) their attention. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: A little packet of post-it notes, empty deli containers with lids, homemade playdough and packing tape are a few of our favorites. Of course you’ll want to bring any comfort toys on the plane—those your kids use to sleep or to quiet themselves—but air travel is a lot easier when you have a stash of small, novel items that you can whip out to keep them entertained no matter how long your flight.
Keep Your Milk Logistics Easy
If your kiddo is still drinking milk and you’re bringing it along for the flight, it’s likely not necessary to schlep it along in your carry-on on the plane. It took me far too long to realize this. I remember the days when I’d pack a little cooler of carefully portioned milk for Oliver on the airplane and they’d occasionally spill and create a lot of overall stress. Then while on a business trip, I realized that there’s milk for sale everywhere in the airport and most airlines actually stock it in their beverage cart. So save yourself the trouble and pick some up after passing through security or on the plane itself. Don’t forget a compact drying rack and bottle brush since you’ll want clean sippys and bottles for the trip. If your kids are beyond the milk age, bring healthy, travel-friendly snacks on the plane and use a spill-proof snack cup to keep things tidy. You definitely want finger foods for air travel, but you can prepare a selection of healthy snacks before your trip. A few of our favorite include veggie chips, banana muffins, and kid-friendly meatballs. Good tip: Let your kids help prep your snacks together—this way they’ll feel ownership over their snack choices and be more excited to sample them.
Don’t Rush to Board!
Most airlines have a policy of letting families with young children pre-board the plane, and I have friends who love this as you can get settled before the onslaught of passengers begins. But if you have an active toddler, might I recommend waiting? We like to use every minute of time before our flight to race around the airport and get Oliver’s energy out before settling into a small, confined space where we’ll all be staring at each other for hours.
Take Shifts Watching the Kids
Whether you’re out and about exploring a new city or stuck on an airplane heading to your final destination, at a certain point the kiddo-wrangling doesn’t need to be a two-person job. My husband and I started to take shifts on our last flight with Oliver and it’s been a game changer. The gist is that one person is “on” for a half hour (or you could do longer) and then we switch. The parent that’s not on listens to music or tries to watch a little something on TV if possible. Generally, we’re unable to read or sleep, but even that few minutes to close our eyes and check out helps break up air travel into more manageable chunks. Now that you have a plan for your travel day, use our complete guide to what to pack when traveling with kids.