I didn’t make it to Europe until I was 18 years old. But in her 2 ½ years on this planet, my toddler can count England, Ireland, Scotland, Hawaii, Washington state, and several East Coast cities amongst the destinations she’s visited. And as a result of her frequent flier status, she’s become quite the unicorn of toddler air travel. Instead of being a nightmare to fly with, strangers actually comment on how well behaved she is when we fly. Part of this is surely just luck and her natural personality, but part of it is that we’ve traveled with her often and have our routine down pat. So today I wanted to share a few tips for any parents out there looking to take a trip with a tiny tot in tow…
1. Bring the Baby Carrier
Whether you babywear on a regular basis or not, a baby carrier is a must-have item for airport travel with any child light enough to carry. Dealing with both a stroller and a suitcase can be unwieldy, and forget trying to run after an already mobile toddler in a busy airport. Babywearing through security is simply the best and easiest solution we’ve found—the TSA even allows you to keep your little one in the carrier as you go through security. At times we bring the umbrella stroller to gate check too—but we simply use it as a luggage cart for all of our carry-on items until we board! Plus, if you do choose to travel with a lap infant, the carrier will also come in handy throughout the flight itself.
2. Spring for a Seat if You Can Swing It
Airlines allow you to fly with a “lap infant” until the age of two, meaning you don’t have to buy your baby their own seat and can hold them throughout the flight. On one hand, it’s certainly nice to take advantage of these couple of years before family travel gets significantly more expensive (which we did plenty of times). But if money is not an issue, know that having a seat for your baby or child will make things 1,000 times easier (and is also the safer option). In spite of the “terrible twos” stereotype, air travel actually got significantly easier once my daughter turned two and we no longer had to keep an antsy infant on our lap the whole time. Now, we always bring a car seat on the plane, and since she’s already used to sitting still in her car seat anyway, she’s pretty happy throughout the flight.
3. Book the Bulkhead Seats
If you have ever traveled internationally with a baby, you may be aware that the bulkhead seats have bouncer and bassinet attachments for baby to sleep on. There is no extra charge for this, and you can simply request the attachments from the flight attendant once you takeoff!
4. Stock up on Snacks
Snacks are key for keeping any little one happy on a plane. We always like to stock up at the super market pre-trip since airport food often leaves a lot to be desired in both the nutrition and the taste department. Know that typical TSA limits on liquids do not apply to food or drinks for babies and toddlers. You can bring whatever quantities you need of breast milk, formula, water, pouch baby food, etc. on the plane for your little one—just give yourselves a few extra minutes to get through security as they may need to have an officer look through it all.
5. Try a New Toy
The novelty and excitement of a brand new toy can make a huge difference in keeping your little one occupied for the whole flight. When my daughter was an infant, light up items like this one were a huge hit and would even stop her from crying. Now that she is older, our go-to is usually a new sticker book or even a couple rolls of washi tape—neither of which take up a lot of space in our carry-on, which is also a plus.
6. Bend the Rules
If you’re normally strict about screen time or snacking in between meals, know that when you are 30,000 feet up in the air it is A-OK to throw those rules out the window and do whatever helps keep your little one happy. TV is not at all a part of our routine at home, but when we travel, my daughter knows she gets to watch unlimited episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on the tablet with her toddler headphones. She’s thrilled and it keeps her in her seat the whole time.
7. Take a Travel Car Seat
If you have a pricey, heavy-duty car seat for use at home, I highly recommend investing in an inexpensive, lightweight one for travel. The Cosco Scenera Next (starting at $35) is a favorite travel convertible car seat among parents. It is definitely a no-frills seat, but it is unbelievably lightweight (making it easy to tote through security), and still adheres to all the necessary safety standards of course.
8. Travel Light… Yet Over Pack
Yes, this one is a total oxymoron. But if you can strike the balance between traveling light and also having everything you need on hand, then you have truly mastered the art of traveling with a tiny tot in tow. When it comes to toys, snacks, etc., look for items that don’t take up a ton of space (ie. no giant stuffed animal or air-filled bag of chips). But when it comes to true necessities, make sure you carry on more than you think you’ll need (ie. an extra change of clothes for both you and your little one; extra diapers and wipes if you still use them). The last thing you want is to be left in a bind should your flight get delayed or your luggage get lost.
9. Limit Your Expectations
Even with all of the above tricks up your sleeve, traveling with a little one is never going to be super fun or relaxing (and I know that some of you are rolling your eyes, calling that the understatement of the year). Definitely don’t expect to be able to take a long nap or watch a bunch of movies on the plane like you used to. Instead, if you brace yourself for a challenge, you’ll be ready to take on whatever your baby or toddler throws at you (figuratively or literally!). At the end of the day, the flight is just a way to get from point A to point B, and I promise you will all have a lot more fun once you’re off of the plane!
10. Travel Often
I saved it for last, but this is my very best tip. If you were a frequent flier before, having a baby does not have to mean the end of traveling. Yes, it will be a little more difficult at first—but just like anything else, traveling with a baby or toddler takes practice to get good at it. I really credit my daughter being easy on flights to the fact that she’s done it a lot—and that we’ve had a lot of experience keeping her occupied at this point. Every trip we take still comes with its set of challenges, but the good memories always far outweigh the bad.
There you have it!
Do you have any tips to add?
I’d love to hear where you’re going on your next vacation too…