Traveling with a Toddler – Tips & Tricks

Flying with a toddler can be challenging. You'll find tips & tricks to make flying with a toddler easier. (toddler airplane activities, toddler airplane seat decisions, how to get through the airport easily, etc.)

Piper’s First Big Trip

Earlier this month, Piper and I traveled to Virginia with my parents and sister to visit my aunt. This would be my first experience traveling with a toddler, on an airplane. My husband was unable to attend the trip with us due to work. I’m going to start off by saying, I don’t like flying. Like not even a little bit. My last airplane trip was coming home from our honeymoon five years ago and we had terrible turbulence. I was totally fine not getting on a plane after that. The idea of traveling with a toddler, on an airplane, which I’m already afraid of, was terrifying. I honestly don’t know that I would have gone if my parents didn’t go with us.

Reasons I was Terrified:

  • Airplane
  • Toddler (grumpy/sassy/tired/loud/energetic)
  • Small space
  • Lots of luggage
  • Lack of movement from seats
  • Lack of husband on the trip
  • Potty training
  • Would I be able to pack enough snacks?

There were plenty of reasons for me to be freaked out, but I started doing research early, on what I could and couldn’t bring, activities I could prepare, airline policies, etc. I’m one of those people that needs all the information so there is no confusion or upset when the actual event occurs. It’s the fear of the unknown, so by gaining the knowledge upfront, I feel more relaxed. My parents will tell you I wasn’t relaxed, but I feel like there were many things that could have gone awry if I wouldn’t have known about them going in.

I’m sure other parents feel the same way about airplane travel with a toddler. It’s just nervewracking the first time (or second or third, maybe forever…I don’t know). Because I’m certain of this, I thought I’d share what helped us travel a bit easier.

Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

Toddler Airplane Seat

If your child is under two, you have the option for them to be a “lap infant” or to purchase a seat for them. If they are over two, you are required to purchase a seat for them. As much as it sucks to spend more money, I would highly recommend you purchase a seat for your under 2-year-old and either bring along an FAA approved car seat or purchase an FAA approved harness, like the CARES harness (child must be 22-44 pounds). Not only is it safer for them to be in a restraint in the case of turbulence, but my daughter and likely other children behave so much better when they’re strapped into their car seat and know they can’t get out.

QUICK TIP: Many airlines will let those who have car seats board the plane early. Ask your airline when you check in. 

I can’t imagine the disaster it would have been for her to sit on my lap. She would have been trying to get down and throwing monster fits trying to run around. I was not having that, so I spent the extra $250 and once she was strapped in, it was an easy ride. I also needed a car seat for her once we landed and I wasn’t about the trust a car seat provided by the rental company.

QUICK TIP: If you bring along a car seat, ask for a seatbelt extender as you board the plane. It will make life easier when trying to buckle/unbuckle the seatbelt.

Another perk of purchasing her a seat was that I could bring a personal bag and carry-on bag specifically for her, which meant we didn’t have to check any luggage!

Flying with a toddler can be challenging. You'll find tips & tricks to make flying with a toddler easier. (toddler airplane activities, toddler airplane seat decisions, how to get through the airport easily, etc.)

Getting Through the Airport & Security

QUICK TIP: Arrive at the airport earlier than you would if you weren’t traveling with a little one. All of their “stuff” can cause security to take a bit longer.

Babywearing was a life-saver, per usual. I strapped Piper onto my front using my Tula buckle carrier and was able to wear a backpack, carry my bag, and push/pull any luggage I needed to. I’m just going to reiterate here that I had the help of my parents and sister. I really don’t know how I would have managed alone (2 suitcases, a backpack, a purse, and a car seat). Either way, wearing her kept her safe and my hands free.

When you get to security, the carrier has to come off but I was able to carry her in my arms through the detectors.

QUICK TIP: Children’s shoes don’t have to come off when going through security! Getting shoes on is a struggle when at home. I can’t imagine having to do that while trying to gather belongings and deal with security.

Toddler Airplane Activites

Because I purchased my daughter a seat, I was able to bring a personal bag for her which was FULL of activities for her to do on the plane and on our visit to my aunt’s. I purchased an adorable backpack from Target. It isn’t one of those little backpacks, it’s a full-sized backpack that was perfect for all of the activities I brought along.

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 Flying with a toddler can be challenging. You'll find tips & tricks to make flying with a toddler easier. (toddler airplane activities, toddler airplane seat decisions, how to get through the airport easily, etc.)

Backpack Items:

3 full-sized books and 1 mini book (THIS is one of the books we brought)
2 full-sized reusable sticker books1 set of window clings
2 coloring books
2 paint-with-water packets
5 mini puzzles
1 set of Triangular Crayons (they don’t roll, which makes them great for travel)
Crayola Color Wonder 10 Mini Markers
mini Etch-a-Sketch
1 wooden car
nuts & bolts activity bag
velcro sticks activity bag
animal matching activity bag
colored clothespin activity bag
stickers & paper activity bag
felt cupcake activity bag
colored pompom matching activity
lacing cards activity bag
magnetic maze
Mickey Mouse Fun Pack
1 blanket

Flying with a toddler can be challenging. You'll find tips & tricks to make flying with a toddler easier. (toddler airplane activities, toddler airplane seat decisions, how to get through the airport easily, etc.)

QUICK TIP: If your child likes blocks or other toys/activities that have a lot of pieces, take 5-10 pieces in your activity bag. Your child will still get to enjoy their favorite toys, but on a smaller scale that makes traveling easier.

I probably went overboard with the amount of stuff that I brought with us, but I wanted her to be entertained so she wasn’t getting into trouble. The activities definitely kept her busy and made the trip easier.

My number 1 tip for traveling with a toddler is…..

Bring ALL the Snacks…

and your child’s favorite cup (leave it empty through security and then fill it up). While Piper enjoyed the activities I put together for her on the airplane, she really just cared about the snacks. I purchased a small tackle box that would fit inside my personal bag and filled it with Piper’s favorite snacks. She asked to eat throughout all of our flights, so it was easy to pull that out and set it on her lap. She could choose the snacks she wanted and closed it up when she was done. It was a pretty great set-up. I saw the idea on Pinterest a long time ago and was excited to try it out.

Snack Ideas:

cheese crackers (Goldfish, Annie’s Organic Bunnies, Cheez-Its, etc.)
graham crackers (Teddy Grahams, Bunny Grahams, Honey Maid Graham crackers split into fours)
raisins or other dried fruits
sunflower seeds
peanuts
pretzel sticks
granola bars
m&m’s (I brought a small amount with as a “reward” for good behavior)

QUICK TIP: If your child likes peanuts, put them in a separate container. One of our flights was a peanut-free flight due to a food allergy and since the peanuts were in the same container as the rest of the snacks, Piper could eat her snacks on that flight. 

Flying with a toddler can be challenging. You'll find tips & tricks to make flying with a toddler easier. (toddler airplane activities, toddler airplane seat decisions, how to get through the airport easily, etc.)

Those are my Tips & Tricks!

Traveling with a toddler can be so stressful, but I hope that these tips and tricks will help you travel a little easier. I often think about how I want to take my daughter to all of these awesome places, but I forget about the trip to get there. I think that fear/stress can hold us back sometimes, so finding ways to make traveling with a toddler, or other children, easier can help us provide those experiences for our children. Enjoy your adventures!

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