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Tips for flying with a toddler

220706_traveltoddler_phxThank you to the Phoenix airport employee who was so kind to take our photo!

Recently I flew with Maeve twice, to and from Minneapolis for our Eau Claire trip. Each flight was about two and a half hours and I was nervous about how it would go. That's a long time to be stuck in a confined area if your toddler is unhappy! I'm happy, and relieved, to report that Maeve was a champ traveler and I truly enjoyed traveling with her.

In case anyone else will soon be traveling with a toddler I wanted to share some tips and things to pack that worked well for us:

+ Bring a car seat for the plane and stroller. Our everyday car seat for Maeve is a heavy Diono and I knew I couldn't lug that through the airport. I fretted over the extra expense of whether to buy a new car seat for the plane (since Chris could have brought it in the car). I'm so thankful I decided to buy this lightweight convertible car seat which is approved to use on planes. Maeve was nice and snug in her plane car seat and I had peace of mind that she couldn't hop out of her seat if she wanted to. I also brought our Chicco Bravo stroller. In unfamiliar situations Maeve often wants to be carried so I was thrilled that she was happy to be in her stroller through the airport.

220706_traveltoddler_strollerCar seat tucked into the stroller with the strap hook securing it. It also worked to wrap the strap around the stroller handle several times.

Although our stroller and the car seat I brought aren't a "system" I was able to carry the car seat on the stroller. By tucking the car seat into the back of the stroller and wrapping one of its straps around the stroller handle to secure it I could easily push them both while Maeve was in the stroller.

+ TSA pre-check!! We finally did this ahead of traveling last summer and the very first time we flew with TSA Pre-Check I thought both, "This has already paid for itself, " and "Why the heck didn't we do this years ago?!" Spending less time waiting in lines plus eliminating the hassle of having to remove things from your carry-on and then put them back while managing kids is 1,000% worth it. If you don't have TSA Pre-Check and plan to fly even once this year please gift it to yourself, whether you have kids or not.

+ Check luggage curbside, just bring $ for a tip. I know opinions differ but I always prefer to check luggage so that I'm not lugging my bag around or stressed about finding overhead space on the plane. Especially when I'm traveling with kids, I like to check my luggage curbside where the line is shorter and I can offload bags quickly. I just make sure to get cash before we travel so I have a $5 bill to tip the curbside attendant. I've been in the situation where I paid $5 to check in curbside and then walked inside to see a massive line at the ticket counter that we would have had to wait in. Avoiding all that for $5? So worth it!!

Apologies for the not-great photo; I took this the night before Maeve I traveled.

+ Bring so many snacks. I told Chris recently, "However many snacks you think you'll need for the trip, times that by 5 and that's how much you should bring." That's probably a little extreme but I've also been in the situation where the boys have eaten all the snacks I brought before we even boarded the plane. Better to arrive with extra snacks than to run out. So don't hold back!

A few tips for snacks...

    + Buy pre-packaged snacks so you aren't dealing with a big open bag of something.

    + Beware anything with melty or messy chocolate unless the kids are older because it'll cause a big mess. See the Nutella dip in the photo above? Not a great choice for a toddler it turns out.

    + Go for novelty. Traveling is the perfect time to buy snacks that kids don't usually see at home. Anything that will catch their attention or bring a small joy is worth it. For Maeve, fruit snacks and little bags of mini chocolate chip cookies or Oreos were a big hit.

    + Store snacks together in a ziplock back in your bag, with maybe one or two hidden emergency snacks (think candy or whatever might help in the event of a meltdown). My hidden snacks were two mini packs of M&Ms.

+ Bring several new activities. My plan for flying with a toddler was to always have something new to bring out of my bag, whether that was a snack or an activity. Luckily Maeve has a pretty good attention span for her age and generally likes calm activities like stickers. I remember Dash being more active and not quite so easily pacified with activities like this when we flew with him as a toddler. Here are the activities I brought with us:

    + A clear bag with a few pages of stickers and paper. Maeve is very into stickers so new ones always delight her.

    + A bag of cut up pipe cleaners. Not a huge hit but we played with them for a few minutes.

    + New toy cars. She was excited for these! (I can't find the link to the ones I bought at Target but these are similar although I'm sure I didn't pay $24.)

    + A busy pillow with lots of fasteners to work on. Maeve LOVES to fasten her car seat harness herself so she was very excited about this. She didn't play with it for very long but she might still be a tad young. And any peaceful minute is worth it!

    + Animal Magnets book. She loooved this and continued to want to play with it while we were in Eau Claire.

    + Make-a-face sticker book. Also a success although she doesn't know how to make faces with the stickers yet.

    + Reusable sticker book. Another big hit. The stickers were hard for her to get off herself so I'd remove them and let her place them.

    + A clear bag with markers, sticky tabs (that we already had), and paper. She loved sticking the sticky tabs everywhere.

    + Many small puff balls in a rinsed out cottage cheese container. I cut the top of the container into pie slices so that you could poke a puffy ball down into the container. However, the tips were pretty sharp! I should have made small circles like this tutorial. The puff balls themselves were a hit and we made up games with them for a while.

    + Band-aids. Maeve loooves band-aids. She also loves Baby Shark. On the way home I was given several to wear on my arm.

    + A small pouch with little figurines. I used a zippered pouch we already had and tucked some bath toy figures that we had inside. We never ended up getting this out but I think Maeve would have liked pretending a scene or two with me for a while.



+ Have screen time content ready, if you'd like. I am all for unrestricted screen time on airplanes (or in cars) for kids but Maeve is still young enough that screens only get us so far. Or they can backfire and she can get upset. So I planned enough activities for screen-free flights although would have brought out my phone to look at photos or watch a show if a meltdown was on the horizon. As it turned out, our Delta flights had screens on the back of each seat with movies and shows. It was actually awesome. Maeve would watch something for a little while and then when her attention shifted I could find a new activity for her. We watching Frozen off and on during the flight out, and on the way back watched a lot of Encanto which I had never seen and loved. Maeve fell asleep watching it too which was a gift.

+ Narrate what's happening or what you're about to do. Toddlers want to know what's going on and the airport can be overwhelming. I tried to get down on Maeve's level and explain to her what was about to happen and then what we were doing. She really likes knowing about what we're doing or what we did and asks, "Again?" to hear it one more time (and again and again :) ). During the flight I told her how we'd be going up in the air or starting to land and that it might be bumpy but that's okay. With all my kids I've always told them, "If you feel scared just look at my face and you'll see that everything is okay." Maeve wanted me to hold her hand and snuggle all through landing which I happily did.


+ Bring snacks and an activity for yourself, too! My go-to plane snack is my favorite dark chocolate peanut butter Perfect bar. I also always get a coffee when I'm at an airport (and always make sure to have or buy gum because NO to coffee breath). Find little ways to treat yourself because flying with a toddler is not for the faint of heart! Or the under-caffeinated. I had my Kindle tucked in my bag on the off chance Maeve would sleep and sure enough she did, for nearly an hour!, on the flight home. I ended up using the time to document the last part of our trip on Instagram which was fun.


Those are the things that worked well for me during recent travel with my 2-year-old toddler. I'd love to hear your tips for traveling with toddlers or young kids!