Now that Hudson has flown on an airplane over 10 times, I thought it might be helpful to write up a little post on some of my best tips for traveling with a toddler! I know I did tons of research before taking Hudson on an airplane for the first time, and it totally helped me with all that was out there.
The first time Hudson flew on an airplane he was only 10 months old, and now only 8 months later and he has already flown over 10 times. I wouldn’t say we are complete pros, because we still learn new tricks every time we go, but we have definitely figured some things out along the way.
So without further ado, in no particular order, here are my top 10 tips for traveling with a toddler:
1. The time of day you fly really does make a difference
I know you don’t always have complete control over what time of day your flight is, but just keep it in mind when planning out how your little one might act. We are always first to book whatever the cheapest flight time is, whether its 6AM or 10PM, but we know when we do this, we might need to have a few extra tricks up our sleeve if the flight messes up the sleep schedule. When Hudson was younger, he would quickly fall asleep as the plane took off (maybe the engine noise helped?) but as he has gotten older, he is more mesmerized by looking out the window or jumping on the seat in front of him.
2. Pack their favorite snacks, and maybe even an extra special toy
Snacks, snacks, snacks. Pack their favorites, pack more than they need, and even bring something extra special. If there is a special snack you know they love, but rarely get at home, bring it along with you and pull it out on the plane when they start to get fidgety. They will be so excited and eating time also helps to make the time pass by. Another thing we do is bring an extra special toy, usually something they don’t have at home. On our most recent flight I bought Hudson a small package of glow sticks at the dollar store and when he started to get fussy, I pulled them out and surprised him with them. He hadn’t really ever played with them before, so it was extra special for him and it kept him content for at least 30 minutes. (Now that I’m typing this out, I’m kind of surprised they let us bring them through security, but we’ll keep doing it as long as we’re able!)
3. Download movies BEFORE you go
Okay, so we definitely are not those types of parents that just pull out our phones or put on a movie for our kid to watch just to keep him quiet. But as Hudson has gotten older, desperate times call for desperate measures. I normally use this option as a backup plan if no more snacks are working, we’ve gone through all the toys, and he just won’t calm down. So for our own sanity, if nothing else works, this is what we do. We’ve got the Netflix and Amazon Prime apps, so before our trip (need to be on wifi) we will download some shows to the apps, and then they can be watched while your phone is offline. Again, its something that normally only keeps him content for about 30 minutes, because we don’t let him normally watch TV, but time is time, and whatever works, works!
4. Don’t take offense…
One of my favorite things, and I always chuckle when it happens, is to watch people boarding the plane, notice you have a baby, and try to not make eye contact with you so that they don’t have to be the one stuck sitting next to you. Since Hudson is still under two, we don’t buy him his own seat (hooray for saving money!) so that means in the three person rows, there is one lucky person that gets stuck next to the lady with the baby. But don’t take offense that no one wants to sit next to you. I usually end up holding Hudson proud and high above the seats, so that if there is going to be one extra empty seat on the plane, maybe no one will take the one next to us and we can have the extra space.
5. BEST thing you could ever do: TSA Pre-check
Not even kidding, TSA Pre-check has changed our lives!! If you don’t know what TSA Pre-check is, look into it! In a nutshell, you have no line going through security, don’t have to take off our shoes or jackets, and you don’t have to remove your computer from your bag. After about the first four flights of not having Pre-check, we looked into it, signed up, and it made the airport process ten times better. Seriously though, it has taken away so much stress that we would have. Knowing that we don’t have to arrive super early to the airport to accommodate long security lines, and not having to remove things from our bags has made it all so worth it. I could go on and on about how much easier it has made things for us. It does cost $80 per person (you don’t have to pay for kids under 12 years old) and you do have to go through a background check and fingerprinting process, but I promise it’s worth it! We can now walk into the airport and get past security within 10 minutes and it’s just such a huge relief to have, especially having a baby and having so many baby items with you. TSA Pre-check works with all major airlines and domestic flights.
6. Take a cool down moment
Yes, it will happen. At some point, your kid will be the one going crazy, bothering everyone else, and throwing a fit on the plane. It is just a matter of time. So if you need to, and hopefully you have someone else with you, take a cool down moment for yourself. On one of our 6AM flights back to Indiana from Texas, nothing would please Hudson! I had just had enough of Hudson and I couldn’t do it anymore so I gave Hudson to Halton and had my cool down moment in that tiny airplane bathroom. I may or may not have let out a few frustrating sighs in there, but I needed to just get away for a bit. Once I had my composure back, I went back and found my seat and tried again at making Hudson happy. Just know its okay to get frustrated, and if you need to take a moment, do it.
7. Gate check
This is something we go back and fourth on doing, depending on the trip. We always check Hudson’s carseat with the rest of our luggage at the ticket counter, but sometime we bring his stroller all the way to gate with us and gate check it there. In doing this, you are able to have the stroller while you are just hanging out in the airport waiting for your flight and then when it is time to board, you leave the stroller at the gate for them to pack under the plane. Once you reach your destination they bring it back out the gate, right where you get off the plane, for you retrieve before you go get the rest of your luggage. We have done everything from bringing no stroller and just wearing Hudson in a sling around us, to having the stroller and using it more for storage than for him to actually sit in. Both options have their pros and cons. I’d say it really just depends on what all bags you have and if your kids likes their stroller. In the beginning, Hudson was not a fan of the stroller so it was of no use to us, besides carrying our extra backpacks that we were bringing on the plane. But now he does actually like to ride in it and it is nice to be hands free while going through security, plus it does make for a nice high char if you need it in the airport.
8. Family Boarding
We primarily fly Southwest, but I imagine all airlines have family boarding. With Southwest, 24 hours before your flight departure you are supposed to check-in for your flight. The time that you check-in effects your boarding position. However, with family boarding, it doesn’t matter when you check-in because families all get to board at the same time and relatively early. After all of the priority and A-list boarding goes, family boarding is next, which is great! Most of the time this allows families to be able to find seats next to each other on the plane. So if you forgot to check in early with your tickets, just listen for family boarding and you’ll be good to go!
9. Let them get their energy out!
If you’ve got a little bit of waiting time in between getting to the airport and when your flight boards, let your kids have some free time out of your lap and out of their stroller. They are about to be strapped to a seat for however many hours, so give them some free time while they can. I have found that some airports actually have a little play area so look for that. But if there isn’t one at your airport, just let them roam around. Yeah you have to keep up with them and follow them around, and sometimes its more work than it’s worth, but keep in mind just as you need your legs stretched on a long trip, they do too.
10. Don’t worry about everyone else
All in all, do what is best for you and your little one, and don’t worry about everyone else. If nursing is what calms your baby on a flight then do it. If their just overly tired and nothing is working, and people are staring at you, brush it off. Kids will be kids and thats just how it is. I have come to find that I just have to let go of the control sometimes and not care about everyone around me. Don’t be embarrassed to be “that parent” or have “that screaming baby” on the plane. It happens and it’s okay. Trust me, we’ve had “that baby” and we just smile and wave at the people around us. You either get the pity looks or the sympathy looks, either way, who cares. Just keep telling yourself the flight only lasts so long and then you’ll be off. You’ve got this!
Edited to add: The day after I finished writing this post, we missed our flight from Chicago to Dallas and had to spend the night in an airport, with a rambunctious toddler. Talk about stress. Seriously though, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and we somehow managed to miss our flight. Through many tears, frustrating moments, and a sleepless night, I just had to realize you can’t plan for everything and sometimes God has another plan for you, whether you know why or not. Things will happen, like a car accident happening in front of you when you are just 15 minutes from the airport, or the TSA line oddly closing as soon as you get to the airport, and many other unforeseen events, but it’s out of your control and you’ve just gotta roll with it (that was definitely not my mindset when it was all happening). Do your planning, but just know, things happen. Happy planning friends!