The first time we got on a plane with our daughter she was just starting to walk. We discovered on that day that traveling with toddlers can actually be enjoyable. We had prepared well and benefited from our efforts.
We had heard so many horror stories about flying with a toddler that we were dreading it. If we hadn’t been moving across the country for a new job, I am not sure we would have dared it.
The day arrived. We got on the plane. We handed out little gift bags with ear plugs to our fellow travelers around us with notes apologizing for any disturbances in advance. We got knowing looks and smiles for our efforts.
While there were tears as the plane took off and landed due to changes in cabin air pressure, the rest of the flight went amazingly smoothly. We laughed. We played games. We slept.
We were so glad we had prepared well. The list offered below has become our go-to plan of action when we are preparing to travel with our daughter. She is no longer a toddler, but she is still a young child and many of the principles we learned on that first flight still apply today.
Browse through this set of helpful tips for traveling with toddlers intended to aid you with trip organization. We also have a free printable checklist ready to help you quickly and efficiently plan for your upcoming journey.
10 Tips for Travelling With Toddlers
#1) Checklists are Priceless
Before you do anything, anything at all, make sure you first make a checklist for your upcoming trip. You can use the structure of the one we created below and add/subtract based on your needs, or you can make one from scratch. Either way, a checklist is absolutely necessary to make sure you’re prepared.
If you’re planning on traveling even for a weekend with your spouse and your child, in my experience, you’ll need to carry at least 50 things with you that are all vital. How are you supposed to remember it all? No worries, we’ve got you covered! Take a look at the printable checklist.
#2) Talk about your travel with your kid
This is so simple to do, but so incredibly powerful. Play travel with your little ones before going. We made it into a game. We would go over the checklist and talk about each part of the travel plan with our daughter.
It was a great way to prepare her mentally for what we were about to do. No one likes negative surprises. Your child is no exception. So, what would you expect to happen if suddenly you discovered your beloved routine was being ignored and instead you had to sit still for 5 hours? I would be ticked, too!
Soon after we started talking about each item on the list, not so surprisingly, but still amazingly, our daughter’s games started to incorporate her perceptions of travel. This gave us invaluable insights into what worried her. It also gave us the chance to build positive excitement for the event.
#3) Health Issues: Vaccinate Well in Advance and Bring Medical Supplies
Vaccinating your child just before your travel date is a bad idea, and it can lead to fevers and rashes during your journey. It’s advisable to vaccinate as early as possible, leaving at least a month between the doctor’s appointment and your travel date.
We bring two types of medical supplies with us. The standard stuff for bumps and scrapes. These are small and easy to pack and make such a difference when you need them.
The second category is the “unique” medicines that might be hard to find. We stay as natural as we can, so we bring with us whatever supplements we need. Plus, we also prefer organic remedies, which often are not available at small, local pharmacies. So, if it’s cold season, then we bring our beloved remedies, which we mainly get from Wellevate.
Of course, if you have any prescriptions, then bring those, too. CVS recently added a free delivery option, which is great for refills. I hope this becomes a permanent option!
#4) Carry New Toys
If you find that your child is being extra moody or isn’t behaving the way they normally would when you’re home, it’s time to whip out a brand new toy to keep the mood light during the journey.
This is especially useful during road trips or long flights because you don’t want to get boxed in with an epic meltdown — and nothing cheers a toddler up like a new toy. It surely helps get me in a good mood!
If you are looking for inspiration about what to bring, then you might enjoy reading Traveling with Kids: Top Five Products to Promote Creative Thinking.
#5) Bring Extra Clothes
Expect the unexpected when it comes to traveling with toddlers! It always helps to have a set of extra clothes handy because when an emergency strikes, you don’t want to have to use the airplane blanket to wrap your child. I even carry a spare top for myself, as accidents can occur anywhere.
#6) Keep Travel Snacks Handy
Snacks are super important. Spend one day with a toddler, and you know that to be true — I never leave home without a few healthy snacks.
A hungry child is a cranky child, making any challenging situation exponentially harder. Children’s brains often can’t rationally understand that their hunger may be temporary. They only know they are hungry.
Often children don’t register their hunger, so you need to watch for the telltale signs that you know better than anyone else. Things like:
- Continual whining that’s out of character
- Aggression towards others or toys
- Signs of tiredness – yawning, rubbing their eyes
- Asking for food or snacks outside their normal eating routine
Preemptively offer fruit, dried fruit, oat bars, sandwiches, breadsticks, granola, or whatever works best for your little human and all will be happier.
#7) Try to Fly at Night
If you have a relatively long flight ahead of you, try your best to fly at night so as not to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle. If your toddler’s rhythm shifts on day one, you’re in for a lot of trouble because the rest of the time is spent adjusting the cycle again.
A night journey minimizes this risk and allows your infant to rest when they’re naturally supposed to be resting. Plus, mom and dad can sit back and relax rather than spending the whole flight running up and down the plane aisle.
#8) Always Have a Portable Changing Station
You never really know when nature is going to call, do you? Whenever that fateful moment occurs, it’s advisable to be ready with a changing station to tackle the situation.
It’s best to dedicate a piece of luggage specifically for this cause, one that is easy to carry and has plenty of pouches for all the knick-knacks you may need to change your baby.
If your toddler has recently been potty trained, a portable potty may be a good idea, as you never know how far the restroom may be.
#9) Plan for Activities
You’re already carrying toys and snacks to entertain your child, but when you have the time, you should try and sneak some fun games and activities in to stimulate your little one. Books are also an excellent way to pass the time.
There are plenty of options in case you aren’t able to carry separate games or activities for your vacation. You can play 20 questions, i-spy, and the classic name, place, animal, thing game using letters of the alphabet.
#10) Food Sensitives and Allergies
This might not apply to everyone, but it does apply to us. Traveling with food allergies adds a whole extra layer of complexity to your trip.
We have found the best option is to pack snacks and meals for the flights and car travel as discussed above, then purchase items to be delivered the day we arrive.
We have had good luck purchasing our groceries with Amazon, Instacart, and Thrive Market. Amazon works much better if you are a Prime Member, but you can order groceries online without it, if you prefer.
We’ve been using these three online grocery delivery services for years and are pleased with them. We do shop around for best prices some, but when you compare it to driving to the store, shopping, and driving back, we definitely save a considerable amount of time by buying our groceries this way.
And, since these services do not charge extra per item, our total cost for groceries per year is about the same. The only extra cost for us is the cost of membership fees, which is a couple hundred dollars for all of them. If you prefer, though, you can pay a delivery fee instead of paying for a membership fee.
Bonus Tip: Plan Ahead, Way Ahead
I hesitate to count this one as a tip. It should be obvious. But, it was not for me.
Pre-child, my favorite style of vacation was to purchase a round trip ticket to wherever and wing the rest of the trip when I got there. This works great when you are a seasoned traveler and always up for an adventure.
This does not work well when your little one is tired and hungry because you missed a flight, the accommodations aren’t right, or you forgot a lovey at home. Your margin for error when you have a young child is quite small.
It was only because we created a checklist and thought through the scenarios that I realized that my care-free travel instincts left unchecked would have resulted in chaos.
So, make sure you have your accommodation booked and your itinerary locked down before you leave the comfort of your own home.
We still do not plan out our daily activities before leaving. We prefer to leave lots of room for adapting to moods, energy levels, and whims. But, we do plan our accommodations, access to food that meets our dietary restrictions, and plane or car rental travel in great detail way, way early.
Things to Take on a Plane
- Important documents such as your passport, visa, license, and any other form of ID you may need
- Airplane travel harness (for toddlers)
- Diaper bag
- Diaper stock
- Wet wipes and other cleaning tools
- Spare clothes
- Rear-facing car seats (for infants)
- Items for babies
- Items for parents
- Entertainment (toys or any gadgets)
- Travel stroller
- Baby carrier
To and From Plane
- Car seat for toddlers
- Car seat travel bag
Things for Your Vacation
- Clothes for kids
- Clothes for adults
- Bathroom supplies
- First aid kit
- Things for destination (beachwear, winter wear)
- Child’s nighttime things (baby monitor, stuffed animal, sound machine)
- Chargers for electronics
In Case of Allergies and Any Sensitivities
- Health insurance
- Travel insurance
Commonly Asked Questions About Traveling With Toddlers
How Do You Travel With a Toddler?
When you’re hitting the road with your infant for the first time, it may seem like a strange and unnerving experience because of various fears and uncertainties running through your mind. This feeling tends to pass fairly quickly and before long you tend to have a drill in place every time you’re planning for a vacation.
Going on a trip with your little one can be a special experience once you pack and carry everything you need. Planning is key here! Once you learn how to plan for vacations with your child, everything else falls into place.
Do I Need a Car Seat to Fly With a 2 Year Old?
According to regulations, children under the age of 2 require a rear-facing child restraint seat. Although you can place your child on your lap whenever you want, it’s recommended that you leave your infant in the seat for the majority of the journey.
This is because most flights tend to experience some level of turbulence during the journey, and things can get quite hairy in certain scenarios. Having a child restraint seat gives you a lot more control over the situation and is altogether safer for you and your child.
What Can You Take on a Plane for a Toddler?
When you’re flying with a toddler, it’s best to carry these essentials with you for your journey:
- Child restraint seat: This allows you to safely place your child in their own seat in case you’re tired or you need to take a quick nap. The child is also far more comfortable in the seat in comparison to your lap.
- Entertainment tools: You can take a wide range of toys, gadgets, and activity books to keep your little one entertained during a long flight. There might be some restrictions on the number of gadgets you can carry based on your choice of airlines, but there are no restrictions on toys or books.
- Beverages: There are restrictions on beverages you can carry with you. There is a 3-ounce limit on liquids generally, but some airlines allow you to carry higher quantities of certain liquids if you have a child with you. An easy trick here would be to carry an empty sippy cup and fill it with the liquid of your choice once you’re through security.
- Food: There are fortunately no limitations on the snacks you can carry with you. When kids travel, they tend to need a lot more snacks than usual as they expend more energy. Make sure you pack plenty of their favorite foods to keep their spirits high at all points.
- Changing supplies: You’re more than welcome to carry all the supplies you need to change your baby mid-flight. In fact, it would be awfully uncomfortable for everyone on board if you didn’t carry all the necessary changing supplies, but the flight attendants may be able to help you in that scenario.
Is Travel Good for Toddlers?
A recent study showed that experiential gifts foster stronger social relationships than material gifts. Traveling is an experience that keeps on giving for the rest of a child’s life, because of the glorious memories they carry with them.
Apart from building social relationships, traveling has a wide range of benefits on the mind of an infant. It’s seen that traveling at an early age tends to enhance the developmental milestones in a child’s life.
Children also tend to be more adaptive and flexible when they’re used to long journeys at an early age. Some kids even tend to pick up bits and pieces of other languages when they visit foreign countries, and this greatly boosts their linguistic abilities.
Most importantly, though, travel tends to open the hearts and minds of children to various possibilities, introduces them to different kinds of people who are still essentially the same as them, and allows them to interact with the many incredible elements of our ginormous planet.
Products That Help When Traveling With Toddlers or Young Kids
- This lightweight stroller is perfect for traveling as it’s hand-luggage compatible and folds up super small with just two moves.
- This Travel Crib is backpack portable, lightweight, and baby safe.
- The safest travel option for babies is a car seat like this one, which can be a bit cumbersome to carry, but a carry pack with straps that you can wear like a backpack can help. Pro Tip: most airlines allow you to check your car seat at the gate for free, which is a great way to take your car seat with you when you plan to rent a car at your destination. It’s not a good idea, by the way, to use a rental car company’s car seat.
- If you have an older child or do not want to carry an entire car seat onto the plane, then this child airplane travel harness safety restraint system is FAA approved.
When In Roam…
Some of our best memories growing up involve visiting beautiful and memorable places with our family. There’s just something magical about a family vacation! It’s great that you’re trying to give your children the same, wonderful experiences you probably shared with your parents, except that today’s modern travel has changed the experience drastically.
You have a lot to think about when planning your trip. Hopefully, we’ve just helped you with one aspect of your trip. Just keep your checklist handy and cross off whatever you’re done, and relax. Your trip will be great!
And as a bonus, I’m sure you’ll never leave your child home alone like the McCallisters, right?