Travelling with little kids can be nerve-wracking. There a millions guides and lists with tips and tricks to make your journey as smooth as possible. Having worked for an airline in my past life, I’ve travelled quite a bit with my older child before he was 4 (hello, pandemic!) including many overseas flights. In fact, I’m writing this blog post from the plane right now while these tips are being put into practice!
Here are my 5 tips for a stress-free (and enjoyable) flight with your toddler:
1. Pack lots of snacks
Pack more snacks than you think you’ll need and try to bring items that don’t require to be cooled (ice packs are not allowed through security) or warmed (they can do it on odd flights but it can depend on the flight attendant. My criteria is basically: food that’s good at room temperature, not messy, doesn’t require much disposal and are favourite snacks. It might sound intimidating but if you give it some thought with simple guidelines, you’ll come up with a list quickly!
Some of my favourite foods to bring are : waffles, buttered bagels, clementines, cut grapes, muffins, crackers & cheese, croissants, animal crackers (not the flakey ones).
Bento boxes and large weekly pill containers are useful to bring a variety of foods. Just be careful not to bring a large tray because if it spills, the whole snack is scattered on the floor. Bringing a variety of containers and reusable snack bags with zippers can make the snack more interesting (and give you options for snacks at your destination!)
2. Don’t arrive too early at the airport
Arriving early gives time for your littles to run around, but in my experience, the novelty can wear off and they’ll eventually get bored and and impatient. Then, you’re stuck boarding with a cranky toddler. Let your child run around and explore, but I’d suggest arriving at the gate no earlier than an hour prior to boarding. This is also a good tip in case your flight is unexpectedly delayed (which is every parents nightmare). Arriving 2 hours early can easily turn into 3-4!
3. Take advantage of the pre-boarding with kids
Pre-boarding gives you lots of time to get settled in your seats 💺 and lets your kids explore their space without pulling on their neighbour’s seat (yet!). It can be helpful in letting them “get their wiggles out” before they have to sit down.
4. Limit the number of toys you’re bringing on board
Packing your carry-ons to the brim with tons of activities might seem like a good idea, but the choice can be overwhelming for the kids and can become annoying for the parents to manage. Kids generally do well with less options (really, they do!).
Some suggestions that have really worked well for us are: magic markers (the ones that colour when they touch the paper, magnetic games (great so they don’t spill on the floor), magnetic tiles, search & find books, small cars.
Use screens to your advantage. Many parents choose to limit screen time at home (as do I), but on a flight, I suggest to let those rules slip and allow the kids to indulge themselves! In many long flights, the screen is on the seats in front of their faces and it can be a battle to stop them from playing with it (and cause you undue stress). I would even suggest bringing a tablet or phone with some kid-friendly cartoons as a backup.
5. Check YOUR expectations in your bags 😉
Travel can be overwhelming for both adults and kids. Do your best to prepare, but remember that you’re not in control of what happens and your kids feelings while on the road – and let that be a freeing realization and not an intimidating one. Also, what happens on the plane is not a reflection of you as a parent. Your child might cry the whole time or they might sit quietly and watch the screen – in either scenario, you're doing fantastic and the best that you can. The other passengers don't know you, your child or your reality and you likely will never see them again... so it doesn't matter what they think. 😊 If if there's an untoward comment, let it roll off your shoulders and leave it behind.
I sincerely hope your upcoming trip is a truly enjoyable one! Sharing this beautiful planet with our kids is one of my favourite parts of being a parent as it's so special to see the world through their eyes.