Picture this: Two happily married people sitting together on their flight to Boston for a long weekend getaway with friends. On their 6:00 a.m. flight, the two are enjoying hot coffee, peanuts, and great conversation. Then you notice something. You peek over the seatbacks and see that the pair are not alone. Nestled between them is a happy, toe-headed toddler.
Now watch as this blissful picture morphs into a nightmare when the happy three year old gets frustrated and begins screaming at the top of his lungs. It seems as though that early morning wakeup call was a little harder for him, and now he’s going to make it hard on everyone around him—especially his stressed out parents.
This is my family, and I experienced this mortifying situation last fall. And now I would like to share with you a few pointers on traveling with toddlers that I have learned throughout the last few years. I hope to help you not only avoid frustration for you and your family, (not to mention other passengers onboard,) but also to have a pleasant and stress-free flight.
Let them wear their jammies to the airport. If you must travel either late at night or early in the morning, bring them to the airport in their pajamas or at least in a soft t-shirt and pants and/or shorts. This allows you to whisk them out of bed easily and quickly, (i.e. waking them up at the last minute possible and/or allowing them to fall asleep on the flight and slipping them into bed more easily upon arrival.)
Don’t forget to go low tech, too. Bring your go-to electronics, but also remember that batteries die and if that happens, you want to be prepared. The golden ticket is a new toy that they can take time opening the package and checking out while you are taxiing off the ground and into the air. We run by the dollar bins at Target and get a toy. However, we only use the toy, as a last option, if the other selections do not work. We start with an airport packet, (usually tucked away in the monster-sized bag that I now refer to as my purse.) I tend to keep little items from fast food kid’s meals in my purse as they are usually small, already packaged goodies including small lightweight books, stickers, and toys.
Let your child pack a backpack or small bag with several toys of their choice. We have a small car-themed rolling bag that he knows he can stuff with whatever toys he wants to bring. (You may choose to limit the number of items, depending on how long you will be gone and where you are going.) He has a travel train set that he often chooses along with a few train cars. Remember, sometimes too many toys can add stress instead of alleviate it. Our little guy has also been known to drive his bag around since it is a car!
ALWAYS bring an extra set of clothes and baby wipes—especially if you check your luggage! Have you ever wondered what an almost three year old looks like in an 18-month-sized onesie with the Texas flag on it? Ok, you probably have not, but I can tell you my son looked like a little wrestler. Sure, it is a pretty stinkin’ cute little wrestler. However, paying almost $20 for the only thing sold in the airport that will fit your child is not too cute, especially when you know he will never wear it again. We learned this lesson the hard way!
Consider bringing your child’s car seat on board and buckling them into it. If I had that Boston flight to do over again and knowing that it was an early morning flight, I would have been better prepared with a snuggly stuffed animal; a soft, small blanket; and I would have buckled him into his car seat. Since all children over the age of two have to be buckled into their seats, my very sleepy child would have responded much better to something that was familiar to him. He probably would have fallen right to sleep, too. You better believe that car seat came with us on our next flight!
I love to travel. I sit and daydream about all the places that my family will be able to visit and the experiences that we have had and will have in the future. I now know that it can be a fun, stress-free event to travel with a toddler and that the key is to prepare, prepare, prepare. I hope these tips will be helpful for you, but remember, the best advice out there is for you to do what works best for you and your family! Have fun, and I hope to see you and your family on a Southwest flight soon!