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Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

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Traveling with a toddler is very different than traveling with an infant. Not only are they a lot bigger, but they are mobile! Hopefully this video gives you a few tips to make your time in the airport and on the plane easier.

A few things worth expanding on:

Several companies make wheel attachments for car seats. I use the Kidz Travelmate by GoGo Babyz and have been very satisfied with it. Once on the plane, you simply remove the wheels and put them in the overhead bin.

Unfortunately, not all airports have child play areas. You can often check the airport's web site to see if one is listed. If your airport doesn't have a play area, then find an open area to run around and burn some energy.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of being prepared when you travel with a toddler. I know it is tempting to take a small diaper bag with only the bare minimum, but trust me, you do not want to not be stuck with not having something that would make a difference between a happy child and a fussy one. I spoke with a Flight Attendant on a recent Southwest Airlines flight who said it was amazing how many parents fly without plenty of items to entertain their child, diapers, an extra outfit, etc. I love the kiddopotamus tiny diner placemat when we travel with Elias around meal times.

Also, I have traveled alone with Elias several times, and it was impossible for me to carry him, the diaper bag, my purse, and the car seat on the plane by myself. Therefore, I recommend asking someone who is walking in beside you if they would be willing to carry your car seat. I have also had friendly Southwest Flight Attendants offer to help. No one wants to see a mom with a toddler struggling!

Of course, only FAA-approved car seats are allowed for use on an airplane.

I hope that these tips help you the next time you fly with your toddler.

Southwest Airlines provided my and my family's airfare. The views shared in this post are my own. Southwest does not endorse any of the products mentioned in this post.

31 Comments
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Thought you'd like to see this. Love Mama
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As a mom of a toddler, I have traveled with a small booster seat that is much easier to carry on the plane than a big, heavy car seat. I check the car seat with our baggage instead so we are safely riding in the car when we get to our destination, but the booster seat works perfectly for the flight. SO much easier and our toddler was not required to be in a car seat on the plane. Just a thought!
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As preparation for the trip, a Federal or County courthouse is a great place to practice going through the metal detector. Not exactly the same thing, bit close enough for practice!
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My biggest help with taking my kids on a flight is to have the toddler on my back in a ergobaby backpack. She is contained and contented, and I have both hands free. My 5yo pulled her own suitcase last flight (when she was 4) and I have a "mommy bag" with a long strap so that I can hang it across me, messenger-style. Baby and bag contained and still one hand to pull a suitcase and another to hold the other kid's hand.
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My son will be under 2 when we fly. I was planning on taking him on on my lap to save on fare. Would you recommend different advice?
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Do these apply to traveling with a 2 year old?
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I'd like to add tips about helping your child through the change in elevation during takeoff and landing that can make their ears hurt. Last week I was seated behind a mom and a 4 year old whose ears were hurting during the descent. The mom was so patient and good with him, giving him snacks and continuous coaching: "Chew with big bites....Swallow...Chew some more ". She tried to get him to yawn, but he was having trouble forcing a yawn, so she just kept him chewing. With older kids, gum can help.
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What a cutie pie...and how I remember those days of flying with a toddler! Whew!
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Travelling on SWA has become much more difficult after the loss of family boading before the A group for those of us with toddlers and infants requiring car seat installation.
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my son in almost three and we have been traveling wiht him since birth. He has been on over 40 flights (most with southwest!) and your right on packing many things is very important...but also having snacks is very important...you dont get food on most flights anymore and if your toddler is hungry...you need something handy and quick...and also very good to have something to drink or lollipop to suck on for take off and landing..makes them swallow so that helps keep the ears unblocked!
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We have flown Southwest with our infant and toddler multiple times.Our longest flight was to San Diego from Columbus, Ohio. The Southwest employees are extremely helpful! They have helped me with everything from getting a pillow for my tiring arm from holding the infant to getting my toddler extra cups and napkins to pay with. My tips include small toys that involve imagination. On our most recent trip we packed coloring books, a wallet with fake credit cards, my husbands iTouch with various toddler games. A few extra things: sticky note pad, roll of tape, straws, play cars, etc. Be sure they are drinking or eating on the way up and down for their ears!
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I have had my share of traveling w/ a toddler and experienced just about everything. You are so right, pack for every contingency, esp. FOOD (grapes, crackers, pretzels, etc) and a change of clothes. A couple of things I would add. Try to determine if an airport has "family" bathrooms (esp. when its daddy and little girl). Not only eliminates the awkwardness, but for either parent, affords more room to address toddler "issues" (i.e. potty-training, change of clothes, "meltdowns"). Though it is harder now w/ freq. flight delays, but try to arrange travel that doesn't interfere w/ nap/sleep time. Trudging through an airport w/ a sleepy child is a recipe for a meltdown. It may not be possible for everyone financially but any device that can play video ( laptop, portable DVD, ipod, etc) will afford you 1-2 hours of peace.
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About 6 years ago, my wife and toddler daughter were traveling to San Diego on Southwest. Amid the pre-takeoff distractions, my wife misunderstood our daughter's repeated questions about whether her ears would "pop." To my wife, the correct answer was a reassuring, "Yes, they'll pop (or re-open and relieve the pressure) soon after we take off." What my daughter heard was, "Yes. Your ears are going to pop (as in explode) soon after we take off." Needless to say, my daughter, usually a better traveler than nearly any adult, became more and more upset as the question and answer was repeated a dozen times. Eventually, she threw up all over herself, the seat, my wife... you name it. Our SWA attendant swooped in with comfort, tons of clean towels and motherly understanding. She got everyone involved comfortable and calm and then went a step further. During the flight, she opened her own suitcase and produced a clean t-shirt that fit my daughter like a dress and became her new travel outfit. In short, this SWA associate turned a horrible episode into one of our happiest travel memories and won our loyalty to SWA for all time. We talk of her often, and although we returned the t-shirt with a letter praising her to her supervisors, I still feel the need to mention her kindness and service every time the subject of toddler travel or airline service comes up.
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I have flown with my kids many times from the age of 5 months onward. One tip I read that has been very useful is to plan to have one "new" toy or object to play with every 20 minutes of the flight. It doesn't have to be a new item, although I have a whole set of travel toys/trinkets that are used only for flights so that it itsn't something they always play with. Another tip was to wrap each item in inexpensive wrapping paper, because it takes them additional time to unwrap! I've covered a 10-hour flight this way. Also, if you child has ear pain and trying to pop it doesn't work, ask the flight attendant to put a folded paper towel/napkin in a cup and add just enough water to soak it but so no water drips. You then place the cup over your child's ear, and the warmth can help lessen the ear pressure.
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We have air filter fans in the kids rooms when they sleep at home and when on the airplane if they are tired will sleep as soon as the jets go on at take off.... to them it sounds the same. We travel with small ones so they can also sleep in hotels too! If your child can use a straw sippy cup that helps them pop their ears.
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I've flown quite a bit with my daughter, starting when she was five months. She's almost 2 now, and still a great traveler. Plenty of snacks and toys are the key to a happy baby. "Special" snacks that you normally wouldn't give at home can be a nice treat for travel. If the airport doesn't have a play area, we find a relatively deserted corner near our gate and play "catch the baby" to try and wear her out. It pretty much guarantees she'll sleep through a good chunk of the flight. Our only other "trick" is to fly Southwest. With their great baggage policy, good fares and friendly staff, they really help make travel fun. I've flown other airlines with my daughter, and always regretted it. I was amazed at how many flight attendants completely ignored her - no snack (if one was offered), no drink, nothing. I guess I'm spoiled by SW, where the attendants have always treated her like the little person she is, and not an annoyance. SW - because of your staff, you rock.
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Breastfeeding your small one helps a lot when the plane is taking off & landing
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Someone had mention they had a difficult time traveling with SWA due to the loss of family boarding. To this day my daughter is 7 and we still are able to pre-board. Of course I make sure that anybody traveling with and infant or who needs assistant first goes on the plane. I love traveling with SWA and the crew is wonderful and pleasant to fly with. I have never seen a more happier and friendly group of people who truley enjoy there job.
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Great tips there. Bu the way Jessica, are you aware that you have a little heart thief on you hands? ;-) Paul In CRP
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I can't say enough good things about the CARES harness. It is FAA approved and makes life so much easier when flying. No bulky car seat to install, attaches quickly and securely. Every time we fly, the flight attendants always ask where we got it. My son loves his, it keeps him contained comfortably. Folds up small and my husband just pops it in his carryon. Love it!!!
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We, too, have flown frequently with an infant and now toddler. Some tips we learned over the years have helped us tremendously. As an infant, you can bring warm breast milk/formula in a thermous for long flights. We flew to Hawaii when our daughter was 3 months old. Someone told us to do this and it made life much easier. A thermous keeps beverages warm for many hours and breastmilk/formula are approved liquids. It makes it easier in that you don't have to try and warm the formula yourself (very hard on a plane). Also, for traveling with an infant on your lap, we purchased the Baby B'Air vest, which attaches to your seatbelt after takeoff (FAA approved after takeoff). For a toddler, we travel with the Aquadoodle Travel Pad. It has a pen you fill with water (once past security) and they can 'color' without causing any damage. It is an inexpensive purchase and keeps a toddler busy as the water turns the page blue and then evaporates. Finally, for ear popping, we carry a Gerber bottle topper, that can attach to any water bottle and turn it into a 'baby bottle' or sippy. It is an easy way for them to drink when in a pinch.
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We used suckers for take-off and landing... HUGE HELPERS! I have been VERY lucky with nice attendants. I can still remember the name of the gate attendant who helped me with my stroller... he even FOLDED it for me so I could gate check it. And one flight crew created a makeshift "changing table" for us in the galley so I could change my kiddo when it was an EMERGENCY (see below) For anyone who is still in diapers, we discovered that the change in altitude causes all sorts of diaper issues. Take PLENTY of extras with you... and a change of clothes. I have always traveled with a dvd player and movies for all of us (you never know when someone will take a nap ) My ipod works wonders for my son as well... he loves the toddler aps.
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I have to agree with the post a few previous. Flying was much easier before SWA started boarding the A group before families with small children. It is hard to get those car seats thru the aisle without bumping anyone. Despite all this, SWA is the easiest airline to fly when small children are involved. Kudos to the booster seat suggestion, I never thought of that. I recommend spending the extra on a ticket for any child over 6 months, you will be glad to have the extra room when the little one starts squirming. Happy flying everyone.
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I am sure I will be flamed for this, but I'll say it anyway - I have no problem with any of the post except the part that says you should ask others if they'd be willing to carry your car seat. If you've got so much stuff that you can't take care of the kid and all your stuff, I'd recommend that you try to cut down on your stuff. Put the purse IN the diaper bag, or better yet, get one of those carryalls that are a purse and diaper bag in one. Besides, since you're a stranger and you're asking someone to carry an item of unknown provenance onto a plane, I'm pretty sure that counts as a safety hazard. The last thing you want is to have a long talk with the TSA - they have their sense of humor removed as a condition of employment.
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I found the comments more helpful then this actual post. I have 2 toddlers (3 1/2 and 18months) myself and have travelled with them. Travelling with one toddler is a piece of cake. This post seemed like a wasted read. I was really disappointed. I hope SW isn't paying this person for their posts.
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Give them som tylenol or Benadryl about 30 minutes before takeoff. It will help.
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Thanks to everyone for all the great tips. I definitely am going to try some of the other products mentioned. I did want to mention to @anonymous at 23:29 - I definitely put my purse in my diaper bag, but honestly, I still can't carry a my toddler and a car seat onto a plane by myself. Maybe that is just me... In my experiences, I have always had people offer to help me. However, I would totally ask for help if no one around me offered - and I don't think TSA would balk over asking for help with a car seat. (Just my opinion... ) Cutting down on the stuff would mean not flying with a car seat. Having it makes for a much easier flight and happier toddler. Right now my son is too little for me to feel comfortable with him walking on the plane, but maybe in a few months. Then the help wouldn't be necessary. Sorry to have offended you!
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I've been traveling with my son since he was 3months old. Yes being prepared is the key. It's not ideal having to lug around a huge bag full of stuff but it will soon be very useful once you're up in the air. I too pack tons and tons of snacks. I try to pack as much healthy snacks as possible. Yogurt, string cheese, fruit, etc. I keep them cold by bringing along a small lunch bag with ice packs. This also comes in handy for keeping his milk cold. When my son was still a baby and not a toddler I found the window seat a better option for us. But now that he's more active having an aisle seat works out better than having to keep asking other passengers to let you out into the aisle and than back in to get to your seat. I think the best advice that I can give to a parent that's traveling alone with an infant or toddler or just kids in general is to not only have your baby bag full of toys, food, and drinks but I also carry a small messenger bag (pretty much the size of a fanny pack, yes I said fanny pack :)) with me at all times. In this bag I have all of my personal and valuable items along with 2diapers, some wipes in a ziplock bag, and some sanitizer wipes. Yes it all fits if you organize well. This way if you need to walk up and down the aisle or you just need to do a diaper change on the plane you dont have to carry your baby bag into the tiny bathrooms and you dont have to worry about leaving your personal items behind. The most important things that you need will be at your finger tips.
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A note on those who said booster seats are easier to use than car seats: most booster seats are not approved by the FAA for aircraft use. There's a label on the side (unless your kiddo has peeled it off) that should state whether or not it can be used onboard. When in doubt, remember that it's not required, and it's one less thing to lug to the gate.
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This was helpful Jessica - thank you!
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I am traveling with a 14month old and a 4 year old *YIKES* I am purchasing a seat for my 4 year old, but we are planning on just sitting the 14month old on our laps. (about a 3 hr flight) We are taking along our car seat & stroller. Both can be gate checked, right? Also, if there is any non reserved seats will SW allow us to use our car seat during the flight even though we didn't pay for a seat? I've heard that sometimes they will if there is room. Any other suggestions for us? I can be emailed at beckabee1981@gmail.com Thanks!!