Flying with Toddlers: A Guide

Just a mere seven days ago I flew internationally with my two toddlers sans a co-parent.

ME. SOLO. I survived.

Here's how.
One flight down. One to go!

1. I dressed comfortably.

While I admire judge all of the stiletto-stomping-mini-dress-wearing-dog-carrying ladies who prance through the airport as if their toes aren't excruciatingly jammed into the points of their fancy shoes, I can assuredly say that whence traveling with toddlers you must dress for comfort.

Loose jeans are good. Or choose my personal favorite: yoga pants. (It says, "Hey ya'll! Before I started my day of travel I did some crazy-intense yoga. Look! I'm wearing the pants to prove it!")

Wear layers: a tank top and a zip up hoodie is a good idea. My two toddlers and I traveled from the sun (San Jose del Cabo, Mexico) to the tundra (DEE-troit, Michigan)  and dressing in layers helped with the crazy temperature fluctuations.

Wear good airport-walking shoes, too. Leave your super-cute wedges and heels at home. Sprinting through the airport in heels is totally negated when you're pushing a double stroller stuffed with two whining kiddos.

P.S. Don't wear shorts when you fly. Why? Because I've mistakenly done it and it was gross. Just knowing that the backs of my legs were touching the DISGUSTING and NEVER CLEANED fabric airline seats was more than I could bear. I actually once made my husband disrobe so that I could put his shirt on my chair.

(No I didn't. But ask him. This is something I would request.)

2. I dressed my kids comfortably.

Lila (almost 4 years old) and Vivienne (just turned 2 years old) wore the basics: cotton leggings, t-shirts, zip-up hoodies, socks and tennis shoes. This is not the time for dresses with back-zippers or trying out those super-cute new kiddo sandals. Trust me. Cotton and layers. Cotton and layers.

3. Pack your carry-on with ziplock bags. 

The remnants of our ziplock bags post-flight.
When you're flying alone you need to find whatever it is that you're looking for... stat. The transparent ziplock bags can save you those precious seconds when your sweet little one is screaming, "I NEED TO COLOR NOW. WHERE ARE MY CRAYONS. NOW!" The transparent bags are a lifesaver. No digging and searching.

And when it comes to carry-ons, don't be swayed into allowing your 2 or 3-year-old to carry his or her favorite backpack because seriously? That's just one.more.thing. that YOU are going to end up carrying. Wait until your cutie pie is a little bit older before you can confidently hand over that responsibility.

4. Feed them. Non-stop. Crap. Feed your children crap.

In my family "hanger" (hunger + anger) happens regularly. So how do we combat that whilst utilizing the popular mode of air travel? I feed my kids before they ask for food. That's the key, friends. BEFORE they ask for food.

A. It makes them happy that I'm thinking of them... "Thank you for offering me a sucker, Mommy! I didn't even know I wanted one! You're the best!"

B. You can nip the hunger before it even starts.

And what to feed them? Well, stuff you normally wouldn't.

Leave those carrot sticks and organic almond butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread at home.

Bring on the fruit snacks (Aunt Annie's organic ones will do). Bring on those squeezey-juice-in-a-packet things. Bring suckers. (Helps with the air pressure changes.) Bring fun things they don't usually get to eat.

Note: I'm not saying you should load your child up with fun dip, I'm just saying move beyond your daily orbit and shake it up. They'll be happy. It'll be novel. You won't lose it.

And don't forget to bring their toddler cups with you. Otherwise you'll be subject to the flight attendant's drink-offering schedule and when your kid wants "Agua now, please!", you'll be in a bind.

5. Take extra clothes.

Stuff the basics in another ziplock plastic bag: change of pants, shirt, underpants and socks. Before we got on our first flight leaving our country of residence, Mexico, I had to change Lila's clothes because someone (me) spilled water all over her.

6. iPads. Take iPads. Yes, that's plural.

Gone are the days of struggling through flights with coloring books and activities that enrich our children's lives and brains. Nope, bring out the iPads after the flight attendants have given the thumbs up to using approved electronic devices.

Note: NEVER BRING THE iPAD out BEFORE THE FLIGHT TAKES OFF. You're just asking for a meltdown when all cell phones and electronic devices need to be shut off.

I mean, you're asking for it.

The ratio of iPads should go like this, too: One child = one iPad. Two children = two iPads. Don't fool yourself, your kids aren't going to want to watch the same thing at the same time -- one iPad will not work. That's too easy.

And the day you fly, your kids will be anything but easy. This is Murphy's law? Or someone's law?

And don't forget to add some new apps and new shows/movies to the iPad, too. Remember: new and exciting is key.

7. Don't use noise-cancelling, kid-friendly headphones.

They don't work on planes. You want to be able to crank up the volume over all of the loud background noise. Nothing is worse than a toddler FREAKING out because she can't hear what Brobee just said on Yo Gabba Gabba.

We bought something similar to these for less than $20 a pop. So easy. (On amazon here.)

Vivi modeling the headphones.

8. Wipes. Hand sanitizer. Tylenol. The essentials.

This also goes in yet another ziplock bag. This is just obvious. Of course you need these things. Your child will get a fever when you're traveling. Again, it's another one of those "laws" of life. Duh.

9. Double-stroller or single stroller.

Ladies and gentlemen, now is not the time to bring your fancy running stroller or your "travel system." Get an umbrella stroller that you can easily collapse and open by yourself while holding your huge carry-on and watching your children so that they're not stolen. (As if people steal other people's children in airports. Right.)  I have the older version of this Maclaren and I love it. It serves its' purpose quite well: sprinting to the next flight, hauling exhausted toddlers, entertaining said toddlers during layovers. (See it here on Amazon.)

10. Take the stuff that they haven't seen before.

The Crayola Color Wonder markers are always fun. So are the dollar-bin items from Target. (Thank you Aunt Trophy Life for getting Lila and Vivienne some awesome travel stuff!) Make sure it's stuff they've never seen before. On a flight last year, Vivienne played with a retractable drug-company sponsored measuring tape for 30 minutes.

You think I'm kidding.

11. Hydrate. And don't forget to eat.

Your child(ren) will be your focus, so you might not even notice that it has five hours and you still haven't even had a sip of water. Don't do this. Pack a snack for you too. Drink some water.

12. Let them run.

Layovers are a gift from God. Let your tots run. Let your tots tire.themselves.out. Of course they can't dart in front of those golf-cart people-movers, but let them be. Let them discover.

And let them dance.

They need this time as much as you do.

13. Put all of your paperwork/passports/letters in one central location.

I have a little folder that holds our American passports and the ladies' two Mexican passports, flight itinerary, my Visa, boarding passes, a pen and any other random stuff. It's fantastic and keeps me put together. And, I always put it back in the same place in my carry on. If I divert and put it somewhere else for a little while, (say on top of the toilet paper holder in the handicap stall of the bathroom) the chances are great that I might forget it there. (Um. That might have happened.)

And, if any of you are traveling internationally with your children and without your children's other parent, be sure to have a notarized letter from the other parent stating that you have permission to take the children out of the country. Because you didn't have enough to do already.

14. Keep their shoes on.

It's true, you guys. The TSA has relaxed their policy on threatening potential toddler terrorists. As it turns out tots and babies no longer have to remove their shoes before going through the metal security detectors.

This is a God-send and a delicious timesaver.

But you do have to get your children out of the stroller, collapse it and put it through the x-ray machine. So don't even think about putting any stuff in the bottom basket of your stroller, it's too much of a pain. And remember, any stuffed animals your little ones might be carrying need to go through the x-ray machine, too.

Also, if you can leave your laptop at home -- do so. Laptops need to go in their own bin and another bin needs another hand. A hand that you won't have. So, leave the laptop at home.

15. Yep, people will look at you.

On our last flight to Cabo from Dallas, Vivienne had had enough. She'd been up since 3 a.m. EST and finally she looked at me and SCREAMED, "Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! No touch-a-me. No touch-a-me." And then she proceeded to cry/scream at the top of her lungs for five minutes about how she wanted her Daddy. Five minutes. There was no consoling her, either. She had reached her tipping point.

An annoying older gentlemen turned around in his seat and looked at me like, "Um, your kid is screaming... do something?" and I looked at him like, "Yeah? Is she screaming? I didn't even hear her. And you know what else? Shut up. IT HAS BEEN A VERY LONG DAY."

More than likely for every stupid jerky guy who gives you a dirty look there are several grandparents and parents out there who will tilt their head to the side, smile and say, wordlessly, "I've been there, too. You're almost there."

16. Be a cucumber. Don't lose your cool.

Now is not the time to try out that new discipline technique. Be a bit more lenient on travel days. Just expect to pick up the dropped marker lid off the floor 300 times without getting frustrated. And know that the clip-on headphones will need to be clipped back on a teeny-tiny toddler ear no less than 79 times during one episode of Dora.

Expect all of this chaos and as they're saying these days, lean in to it.

Stay enthusiastic and excited and happy. Our kids can feel our energy and if we're sullen and angry and annoyed; they know it and they will be, too. Be pumped and optimistic and happy. If you're not feeling that way, fake it.

17. Take a mental snapshot.

Before we know it, our toddlers will be grown and believe it or not, we'll miss this chaos. Years from now we'll look back at traveling with them as toddlers and smile.

I know I will. I mean, look at them.

Vivienne and Lila. Approximately 3:45 a.m. EST.

Ah, parenting.

Safe travels and Godspeed.



  1. Go you! Sounds like it went well!

    We're driving with all 3 to Florida...16 hours, in the car. And guess what?!? We are NOT an iPad, app, games, electronic family. They don't even know what an iPad is. Ha...I'm laughing because my expectations are low. Memories, memories, memories. ;)

  2. I think you should submit this to the governing board of all airlines--I think you could publish it and sell it.

    This was awesome and you are my hero.

    My favorite line: "Thank you for offering me a sucker, Mommy! I didn't even know I wanted one! You're the best!" Haha. Hilarious!

  3. I love love love this!! You are so right about all of these tips. It's been a couple years since we flew with kids, but I remember. It ain't easy. :-)This would also be helpful for car travel. Same rules apply!!

    When you said, to take a moment to look at them - I got a huge lump in my throat.

  4. This is great! Oh, and I love the dancing....and your bangs! :-)

  5. awesome! and, as usual, brilliantly logical. :) isaac's not a toddler yet, and we haven't flown with him yet (thank god), but we're taking a 12-hour-semi-overnight train trip with him in a few weeks. that's rattling my cage enough! if nothing else, i'll be sure to pack snacks for everyone and wear comfy clothes!! :)

  6. I admire you! Flying with an adult who HATES flying is hard enough. TWO kids? Whew.

  7. This is a wonderful list!! Definitely pinning it for our May trip.

    Where did you get the pink sturdy ipad case?

  8. My friend, I will have you know that I got to this post via PINTEREST! I was looking for tips on flying with toddlers and I was all like... hey, that looks like Vivi. And it was! I didn't have much of a use for this post when you wrote it (other than entertainment value), but now? Extremely helpful. Thank you!


written exclusively by twopretzels. | Contact . Powered by Blogger.