Flying with toddlers. It can be done. - Belle Année
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Flying with toddlers. It can be done.

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Happy kid playing with toy airplaneSo the time has come, has it?    Maybe your wanderlust has returned.  Maybe your parents are bugging you because you haven’t been to see them since you had your baby six whole weeks ago.  Maybe it’s Thanksgiving.  Maybe you need beach time.  Who knows  why but you’ve booked your flight in a fit of productivity and now….NOW…you are wondering how in the &*$% you are going to manage traveling across the Atlantic, across the US, or just a puddle jumper to get to your all important destination.

So I have some very, very helpful information with you.  This is tried and true and tested over the course of six years of transcontinental and transatlantic travel with one, then two, now three children.   So read.  Record.  This is definitely going to make your life easier! Any more ideas?  Let’s discuss…

1.  Carry (WAY) less stuff onto the plane.

This is THE MOST important thing you can do.    Stop carrying so much.  Have you ever seen a single mom with a single baby in a Baby Bjorn with no bags looking extremely stressed on a flight?  No, you haven’t.   She is the picture of Zen.   The stressful travelers are the ones carrying 3 bags, two strollers, six bags of food and kids in sweatpants carrying stuffed animals and blankies dragging on the floor (yuk!) behind them.   Here’s the deal:  How long are you going to be in the air?  2 hours?  6?   You just don’t need that much stuff!  Fully clean out your diaper bag, pack a small purse for your wallet, tickets and lipgloss and a magazine.  If you can’t imagine vacation without coordinating bows and sandals for all kids or 17 stuffed animals, then splash out and get a larger bag to check but for carry on read the following to see what you DO need to pack and, most importantly, what is purposely left off.  

2.   Emergency clothes.

You’d be amazed at how quickly tiny hands can poke holes into Smoothie King cups (happened).  Always pack one emergency outfit per child even up to 6 or 7-years-old.   Keep in mind outfits should be simple, climate appropriate, and comfortable on a flight.  A light, long sleeve cotton dress for girls.  Cotton slacks and a nice shirt for boys. One pair of underwear per child.

For babies 18 months and under:  Three plain white long-sleeved onesies.  Now isn’t the time to show off your baby-wardrobing skills.

Here’s where to splurge:  1 diaper per hour you will be away from your checked luggage (where you will keep the extras).  That way even if the airline loses your luggage you will still have enough supply with you to make it to a drugstore and pick up extras. Oh, guess what?  They sell diapers and baby food all over the world.  

2.  Three gallon-sized Ziploc bags.  

Ziploc bags are a beautiful creation.  On a flight they will help you keep your area clean, throw away soiled clothes, use as a catch-all for the accumulation of half eaten sandwiches and half consumed squeeze cartons of milk and gooey stuff without worrying about them spilling.  They are good for everything.  

3.  Make individual Snack Packs – for takeoff and landing.

The night before travel create individual (and labeled) snack packs with foods that can stay at room temp for hours.  Pack a combination of foods that your children like and also fresh veggies which are hard to find at airports.  Grapes,  cubes of cheese, cucumber slices with the skin on, whole wheat crackers, dry ham sandwiches (no lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard).  Do not rely on food on the plane or in the airport.  

For infants have bottles ready for take off and landing to help keep their ears clear, plus a baggie of cheerios.  If it is a long flight, have a bottle ready for the flight as well and an emergency bottle as well especially if you are traveling in the winter when you are more likely to experience travel delays due to ice and snow.

4.  Embrace the Apple.

Once the kids are two-years-old, if you can afford it, hold your nose and spring for an iPad.  Don’t make apologies.  Load it with age appropriate apps, including educational apps, and some cartoons.  Save the use of these expensive babysitters and only use them for travel.  It will keep your kids in love with them.

5.  Wipes

Oh man are wipes important.  Nothing makes you feel crappier than having a child smeared with chocolate and caked on milk.  Use wipes to keep your kiddies clean, wipe travel gunk off your face and hands, wipe down your tray table after dining, get rid of the sticky crap on the sippy cups.  Then dispose of the wipes into one of your handy-dandy Ziploc bags.


toddler backpack


6.   Keep your hands free.

Kids, at 3, are capable of carrying their own backpacks containing an emergency  outfit, iPad, small pack of wipes, snack and small new toy purchased at the airport.  Give them some responsibility and give yourself a break.   Don’t be fooled by the Trunkie (did it, twice actually) or cute wheelie bags from Pottery Barn Kids unless they are going to be checked.  Good old toddler size (small) backpacks are the best way to go.  Yes, your child too can learn to carry his own bag. This is the one our son carries (he is 6) and this is what our daughter carries (she is 4).   

7.  Get rid of garbage as it accumulates, keeping your seating area tidy

Nothing makes you feel crummier than coming back to your seat and having to step over a pile of garbage, especially the plastic blanket bags and junk that shows up on transatlantic flights.  If you are taking a break from your seat prison, take garbage with you and throw it away in the bathroom.

8.  Keep yourself hydrated:

After you get through security, buy one large bottle of water for yourself and a small one for the kids to share. Don’t count on the flight attendants to provide it for you.  Bring empty  sippy cups or sports bottles for the kids and fill with a small amount of liquid after you are seated, thus limiting their opportunity to end up with them or your bags soaking wet.

9.  Something old, something new

Pack ONE good old friend for your child.  A snuggle blanket or a small (SMALL) stuffed animal.  Let your children know that their choice will have to fit in their backpack and show them how their tiny stuffed turtle fits way better than the enormous stuffed pony that their aunt gave them last year.  Then splash out and spend $5-$10 each and get a new trinket or coloring book for the kids once you get to the airport.  A small price to pay for an hour of peace as you are taking off and iPads can’t be used yet. 

10.  Travel buddies

This is  SUPER IMPORTANT:  Create travel buddies the night before your trip and allow absolutely no swapping.  Usually when we travel, Nick’s travel buddy is Teddy, mine is Grace.  That means I know how often Grace goes to the bathroom, I know that she has eaten snacks, that she hasn’t overdone it on little chocolates or milk, and that her iPad is charged and that she has her little stuffed giraffe when she gets off the plane.  This is especially important with babies when you want to regulate when they are changed, and when they eat or drink to coincide with take off and landing.

11.  Use the bathroom as soon as the flight levels off.  

I promise that as soon as the seatbelt sign comes on and it is time to stay in your seat your child will need to use the bathroom.  Keep in mind that once that “ding” is heard you are probably 45 minutes away from a bathroom, and that is IF there are no delays in the landing.  So don’t risk it.  Whether you are on a  60-minute flight or a 6-hour flight, use that bathroom people!  (P.S.  Don’t change a nappy in the seat – even if it is just wet and you are sure you won’t make a mess.  Flight attendants do NOT like that.  Not at ALL.  Trust me!)


So  notice what is missing from this list: Loads of other crap! An infant needs one tiny thing to play with.  Kids need an iPad and a distractor, like a new little toy purchaed at the airport.  That’s it.  The less you have to carry the less you can stress out about and less you feel like crap arriving at the airport, waiting for the flight, getting on the flight, getting off the flight and fighting for your luggage.  The less stressed you are, the less stressed your kid are.  The less stressed your whole group is, the less likely you are to get “those looks” from your fellow passengers.  It just all works out better.


I promise.

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Jessica Bride

I am a Notting Hill based lifestyle writer and Instagrammer. My reason for being is my family plus a combination of food + travel + art + life between London and New Orleans. Find me at @belleannee or covering arts & culture for @London.

  • Lisa the Kitten Williford

    January 27, 2014 at 15:18 Reply

    As someone who used to travel frequently for business, very often amongst stressed-out moms trying to corral restless rugrats who were sometimes screaming/shrieking (the kids, not the moms) – I thank you for this post!

    I’ll be sending this to my friend Carmen, who just had her first and enjoys traveling, as I think these excellent tips will be really helpful to her

    • jessica

      January 27, 2014 at 15:42 Reply

      Thanks Lisa! I hope Carmen finds it useful. You (or she) can email anytime with specific questions if there are things not covered here. I don’t want to speak too soon with #3 still on the way but so far these really are the things I employ to not only survive but actually enjoy flights with the kids.

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