Toddler Travel Tips

My husband and I decided we’d like to take one last big trip before Nono started costing us a plane ticket. We chose Hawaii (we live in New Orleans) because it was a big trip, but seemed very baby friendly given the ability to have a laid back beach vacation instead of a trip requiring a lot of plans and activities.

Hana Waterfall

The most daunting part of the trip was the flight. About 10 hours in the air with a 17 month old who could walk and wouldn’t have his own seat. How was this going to go?

We hadn’t flown with Nono since he’d started walking so I really had no idea what to expect and visions of meltdowns while we were stuck on the runway were starting to flash in my head.

One of the tactics we took was to split up the flights. We flew to San Francisco and spent the night and flew to Maui the next morning. We stayed with friends so we didn’t have to add any hotel cost and it meant a 4.5 hour flight one day and then a 5.5 hour flight the next day instead of doing it all at once. On the way back we chose to take a redeye with a long break at SFO before heading home to break things up again.

A good friend of mine who flies regularly with her son shared some great tips with me. Her son is a little younger so I had some challenges that she does not yet with the walking and him being too big to wear in a carrier, but many of the tips were really helpful. Here’s how I took her tips and applied them with our trip and toddler:

  1. Get on the plane as late as possible to cut down on time that Nono will have to be sitting in our seat.
    • We normally fly Southwest so this isn’t really possible, but when we flew to Hawaii we were flying Hawaiian air from San Francisco and Alaska on the way back so we had reserved seats.
    • Overhead space can still be a concern so what we did is one of us would board during the ‘traveling with small kids’ time to gate check the stroller and car seat and also stick our two overhead bags up above our seats. The other one of us would hang out with Noah in the waiting area until almost everyone had boarded so he was able to walk around and be a crazy baby up until the last moment. I talked to boarding staff ahead of time and all of them were understanding and supportive of this and we didn’t have any trouble boarding without Nono during the small kids boarding time.
  2.  Think of the flight in 15 minute increments
    • i.e. Don’t give them everything you brought at once. I gave him one thing at a time and tried to maximize the time with whatever that item was, food, toy, or book. It required a lot of attention from me or A. to keep him engaged, but welcome to traveling with a toddler…
  3. Go for slow to eat foods
    • This was a great way to keep Nono focused on something and happy. Rather than mostly doing pouches, which he goes through very quickly, we did crackers and puffs that he would pick up individually and take his time with.
  4. Get some new toys
    • Nono has some favorite items that I made sure to bring, a couple of books that he can’t get enough of and some toys, but I also got some new items with that 15min increments in mind:
      • Little animal figurines: Definitely the most bang for my buck. I used leftover easter eggs and put 3-4 animals in them and had a small bag of them. I brought these out one at a time through the flight and Nono had a great time playing with the animals as well as packing and unpacking the eggs with them. They also take up very little room so they were perfect for the flight and cheap enough that if we’d lost some it didn’t matter (miraculously we didn’t).
      • Magnetic Sketchpad: This was the longest lasting entertainment. The stamps are hard to keep track of, but Nono didn’t seem to mind when those would disappear. He spent hours drawing on this. It’s great because it’s compact, no mess, and easy to keep reusing.
  5. Books that hold attention
    • This one was a little too advanced for him, but a few months later (now) it would be perfect. It didn’t hold his interest for long a few months ago, but now it’s great for the “where is the…” or “what does a ….. say?” that he’s really into. There’s ton of animals on each page so if your kid is ready for it, it is definitely a book that can eat up a lot of time.
    • Open up book. This one was good because it is super tiny so it hardly take up any space and Nono had fun opening the doors on the page and finding the animals in them. He needed a little help to open the doors because they stick a bit, but definitely a good plane option based on size and enjoyment.
  6. Fuzzy Headphones. These were a waste of money. First I thought they were adjustable and they’re not so my toddler’s giant head wasn’t a good fit. Second, he didn’t want to wear them AND he didn’t care about sound. I had downloaded some videos to watch and he ended up watching free videos on the plane entertainment center without sound and being perfectly happy.

IMG-2717

When we got to Hawaii I put away all of the new plane items so that we could use them on the flights back and they’d still have novelty. We got very lucky and he slept the whole redeye back to San Francisco (so we did too) and we really had no issues with all four flights. I now appreciate the flights where I am by myself and can read a book these days, but I think with the right preparation and a cooperative kid, flights don’t have to be something you dread.

Any tips or tricks to share that worked for you?

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