Traveling with toddlers: Tips for surviving the plane ride

Traveling with a toddler? Twins?

We did it. We did it TWO times!

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Here’s what we did each time we flew with our toddlers. Hopefully our experiences will help you with your next trip!

Background info: Before you consume all our magical instructions on how to survive a flight with toddlers, you should understand our particular circumstance.

My husband and I flew twice with our twin boys:

Flight #1: The boys were (eight???) months old and we flew to Las Vegas (a little over an hour one-way).

Flight #2: The boys were a year and three months old and we flew to Virginia (about five hours one-way).

For each flight, we did not have extra help. It was a one parent to one baby ratio. The list below differs depending on the length of the flight, and I’ll try my best to point out where the differences mattered.

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1. Plan, plan, and plan some more.

Take the time to do your homework, anticipate all options, and prepare a game plan:

  • What are the airline requirements?
  • Can we check in car seats and/or strollers at the gate? Do they need to be checked in at the ticket counter?
  • How early should we arrive at the airport? (Add at LEAST 45 min to one hour to what you normally would do without babies/kids. TRUST me. I didn’t pee or eat for nearly 2.5 hours because of this mistake.)
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Will we have access to supplies when we arrive to our destination (such as a convenience store, grocery store, or department store to buy food, diapers, etc.)? The answer to this question will help a LOT in determining how much to pack.
  • Will you rent a vehicle upon arrival?
  • Will someone pick you up at arrival and be able to help you out?
  • Are you going to rent car seats and/or strollers and/or pack-n-plays, or bring your own?

2. Get an extra seat on the plane.

Or fly first class (we weren’t able to). I know, this hit to the wallet is HUGE, not to mention painful. But in all honesty, you are truly paying for comfort, breathing room, and sanity. Due to safety guidelines, there can only be one “lap baby” (child under 2 years old sitting on your lap and not having a seat of his/her own). Therefore, only one baby could be in an aisle, which forced us (during the one-hour Vegas flight) to sit in separate rows! This was difficult because we were pretty much on our own, left to tend to and care for our own child.

For the five-hour flight to Virginia, however, we spent the extra money. It was totally worth it. We were still pretty tight fitting in the row, but at least we didn’t have to worry about bumping elbows (or feet or heads or arms) with a stranger and we didn’t worry about our stuff getting all over the place!

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3. Flight scheduling: Be strategic!

  1. Coordinate  flight take off and arrival times with naps or nighttime sleep.This SORTA worked for us, but I am determined for future flights to follow it more closely. Basically, you want to coordinate the flight TIME (not the time you arrive at the airport) with baby’s nap (for a shorter flight) or with nighttime sleep (for longer flights). I was paranoid at first because I figured that the babies would wake up when we ARRIVED at our destination and would be totally messed up for the rest of the day (or night).For our one-hour flight, this actually worked relatively well. We took a red-eye to Vegas and the boys slept on the plane. Although we arrived around 11 PM and the boys were wide-awake as we waited at the rental car place, they went to bed once we were finally settled in. The CON about doing this is that they still woke up right at 6 am!!! When do babies finally know how to sleep in?!?!For our five-hour flight, this strategy worked for the flight going to Virginia. The flight was about an hour before their early morning nap, so by the time we got settled on the plane, both boys knocked out easily and slept for a good hour or so. Flying home was a different story. The departure time was late afternoon, so by the time we were in the air for a good 4-5 hours, the boys were super restless, fussy, and a bit cranky because it was nearing bed time (remember, there is a THREE-HOUR time difference between California and Virginia!).So I can’t say for certain that this tip works for everyone, BUT if you have a pretty good napper/sleeper, who is pretty “on schedule,” it would be worth it to do this.
  2. Schedule a direct flight! You are already putting all of your energy, heart, and soul into surviving the terminal, the plane ride, and the baggage claim, so why add to the time it takes to get through all of that? I originally thought that a layover would be a good “break,” but now I’m glad we decided to plow through and not stop.The only time a layover would be more beneficial than difficult is for a SUPER LONG flight, such as 7-10 hours+. I can’t imagine getting through this long of a flight, but I’m sure a break would help not just baby, but ALL PARTIES involved!!!

Look at this! Coordinated sleep AND enjoying that extra seat on the plane! Score!

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4. Distract!!!

Babies/toddlers have the attention span of GOLDFISH. They constantly need new stimulation, toys, or exciting things to keep them busy and occupied. Otherwise, they start to squirm, jump, or scream. You do NOT want them to scream on a plane.

The idea is to bring out ONE new thing every 15-30 minutes. Let the kiddos explore and focus in on ONE item at a time. It works better than laying out a bunch of toys and things to do and they get bored so fast, then you’re outta ideas.

Great ideas for keeping the little ones distracted:

  • Stickers: Sorry, airline company, for putting stickers all over your pamphlets. And THANKS, HEATHER, for the idea!
  • Food: Get the POUCHES. This way, you only have to squirt the food onto a spoon and then it makes for easy clean up!
  • Snacks: I prefer giving the boys something they can hold on to and nibble on for a while. For example, they can hold a cracker for a couple of minutes, gnawing on it, versus a goldfish or puff that they swallow whole and it lasts only 10 seconds. We brought:
    • Snap peas (we can enjoy them, too!)
    • Fruit strips (like baby fruit roll-ups, or fruit leather)
    • Crackers
    • Goldfish and puffs
    • Plum Organics food pouches
  • Toys: Bring toys that do NOT have a zillion parts that can be thrown or lost, something that is NOT noisy (but a not-so-obnoxious rattle is OK), something that lights up (without sound), or something with things to do (velcro, flaps, buckles, rings, etc). Also, don’t bring too many! We brought four:
    • An old toy that I know they enjoy,
    • A new toy that spins – they are really into things that spin!
    • A new book with these rings across the top that they can spin, and
    • A tiny ring/ball toy thing that lights up when you spin it.
  • Laptop (or iPad, Smartphone, or some other “techie” device): I really, really, REALLY drag my feet when I talk about this one. I feel like such a hypocrite, promising not to allow my kids to play with technology devices. By the way, did you know you can download YouTube videos onto your laptop?!?! I was worried we wouldn’t have access to Elmo, Pentatonix (Sesame Street cover), and Frozen videos, were saved!!!)

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5. Dress comfy.

I typically dress comfortably for flights: sweats or tights, loose tops, flowy cardigans, moccasins or flip flops. But this was even MORE crucial having to haul around babies, carry-on bags, and luggage! We were SWEATIN’ by the time we got onto the plane (not to mention we continued to sweat during the flight). I always make sure to layer my clothing so I can always remove layers as I get hot, but also have enough to warm up once we hit the outside.

As for the babies, it’s not only more comfortable for them to be in loose clothing, but it helps you out as you hold, move, or transport them. Our boys wore their sock monkey outfits since we flew home on Halloween. Cute AND comfy.

6. Choose wisely among car seats, strollers, and other large baby gear.

Depending on your answers to some of the questions in #1 above, you may need to figure out the most efficient way to pack and fly with large baby items.

  • Car seats:
    • If you plan to rent when you get there, think about how you will transport baby throughout the airport. There’s baby wearing, strollers, or (if baby is old enough), the baby can walk – although in the early stages, you will not want them moving at their own pace!
    • If you are bringing your own car seats, here’s how you can transport them AND transport baby! We purchased these car seat transporters and they are amazing. They attach to each car seat and you can pull (or push) baby as you would roller luggage. Pricey, but find a coupon and know that it is worth it if you plan to fly at least more than once.
  • Strollers:
    • We brought our umbrella strollers for the boys because they are lightweight, easy to fold, and easier to manage than our humongous double stroller. The only CON about this is that we had to somehow hold the strollers, PLUS pull the car seat transporters PLUS our carry on bags. Helloooooo, biceps of steel!
    • If you bring a larger stroller system, I cannot speak on this as we did not do it, but I hear good things about the stroller allowing you to hang carry on bags and throw on additional items instead of hauling everything with your own bare hands. This is also helpful for TWINS as one parent can simply push the double stroller while the other parent manages carry on bags.
  • High chairs: We did not pack any as restaurants typically have some sort of high chair or booster seat available. But, I did consider it because we were flying to a friend’s house in Vegas and my in-laws’ house in Virginia and I worried about not having a high chair to get the boys used to eating in them. But you know what? We were on VACATION, so any type of hard core “training” was put on hold!
  • Pack-N-Plays or cribs: We did NOT bring any, but I know some parents do. This is a hard one because it is an extra BIG thing to pack. Do research at your hotel or wherever you’re staying to see if you can rent one. Then, you’ll just have to bring sheets, blankets, and/or pillows as necessary.
  • Baby wear: Not my forte, but such an amazing strategy that saves your sanity and the physical strain of hauling around babies! I did not have the best experience with baby carriers, but if you’re into it, definitely do it to free up your hands and to keep baby near and comforted. This especially helps for nursing mamas and fussy babies. Check out my amazing fellow twin mama who wears her TWINS all the time at TwinMommy101! She has flown with her twin toddlers and baby wearing saved the day plenty of times.

Here is a look at our car seat transporters in “action” (just kidding, I posed and made hubby snap a photo):

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7. Avoid the ear poppin’!

We were lucky enough to be warned about babies’ ears popping with the change in altitude. The key to successfully combating this painful experience is to prepare something for baby to suck on, whether it be a pacifier, bottle, or boob (for nursing mamas).

We prepared pacifiers (for our paci-boy) and bottles of milk to have the boys suck on something during that window of ear-popping-opportunity. It’s had to time it, but it’s sometime right after take off when you’re really leaning back at an angle as the plane tries to reach that cruising height. It’s also sometime right after the pilot announces the final descent.

8. Trust that you will survive.

It’s all about attitude. Not happy-go-lucky, yay-look-at-how-amazing-we-are, wow-having-the-time-of-my-life attitude. But one of determination, positivity, and patience. Remember that you and whoever you’re flying with (for me it was hubby) are a TEAM! Be kind, forgiving, understanding, and helpful. Flying with babies (and caring for babies in general) can really bring out the worse in us, so it’s important to stick together and stay strong.

There were PLENTY of moments I had near meltdowns. I wanted to cry, scream, yell, or simply shut down and curl up into a ball. It was hard. The babies are at an age where they don’t understand you completely and they don’t have reasoning skills. So it’s up to you, the adult, to hold it together.

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Bonus (but totally optional): Make a peace offering to your future airplane passengers!

For our flight to Virginia, I wanted to do something special for our neighboring passengers. I got the idea from my mommy group. We made snack packs with candy, ear plugs, and a note. You can read more about the snack packs here! And if this idea is not your cup of tea or you just don’t have for it, a genuine smile and honest greeting goes a long way. Kill em with kindness, right?

Well, there you have it. A recap of what we did, what worked for us, and how we managed to survive flying with two toddlers. I hope they work for you in your future travels!!!

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~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Who’s flown with a baby or toddler before? Tell me what tips and tricks worked for you (or did not work)! 

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2 thoughts on “Traveling with toddlers: Tips for surviving the plane ride

  1. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again – you are one super mama! 🙂 I’m breaking out into a sweat just THINKING about flying for the first time with Ethan next month – and he’s only one baby! Haha! Needless to say, great tips!! Will def. be doing my research and praying for a seamless flight both ways! 🙂

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