We fly pretty often with our toddler. All of our flights have ended with smiles and a genuine feeling of "that wasn't so bad", so I thought I would give you some tips on how to go about it and get through it.
1. BE FLEXIBLE, BE ADAPTABLE, AND KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR
I promise you, this journey will not go perfectly (probably not even close). Your kid will cry at some point. They'll be fussy. They'll do that indomitable backbend move where their head goes so far back it reaches their butt, making it impossible to pick them up. You have a toddler, and we all know how headstrong (ahem difficult) they can be sometimes. Lower expectations and laugh at the chaos and you will enjoy yourselves much more. Just remember that you're not traveling for the plane ride, you're (hopefully) heading to somewhere fun, so let that be the light at the end of the tunnel.
2. LESS IS MORE
Should you bring all your kids toys? Absolutely not. This is a case of less is more.
I know this, I've always known this, but I had a lapse of judgement on a recent camping trip that we went on with our good friends that have a kid Zay's age. My thought was to bring more stuff so they would't fight over toys. There was enough toys, balls, bubbles, and books for 5 kids. What happened? They each just wanted everything. It didn't matter that there was more than enough: they wanted it all. So less is more, especially on a plane where you have to carry it all.
I am not a travel blogger that is going to push a million products on you and convince you that you *need* them to survive trips. I have a very short list of my favorite must-have items, but other than those, keeping it simple (and cheap) is my advice. For "entertainment" on the 30+ hour trip to Sri Lanka, we brought 3 books, 1 toy car, 2 packs of stickers, and downloaded one short Elmo video (for emergencies). That's it. He didn't want anything more because there wasn't anything else for him. Not to get all communist dictator on you, but take away their sense of options and choice and it will cut down on the whining.
3. FOOD IS LOVE
One thing to stock up on is snacks. Nothing makes a fussy toddler happier than some treats (I feel ya, kid). We are pretty strict with what Zay eats on a day to day basis, but on long trips, we're more lenient. The point is to just get to your destination as happily as possible, so whatever works. We bring "healthy" snack bars (are any of those actually healthy?), cashews, apples, crackers, and string cheese. Food does the trick and stops a crying toddler pretty quickly.
4. LOVE YOUR TIME TOGETHER
This one annoys people when I say it, but it's my most important piece of advice. So much of traveling with a little one (actually life in general) is about perspective and your outlook. If you dread the flight, it's probably going to suck. But if you look at the positive side of things, you can actually enjoy it. Flights with your toddler is an incredible opportunity to bond with your family. How often are you confined to a small space with no distractions and nowhere to go? Probably not often. Use this time to tell stories, sing songs, read books, be silly, and truly enjoy your time together.
5. PLAN FLIGHTS AROUD SLEEP SCHEDULES
Alright, this one we don't always follow because we always end up buying the cheapest flight available and take on the challenges. But if you have a choice , definitely plan flights for when your baby sleeps. Red eyes may have been your nemesis pre-kids, but they are your life-saver with kids. If your toddler is still taking marathon two hour naps, flying during that time is wise as well. The early flights (2 or 3am) work as well. They will most likely wake up in the process to getting to the airport, checking in, and going through security, but they will surely fade fast once they hear and feel the humming of the plane engine and go back to sleep for a big chunk of the plane ride.
6. ASK FOR THINGS
Don't be shy! The more you ask for assistance or special privileges, the easier it will be for you. The worst that can happen is that people tell you no. So ... ask at the gate if it's a full flight, and if not to move your seats so you have a row to yourself or one with extra leg room. Ask if there is a special line for parents with babies for security or customs. If you don't have a stroller, ask for one at the airport information desk. Ask the check-in agent if you can get early check-in if you're at the airport too early. Ask for extra snacks or baby supplies from the flight attendant if you forgot something. Ask airline staff if there is a nursing or play area for kids before you board.
A smile, greeting, and simple question can go a long way and make your time traveling a lot easier.
We didn't pay for extra leg room. We asked for it.
We didn't pay for 3 seats, we asked for them.
7. LAYOVERS ARE FOR WIND SPRINTS
Ok, not really, but use this time to get your toddler's energy out. Make up a game and have your child run to your next boarding gate (so long as you have enough time in between connections). It will definitely take longer, but if you have the time it's totally worth it. With this trick, you can board your next flight with a drowsy baby ready to sleep . And believe me, a sleeping baby is much more easy to handle than an energetic one.
Don't feel bad that your child is running around either. So long as they're not knocking over people and Hudson News magazine stands, you're good. People get it and seeing a happy toddler run around puts a smile on even the stiffest businessmen and women's faces (sometimes).
Zay sprinting through JFK before our 16 hour flight
8. MOVE AROUND
If you’re on a long flight, chances are the plane is pretty big. Use the space on the plane when your toddler gets squirmy and wants to move around. Let them high five strangers down the aisle, schmooze with the flight attendants, and jump around the area where everyone goes to stretch. Unless the seatbelt light is on, the flight attendants will let you hang out as long as you want, because a toddler jumping around is better than a toddler screaming at the top of their lungs.
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9. BOARD WISELY
If you have little children, you have the sweet sweet privilege of boarding first. But do you do it? The answer isn't a simple yes or no.
Assess your child's energy level. If the wind sprints didn't wear your little one out, then keep 'em going and add ankle weights (jk). But let them run around as long as possible. We often board the plane dead last so Zay can run around and so that we are in that small confined space for as short a time as possible. There are times, however, that Zay is melting down and ready for an hours long aero snuggle session, so we board as soon as we can. We start to get him to sleep while people are boarding, commence my "cradling a heavy toddler-induced" dead arms, and have him snoozing by the time we take off.
10. TREAT YOURSELF: PRIORITY PASS
This tip is a little more baller than the others, but I just wanted to throw it up here because it has really changed the way we fly. To get Priority Pass for "free", check out our post on The Greatest Gift to Travelers.
Free meals, massage chairs, and cappuccinos in the Priority Pass lounge.
And those are my tips! I hope you find them helpful. Where are you going on your next flight with the little ones?