Toddlers and airplanes: ready, set, go!

Toddler airplane tips

First off, I’d like to personally thank the FAA, TSA, CIA and any other government agency for recently allowing electronic devices during Tarmac sitting, taxiing and take off. You have improved my life and the lives of my fellow travelers tenfold.

We’ve flown with E starting when he was 4 months old. For the most part, it’s gone well, but the challenge always came during that beginning part on the plane when he was excited and antsy and required to sit still.

I know letting little ones zone in front of a screen isn’t ideal, but when you’ve got hours ahead of you, even a champion Pinterest parent will get burnt out. A carefully timed episode of Curious George can stave off melt downs and get you over the hump until the snack cart rolls by.

Here’s what worked for us on the seven hour plane ride to Europe.

1. A combination of favorite and new snacks. Fruit chews were introduced on this trip and they were a huge hit! A friend recommended them for take-off and landing and she was right–no apparent ear trouble.

2. A personal water bottle with sipper top. I just didn’t want to deal with spills in that small a space.

3. Noise canceling headphones. So worth it. Planes are loud and earbuds are not a good choice for tiny people. Over-the-ear headphones let E enjoy Sesame Street without forcing the rest of us to endure Baby Bear. (God I hate the sound of Baby Bear.)

4. iBooks with the Read to Me feature. Again, the headphones let him enjoy lots of his favorite stories without forcing the business travelers next to us to listen to Go Dog Go.

5. The blanket he uses for nap time at school. I think encouraging “a rest” worked far better than saying time for bed. The nap blanket helped him believe he wasn’t going to miss much.

When we landed after our 7+ hour flight, all my preparation was worth it. In rows both in front of us and behind us, people expressed their surprise that there was a toddler on board. They hadn’t even known he was there–until we landed and he started talking to everyone that would make eye contact. I guess hours of just talking to mom and dad got a little boring….


Toddler airplane travel tips

A movie and a sandwich. What else does a traveler need?

The long-haul carry-on bag

kid's back pack for travel

packed up and ready to roll

After several flights with E, I’ve developed a few rules for our carry-on bags to help make our journeys more enjoyable. While every flight is different, and needs change as E grows, we have a few tried-and-true items we never leave home without. Will they eliminate the possibility of melt-downs? No. Will they end all boredom and wiggling? No. But hopefully they will give us at least a bit of peace and quiet and keep us from being that family on the plane.

E’s backpack

Fjallraven mini back pack

Kid’s backpack, perfect for long trips and short hops.

E loves to carry his own back pack and pick out the things that will go inside. I got him this yellow Fjallraven for a few reasons:

  1. It is mini-sized, so it won’t make him top-heavy.
  2. The top handles make it easy for me to grab if I need to keep him out of harm’s way.
  3. The bright color makes him easy to spot and and the backpack hard to accidentally leave behind.
  4. The straps adjust all the way to grown-up length, so if he decides to ditch it, I can put it on and keep my hands free.

It doesn’t hold a lot, which I think is a good thing. He can find what he’s looking for and there aren’t’ so many items that I can’t keep track of them when he invariably pulls them all out and dumps then on the floor.

In his back pack, we tend to stash the following:

  • Crayons and Post-it notes in an old Altoids tin (thanks Pinterest!)
  • A stuffed animal
  • A Melissa and Doug Water Wow tablet
  • Snacks
  • A few books
  • A  rubber dinosaur
  • Fuzzy pipe cleaners
  • Tape (Tape is awesome. Make tape balls, stick it on your face to make funny faces, re-seal snacks, label stuff…)

I carry my trusty L.L. Bean Quad backpack which has traveled with us on several trips and holds an amazing amount of gear and flotsam.

L.L. Bean Quad back pack

L.L. Bean Quad back pack

In my back pack:

  • Toddler water bottle
  • E’s blanket
  • Overnight essentials dopp kit (toothpaste and tooth brush, facial wipes, contact lenses and glasses, etc.)
  • Diaper change pack
  • Set of clothes for E
  • Set of clothes for me (Do not discount this one. If your child gets motion sickness, the person they throw up on will not be themselves. Trust me.)
  • iPad and charging cord!
  • Travel documents and wallet
  • Headphones for both of us (one noise-cancelling set, one ear-bud set)
  • Snacks
  • A few small, wrapped toys to use in a emergency

Will we forget something? Of course! But we are not traveling to a remote or desolate destination. We’re traveling to a major international airport. As long as we have enough diapers to get us through any delayed flights and tarmac-sitting, I think we will be OK.

Transporting toddlers

toddler travel in backpack

Anytime is nap time with the right gear.

When you’re even a bit off the beaten path, the big SUV stroller isn’t going to cut it. While great for malls, sidewalks and airports, we have dirt paths, cobblestone streets and tight quarters ahead of us. The little legs of a three-footer can only go so far–or too far. Traveling with toddlers means both energy and containment are going to be issues. We do have an umbrella stroller for some outings and city exploration (a completely disposable one purchased on sale for $20 at Target. And bonus: it looks like a shark so E truly enjoys riding in it.) But for the most part, we have found the secret to toddler travel success is a really sturdy backpack. Even better, ours was a hand-me-down from a similarly adventurous family. So it was road tested, yet still in terrific shape.

We carried E along mountain trails, zig-zagged through street festivals and up and down dozens of flights of stairs without a problem. He got a great view, up and away from dirt, feet and dogs. He often fell asleep in it, which while not ideal, is of course better than no nap at all. And it help a TON in the storage pocket, so all the diaper stuff, bottles and toys were with E, which meant the parents could split up without accidentally stranding one with a fussy baby and no supplies.

I’ve seen a few other products that are worth exploring. This belt system from Obi-Baby-Carrier seems to work for bigger kids and eliminates the bulk of the backpack, which would be great during the to-and-from. It’s compact enough to throw into your daybag as an option for kids who get tired along the way.


photo from


photo from