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Toddler Travel: 10 Tips for a Smooth Flight

Pack Your Bags, Momma, and Fly Stress-Free 

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Article by Chelsey Derks Modde

There’s something so refreshing about travel. Whether it’s to reconnect with a favorite familiar place or heading out to explore a new destination, I wholeheartedly believe it’s good for the soul. If Marie Kondo was giving me the “Spark Joy” test on my life activities, traveling would be way up there—meaning I’m not staying stationary no matter what life changes come my way. 

But when we added a little one to the mix, I was kind of surprised that I felt overwhelmed at the thought of bringing her on a plane. I mean, what if she cries? What if people give me dirty looks? What if I forget something she needs? 

A year into her time earth-side, we’ve been on 16 flights (the longest being about 6.5 hours),  and picked up a few lessons along the way. If I’m being honest, it was actually really easy when she was younger. I’d nurse her or give her a bottle during take off, she’d sleep for the entire flight, and then wake up when we landed. What a breeze, right? 

But when she neared toddler territory and found a new level of mobility and what we’ll call determination, the game changed. Here’s what I’ve learned, with the hopes it makes someone else's journey a bit smoother. 

1. Keep it Clean(ish)

My little one summons the dirt to her. Don’t ask me how because I swear I watch her, but the girl gets into everything. It would be awful to spend all that time and energy traveling just to arrive with a sick kiddo who picked up a bug on the plane. My pediatrician told me kids have a 1 IN 4 CHANCE of catching something while traveling. Pretty crazy, right? We always bring a baggy of sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer and wipe down the seat, tray table, buckle, etc. Things will always be messy with toddlers, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be dirty. 

2. Extra Outfits

Whether it’s a blow out, a spilled drink, or some other unidentified mess—throw a few extra outfits in your carry-on bag. Also, keep in mind planes tend to be a little chilly, so we always keep a small blanket with us as well. 

3. Let ‘em Run

I was really worried about being thaaaatmom with the wild child running through the airport. But you know why thaaaatmom exists? Because it works. If you’re going to confine a recently mobile kiddo during a flight, let them burn as much of that energy off before they’re even in the air. 

4. Buy Yourself a Little Extra Time

On that note, if you’re flying with someone else, have them grab the bags and board as usual while you and your toddler continue to do laps around the gate area. Boarding can take almost half an hour and that’s time you don’t necessarily have to spend trying to keep your little one corralled in a seat. Being one of the last people on the plane isn’t a bad thing when your travel buddy has already had a chance to get everything, except your kiddo, settled. 

5. Ask for Help

At my core, I hate feeling like I’m inconveniencing someone. It’s a relatively ridiculous trait, but it’s embedded pretty deep within me—that is until I flew with my little one alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. The WORST thing that will happen is someone will say no. Ask the gate agent if there are open seats in a row and can you sit there instead? Take advantage of family pre-boarding. Shoot, I once asked a stranger behind me if he wouldn’t mind grabbing the diaper bag as we maneuvered down the tunnel. Once a flight attendant offered to walk with her if she got fussy. Say it with me, “It’s okay to ask for what I need.”

6. Snacks! Snacks! Snacks! Snacks! Snacks – Snacks! Everybody SNACKS

Yes, I sing that to the tune of LMFAO’s “Shots” every time we pack. It’s the best thing to keep little hands busy. We bring a lot and we bring a variety. Raisins, apple sauce, packs of cookies, crackers, pretzels—you name it, we’ve packed it. Plus the extra jaw movement caused by eating during take off and landing will help with ear pressure issues. 

7. Get Those In-Flight Steps In

While it’s not easy to stretch on a plane, take advantage of those moments the fasten seatbelt sign is off. Let the little ones roam, y’all. Even a small change of scenery and little movement can keep you on the right side of a meltdown.

8. Small, but Endless Opportunity Activities

No one wants to roll up to the airport feeling like they’ve brought their entire playroom with them, so we try to be strategic with our toys. Paper and crayons is our biggest go-to because it keeps toddlers busy for a long time. A couple books are a good option too, because when you’re done reading you can use them as the setting for a pretty good game of “I Spy.” Another good option is to go get a few small knick-knacks from the dollar section of Target and wrap each one up in crinkly paper. When your little one is getting restless, give them a new “present” to open. The paper is fun for them to play with and the little treat inside will keep them busy for at least a bit. 

9. Sing Along

I feel like when you become a mom you commit to genuinely not caring as much about what people think of you. You know those sing along songs that help your kiddo calm down at home? (For us it's actually "Girls Like You" by Maroon 5. Don't ask me why. Ever since she was tiny, when that song is on she stops crying.) Belt those bad boys out on the plane if you sense a meltdown is coming. We also make sure to have a few favorites downloaded to our phones (rather than streaming via WiFi) in case of an emergency where we need to play some music as a distraction tactic.

10. Hey, It Happens

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if things go south, it’ll still be okay. Little ones sometimes cry and more often than not the people around will you be sympathetic and even helpful—not angry. Take a breath, remember that our kiddos pick up on our energy, and know that we've all been there.

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Follow Chelsey Derks Modde @chelsderks 

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