I traveled with my toddler earlier this year. In light of the impending holidays, I’d bet you or someone you know is traveling with at least one child this year. I did lots of research before our travel. I had to figure out how to make toddler travel possible. Question 1 and hotly debated was to buy the extra plane seat or not. Thousands of parents will debate this question before hitting “confirm” on their seat selections. I grappled about this for weeks before I booked my flight. Then I bought a plane ticket. A ticket. One. I’m a teacher for goodness sake. I don’t have an extra $500 for a ticket for a little person who will barely take up a whole seat, and who will most likely be sitting on my lap anyways because she’s obsessed with me. Mean girls style.
I also researched the tips and made the Target trip in advance for you. Here are 5 tips I read and then the real talk of whether they worked or if I tried them at all along with links to the products worth buying.
Tip 1: Bring All the Toys
That’s right, bring an absurd amount of toys. Bring all of the toys so that they will be so surprised when you whip out new toy after new toy that they will be instantly content. That’s what I kept reading from the Pinterest moms. Buy some toys and tuck them away so they won’t see them before the flight. Then, when your little dictator starts getting antsy, bust out that toy and sit back and relax. And don’t forget to buy them a cute little backpack to put them all in. Target- it’s the place. And for just $20, your child can have a giraffe bag!
Tip 1 Real talk
I’ve got news for you, Pinterest mamas. Did you know that plane seats are the size of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe? Can you give me a tutorial on how to retrieve the toys out of my carry-on bag when I have a toddler on my lap? If you put your carry-on in a compartment above you, forget about setting your child down to get that bag out in flight. Maybe you have an angel-baby, but my baby would be halfway down the aisle trying her best to trip and get rug burn.
If you put your bag by your feet, have fun trying to find a place to put your child other than your lap when you are trying to bend over and frantically fumble through it looking for your Veggie Straws. I made an attempt to, and ended up with soaked armpits as I also repeatedly elbowed the man sitting awkwardly close to the wall and window while whispering to the man who he knew sitting in front of him.
We all knew he was talking about us. And we all knew that I couldn’t get a damn thing out of the bag. I was left to sweat some more and hope that Moana started to work on the iPad.
TLDR toys: By all means, bring all the toys. That doesn’t mean you will be anywhere close to pulling them out for your precious one on the flight- this may be more of an airport time hack.
Tip 2: Bring All the Snacks
Another very helpful tip from the moms of Pinterest. Don’t forget to bring a variety of snacks! I had our snacks carefully laid out on my bed, separated by the flight out and the flight back. I had sweet and salty snacks, and I had real juices with Frozen characters on them and organic chocolate coconut milk. I had everything Target could offer.
Tip 2 Real Talk
Did I need that many snacks? No. Could I get to them in my bag? Barely. My hand got in there just enough to get a lollipop, some juice, and some freeze-dried strawberries on the way to our destination. She loved the juice. Loved it so much that she squeezed it in a big Olaf warm hug and it came gushing out all over her. She enjoyed the strawberries. So much that she got excited and dumped them and all of their little flaky crumbs on the floorboard. Sorry flight attendants. And that lollipop? Well, she didn’t even know how to enjoy it, poor thing. How do you teach a small toddler how to lick? She chomped right into it and I spent the next minutes worrying if the piece was sharp and if she was going to choke on it or tear her esophagus.
TLDR snacks: Bring tons, make sure they are extra crumbly, and bring a drinking contraption that doesn’t hold liquid very well. It will be a fun time. Skip the lollipop though. Unless you’ve tried that already. Successfully.
Tip 3: Tech All You Want
Let them have as much screen time as they want! That’s what the blogs say. Who cares, just keep them happy and get to where you need to be. I bought a super heavy-duty iPad case that I hoped could withstand toddler mishaps. I snagged some toddler headphones on sale- they had volume control. I downloaded apps with Elmo, ABCs, shapes, counting, coloring with kitties, Disney, and downloaded movies and episodes from Netflix in case there wasn’t a screen on the headrest in front of us to watch movies.
Tip 3 Real Talk
We were locked and loaded. I was prepared to buy in-flight WiFi and everything. I logged in to the WiFi and then…nothing. It didn’t work. The lady next to me said, “Ya, I don’t know if this WiFi is for streaming or apps like that.” Thanks, lady. It’s gonna be your funeral, then.
TLDR tech: Thankfully, there was a screen in front of us AND it had Moana. Be sure to have offline games, shows, and other activities for your little one if you bring along all the tech.
Tip 4: Fly When It’s Naptime or Bedtime
Buy some milk in the airport and bring a sippy cup and you are ret-ta-go when you get on the plane. Your little will get on the plane, you’ll pull out a blankie, and she’ll snuggle up all sweet with you as she sips her milk and watches Moana into a sleepy daze until she passes out. And you won’t even have to pee once.
Tip 4 Real Talk
I didn’t put much weight into the fact that it would be the witching hour and she may throw tantrum after tantrum. She actually didn’t, which I was extremely surprised about, but it was no picnic. I am convinced it was all thanks to Moana (“You’re Welcome”).
She fussed and cried, but it wasn’t near a tantrum. Thankfully the man next to me had five… FIVE… kids, so when she was cranky I think he understood. I even caught him looking at her sweetly, and I could tell he was reminiscing.
TLDR flight time: Be prepared for tantrums no matter what precautions you make. After all, it is bedtime and we all know what that can turn into. Bring a sippy cup, a blankie, and cross your fingers for a nice old grandpa who had five kids and has a ton of grandbabies.
Tip 5: Bring Goodies and Cute Notes
Since parents don’t have all that much to do to get ready for a flight with a toddler (eye roll), spend an extra thirty minutes or so packing together cute notes and freebies in little Ziploc baggies for strangers. Be extra and throw in a few dollars or a drink ticket.
Tip 5 Real Talk
What happened to the good old days of just having to get through it? I put in my time listening to crying babies over the years on flights. I would never ever expect anything from the parent of one. I just spent my flight valuing my freedom and ability to relax with my music and a Nylon magazine. The strangers will get over it.
TLDR goodies for strangers: You have a toddler. They can get their non-toddler-wrangling selves a drink with their own money, not your sad, sticky lollipop-goop-covered dollars.
In the end, the flight with my toddler was actually so horrible that I told my husband that I would never do it again by myself as long as I live. But you know what, that’s life and I have a damn funny story to tell from it. And I will never, ever forget it. Traveling with a toddler is just like being with your toddler on a regular day; there will be tantrums and there may be sweet moments- just all in front of hundreds of strangers you pass in the airport and sit next to on the plane. Do what you normally would do, bring the toys you know she likes, and just go with the flow.