This post is sponsored by Storksak.
Travelling with toddlers is difficult.
They don’t like sitting still. They don’t like being cooped up for long periods of time. They don’t enjoy sleeping in an upright position or being told not to touch things. And they certainly don’t like being quiet.
In short, they don’t like being messed with. And nothing, in my experience, messes with you more than flying on a plane.
That, and being the parent of the toddler on the plane. That sucks, too.
While it’s probably clear that I believe it’s virtually impossible to avoid a flight with at least one baby (or parent) totally breaking down, there are some tips that you can deploy to make the experience much more manageable. Maybe even enjoyable?
My husband and I have taken our twenty-month-old twins on more than thirty flights to nine different countries. And whether they were twelve days old or nineteen months, one thing has always been clear… you can’t just wing it when travelling with toddlers.
Lucky for you, we’ve refined our travelling process and are finally ready to reveal our secrets to travelling with toddlers.
Let’s do this thing…
#1: Pack light
I can’t stress this enough: Don’t overpack.
You’re going to need every arm and ounce of energy you have inside that sleep-deprived body, so we suggest you take a backpack instead of a purse or a diaper bag.
Our go-to bag at the moment is this grey travel backpack that was gifted to us by Storksak. Besides passing my “unisex and not hideous” test, it’s lightweight, water resistant, comes with a stroller attachment (critical when travelling through airports) and comes with both an adorable changing mat and a detachable insulated bag for food or milk bottles.
As far as what items to pack in said backpack, your top priorities should be: nappies, wet wipes, a comfortable full-body onesie for travelling (for the kids, not you silly), a change of clothes, a lightweight blanket, a bib, a few dummies, an activity bag (see Tip #2), food (see Tip #3 and #6), milk or formula, an iPad or laptop, and a water bottle or two. If it’s not on that list, it can go in your carry-on.
Speaking of carry-on… if you can get away with it, you should pack everything for your trip into a lightweight carry-on instead of a bulky suitcase that needs to be checked. We’ve been stuck waiting at the baggage carousel with tired, screaming babies one too many times. It isn’t fun.
We’re currently using this grey duffle gifted to us by Storksak. First off, it matches my backpack and I always imagined I’d be the kind of cool mom that had matching travel bags. Secondly, it came with this great fold-away hanging organiser and various packing block, which my little OCD heart and organised husband really appreciates. And lastly, it folds into 1/4th its size. Hello, practical. Nice to meet you!
We use these carry-ons (usually two) for our remaining technology, toiletries, multiple outfits for adults and kids, bulky jackets and jumpers, a few extra nappies, large toys, blankets if we’re staying in a hotel or going someplace cold, plates and cutlery, and a portable co-sleeper and/or highchair (they sell ones that fold up and attach to chairs).
You’ll save a ton of precious space if you purchase formula, food, wipes and nappies when you arrive at your destination. In fact, as long as you leave some extra room in your suitcase for your return flight, you can basically get anything you need when you get there.
If grandparents are on the other end, send them a list. That’s what we do! They’ll love kicking off the trip feeling like they helped you guys out. We actually keep a large collection of things with my parents in America, which saves us a lot of weight and space.
#2: Bring an activity bag (or two)
One of my go-to travelling tricks is packing an activity bag for each of my kids. I prefer small, thin, see-through pencil cases or toiletry bags. That way they take up less room in your carry-on and you can easily find things in them without needing to open it. On my recent flight to Melbourne with the twins, I used one of the packing blocks from Storksak. It fit perfectly into my backpack and slid into the pocket in front of us.
In fact, if it’s too big to fit into the pocket in front of you, pick another bag.
Here’s what I included in my most recent bag:
- Things to play dress up with (Necklace, bracelets, sunnies, watch, goggles, headbands and a mask)
- Something that can be pulled apart and put back together (Legos)
- Small, thin books (2-3)
- Old but cleaned loyalty cards
- A notebook or piece of paper with crayons (I’ve recently started using postcards, so that I can send them to family members when we land)
- Reusable Stickers (You can find these great books at Kmart, Target or Amazon AU)
- Spoons and forks
- Dummies (you can never have enough dummies)
- A plethora of small stuffed animals and toys, ideally ones that can stand on their own and be placed on the tray in front of you
If you pack two or three smaller bags, you’ll be able to reveal them every few hours and keep the kids constantly distracted.
#3: Break your rules
If you’re like me, you have strict house rules when it comes to how much television your kids watch and what kinds of food you allow them to eat. My advice to you is to forget that those rules ever existed the second you leave the house for a vacation (big or small).
Remember that the main objective is just to survive. Bring an iPad full of age-appropriate shows, shove a dummy in their mouth without hesitation, and hand over the Cheerio’s the moment you hear them whinge. Your sanity (and your fellow passengers) will thank you later.
#4: Ask for help
One of the things I’m horrible at doing is asking for help when I travel. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to hand over the babies to a cooing grandma who can’t stop giggling at the twins.
My advice is to get over yourself. Just hand them off! People, especially other parents who have survived through the first few years, will want to help you. It’s just up to you to let them.
#5: Take shifts
It’s obviously quite difficult to do this if you have two or more kids (hello, parents of multiples), but even then, you can take shifts. Let your partner go to the bathroom for an extended period of time, or eat their meal in silence while you read your kids a book.
You two need to survive the trip without threatening divorce, so go easy on each other and ask for a break if you need one.
#6: Bring your own snacks
Unless you’re in business or first class, plane food is reliably shitty. And if it’s not shit, it’s usually not baby-friendly. I suggest you do some research before you travel and see what kinds of food will be available, and then take some plane-friendly kid’s foods with you.
My main piece of advice is to select (mostly) healthy foods that require some hand-eye coordination to pick up. If the process of eating the food takes some extra time, that’s another minute or two that they aren’t bothering you.
My go-to foods are:
- String cheese
- Sultanas (Raisins)
- Baby carrots
- Apple slices
- Pita chips
- Mini rice cakes
- Yogurt tubes (freeze beforehand and they’ll be perfect mid-flight)
#7: Write an “I’m Sorry” note
I hate to admit it, but I get anxious when my kids cry in public. To defuse that, I sometimes create little “I’m sorry” bags when I travel long-haul.
You just need to pop a few lollies into a zip lock bag with a cheeky note from your kids. This is sure to make your neighbours go easy on you.
Our most recent note read:
We’re Stella and Cooper. We haven’t learned how to pop our own ears yet, so if we cry really loud on this flight, we’re sorry. Hopefully you’ll be enjoying a movie and won’t be bothered by it, but if you are, go easy on our parents. They are just as annoyed as you are!
Enjoy your flight,
#8: Choose your seats wisely
Do you have a mobile child? Just pick an aisle seat.
In fact, pick an aisle seat at the front, middle or back of the plane. You may be close to a bathroom, but this will make a world of a difference as you jump up and down to distract them or need to perform the popular “bounce & shhhhh” to rock them back to sleep.
If your children aren’t old enough to sit on their own, you can still buy an extra seat for them. My husband buys the seat in between us, which we used as a dumping ground. Sometimes the kids sit there and watch a show, but most of the time it’s used to house all of toys and food. Honestly, it’s 100% worth the extra cost. You aren’t allowed to let us your kids sit on the floor and play (something about the masks not being able to reach them down there), so this seat will act as your playpen.
#9: Break the trip up
One of the best pieces of advice we got before travelling with our babies was to break the trip up. Add a stopover, if it’s reasonable, and jump off the plane to stretch your legs. In most cases, it’s an opportunity to baby step your way into a new time zone. In others, it’s a chance to see a new city and get into vacation mode sooner rather than later.
#10: Stick to their sleep schedule
You may be used to booking flights based on price, but search based on their sleep schedule instead and you’ll save yourself endless breakdowns.
For most parents, this means boarding a flight right before their normal sleep routine to travel while they would normally be sleeping.
#11: Stay hydrated
The flight attendants can never make it around with enough consistently (too many passengers to attend to) to combat dehydration. If you travel long-hauls often and find that yourself exhibiting symptoms of dehydration, I suggest you pack a tube of Hydralyte in your carry-on. You’ll be able to pop two effervescent tablets into the glass of water they give you, which just so happen to be the recommended dosage.
Hydralyte is also really great for kids if they are refusing to drink enough water. My babies don’t always accept water, but give them some Orange or Colour-Free Lemonade Hydralyte and they’re in heaven.
#12: Go easy on yourself
For every eye roll you THINK you’re getting, there are fourteen parents or grandparents who have been in the exact same place as you at one time or another. Just be patient with your babies and with yourself. It’s just one day. One flight. One annoying adventure.
That’s it! These tips have been tested many time, so I hope they are useful. If you decide to use any of them, let me know how it goes in the comment section below. I’m eager to add to the list and make this is the ultimate toddler travel guide.
Fast Facts: Before I go, do yourself a favour and check these things before taking off:
- Change the nappies before you board the flight
- Remember that you can, in fact, pack liquids if you have kids. You’ll need to go through additional security clearance, but you can do it.
- Google ahead of them or ask the flight attendants if they carry baby food on board. When we’ve travelled business the last few times, they’ve had some healthy fruit and vegetable pouches that the kids loved.
- Some people go into the booking process thinking they don’t have to pay for their toddlers, and that’s not always the case. In most situations, you’ll be paying a small portion of the ticket while your child is under two. And then once they turn two, they basically become adults.
- Which reminds me, travel before they are two. Because it will become harder financially the older they get.
Until next time, stay crafty!