Packing and Traveling with Children: Part Two
With holiday travel quickly approaching, many parents’ anxiety levels about taking their young children on flights is likely increasing. Today I bring you the second installment of our guide to packing and traveling with children! (Read the first part here.) This year, my two-year-old has been on at least ten flights. And while we still spend a significant amount of time dashing around the airport after a surprisingly fast toddler, I’ve learned that a little preparation makes each flight smoother than the last.
Bring more than you think you need, but don’t over-pack
Recall the overstuffed diaper bag I’m toting through the airport? It’s about to be unpacked for you. I hate overpacking. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I can travel internationally with just a carry-on bag. However, when it comes to traveling with a toddler, that isn’t always possible. Here’s what I’m bringing on every flight:
Diapers and wipes (obviously)
This is obvious for any parent who has ever left the house with a child in diapers. But no matter what time of day we’re traveling or the length of the flight, I always bring at least 5 diapers. You never know what’s going to happen and I do not want to be caught unprepared on a flight. I also change diapers right before the flight boards because those tiny airplane bathrooms are hard enough to navigate without the added challenge of using the baby changing table.
I also bring a full package of wipes and a change of clothes. Especially on our long-distance flights, I want these to be readily available.
Although my daughter loves airplane snacks (especially the little ice cream cups), I don’t rely on them to keep her full or happy. I’ve tried out so many travel snack containers (at least six different brands and types) for both car and airplane travel and have it narrowed down to the winner. The popular snack spinner is amazing. You can stuff it full of healthy snacks and supplement it with the Biscoff cookies that inevitably make the rounds. It’s mess-free, slim, and packs neatly into a diaper bag. The unexpected bonus of this snack container is that it doubles as a nifty toy.
This is actually my favorite thing to pack. I always bring a few standard comfort items like favorite books or a stuffed animal, but then I try and come up with the easiest/most fun activities that are also disposable so I don’t have to worry about them getting lost or destroyed on a plane. My favorite is finding window clings. They don’t leave a huge mess (looking at you, Play Dough) and keep my child occupied for a minute or two. I’ve also made matching games out of construction paper, stuff pill organizers with pom poms or small animals, brought a roll of stickers and a notebook. It’s fun to get creative and usually pays off on the flight. I also don’t hesitate to turn on the TV screen or turn on some downloaded shows on an iPad. It’s all for survival mode. Having a tray cover also works wonders in keeping snacks and toys off the floor. It’s a sanity saver.
I could go on, but to spare you having to see the entire contents of a meticulously packed bag, I’ll leave it at these top three things. But before I do, please don’t forget the hand sanitizer.
Board early or board late, but have a plan
There are two schools of thought on early boarding. Some families prefer to let their child run around as long as possible before having them sit in the same place for several hours. Others like to use the extra time to collapse the stroller, find overhead bin space, or buckle in a car seat. Honestly, do whatever will work best for your child, just have a plan and stick to it. If you decide to board early, make sure you get tags for strollers, car seats, or anything you’re gate-checking. You don’t want to leave this to the last minute. If you decide to let your child run around a little longer, have fun.
Don’t be afraid of your child making a scene
I’ve heard of parents making little flight apology bags with earplugs and candy for the passengers sitting next to them. I personally think this is ridiculous. Young children cry and whine and occasionally scream, and it’s an adult’s job to act like an adult. Don’t be afraid of your child acting like a child.
Nearing the end of one flight, my daughter, who was about one at the time, started getting really upset. She was sleepy, tired of being held, and ready to be off the plane. When taxiing to the gate took longer than expected, she lost it. I was in apology mode trying to get her to calm down as quickly as possible when several fellow passengers jumped in to help. The nice people behind me pulled up the obnoxious but catchy “Baby Shark” video on YouTube which bought us some time until we got to the gate.
People are generally kind and understanding and have likely had similar experiences themselves. Don’t stress about your child getting upset on a flight. It’s new, loud, and sometimes scary. Give them some grace and don’t forget to do the same for yourself.
Don’t panic, your baby/toddler/child will do great
Your toddler will do better than you expect. Before our trip to England, I stressed for weeks about taking an 18-month-old on a flight that long. I imagined every worst-case scenario. Turns out she slept for seven hours of the nine-hour flight.
This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn, Jackson Hole’s closest motel to Grand Teton National Park.
Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She occasionally travels (not as much as she’d like) and always eats.