11 tips for flying with babies + toddlers

I still remember the carefree days of traveling, pre-kids.

girl in airplane etsyWaiting in the airport was barely a nuisance. I could check my e-mail, read a magazine, or strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler - all while sipping a hot drink and nibbling on a scone, decked out in fashionable garb from head-to-toe. Stopping in the restroom, I'd reapply my lipstick and then carry my tiny carry-on into the plane - where I could rest, write, or chat with my seatmate.

Flash-forward to today: I'm dressed in flip flops, jeans, and a t-shirt with my hair in a ponytail, a backpack on my shoulders, a baby in a front carrier, and a 3-year-old's hand wrapped in mine. "Waiting" at the airport involves entertaining an active preschooler and a bored baby, while keeping a watchful eye on our mountains of luggage. In between bathroom stops and "I'm hungrys" and "I need a drinks," we play peek-a-boo, make sticker cards, and make funny faces. The charade continues on the plane, until we arrive - tuckered out and zapped...just as our kids get their second wind.

Yes, traveling with kids is a whole different ball game. For sure.

Now, however, we are experienced travelers (ha!) and have learned a thing or two. Here are a few tips to help your vacation with little ones be a bit smoother and less stressful:

1. Book your flights early. The closer you get to your travel dates, the more expensive tickets will get.

2. Check in online the night before. The more time you can save at the airport, the better. Waiting in line isn't fun - for you or baby. Keep in mind that most airlines provide a discount if you pay for checked bags online prior to arrival.

3. Don't arrive at the airport too early. The current recommendation is to arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to your flight, but we tend to plan for about an hour - especially at smaller airports.

4. Wear flip flops or slip-on shoes. Unlacing tennis shoes at security is a hassle - for you and your kids. To save yourself time and stress, wear shoes that can be easily taken on and off.

5. Wear your baby in a carrier. I said it once and I'll say it again: ERGO. My ERGO is worth its weight in gold. I wore my baby all through the airport in Tucson, Orange County, and Seattle. She was content tucked in close to me. I had my hands-free. And strangers were less likely to attempt to reach out to touch her little fingers and toes.

6. Bring an umbrella stroller. We opted not to bring a stroller with us on this vacation because we thought, "less luggage is better." Logical? Yes. BUT we didn't account for the fact that our 3-year-old is kind of like luggage herself. Especially when she asks pleadingly, "daddy, hold me" as we walk miles and miles through crowded airports. Umbrella strollers are lightweight, inexpensive, and you can walk them right up to the boarding deck.

7. Talk about the trip ahead of time. Quell any fears by discussing the trip in detail before it happens. We played "airplane" at home and had open conversations about where we would be going, what we would see and do in various locations, etc.

8. Pack wisely. For example, it's wise to pack only enough diapers and wipes for use during travel. You can buy more at your destination. Also: it's better to pack several small suitcases than one giant suitcase. "Digging" through a heap of underwear, onesies, sweaters, and socks every time you need to find something is less than ideal. It's better if each person has their own bag - even the baby. That way, you can find things quickly.

9. Keep all important documents in one folder. Buy a brightly colored folder. Insert: flight itineraries, rental car reservations, hotel phone numbers, maps to each location, etc. Note that birth certificates/IDs are typically not required for passengers under age 18.

10. Pack an extra outfit for each child (and for you) in your carry-on. Do be sure you have an additional outfit (including underwear and socks for little ones) for every member of your party. If you're traveling with a child, there's a high probability that some misfortune will occur - a potty training accident, coca-cola spilled all over your shirt, a baby blow-out, etc. Be prepared.

11. Lollipops. If your child is of lollipop age, this tip is top-notch. Bring a half-dozen lollipops in your carry-on. Give your child a pop at take-off and/or landing. The sucking motion will help clear up clogged ears from cabin pressure and the pop will serve as a welcome distraction for a good solid 20 minutes.

Most importantly, try to relax, laugh, and keep your expectations reasonable. There will undoubtedly be trying and/or embarrassing moments, but the best way to handle them is with gentleness, grace, and a smile on your face.

YOUR TURN: What tips do YOU have for flying with babies + toddlers?

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19 comments on “11 tips for flying with babies + toddlers”

  1. Great stuff, Stephanie! You are absolutely correct, the ERGO is worth its weight in gold. We wore ours all around Europe and into Africa this past January with a 7 month old and then again in NYC this past October. Highly recommended!

  2. Two words--Candy necklaces!! I discovered that my daughter loved gnawing on her candy necklaces and bracelets so much that it distracted her from any other reasons to throw a fit or get upset. $.50 and I was set for almost an entire plane ride with my toddler. Now that she's four that won't work quiete as well so we bring along her very own carry on bag filled with my little ponies, coloring book and crayons, a book or two and her portable dvd player. My husband is a pilot and we fly quiete often but have never had a problem with our daughter because we come prepared!! That's the key...be prepared :)

  3. I totally do all that stuff, save the lollipop. The big kid can do the lollipop thing well, but the little one gets such a sticky mess, and if she were sitting in my lap I wouldn't want the stick factor! I do always pack snacks and drinks for them, though, for that very reason. They don't let you bring outside drinks in anymore, but you can buy a water, juice, milk, or whatever in the airport and put it in your sippy cup. That does the trick. :)

  4. These are such great ideas...and so useful too! Whenever I have flown with my little ones, I have made sure that they have something in their mouth (either a binky, sippy cup, etc.) so they don't get plugged ears. With my 2 1/2 year old, I have packed a small bag for her with special things in it that she has/had not seen yet. Stickers, Doodle Pro, a new book, postcards and crayons so she can make cards for her friends on the trip...all fun things that help pass the time. I will have to get very creative next August as we are flying over to Europe with both kids!

  5. Great advice. I wish we saw this before our first flying experience with our son. What a nightmare. But we know better now, Thank you

  6. I don't have any flight tips for babies but the extra clothes is good for anyone. I have spilled drinks on myself on two different flights in the past. I'm pretty klutzy naturally.

  7. Get a flight Harness. They are great, easy to fit, and if the plane drops your baby doesnt hit the ceiling! Get your food, blankets, pillows etc organized and accessible as you are likely to need them. Take advantage of the 'early boarding' as it is far less stressful getting stuff out of the overheads and setting up your camp without hundreds of people trying to get past. Sit and Strolls are brilliant - they convert from a car seat to stroller to flight seat easily and save a lot of hassle.

    We took my 4 month old son to England in July and it went like a dream!

  8. I agree with slip on shoes and no shoes for the carried kids helps with getting through security.
    I never wear a belt or jewlery (exception wedding ring) when traveling through airports as well.
    Baby carriers have been my lifesaver when traveling as well. Hotslings & Baby Hawk are my personal favorites.

  9. I am so excited for this themed weekend! I just printed this list and have already put it with my planning stuff for our trip in November. We have taken several car trips with our 2 year old, but never a plane trip. I feel like there is so much more planning involved when flying.

  10. I don't have any tips for flying with little ones but I will say that snacks, a toothbrush, a book and a change of clothes are two things I always had for myself when I flew pre-kids. I was very thankful for the change of clothes the one time I was stranded at an airport overnight and the one time a flight attendant spilled a can of soda on me at the beginning of a five hour flight!

  11. I think you can never have too many snacks! You never know when your flight is going to be delayed or things take longer than expected. Also, you can bring milk in a sippy through security. They run a simple test on it and it is not much trouble. I have found it difficult to find fresh whole milk in the airport and this way we have it ready when we need it without paying the price of a half gallong for one cup at the airport.

  12. I have not even one good tip..the last trip we took was not good! It takes 13 hours to drive to Tucson and by the time we drove to the Denver Airport, got checked in, flew there, got picked up and to my in laws it took 11 hours. It only saved us two hours and a lot of stress!

  13. thanks for the lollipop tips! will be using it in a few days? do u have a fav 'healthier' lollipop? i haven't used them before but think i might on a long flight later this week...

  14. Awesome list! We commute weekly with our little one and find that snacks are a must! I have to second the ERGO love! We always bring it when we travel. Actually, we always bring it whenever we go out. We're going on a long trip soon and I'm sure I'll be using many of these tips.

  15. These are such excellent tips.

    I get stressed flying by myself and have never even thought to attempt it with my young son. If the time ever comes, I will definitely keep these tips in mind.

    Great post (once again)! I am glad you all had a great time traveling and that you stayed safe!

    *Leane

  16. I don't have any tips since I never flown with my baby before...but the tips you gave are very useful! We might be taking a vacation at the end of Oct & I'm hoping he'll sleep through most of the flight.

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