Surviving Air Travel with a Toddler

Surviving Air Travel with a Toddler

May 24, 2016

As an expat living abroad, my daughter and I have to travel by plane a lot. My daughter is used to such long travel adventures now, but it has taken much trial and error to get it down. I have often wanted to force the person that said the quote "It's all about the journey" to accompany us on one of these... adventures and see how they feel. If you are flying, especially alone, I’ve found that keeping the carry-on baggage to a minimum will help you keep your sanity. It gets difficult to keep track of all of your things and a child that wants to do sprints up and down the terminal. 

American airports and even most large international ones have become something closer to a theme park than the old dreaded shell of a building with no amenities. So here is what I pack for my daughter, when the two of us are traveling without her father on long haul trips (think at least 20+ hours with layovers). Remember, at some point you might have to carry all of the baggage and a sleepy child, so try to keep it to a minimum:


Good, sturdy stroller that can be folded close to flat. I like the City Select Jogger. It’s not as small as an umbrella stroller, but it has a shade and reclines better for when we have a long layover and she is in need of a nap. When she is running around it serves as a fantastic baggage trolley. I call it my little airport minivan.

 My daughter's bag:

  1. Rolling backpack: so that when she wants to be out and running she can carry her things. The school sized ones are big enough so that we can fit all of her items in there, and she can take some ownership in the process. Plus, flashing wheels
  2. iPad: I’m not a big fan of screen time, but sometimes when you are away from home and life is off schedule it is a life saver.
  3. Headphones: little pink ones by LilGadgets have volume control and keep everyone on the plane from listening to the Frozen on a loop.
  4. Chalkboard: You can get one of these small ones (5x7) from Michaels for like $5. That and one piece of chalk has given her hours of entertainment and creativity.
  5. Go Fish in a box: Djeco makes these really amazing toys in a box. Go fish has been super popular lately for us. We love to use it in airports when we are waiting to board a plane and boredom sets in. It is also a great way for my daughter to make friends. Just sit down next to a family with another restless child and watch them give you a look of gratitude when the kids sit down together to catch some fish
  6. Blanket: Sometimes planes get cold. Something extra soft and fuzzy that they also use at home will make them feel secure
  7. Toothbrush/Toothpaste: Just because we are away from home, doesn’t mean the teeth don’t need it!
  8. Dimetapp/Tylenol: because you just don’t know
  9. Jammies/Undies/Change of clothes: In order to fly home from Brasil (or Singapore) you usually have to take night flights that are 10+ hours. To help set the expectation that it is time to sleep, I have my daughter change into jammies as soon as we board. Then, just after they serve breakfast towards the end of the flight I take her to the bathroom again and change her into fresh clothes and we all feel a little bit less ragged when we land at 4:45am in Houston.
  10. Books: I usually try to pack just 1 or 2 books.
  11. Lovie: You know, their favorite, can’t lose it or the world will end stuffed animal. Make sure to check your seat before leaving the plane (or boarding)!
  12. Snack: I try to only pack one or two snacks and buy them in the airport. This gives us something to do and it is also less to keep track of throughout the day.
  13. Waterbottle/Sippy Cup: Remember to make sure this is empty before going through security!

Remember, this is all temporary. If you can just acknowledge that the next few hours are going to be long, it helps with your sanity. I find letting go and giving some special airport fun make the experience special rather than dreaded.

Our next blog post will give you some details on what I pack for myself in order to survive the journey.

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