We took Addison James second flight ever over a week ago and I'd have to say it was a lot more fun this time around. The last time we traveled in an airplane was April 2019 and Addison was only 7 months old. Going into this flight, I was almost more nervous than before. Toddlers, as I'm sure many of you know if you're reading this, aren't always "simple". Sometimes the situations I'm most excited for or think Addison will love turn out to be totally opposite. Traveling with a toddler turned out to be much more fun than expected - still not relaxing - but way more exciting.
Babies are easier in a sense because they don't talk back, don't move all around on their own and don't require a whole lot of entertainment outside of peak-a-boo or a simple light-up toy. Watching Addison's excitement of getting on the plane, taking off and "going so high", looking out the window & landing in a new exciting place brought Kirby and I so much joy.
It's our dream to bring our kids (loving saying that in plural form) as many places as possible. We were so bummed when our big Europe trip got canceled last year. To finally be boarding a flight somewhere new was just what we needed before jumping into our next life adventure with another little babe. Traveling with a baby, toddler, kids will always come with surprises, sleepless nights and a whole lot of luggage, but it's totally worth it.You learn as you go just like anything else.
Tips for Traveling with a Toddler
Extra time is key
When it comes to airport travel with a toddler, give yourself lots of time at the front end to get through security, find your gate & enjoy the process. Nothing stresses everyone out more than rushing through a terminal with kids in tow.
Pack a small bag or suitcase for your little to carry all on their own. We filled Addison's personalized suitcase with toys for the plane & for the trip. He loved having the responsibility of pulling it through the airport & onto the plane. Of course, at times Kirby or I were the ones pulling it, but overall it was a fun activity for him to do throughout our airport time.
All the snacks. I brought a quart size baggy of Addison's favorite snacks, a half of a PB&J for the airplane and his empty water bottle that I later filled with juice or water.
At take off, we fill his water bottle with apple juice or water and didn't give it to him until right at take off to help prevent his ears from popping. It worked like a charm (especially the apple juice because we knew he would keep drinking that). Keeping him swallowing was key!
Bring mess free options that are compact. We brought his favorite books, a mess-free coloring book, watering color book, a small thing of Play-Doh & stickers. All easy to pack and easy to keep at his seat.
Download all the things onto their iPad & let the screen time rules go out the window. Addison didn't even get to his iPad until 2 hours into the flight which was great. He was so occupied with being on a plane, looking out the window, chatting with people around us & of course, the plane had TV screens at each seat. We simply put on his favorite shows and he would go in & out of watching it. One thing we wish we had were kids headphones & will purchase before our next flight.
Travel timing is everything
Plan your travel time as best as you can outside of naps & bedtime, unless your little is great at sleeping on the move. We didn't have much to say in this since we traveled with my entire family, but normally I would choose early morning flights as that's when he's most active & awake. Addison did at one point nod off on the way home & then got mad when he woke up 10 minutes later. Next time I'll bring his pillow out & see if that helps with getting comfy - I just wasn't expecting him to fall asleep.
Overpacking is the worst thing you can do. You end up fumbling through things and carrying more than you need. I went through our packing list and really took the time to plane every thing out to make our lives easier at security, on the plane and while moving through the airport. Putting liquids in baggy's for quick removable, snacks in bags for easy access, toys packed separately for a quick grab, putting passports & travel documents into a specific pocket, the list goes on. Taking the extra time to think it through & really organize our bags helped a ton.
Rent a carseat or booster seat from the rental car company if possible. This was huge not having to lug a carseat all the way through the airport + it was only $12 a day. The carseat wasn't anything special, but it kept him safe and we didn't spend a ton of time in the car anyway. We received it right at the counter when picking up the car. I know some people want their littles in carseat on the airplane which then would require you to pack your own. We were comfortable seat belting him in.
I did look into purchasing a travel carseat. You don't want to spend a ton of money on them, especially if you plan to check it (carseats are free to check!). There're so many things that can happen to the carseat and you'd hate to destroy a nice one. Carseats are only build to last one big impact, so if something were to happen while it gets tossed around luggage claim/airplane it wouldn't be useful. Plus, the chances of it getting lost are always there too.
If you plan to Uber, it isn't required to have a carseat, however, an Uber driver/taxi can deny you a ride depending on the local and state laws.
Use all the extra large items from the rental or hotel
If renting an AirBNB ask if they have a high chair, booster seat, pack-N-Play, etc. Saving yourself having to pack those huge items is so nice & usually rentals have options for that exact reason. Hotels also offer bassinets & cribs, so just make sure to ask. With Addison at such a good age, he listens super well and no stroller was needed. He enjoys walking on his own and it runs out energy. If we would have been going to Disneyworld or something like that, we would have packed our compact travels stroller.
Avoid Small airplane bathroom at all costs
Do diaper changes prior to take-off to save yourself the mess of trying to do it in the smallest bathroom ever. Airplane bathrooms have become so small it would have been near impossible to change him on the flight.
Pack an extra set of clothes for arrival on location. I dressed Addison in a tee, zip-up and joggers which made it easy to go from 30 degree weather to 75 degree weather. When we got off the plane, I changed him into a fresh diaper, shorts and took his zip-up off.
Pay for the extra seat on the plane if you can
Addison loved having his own seat & since we had to buy his ticket anyway, having his own seat was perfect. Like I mentioned above, we simply seat belted him in & for the most part, he sat there with it on. Right now, Delta is the only airline leaving the middle seat open due to Covid. As a family of 3 we would have had our own row anyway, but keep that in mind when booking flights.
Delta was an amazing airline to fly through such a weird time in travel. Addison isn't required to wear a mask until 4/5 years in Minnesota and we feel comfortable without him wearing one. We tried practicing prior to airplane travel but he never wanted to keep it on longer tho 5 minutes (and I don't blame him!). Delta did not once ask to have him put it on or even see if he had one. We did pack them in case, but never ran into an issue (even through the airport). There were multiple kids on the flight and only kids looking to be 4 or 5+ years old had masks on the entire time like adults. You can remove it while eating/drinking, but must wear it at all times (as of March 2021).
What I Packed in Our Diaper Bag
With Addison being almost 2.5, a large diaper bag is never used unless traveling. Normally I have a snack or too packed for our Target & Hyvee runs with a sanitizing spray, wipes for messy hands and a diaper just in case. When it comes to traveling I want to keep everything essential in one spot and I think I've become a pretty good master at packing that thing. Categorizing (in my head) where each things goes, using bags to keep certain things together and again, not overpacking, saves me in the long run. Here's what was in our diaper bag for the flight:
Sanitizing wipes & hand sanitizing spray
Kleenex (for me and my pregnancy congestion)
2 diapers and a travel wipe holder
1 pair of shorts for Addison to change into once we landed
A quarter size bag filled with snacks: 1 peanut butter puff snack bag, 1 Jammy Sammy, 1 apple sauce packet and 1 Bob's Red Mill bar for me.
2 Pb&J sandwiches - a half for him & a full for me that we both at on the flight
Addison's empty travel water bottle. We bought apple juice once through security and filled his water bottle for take off and then filled with water for the rest of the flight
His iPad & charger
All 3 of our passports and tickets
Small travel wallet (to cut down on space for my everyday one)
My cell phone
Hand lotion, sanitizing spray & travel diaper cream (he was teething, IYKYK) in a small bag for easily grabbing out in the security line
*One thing I wish I had were kids headphones as mentioned above.
As you can see, really standard stuff. I kept it simple and made sure everything had a spot instead of just throwing everything into the bag. It made it super easy to find things while going through security and on the plane whenever he needed something. We used our Fawn Design diaper bag that I got prior to having Addison. It's a great size for newborn/baby life and we still love using it while traveling on the road or in the air.
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Tips for Road-trip's with a Toddler/Baby
We have taken a ton of road-trips with Addison, ever since he was 2 months old. On average the road-trip is 3-5.5 hours, but we have gone to Michigan twice and that's 9.5 hours. The first time we took him he was only 10 months old and the second time he was just under 2. A lot of my tips for traveling by car are the same as the ones for traveling by plane. Here are a couple extra:
I still don't recommend overpacking, however, when you're driving somewhere and have the room sometimes it makes sense. I usually pack an extra bag of snacks (for us & Addison), more clothes than necessary (obviously) and a bag full of toys.
Be prepared for stops
As I mentioned above, all the extra time is needed when traveling with littles. With road-trips, prepare to stop and little your toddler get out & run. Burning off some energy is always key, especially when you have a long car ride. We usually like to stop for lunch too and let Addison roam the car for at least 30 minutes to switch things up & give hime a break. For longer travels, that time might go up to a full hour break because it's needed.
When Addison was really little the stops were quicker, but way more frequent.
Earlier is best
Leaving early in the AM usually saves you in the end. Especially with all the stops. We always try to be fully packed the night before & leave right after breakfast. It's the best to be playing off our normally daily schedule (for eating times, naps, etc.) as much as possible. However, be prepared for no schedule and for no naps. Just go with the flow. The easier you ride things out, the easier your toddler will have with it all too.