Tips For Toddler Travel

Phew! We’re back. 16 blissful days in the Canadian sunshine and we’ve plopped back to life complete with jet-lag and a few extra holidays pounds. Not money pounds, don’t be silly. Just ice-cream everyday for 16 days kinda pounds. No regrets.

When we went to Canada last year, Levi wasn’t quite on his feet so travelling with him had it’s benefits but this year was a whole different story. I felt pretty read up on travelling with toddlers and approached the whole thing like a well strategised drill. I have a lot of friends doing similar travels with their wee ones so I thought I’d talk through some of the best tips I picked up and tested to try and alleviate the impending doom that most parents sense when thinking about planning a trek (particularly a long haul flight) with the kiddos.


Granted, there is no good time of the day to expect a small child to sit in a confined space for 7 hours, but there are ways to judge what will work best for yours. For us, we opted for an afternoon flight. Levi has never been a good sleeper outside of his own bed so we knew that it was unlikely that he would sleep on the plane with so much to see/explore. In our minds it was a matter of keeping our expectations realistic and understanding that if he slept on the plane it would be a bonus as it was during his normal awake hours. Going in with this in mind helped us all relax and make it more fun for him rather than being het up about what he was going to do. Regardless of the time, my advice would be prepared for them to be awake for the whole flight. Its amazing how alert children can be in new and exciting environments.

This was the first time that Levi had his own seat on a flight and it made a massive difference. I’m not sure I would go as far as buying an extra seat if your child is under 2 but it definitely made the extra money we HAD to pay less of a sting when we had a full row to ourselves. We put the armrests up between all three seats and it made the space less confined for him. Dave also has creaky knees so he took him for plenty of walks along the aisles during the flight to help give him some space.

We packed a whole backpack full of food as one of our carryon bags. In our experience, airport security has a lot of grace for parents of small children and we had no problem taking through a full backpack of snacks and drinks for him (we just had to take a sip of his juice going through). I opted for really time-consuming snacks in little pots like raisins, goldfish crackers, apples, grapes and oranges with a few small treats (for the moments where only food bribery will work!). We also stocked up on snacks for us because I very rarely partake in airplane meals and I didn’t want my own reactions to be marred by a bad case of the hanger (so hungry I get angry). We over-prepared and Levi ended up mowing down the airplane food (ugh) so that was good.

Before we left, I made sure to download some new iPad games he hadn’t explored before, indulged in buying some episodes of his favourite programmes on iTunes and had a fully charged device when we took off (bring your own headphones – airplane ones suck). I also bought some second hand and pound shop toys (nothing too fiddly or with lots of pieces) and wrapped them up in paper and put them in our other (non-snack-filled) hand luggage. He had loads of fun unwrapping each one as we went along. Stickers and colouring books were a huge hit.

It’s really tempting to just bombard them with all the snacks, videos and toys at the beginning and let them work away but that can be overwhelming for them (especially in new and massively multi-sensory environments) so we only moved on to the next activity/snack/toy/episode when it was completely clear that it had run its course of interest. Drip fed stimulation is the name of the peaceful travelling game!

Levi did FOUR poos on our flight over. FOUR. He hasn’t done that many movements in one day since he was in the throws of teething. Make sure you have plenty of nappies and wipes. And a breathing mask. Those toilets are small. (Thats a joke but i would completely understand if you really did bring a mask)

The reality is that very few people are not understanding of parents with small children. I think I had my ‘STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES, HE’S JUST A KID!’ speech rehearsed ten times over in preparation for all the disgruntled passengers put out by my normal, explorative two year old. In actuality, everyone was lovely and he charmed the pants off everyone around us and people commented on how great he did on the journey. I now know that I can travel with confidence in him, in our parenting and in most people being understanding that long flights are hard for everyone – especially little ones.

In all, we had a great experience travelling and a lot of that was down to keeping this stuff in mind. I also couldn’t talk up Air Transat more for being so child-friendly and accommodating (especially for a fairly budget airline).

Do you have any more tips to add to these? Any surefire ways to let your kids have fun/prevent meltdowns while travelling? Id love to add to the list!


6 thoughts on “Tips For Toddler Travel

  1. Splendid. Here’s hoping our 1.5 + 11 + 3 hours will be as good as yours!!! Thanks for the good tips. Hope the jet leg eases soon.

    • Jet lag is kicking my ass, E!

      Levi has been up in the night a good bit despite keeping his routine during the day. I guess it’s confusing for him, bless him. Here’s to a better 3rd night back!

  2. This is really helpful, Mel, especially as we’re thinking ahead to next year and what’s realistic to plan, travel-wise! How old is Levi now? Have you written anything about travelling with the under-ones?

    • Hey! We did travel with him when he was 14 months (long haul) and a bunch of UK domestic flights before that when he was just small – totally doable! I think it’s probably easier (and way more affordable) when they are tiny! Levi is 27 months now so pretty mobile and independent which is helpful in lots of ways too. Each stage brings it’s own challenges with travel, I imagine. Roll with it girl, I imagine you’ll both be great at just going for it and working it out.

  3. Hi Jenny – borrowing Mel’s space here to respond to your question on traveling with the under-1s. We flew to the US West Coast from the UK with a 10 month old. Three flights. A few things made it easy:
    – Book the ‘sky cot’. This is a little ‘cot’ that bolts into the wall of the bulk-head of the plane. Even if you don’t use it (we didn’t) you get extra leg room sitting there and the airline may try not to book people in next to you due to the fact you’re flying with an infant.
    – Make sure you feed (bottle or breast) at every take off and landing – unless your baby is sleeping. This keeps ear-drums from having pressure problems. My daughter actually fell asleep doing this for every flight!
    – We too WAY too much clothing for her, but def take more nappies than you think. 🙂 We only took a few toys and a couple books as she wasn’t really into much at that age aside from grinning at people.
    – We also bought a stroller that folds down into a backpack. It was great during lay overs as she wasn’t walking at the time and it meant that she wasn’t either being carried or in the front pack. That said, the front pack was easy as well ’cause your hands are free.
    – Unlike Mel, we didn’t have a choice of flying during an appropriate time for sleep, so nap times were a bit out the window. But knowing that we were going to have to deal with 8 hours of jet lag meant that she wasn’t going to notice missing a nap anyway.

    All the best! 🙂

  4. Pingback: 2013 Reflections | Mel Wiggins

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