Thursday, February 13, 2014

How to Survive Plane Travel with a Toddler

How to Survive Plane Travel with a Toddler

My son has travelled by plane almost two dozen times in his life so far.

He's only two and a half.

Before I became a parent, my idea of a good plane trip included a good book...
maybe a few magazines to indulge in, a catnap here or there, and if we were going somewhere particularly exotic or warm, maybe a cocktail to get the vacation started early.

On my first plane flight with my son, I find that my light, stylish carry on (which contained a book, magazines, sudoku, light snacks, water, and a fashionable scarf or wrap) was replaced with a diaper bag that contained diapers, wipes, extra clothing, a blanket, a nursing cover, bibs, and more.  And the bag weighed a ton.  What about my fun for the flight?  Who was going to read a book or do a sudoku puzzle when you had an infant in your arms?

Now that my son is older, the diaper bag has gotten (a bit) lighter, but the majority of things we bring on the plane are all items designed to keep him entertained and allow myself a bit of sanity (and maybe a sneak at my book).  

Almost any child will can be kept entertained on a plane if given a portable DVD player and/or an iPad, but my husband and I prefer to hold onto these devices as a last resort.  We start with anything and everything besides these electronic "toys" because we don't want our son to be completely dependent on these items alone.  We can't wait for him to be able to read to himself!

So hear is a list of items you can think about stocking on your next flight, along with some thoughts on how to get ready for your flight with your toddler.  If you have additional tips, please do share them with all of us by adding your thoughts in the comments.

Preparation is Everything
I'll put it right out there: I have a bit of a type-A personality.  I like to be prepared.  As my running coach once said, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  I especially put extra thought into preparations if I'm traveling alone and I know I'll have to shoulder the entire burden of chaperoning my son through an entire flight by myself.  Long walk from check in to gate?  Short flight or long flight?  Multiple connections on your travel day?  Think about how all these factors might affect how your child will travel well (or not).

Timing the Travel
If possible, I try to choose flights that will allow my son to nap (he does not nap well on planes).  Of course longer flights might not allow you the flexibility to be choosy about when you come and go.  Will your child do well on a red-eye flight?  If not, try and avoid it.

The Night Before You Travel
If our flight leaves at noon or earlier, I try to always do the following the night before our travel:
1. Prepare snacks.
2. Prepare the diaper bag: diapers, wipes, changing pad, a spare set of clothes, maybe a blanket.
3. Visit the airline website and enable the automatic texting to send updates on flight delays.
4. Get a good night's sleep.  Seriously.

Show Me The Fun!
When thinking about what to bring on the plane I have a few criteria:

  • Lighter is better
  • Compact too
  • Contains pieces, that, if they fell under the plane seat, it would not be the end of the world if they couldn't be retrieved

Also, these ideas would work for a flight of any length.  You can pick some or all of these items, depending on how many hours of travel you have ahead of you and your child's interests and temperament.

I'll start with the obvious.  Books are great but stashing five board books in your carry on can add alot of weight.  My son LOVES to read so I am always on the hunt for books with multiple or lengthy stories.  Depending on your child's age, you may still need to pack board books, but lighter books are the way to go!
OK, so Playdoh can be a little messy but it keeps toddlers pretty pre-occupied and it's a great way for you to play with your child (if it's your only) and what kid does not what their parent to play with them?  

I buy the party-pack (there are 24+ containers in there) and bring 3-4 colors at a time.  Once the playdoh can no longer be used for whatever reason, I still have 20 more containers to tap into!  To add to the fun, I bring a few playdoh accessories, like the cutter and scissors shown here.
Reusable Stickers
Reusable stickers are exactly that: they can be reused again and again.  Melissa and Doug make reusable sticker pad sets in many themes and they are only $5 a set.  

Each set contains 4 or 5 laminated "scenes" where your child can adhere the related (or not related) stickers.  One downside to these sticker pads is that they are on the large side, and may not fit easily into a diaper bag.

We've also used the stickers at home on windows and mirrors which makes for double the fun.
Thick Vinyl Stickers
Here is a variation on the reusable stickers shown above.  Mrs. Grossman makes thick vinyl stickers (they don't rip!) and the tri-fold boards fold up compactly.  Again, there are many themes available.  These fold up boards are much smaller than the Melissa & Doug sticker pads above.
Crayons and Coloring Books
We can't forget these old standbys!  Although my son hasn't quite gotten the gist of coloring, we do color together (and I usually do most of the coloring).  I also like to bring blank sheets of paper for general scribbling.

For toddlers, buy thicker crayons -- they're easier for little hands to hold -- and if you can find them, buy the triangular shaped crayons so that they don't roll off your tray table when there's sudden turbulence on the plane.

Color Wonder Markers
Crayola makes these markers which don't leave marks on anything but the special coloring books that they sell along with the markers.  A friend with a slightly older child introduced us to these and my son loves the characters featured in their books, so he will ask me to color.  And he will watch.

Beads and Pipe Cleaner
Our physical therapist recommended these easy-to-find items when my son was working on his fine motor skills.  They're cheap and kids can get creative with the pipe cleaner, beyond stringing beads on them.

Look around your house; your child has probably already found every day household items that they enjoy.  If they're light and compact, those items can be packed up for the trip!

All of these items will not only serve you well during your plane flight, but will hopefully also double as toys during your stay at your destination.  Of course, you may have packed some bulkier/heavier toys in your suitcase for that purpose!

Do you have any ideas for keeping little ones entertained on long flights?  For those of you with kids older than 3, what are your ideas for travel entertainment?

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