My husband and I had been talking about taking a trip for a long time before we actually booked it. We had heard all the horror stories about flying with a 2-year-old and we were dreading it. Since I was pregnant, we decided this might be the last easy chance we had to take our son on his first (and only) flying vacation as an only child and we really didn’t want to miss out on that. So, we threw caution to the wind, booked a trip, and planned and packed like crazy. Here’s how to survive (and thrive) flying with toddler aged kiddos. It was the best decision we ever made!
Flying with Toddler – Survive and Thrive Flying with a 2-Year-Old
We were most nervous about the flight and the airport craziness. Getting through security with luggage, a 2-year-old who wants to run, and shoe removal, empty pockets, etc. seemed daunting. Not to mention strapping him into a chair for 3 hours on a plane with hundreds of innocent strangers just trying to get from point A to point B. Oh man, what did we do here?!
Well, planning, planning, and over planning was our only hope at this point. And honestly, it was all so much easier than I was anticipating. He did great, we kept our cool 90% of the time, and most TSA and Airline workers were super helpful and reasonable. The key to our success? Flying with toddler = flying with car seat.
Flying with Toddler = Flying with Car Seat
We were traveling from Minnesota to Florida where we were renting a car and a beach house. We needed an easy way to get around town and I don’t trust rental car seats since you have no idea what condition they are in and if they have been in an accident. Since renting a car seat was out, that meant bringing our own. So, our options where to check it at the desk, check it at the gate, or put him in it on the plane.
Since he is over 2 years old, he has to have his own seat and there is no way possible he would let me hold him for 3 hours anyway. It’s just not happening. So, it made the most sense for us to just use a car seat on the plane. This turned out to be crucial in more ways than one. It’s also important to note that kids 2 and over need to have their own seat and they need an FAA approved harness or car seat to sit in to safely travel on an airplane.
Flying with Car Seat FAA Approved
We have a Graco 4-ever convertible car seat that we use at home. Since that’s a really nice, long-term car seat, I didn’t think it was a great idea to use that for flying. It’s also pretty big and heavy so getting it through the airport and on a small Spirit airplane seemed unrealistic. We opted to buy a Cosco Scenera Next Convertible Car Seat for $40 so we didn’t need to worry about size, weight, and it getting a little dinged up in the process. Again, this was a good call. It was still cheaper than renting one and solved our need for either an FAA approved harness or FAA approved car seat on the plane.
Flying with Toddler MUST HAVE – Car Seat Carry-on Strap
The other reason having a lightweight car seat in the airport was key was this amazing little invention: Car Seat Carry-on Strap. I have never got so many double takes or had so many people stop me to tell me how genius we were. I wish I could take credit for this little gem but no. It’s a real product and it’s only $12. LIFESAVER. I am not joking here folks, this little $12 strap is what made our entire trip less stressful and much faster.
Car Seat Carry-on Strap
A car seat carry-on strap turns your car seat and carry-on suitcase (which we always travel with in case our checked luggage is lost) into a stroller. Our 30+lb 2-year-old easily rode through the entire airport in this thing with no issues. We had him safely strapped in so he couldn’t run off while navigating security lines, and getting to our gate (and baggage, trams, shuttles, car rental, bathrooms, etc. etc. etc.). We also didn’t have to bring our stroller or potentially pay to check it. and it also allowed us to take escalators rather than finding an elevator for a stroller. Last and best part, he LOVED it. He thought riding in it was super fun which made traveling so much more enjoyable for everyone!
*FACTUAL TIP: We did end up renting an umbrella stroller in Florida for about $4 a day which was worth it to not have to travel with yet another item. We also rented a pack ‘n’ play for $5 a day so we didn’t have to bring our own. Great option for all your baby gear needs!
You do have to disconnect the car seat from the carry-on at security but other than that we used it all the way onto our plane, then detached it and put the car seat into his window seat.
Flying with a Toddler – On the Plane
First off, if your toddler will be able to reach the seat in from with his feet, put the car seat rear facing if possible. This will stop them from kicking (even if by accident) the seat in front of them. On our first flight, we couldn’t fit the car seat rear facing and we had to deal with a kicking issue. This was the biggest problem we had. Luckily on the flight home, the car seat fit rear facing so it wasn’t an issue again.
In-Flight Activities for Traveling with a Toddler
In short, pack tons of activities and sugar-free snacks for the plane. This is really what’s going to get you through a long trip stuck in a chair. Know your child and what keeps them entertained. Avoid things they might want to throw and avoid food and drinks that might get them riled up.
Kids Tablet for Flying with a Toddler
The number one item we packed for him was his Amazon Fire Tablet Kid’s Edition. We’re not big on electronics but when flying with a toddler, they are a must. It was the main thing that got us through 3 hours stuck on a plane. We also purchased a micro SD card for additional storage on the tablet. I downloaded all his favorite shows plus a bunch of new options and several games. I picked shows with his favorite kinds of animals, cars, and dinosaurs because I knew they would keep him the most occupied. Games he liked were balloon pop, feeding fish, and Daniel Tiger games.
At 2, he will watch TV but he does get bored after 30-60 minutes and wants something new. Changing shows, playing a tablet game, or changing activities worked most of the time. We really only had about 3 moments through both flights where he got tired of just sitting and really wanted out. For a short time, we allowed him to sit between us in the chair (while the seat belt sign was off) and he really enjoyed the change.
Toddler Headphones for Kids Tablet
With the tablet comes the need for toddler headphones. Airplane rules and just general respect for those around you means no playing sound out of your devices without headphones. We introduced these toddler headphones to our son before flying so he would get used to them. Once he understood the concept he kept them on with no issues. These toddler headphones are highly rated and have a limit on the volume so you know the sound will never be too loud. They are also very comfortable and have an adjustable size so they’ll work long-term.
Activity Backpack for Traveling with a Toddler
We packed our toddler his very own activity backpack filled with a small coloring pad, stickers, crayons, dollar store small toys, flashcards with pictures, favorite books, water wow’s, and anything else they are into at the moment. I basically walked through the dollar store toy section and the dollar spot at Target and grabbed anything that was small and might hold his attention. Again, avoid things they might want to throw when they get bored.
Packing Snacks and Drinks for Flying with Toddler
Snacks are always a good bet for keeping our toddler happy. This is not a time to worry about eating healthy (at least not completely). Pack things they will love while still avoiding sugar since that can quickly get them riled up and wanting to run. Also, make sure to buy some bottles of water at the airport. Flying tends to make people thirsty and little ones are no different. Some airlines charge for water or only have cups that are easy to spill so having a bottle or sippy cup they are familiar with will help out.
Flying with Toddler – The Basic Necessities
Last but not least, don’t forget the necessities. Pack an easily accessible mini diaper bag with diapers, wipes, butt cream, Tylenol, extra set of clothes, etc. but mostly, don’t forget the hand wipes and Clorox wipes for the plane. We forgot to wipe the plane trays and armrests and our son got sick right after traveling. It’s so common to get sick after flying but if you can and remember, be proactive.
Honestly, for a wet diaper change, we just did it quickly in our laps because that was so much easier than taking him to the cramped bathroom but be prepared for the possibility.
Flying with a Toddler – How to Enjoy It
Most of all, keep your cool, allow enough time to get through the airport without stressing, and don’t let other people get you down. As a parent, you have every right to fly with your child. There are people who will be annoyed when they see a kid on a plane but there is really no reason for it. Everyone these days travels with something to do and if that doesn’t involve headphones of their own, then it’s their mistake.
Parents flying are almost always more worried and stressed when their child makes a peep than those around them. As long as you’re doing your best and trying to calm a tired and bored child, kind people will understand. In fact, the only “dirty” looks we got the entire trip were from the middle school-aged girl in front of us on the way home. Our son made a couple of irritated noises and she wasn’t having it. Everyone else around us commented on how well he did and how stressful it can be. They were all super kind and supportive. The car seat strap also helped ease tension since everyone was so impressed by it! It was a major conversation starter, haha!
What we traveled with (2 adults and a toddler):
- 1 Checked bag with most of our clothes, shoes, toys, and beach gear.
- 1 Rolling carry-on with clothes, baby monitor, sound machine, diapers, wipes, toiletries, vacation food.
- 1 Car Seat strapped to the rolling carry-on bag.
- 1 Full-size backpack personal item with diapers, wipes, Clorox wipes, and tons of snacks.
- 1 Mid-size crossbody bag with iPad, Amazon Tablet, toddler headphones, earbuds, book, and wallets/keys, etc.
- 1 Toddler backpack with activities for kids (listed above).
Flying with Toddler – Survive and Thrive Flying with a 2-Year-Old
Moral of the story, take the opportunity to travel with your kids. This was by far our favorite vacation and we almost didn’t take it because we were stuck on the horror stories you hear about flying with a toddler. Prepare, pack smart, and you’ll be fine! You’ll be better than fine, you’ll be on vacation!!
Have any tips for flying with a toddler?
Share your tips for flying with toddler in the comments below!
Until next time, happy traveling,