Before I became a mom I loved to travel. I enjoyed the occasional girl’s trip, visited out-of-state family often and it was not unheard of for me to get in the car and take a spontaneous overnight trip somewhere. I mean, I was a single woman with no obligations so why not?
And then came motherhood and traveling took on a whole new meaning. Now every detail had to be planned and then those plans had to have plans just in case the first ones didn’t work.
My daughter and I tackled our first traveling hurdle at only 19 months old – a FOURTEEN hour drive from Mississippi all the way to Indiana BY OURSELVES! It was long and grueling but by the grace of God we made it there safely and back as official road trip warriors. So when I decided to take my almost two year old on her first plane ride I figured piece of cake.
I was naively optimistic…
After surviving the ordeal that was the painful road trip to Indiana I thought that simply strapping her in a seat and letting someone else take the wheel would be infinitely easier and definitely less time consuming. A trip to Michigan that would take us 15 hours by car would only take around 2 hours and 30 minutes by plane. Gee, no brainer there.
I also thought that this would not only save time but it would also save me money seeing as how I did not have to make sure the maintenance on my vehicle was up to par, gas up a couple of times, buy food, etc. You know the normal road travel chronicles. And while both of these things were true, I was not prepared for the level of patience, planning and just down right MacGyver style ingenuity that was needed to travel by plane with a toddler on my own.
So in honor of the beautiful disaster that was our first flight together I decided to share a list of things that I learned while flying with my toddler. Some tips may work for you and some may not. But it is my hope that some other fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mama sees this and thinks twice before attempting this daring feat without a little research (or a tag team partner) so here goes:
Choosing the right flight is key
First off cost is always a factor. When researching flights I discovered that flying out of New Orleans would be a much cheaper round trip option for me because the larger airport gave me more choices when it came to flight times as well as airlines to choose from.
Also, some smaller airports do not offer non-stop flights to certain locations and when traveling with a toddler sometimes a layover can be a blessing or a nightmare (more on that later).
I was lucky I was able to book a flight at around 6:00 p.m. This was an ideal time for me because my daughter already had an active day at daycare. Then we drove an hour or so to New Orleans to catch our flight. After the excitement of actually getting onto the plane passed she was asleep in about 30 minutes and slept for the duration of the flight. (Score for this mama who got to finish a book she’s been trying to read for the better part of a year.)
Will they be a lap baby or get their own seat?
While doing my research, in efforts to keep my trip as cost efficient as possible, I discovered that most airlines (I flew Delta Airlines) allowed children under two to fly for free as long as they were held in a paying customer’s lap. I immediately jumped on that offer and booked my flight.
Hindsight is 20/20. I completely forgot that I have the MOST independent toddler on the face of the Earth and she wanted NO parts of sitting in mommy’s lap. No ma’am she wanted to be a big girl. I was supremely lucky that our flights were not full and we had some wiggle room when it came to seats.
If you are still going to try the lap baby option I would suggest asking the agent at the gate (or using the airline’s app as I did) and seeing if there is anyone sitting next to you or if there are any other available seats that you could possibly move to.
Try to give the airline as much notice as possible by getting to the gate at least an hour before departure to make special seating requests, which gives you a better chance of accomodation. On one of my flights I was able to be moved and my daughter had the pleasure of traveling in her own seat for all three of our flights. This was also a more comfortable option for us as we were traveling economy so personal space is already limited in that section.
Entertain me please
As any good mom knows, the attention span of a toddler is almost non-existent. Therefore bringing along items to entertain your toddler is a must – even if you think the flight is short.
Now what works for my daughter is her trusty ole iPad. I know somewhere some super perfect parent is gasping at the thought but I live in the land of no judgement. My kid loves her some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse so the iPad seemed like the perfect choice of entertainment.
Most flights these days offer wifi and in the case of Delta Airlines they even go as far as having their own app that you can download that is already preloaded with tons of movies and tv shows. I would suggest (as I learned this the hard way) that you check to make sure if the flight you are on has wifi. One of our returning flights did not and had I known this beforehand I would have either downloaded some videos to her iPad or brought her a few books or small toys to play with.
I normally travel a little bit on the heavy side because I can never quite figure out what I want to bring. For this trip I had to take packing to a whole other level. Because I knew that I would be navigating three different plane rides and airports by myself with a toddler and luggage I had to make sure that I was as efficient as possible.
I made sure that all of our clothes fit into one suitcase that rolled. I allowed myself one carry on that housed our shoes and one backpack that was easily accessible for my purse, boarding passes, credentials and her diapers, snacks and iPad.
I took advantage of the fact that New Orleans offers curbside check-in from 4 a.m. until 4 p.m. in their economy parking garage. This allowed me to be hands free to push her around the airport as our carry on fit under the stroller and I wore the backpack with our essentials.
Traveling light also includes wearing clothing and shoes that are easy to get through TSA. When traveling with a toddler not only do you have to take off any layers and shoes, but so does the child. You also have to take the child out of the stroller and have it scanned so try not to have too many items inside it such as toys or food because all of it will have to come out.
Simplicity is the name of the game. As an added bonus, most airlines do not charge you for traveling with strollers, carriers or car seats and will actually check them for you for free gate side.
Snacks on deck
Airport food is notorious for being grossly overpriced. Although they have some fast food and convenience shop options the way to go with a toddler is to bring your own snacks.
Since economy passengers have a very limited choice in snack options this is especially important during the flight. Snacks such as apple sauce pouches, animal crackers and granola bars are all great choices as they pack well and do not need to be refrigerated.
Traveling with liquids can be tricky when it comes to the ounces allowed onto a plane so I would suggest bringing along a spill proof sippy cup and asking the flight attendant to fill it up with water or juice on the plane.
Enjoy the moment
In the hustle and bustle of traveling with an infant, especially in a busy international airport by yourself, it is easy to succumb to the stress of it all. In that moment, remember that this a new experience for your child. One that is scary yet exciting and is a memory that you will hold dear when they are older.
My child took to flying like a natural and had a blast. She got a chance to see her beloved clouds, sit in her very own seat like a big girl, and even charm the pilot and co-pilot into giving her her very own set of wings. I saw stress and chaos and my beautiful baby girl only saw magic.