This is one area that I have put in my hours. Valentina and I recently completed our 5th round trip long haul flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. At the ripe old age of 2.5 years, Vagabond Valle has visited Mexico twice, Indonesia twice, Costa Rica, Alaska, and quite a few Australian destinations. She is accumulated quite a few frequent flyer miles since she has been old enough to count.
While I posted my tips for traveling with a baby last year, things have changed immensely. I no longer need to focus on mere survival during flights, I now can spend some time, get this, relaxing at 20,000 feet. Believe it or not, toddler-hood has perks that the Baby-Period did not. Thus, I want to relay my Toddler Air Travel Hacks because preparation and training for flights have alleviated my anxiety and made flying with a toddler, well, dare I say a little bit enjoyable?
Pack a Roller Bag and Save Your Back (Plus it Doubles as a Toddler-Trolley)
I am sure you have seen those Trunki Suitcases that are designed as brightly colored animals that toddlers can ride on through the airport. What a great invention, but I don’t have one (and they kind of look like they will constantly tip over, especially at high speeds). What I do have is a carry-on-sized roller bag from Quiksilver with sturdy wheels.
First of all, I highly suggest packing a wheelie bag for your carry-on when flying with a toddler because hauling a backpack or weekender full of snacks, ten pairs of underwear, books, magazines, iPads, water, toys alone is a back-breaker. Couple carrying that bag with occasionally having to carry a 20-30 pound toddler and you will struggle to make it to the gate.
Second, we use our wheeled carry-on as a ride-on cart, see video above. Since we can weave through crowds and haul ass this way through any airport, I don’t need a stroller. Since Valle turned 2 she hates the stroller and goes full-mental, foaming at the mouth if you try to strap her in when she’s not in the mood. While you can certainly use the stroller to wheel around your heavy carry-on bag, folding-up and waiting for your stroller sucks. So, I just say, “hop on and hold on tight” and Valle grabs the bag and holds on while cruising to the gate.
Watch this to see how fast we roll! ToddlerTravel_RollerBagMovie
Don’t Get On First
You know what you don’t want to do before you sit for 14 hours straight? Sit for an extra hour waiting for people to get on the plane. While the airline might grant you the privilege of pre-boarding because of your pesky toddler, I suggest ignoring the call to get on until the end. Instead, take your toddler to an uncrowded corner of the waiting area and play hide and seek or chase. We play games, do yoga and gymnastics and have a good time until most of the people board the plane. We wait for the line to die down, gather our things and usually are one of the last passengers to go down the tunnel. Valle has used some energy, I’ve stretched, we’ve had a good time and we spent less time waiting in line or in our seats. If you get on board and all the overhead bins are full, ask a stewardess for help. You better believe they will help the lady with toddler find a place for their snack-filled roller bag.
Choose Your Seats Wisely
I mentioned this in my baby-tips but make sure you pick your seat wisely. This can make or break your toddler travel experience. I am an aisle person because I need to pee. If you prefer the window, well, that’s one more thing that “went out the window” when you became a mother. The toddler must be to the inside of you at all costs. This way Valle cannot escape, even if I am “just resting my eyes” and have a little nanny-nap. Usually, she sits in the middle so I can go to the bathroom 20 times and she can’t get away while I am not paying attention.
The Snack Attack
If you know me, you know that I am committed to clean eating. I am all about only putting the best organic, high in good fat, locally sourced ingredients in my body and Valle’s body. And then there’s eating when you are traveling with a toddler. The rules pretty much go out the window. You’re going to need a lot of snacks of a great variety and in interesting packaging. Dunkable cookies, crackers with cheese spread, fruit snacks – check, check, check. I brought good quality organic dark chocolate which Valle and I both love. I brought Mie Goreng noodles that Valle loves but are definitely sus on the MSG front. We basically ate for 8 of 14 hours on the way over and my two year old was QUIET and HAPPY as a clam.
Apple, Easy on the Apple
“What would you like to drink?” Asks the stewardess of my toddler.
In my head, I’m like, “bitch, do not offer my volatile little lunatic liquid sugar, don’t you know we have 9 hours to go!!!”
Valle replies, “special wine?”
Here’s my tip on the drink cart: order your toddler a half apple or orange juice and ask the stewardess to water it down. Then order yourself a wine. Toddler is stoked because she is enjoying a drink with her mom, mom is stoked because the wine will ease the anxiety. Win-win.
Nothing New – Clothes A-Plenty
This is another mom-no-brainer but clearly, you need an extra set of clothes or two. Valle is pretty clever and doesn’t wear diapers at all anymore. This means I am highly vigilant with the bathroom breaks and pack plenty of extra underwear, 2 pairs of pants, 2 shirts and dry socks because when it pees, it pours. She also has a mental breakdown if a splash of water gets on her, so lots of shirts are a must. I also suggest bringing yourself 1-2 sets of new clothes because barf happens.
Entertainment Toddler Style – Movies and apps
Get a new movie that your toddler hasn’t seen before. “Moana, Moana, Moana,” was Valle’s chant as we boarded our last flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. She’d only seen a little bit of Moana and was so excited to add it to her library of 6 Disney films. At this point, she doesn’t use headphones and doesn’t mind that the sound in her movies is muted or very low thankfully because headphone cords tend to get all tangled around us and all the other crap we’ve brought abroad.
We also downloaded a Dora The Explorer app with digital jigsaw puzzles and digital concentration that she literally played for 4 hours. Google Toddler apps and try a few out before you go. Educational apps where they draw or do puzzles really kill a lot of time and allow you to breathe and watch a few consecutive minutes of “Bad Moms” while sipping room temp Chardonnay. This is living!
Let Them Do Work
This toddler travel hack is helpful (well, sort of ) for the Mom and the Toddler. Valle really likes helping so I give her a job. Sometimes I let her carry her “books” (passports) under a watchful eye and let her hand them to whatever airport employee needs to scrutinize a 2-year-old’s identity next. I also bring markers and paper for her to draw while I fill out entry forms. She feels likes she’s filling out her own form and stops grabbing the pen out of my hand so I can get on with it.