13 Tips to Help Parents Avoid Stress When Flying With a Toddler
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Family travel is a huge part of the miles & points world. Lots of folks get into this hobby because they want to visit or vacation with their family.
David, author of Wise Flys, is a family travel expert. So I asked him to share with you his top tips for traveling with a family each week!
David: Traveling with young children is a great way to create long-lasting memories. But as a parent of a 4 year old, I know that the travel journey rarely goes according to plan.
My daughter, Bella, has traveled around the world with my wife and me. She’s already been to 5 continents and 12 countries!
Thanks to miles and points, we have been able to travel the world for a fraction of what it would cost if we paid cash. It’s not always smooth, but I’ve learned a few tricks to make flying with a toddler manageable and fun!
Parents Shouldn’t Be Intimidated When Flying With a Toddler
1. Prepare Yourselves Before Preparing Your Children
Before setting foot in an airport, it’s important to mentally prepare yourself. If you’re stressed and anxious, it’s likely your children will experience similar emotions. I like to to imagine the ideal travel scenario and work backward to make it happen.
If your toddler is old enough to comprehend, let them know they are going on a fun plane ride and how amazing it will be. You can enhance your child’s mood by turning their emotional dial from worry to excited!
2. Plan Then Plan Some More
Have you ever heard the quote “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail?” It’s great for parents traveling with young children. Because it’s always better to over-prepare when flying with a little one.
For example, Million Mile Secrets team member Jasmin often travels with her 3 children. When they were younger, she always packed Ziploc bags and an extra set clothes. I think this is an excellent tip!
You don’t want a mess at 35,000 feet with no back-up outfits. So it’s better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. 😉
3. Respect Your Child’s Circadian Rhythm
If possible, choose flights at the time your kids typically sleep. If it’s a long-haul flight, I’d suggest an overnight option. If it’s a shorter flight during the day, perhaps plan it around nap time.
Of course, if you’re toddler is excited to travel, they might put off sleep. Our daughter Bella usually falls asleep during the last 20 minutes of a flight!
4. Overpack Your Snack Bag!
It depends on the airline, but most don’t have great options for children’s snacks. So you might end up paying for something your child doesn’t like. Instead, bring snacks you know your toddler enjoys!
We like to bring fresh fruits, like grapes and clementines. If we’re on a long-haul flight, we pack dried fruit and nuts because they store well.
When packing snacks, be sure to consider the time you’ll be waiting in the airport prior to departure PLUS the travel time to your final destination. Because running out of snacks can be a disaster!
5. Bring Quick And Easy Entertainment
As much as my wife and I like to limit screen time, all bets are off on a plane. We tried books in the beginning, but could only read the same 3 to 4 books so many times before she (and us!) got bored. They also take up valuable space in carry-on bags.
A tablet or laptop with children shows and movies really works wonders! Before taking off, make sure all your videos are available offline for flights that don’t have Wi-Fi. We made this mistake once, and it won’t happen again!
6. Smile and Acknowledge Fellow Passengers
Before becoming parents, we remember the unpleasant feeling of walking down the aisle to find your seatmate is a toddler. Then thinking “this child better not cry for the next 5 hours!”
As parents, we now think “my child better not cry for the next 5 hours!”
But the fact is, toddlers cry, and there is only so much we can do. When stepping onto the plane with your child, a smile and pre-apology to fellow passengers can ease the mood and generate some empathy if your child acts out later on.
7. Keep Them Comfortable
We all want our kids to look extra cute for in-flight photos. But this approach may be impractical and cause your child to be uncomfortable. I recommend dressing your child in the softest, baggiest, and comfortable clothing in their wardrobe. Pajamas are always an excellent choice!
If your child is sitting in a window seat, don’t forget a pillow. I also recommend an inflatable footrest to give them a “First Class” experience. Comfort is key!
8. Drink Fluids During Takeoff and Landing
Pressure changes can be uncomfortable for adults and even more so for toddlers. The difference is, toddlers don’t know how to clear their ears. Swallowing liquids helps to keep their ears clear, which is why I recommend having a drink available during takeoff and landing.
9. Carry Wet Wipes And Pull-Ups
Along with an extra set of clothes, keep some wipes and extra diapers in your seat pocket. When Bella was younger, we would get on the plane and do a quick diaper change before taking off.
Even if your toddler is potty trained, having diapers can’t hurt. Flight delays can happen, so you don’t want to be stuck in your seat without supplies in case there’s an accident.
10. Consider a Backpack Instead of Hand Luggage
Toddlers are always on the go. If your child is running around the airport, it’s best to have your hands free.
If your toddler wants to be held while waiting on the security line, with a backpack, your bag is on your back and you have a free hand for passports and boarding passes.
11. Take Regular Bathroom Breaks
“I don’t need to go” can quickly change to an “oops, too late” moment when you’re dealing with a child’s bladder. So I recommend taking your child to the bathroom before getting on the plane and again before take off.
12. Enjoy Free Food And Silence in Airport Lounges
Airport lounges are usually an oasis in the middle of an otherwise chaotic airport. You can enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi, free drinks and snacks, comfortable chairs, and live television. Lounges are terrific for families with a toddler to rest and recharge.
One of my favorite parts of being a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder is the free Priority Pass Select membership. That comes with access to 1,000+ airport lounges for you and your travel companions.
13. Get Some Exercise!
If your journey involves multiple flights, I recommend getting some exercise instead of sitting around at the gate. You’ll have plenty of time to sit during the flight!
We like playing “airport tag” with Bella, where she runs and touches different objects, then runs back to us. It wears her out, so she can sleep on the flight!
That reminds me, also pack hand sanitizer! Because you don’t want to bring airplane germs along with you on vacation. 😉
Flights with toddlers can be less stressful if you prepare correctly It starts before you even get to the airport by building excitement for your journey. Positive vibes can be contagious!
If possible, I recommend booking flights around your child’s sleep schedule. And don’t forget about entertainment options for whenever your child is awake. A tablet with movies or television shows can be a great distraction!
Always have wipes, diapers, and an extra set of clothes in case of an accident. Even if your child is potty trained. Because you could get stuck in your seat for an unexpected reason, and it’s better to be prepared!
I’d love to hear tips and experiences from other parents! Feel free to share in the comments below!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)