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Flying with a Toddler Part 1 (Packing and Getting to and Through the Airport)

Flying with a Toddler Part 1 (Packing and Getting to and Through the Airport)

Allison December 29, 2017
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When I married my husband, who is a New Hampshire native, I knew that I would be traveling to the east coast often. Especially around the holidays. I have never been a fan of cross-country flights, I always find myself bored to tears and not able to fall asleep despite the trip taking literally ALL DAY! Now with a child, I was downright terrified about the idea of entertaining a baby or a toddler on a six-hour flight! Not to mention how much stuff I would need to bring.

The first cross-country flight we did with Adeline was when she was four months old, California to Maryland, in January! I packed every single thing I thought we might possibly need, and felt like a pack mule carrying suitcases, car seats, stroller, diaper bag, toys, food, breast pump, oh and a baby through the airport. I definitely didn’t pack efficiently, and while Adeline didn’t do terribly on the flight, I was pretty much a basket case. I learned a lot from that trip and used a lot of the knowledge I gained during the last two months. Our 15-month old Adeline has done 8 flights in the last 60 days! (California to Boston and back, California to Maui and back, California to St Louis, St Louis to Boston, Boston to Baltimore, and Baltimore to California). Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way.

Packing

  • Pack light: It is not easy to carry suitcases, toddler supplies, and your child around the airport, so limit what you bring with you. Most of the time, you will be able to purchase things like diapers, food, etc. where you are going so don’t worry about cramming a week’s worth of diapers into your suitcase. Pack enough for a few days and buy the rest when you get there.
  • Make lists: I know as a new mom, my brain is going a mile a minute and it is hard for me to keep track of what I have done and what I still need to do. I always have an open note on my phone where I can add things as I think of them. I know if I don’t write it down I will never remember. Another important part of making lists is you have to check them! So don’t forget to once over your list before you head out the door!
  • Bring more clothes than you think you’ll need: My daughter is not particularly messy, but things happen on vacation that doesn’t necessarily happen at home. You go out to eat much more often, sometimes there is swimming or other outdoor activities, sometimes you can’t make it to a bathroom often enough. For this reason, bring 25% more clothes than you would normally go through in the time you will be gone. You won’t regret having the extra onesies, and kids’ clothes don’t take up too much room.
  • Use packing pods: Now that you aren’t just packing for yourself anymore, packing pods are a great way to keep things separated in your suitcase. I also find that I can shove a lot more into a packing pod and keep in organized, than if I had just squished it into my suitcase. They are also great for separating dirty laundry from clean throughout your trip.
  • Practice!: It is not easy to move around with a baby strapped to you, so make sure you practice carrying everything you need to bring. Also, see if there is a way to condense your items. For example, I bring a car seat on the plane and carry it on a rolling dolly. I can easily strap a backpack or other bag to the rolling dolly as well and that frees up another area to carry something else.

Getting to and through the Airport

  • Plan your route ahead of time: I love to use the app, Waze. One of the most helpful features is that you can plan a trip ahead of time. Plug in where you are going, and when you would like to arrive (even days ahead), and it will tell you what time you should leave by. It takes into account typical traffic patterns for that day, and can also send alerts to your phone the day of, just in case there is an accident or something else causing traffic to be especially bad that day.
  • Plan to arrive early: Nothing gives me more anxiety than having to rush through an airport to try and catch a flight. This is why I always plan to arrive at the airport about two hours before my flight. I really don’t mind waiting at the gate for awhile, because at least I have the peace of mind that I am not going to miss my flight. Plus, this gives your little one a chance to run around between being in the car, waiting in line at security, and being strapped in on the plane.
  • Have foods that are easy to bring ready to go: Especially when we fly to the East Coast, we are usually catching an early morning flight. This means not a lot of time for breakfast and coffee. Knowing that I am already an anxiety-filled monster while making my way to the airport, I don’t need to be hangry on top of it! Plan something like an already made smoothie and iced coffee, that are easy to consume in the car. But make sure you drink all your liquids before heading through security!
  • Get TSA Pre-Check: My mother-in-law recently gifted us TSA Pre-Check. At first, I was skeptical, but after these last two months of crazy travel, I found myself thinking “thank goodness we have TSA Pre-Check!” several times. The best part about it is that we don’t have to take our shoes off to go through security! Other perks are short lines, you can leave your liquids and computers in your bags, and keep your light jackets on. It does cost $85 per person but lasts for 5 years, so if you will be flying several times a year, it is definitely worth it!
  • Skip the Stroller, Wear Your Child: Strollers are cumbersome, bulky, and not always necessary. Many times, you can rent or borrow one at your destination if you absolutely need one, so you don’t need to try and lug it through the airport. I have heard so many horror stories of pricey strollers being broken or destroyed during the gate check process. Also, wearing your child keeps them safe and secure while getting through the lines at the bag check and security. I prefer the Tula. it is a soft structured carrier that is simple for me to put on by myself. Even my active toddler doesn’t mind being close to mommy.

  • Leave time to get the wiggles out: I already talked about getting to the airport early. Having time to sit at the gate is great so that your toddler can run around before being stuck on the plane for hours. I personally just let my daughter run around wherever she wants as I follow her around. She likes to smile and wave at all the passengers, and who doesn’t love a cute baby waving at them? Plus, running around the airport makes her more likely to nap on the plane.

Leave comments below if you have any other tips or tricks that have worked for you. Be sure to check out the next post, Flying with a Toddler Part 2 to see how to tackle the plane ride itself!

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2 Comments

  1. Alison G. January 1, 2018

    Great suggestions! As to lists, I learned something awesome when I was nannying years ago that has changed my life. I have a list that I call my “perpetual packing list,” a spreadsheet that has all the categories (my clothes, toiletries, each kid, entertainment, etc.) and each item I have needed for a trip over the last several years is on there (unless it was just a super unique need). I can just go through and adjust quantities for the specific trip (I just put 0 if I don’t need something but leave it on the list) and print it out and bam! It saves me so much worry leading up to trips because I don’t think “what am I forgetting!?” and keep waking up the night before to add last minute things to my list!

    1. admin January 1, 2018

      I love this suggestion! Thank you for commenting on it. Lists are definitely our friends! Thanks for your support Alison, I appreciate it!