The holidays are around the corner… I mean, seriously. Thanksgiving is next week. How did that happen? Anyways… traveling during the holidays can be super stressful. You’re more likely to have flight delays, security takes an eternity and you’re battling swarms of crabby people in the airports. This combo makes traveling during the holidays super stressful and unappealing. You know what else can be stressful? Having a toddler. That’s right, I said it. My 14 month old is the greatest gift from God but let’s face it, that innocent little baby we had a year ago is no more. A toddler has opinions, and likes to be moving and exploring. They have no problem telling your whole flight their opinion about being constrained to your lap for what may seem like the longest flight you’ve been on in your entire life. After 19 flights in 12 months, my toddler is no stranger to airports and flying, so there are things we’ve learned about this process that can definitely help you in your upcoming holiday travels. So here they are — our 6 Toddler Travel Tips:
- Timing is Everything: Does your toddler have a fussy time? Does your toddler have a nap schedule? Knowing your child’s schedule and when would be best for them to travel can ultimately make or break your travel experience. As often as we can, we travel during my daughter’s nap time, hoping she will nap for at least 30 minutes of the flight time. I also try to schedule a meal in that time if at all possible because food occupies hungry toddlers like MAGIC. Small finger foods that take a little while for them to eat are the best because every second your toddler spends unoccupied is a second that they are BORED which means stress for mom and dad.
- Booking Seats: My lovely sister-in-law reminded me of how important this was when she traveled with her 8 month old to come visit us in Atlanta. It was his first flight and they did everything right. They even boarded last so baby would have the least amount of on-board time. But they forgot one thing. They had booked the first row behind first class for the extra leg room. Sounds awesome right? Wrong. That row has no carry on bag storage since there’s no seat in front of you, which means your diaper bag AKA your LIFELINE is in an overhead bin… and since they boarded last, the only available overhead bin space was several rows behind them. Learn from this mistake before you make it. Book a seat where you can have your bags under the seat in front of you, or plan ahead so you can snag the overhead bin above your seat.
- Airplane Seat Layouts: Make them work for you! I’m no aircraft expert but one thing I’ve learned is that there are many different kinds of airplane layouts, there are airplanes that have 2 seat rows and 3 seat rows. So here’s my tip: if you can, check out your aircraft before you book your flight and if at all possible find an aircraft that allows your family to have a row to yourself. If I’m traveling alone with my toddler, I book a two-seat row whenever possible. I also book the two-seat row when I’m traveling with my husband and we’re not buying my toddler a seat. Some airplanes only have rows with 3 seats. For that, see my advice for booking seats in my previous post 8 Tips for Traveling with an Infant.
- Boarding Procedures: Know your airlines boarding procedures BEFORE you get to the airport. Do they have family boarding? When do they call for family boarding? Every airline we’ve traveled does have family boarding, but they all handle this process differently. They also all disclose this information on their web sites. So investigate before you take off. Knowing your airline’s boarding procedures beforehand will take out the guesswork at the busy, hectic airport.
- Less IS More: Spending as little time on the airplane as you can will help you. The second you board that airplane, your toddler is constrained to your lap or his/her seat. So, unless you need to board early (if you don’t have a seat, or need an overhead bin near your seat) wait out the line and board last. It’ll also give your nearby fellow passengers a chance to get comfy… you know, for that exciting surprise they know is coming when you toddle down that aisle with your mini-me.
- Nothing New: Traveling is not a time to experiment with your toddlers likes and dislikes. Stick to what you know works. DON’T, I repeat, DO NOT try new foods, new toys, new clothes, new anything. Travel with what you know they like and you’ll thank yourself later.
Hopefully these 6 tips help you out in the upcoming weeks of busy holiday travel. If they relieve an ounce of stress, the time you took to read this post will have been worth it. Last but not least, an essential reminder: Don’t stress. I know you’re rolling your eyes at that because what isn’t stressful about traveling during the holidays with a toddler? But seriously, holidays are a time to be with family, enjoy and celebrate. Don’t let your travel experience ruin that for you or make it not worth the trip to see loved ones. You’ll make it through that airplane ride, I promise. Whether it’s rough or easy (thanks to my tips), guaranteed you’ll arrive to your destination with a little bit of courage and a whole lot of perspective. Later on when you’ve made it to wherever you’re headed (and maybe after a glass or two of wine) you’ll tell your travel story feeling like one heck of a super mom for braving the chaos and traveling with a toddler.