Air travel isn’t quite the relaxing experience it once was.  However, with a little preparedness and effort as a parent you can get to the airport, through security, enjoy your flight and arrive at your destination with minimal hassle even when traveling with small children.


  1. Always, always, always travel with a spare set of clothing.  This is important for everyone in the family.  You may think that once toilet trained this becomes unnecessary but a spilled beverage during a little turbulence and you’ve got an unhappy toddler for sure.  Keep in mind that your child may also spill their beverage or yours on you and you may be in need of a fresh shirt or pair of pants.  I travel with a spare set of clothing (shirt, pants, underpants, and socks) for every member of the family even mom and dad.  Keep these sets in a zip top gallon size bag.  It keeps everything organized for each person and you have a place to seal your soiled and possibly wet clothing when you change.
  2. Try and plan your travel around meal time.  Granted taking sandwiches on board does seem like just one more thing you need to pack but it’s a great way to keep a child occupied once in flight.  I like to board a plane about 1 hour prior to lunch time if possible.  Keep in mind the liquid restrictions when preparing your meals and go for the staples and things your children enjoy.  I use rectangular plastic bead boxes with dividers for snacks like trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers and grapes.  They keep a nice serving size for each person in the family and a little variety as well.  They are stackable in a tote bag or back pack and nothing gets smashed en route.  Prewashed apples, celery sticks and carrots are great for a fresh pick me up while traveling and are easier than some of your softer options like peaches, pears and plums which bruise easily and pack the dribble factor when eaten by a small child.  Don’t forget a few treats as a surprise for your happy traveler.  Animal crackers, jelly beans, gummy bears and small lollypops are easy to tuck in your bag and have just enough “treat factor” to wow your crowd and keep them smiling.
  3. Don’t underestimate the power of electronic entertainment.  I know that we all try and limit the exposure to TV, movies and other electronic devices at home.  But now, we are traveling.  A distracted traveler is a happy traveler no matter what the age group.  Pack a small DVD player or load some favorite movies and TV shows onto your computer or other electronic device.  Headphones for children are available with adjustable volume controls so parents can make sure young ears are safe.  If your child will only take a nap or go to bed after their favorite program this really is a smart and easy decision to make.  Throw in something new to help with the distraction factor in addition to those classic go to options from home.
  4. Layered clothing should be the staple for all travelers.  How easily we forget that temperature changes affect our moods.  Airports and airplanes can be unpredictable as to the temperature during any season.  My go to outfits for the entire family are simple jeans and t-shirts with socks and tennis shoes.  Bring along a light sweatshirt, yes, even in summer.  If your children are still in the blanket stage having that comfort along can also keep your child warm if the temperature inside is a little cooler than you expected.
  5. Your stroller is your friend so why leave it at home?  So many parents are opting to not travel with strollers anymore and instead renting strollers at their destinations.  While this is surely an option I am still holding on tight to mine and take it everywhere I go.  Children can become overwhelmed with the busy atmosphere in airports.  During ticketing and security it is especially important to keep children safe and close to you while you are fiddling with bags, ID’s and the boarding passes.  In many airports there is a family friendly security line dedicated especially to those with strollers who may need a little extra time through security.  In my travels ONLY those with strollers can use these lines and typically they move much quicker than the regular passenger lines.  Yes, I have had my stroller damaged by baggage handling during transit and yes, on international flights you will not get your stroller returned to you until AFTER you go through customs.  But, for the times my children have wanted to be held I used the stroller to carry my bags.  When my child fell asleep on the flight I put him in the stroller gently after the flight and he remained asleep through the airport getting a few extra minutes before arriving to the rental car area.  I truly think that your stroller is an effective tool in managing the time it takes you to travel within the terminal as well.  A toddler especially will want to stop and look at all that is happening along the way.  While this is perfectly acceptable and encouraged if there is time but if you in a rush to get to your gate it is much easier to have your child buckled in and looking while you set the pace then it is to drag and rush your child along to keep up with you.
  6. Stickers, blank paper, coloring pencils, crayons and coloring books are light weight and can be used easily on the fold down trays in the airline seats.  I typically avoid markers due to the possible mess factor of the enthusiastic artist.  Again a few options in zip top gallon size bags for each child and you are set with their own little art kit to go.
  7. Baby wipes are not just for diaper wearers and are a staple in the family backpack.  I use them for sticky fingers, wiping down tray tables, peanut butter faces after mealtime and really just about any time you want to freshen up.  Antibacterial wipes are also available in small packs and I bring those along especially during cold and flu season for the arm rests and tray tables.
  8. Water bottles are still allowed you just need to bring them empty.  My children are very attached to their water bottles and are excellent at staying hydrated.  Just because you can’t bring water through security doesn’t mean you should leave these at home.  Bring them empty and fill them once you are through security.  Water fountains are still easily located near the restrooms in most airports I’ve visited.
  9. If at all possible fly direct.  Direct flights are very scarce these days.  They are also more expensive.  I have survived many a layover with toddlers however, it was not the most pleasant of experiences.  We all grow tired of the process in getting to our destination.  The younger traveler certainly doesn’t understand what is happening and all of the excitement will more than likely make them either over excited or overly nervous.  All this says to me in either situation is crankiness!  If you must layover choose your times if you can and again trying to make it around mealtime or a time where you will be putting them in pajamas before the next flight.  Sometimes there isn’t any possible way to avoid a layover.  But, the least you can do for yourself is try and make it as convenient as possible.
  10. Try and enjoy the experience.  You child is flying for the first time.  Snap some pictures along the way.  Note that cameras and photos are not allowed during security but everywhere else in the airport experience there are bound to be a lot of firsts.  Point out the cockpit when you step onboard.  In my experience and with the right crew this can even turn into a peek inside or even better a seat in the big chair normally reserved for the Captain himself.  One kind Captain even took my cell phone and snapped a photo of each of my children one by one as they sat in his chair.  A very awesome experience.  Yes, you may get disapproving looks from other travelers.  The old eye roll thinking to themselves, “oh great kids on this flight.  I sure hope they are quiet.”  Take it in stride.  Many have been in your shoes before.  Yes your child may hate it and yes it might be a hard flight.  But, having these experiences and with your preparedness you are bound to have a happier traveler and enjoy the experience all the more.

Did I leave anything out?  I’d love to hear your comments.  Just a quick list of helpful tips.  Sincerely, I hope that you get out there with your small ones.  Don’t wait to take up traveling again until they are “old enough to remember it”, or “we know they will be well behaved”.  Give your small traveler the tools they need to be successful and enjoy the trip and you will be pleasantly surprised as you build an amazing family memory.

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