Travelling in any form with a toddler can be a daunting experience. Besides their general safety you have to be worried about keeping them occupied, entertained, fed and arriving at your destination with your sanity intact. Educator Kerry McArthur has some advice for stressed parents.

We have all experienced the nervous giggle emanating from the rows around you when you sit down on an airplane with a baby or toddler in tow. The raised eyebrows ask the silent questions, “Oh boy, is this child going to scream all the way?” or “I hope that baby doesn’t need to be changed mid flight,” among many more agonising thoughts and questions.

Travelling with a toddler does not have to be an experience you dread. With a few tried and tested tips, you can arrive safely and relatively sane.

Before you get to the actual flight there are few logistics you need to consider:

  • Check for hidden costs, as some airlines charge for prams, strollers and car seats.
  • If your child is over two, they usually have their own seat, which means you pay full airfare, so check your specific airline’s rules for this before booking.
  • Remember to take along their birth certificates and your ID for domestic travel. For international travel there are many other requirements, so please contact your specific airline for their list. This will include unabridged birth certificates, letters giving permission to travel (if not travelling with both parents) in addition to a child’s passport and any visas required. Start this process early so as to not cause any problems at the airport.
  • For international travel keep copies of medication prescriptions and, if possible, the package inserts, as the border controls have been known to ask for these on occasion.

For the actual flight

Plan, plan, plan ‒ and just in case, plan some more.

  • You can never have enough wet wipes or tissues on hand. These will come in handy for not only sticky fingers and stinky nappies, but for spills and general clean-up.
  • Buy water when you are through security: remember you can only take a certain amount of liquid with you, so buy this before you board, but after you have checked in.
  • While you might remember to pack extra clothes for your toddler, don’t forget an extra set for yourself, just in case. There can’t be many things worse than sitting in smelly clothes after an accident.
  • Bicarbonate of soda is a wonderful odour neutraliser, so take along a few small sachets of the prepacked bicarb (available from any food store) so that there aren’t any strange questions at security. If there is some spit-up or spilt milk, make a paste out of the bicarb and rub it into the stain. While it won’t remove the mark, it will neutralise the smell.
  • Pack a backpack for yourself. This makes it easier to corral your child while waiting for check-in or when you are boarding. Try not to take too many bags on board, to keep your hands as free as possible.  Remember to also pack a small backpack for your child: make this a fun part of the journey, and let them help you pack it. Make sure that their bag is light enough for them to carry, or you will land up hefting it around the airport.

Entertaining your toddler while on board

The obvious choices to stay away from are small items that can drop and cause a meltdown because they can’t be found. Noisy toys will also cause a meltdown, but not from your toddler – from your fellow passengers!

Keep on hand activities that you know your toddler will enjoy. These could be colouring, puzzles, reading books, etc. Don’t forget simple paper and a pen or pencil. Your toddler would love you to get involved in drawing basic shapes for them to colour in.

Some other entertainment ideas are:

  • Wrap small, inexpensive toys in multiple layers of wrapping. The process of unwrapping alone will take a few minutes and then the playing begins. Keep a few of these on hand, but don’t forget to keep some for the return trip.
  • Print and cut out pictures of your family members. You can then let your toddler select each person and create scenes with these pictures.
  • Cover a piece of cereal box with some felt and preprint some pictures e.g. farmyard, people, transport, etc. Stick some sandpaper on the back of each picture and you will provide endless fun with your own felt board scenes. This can be stored neatly in ziplock bags.
  • Small cars or Lego® figurines are perfect for tray tables, especially if you take a long a small collapsible box. There are lots of templates online that you can download and customise.
  • Sticker books are always popular, as are the vinyl stickers that can be found in most toy shops: these can be stuck to the windows and don’t leave a residue when removed.
  • Comfort and snack ideas
  • It is always easier when travelling with a toddler to book a flight for the time that they would naturally sleep or take a nap. Excitement aside, this might result in a sleeping toddler for part of the trip – but there are no guarantees!
  • Let them travel in pyjamas or onesies. These are comfortable, warm and easy to move around in.
  • Take along a basic painkiller with you e.g. Calpol or Panado, but please remember to adhere to the liquid restriction of 100ml. Your toddler may battle with sore ears or a sore tummy and this will just help to relieve this.
  • Allow them to expend their energy by running around before they board.
  • Take along a small blanket and an inflatable pillow for them to help them stay comfortable while sleeping.
  • Don’t forget their favourite cuddly toy, otherwise this could become a problem midflight, when you can’t do anything about it.
  • Try to avoid taking along snacks that are messy. Rather take finger foods packed in small ziplock bags so that you can give one bag at a time. These snacks can include raisins, nuts, dried fruit bits and the ever-popular mini marshmallows or chews (for those bribery moments).

Remember, travelling away from home is stressful for your toddler. They are out of routine, don’t have their own bed and are, in general, out of sorts. You can make this easier by preparing them beforehand with stories and books, and by letting them help you pack – make it exciting.

Flying with a toddler doesn’t need to be a terrifying experience – for you or your child. Rather you can have a fun adventure together, building great memories.

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