We’ve done a lot of travel with our now 17-month-old twin boys. Living in Hawaii with my family while my husband’s family is in New York, we’re committed to visiting the East Coast twice a year. We just got back from a 2-week stay on Long Island, and I am delighted to report that our 10-hour flight each way, with 6-hour time difference upon arrival, went surprisingly smoothly. (For more about helping your children deal with time changes, see this post.)
Being prepared is key. In fact, travel with toddlers is all about being prepared. Most of these tips have to do with stuff for you to do in advance of your actual travel date.
If you have newborns or are expecting, start with my post How to Handle Plane Travel with Infant Twins Like a Boss. Below are fresh tips specific to toddler travel.
Based on my own experience as well as extensive reading of websites and talking with other parents, I’ve compiled this top 10 list for handling even long plane trips with toddlers with grace:
- Consider the Date and Time of Your Travel When Booking Your Flight
Statistically, the least busiest days to travel are on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Can you fly on these days? If so, do. It really really really helps to have an extra seat or two or three. It is a gift to be on a flight that isn’t jam packed with people. Not only do you have more space to spread out your stuff, but also if you happen to get seated next to anyone super grumpy, they can move to a new section of the plane!
That having been said…
- Consider Booking an Extra Seat
Yes, it’s true: Kids under two years of age fly free as “lap infants.” Hurray! you say. Great way to save money!
But… Do you really want two fussy, cooped up toddlers squirming on your lap for a long flight?
Probably not. If you can afford it, and especially if you’re not traveling on a low-traffic day, consider buying a third seat. You’ll really appreciate that extra 3 square feet of personal space for playing with toys, sleeping, and jumping up and down like a clown on speed.
- Choose Your Seats Wisely
Legally, you can only put one lap infant in each section of seats on a plane, because there is only one extra oxygen mask. However, if you’ve booked an extra seat, you can put both children in the same row. This offers a huge advantage.
Sure, most of us love sitting at a window or aisle in one of the two-seater sections along the side of the planet. However, I have found that your best bet when traveling with two toddlers is to book either end of the middle section of seats, plus one of the middle seats if you’re getting a third seat. This way, whether there are 4 or 5 seats in the middle section, you’re virtually guaranteed that the other middle seat(s) will remain empty. It has worked out 3 times for us already. It only fails if the flight is overbooked or sold out.
Now, with the entire middle section, you are really set for a long trip. You can spread out your kids’ toys and blankets, and even your own grown-up legs! The kids can bounce around quite a bit. And you can easily reach across the row to your travel partner to exchange sippy cups, diapers, and other supplies.
When we had the whole middle section on our flight home from JFK to HNL, we got the babies to sleep in the TwinGo Carrier, then strapped them into their seat belts and lay them down across two seats, which we had covered with blankets both under and over them (see picture above). They slept so cozily for nearly two hours!
- Investigate Bringing Your Carseat Aboard
I wrote in How to Travel with Infant Twins Like a Boss to check your car seats along with your luggage and just bring your baby wearing device aboard the plane. Well, that might change once the kids reach 25 pounds and become more finicky sleepers.
Now I would say: Ask at the agent when you check in if the flight is full. If it isn’t full and you seem to have an empty seat or 2 or you booked an extra seat, and if your kids sleep well in their car seats, then bring one aboard. It can make a great place to keep a child constrained when you need to — during take off and landing, for example — and put them to sleep during nap time.
- Download A Bunch of Toddler Apps — and Don’t Forget Your Kid-Friendly Headphones
We don’t allow our kids any screen time, and don’t plan to until they are 2 years old. But we do have one exception: While on the plane, anything goes.
Frankly, the tech gadgets don’t hold their attention for very long. But even five minutes of peace and quiet and distraction can be incredibly welcome when you’re on a grueling flight.
I found this blog listing best apps for toddlers, and loaded them onto my phone and my husband’s tablet along with their favorite music and some short videos. We got some use out of them. The Joy Boys particularly enjoyed the drawing and music apps.
Now don’t forget your over-the-top headphones! Little kids can’t wear those tiny earbuds. Even better, a set of bluetooth enabled headphones that won’t get your toddler all twisted up in wires.
- Pack a Bunch of Little Presents to Unwrap
My friend Kristen gave me this advice. Go to the dollar store, pick out 5-10 new tiny little toys, and wrap each one up in wrapping paper. You can dole these out throughout the flight, every hour or so, to give your toddlers a brand-new distraction.
- Bring Snacks Snacks and More Snacks
Need I say more? Snacks are a great distraction. I generally don’t believe in food as entertainment, but aboard a flight? As with technology, anything goes. Goldfish. Cheerios. Grapes. Little things they can pick up with their fingers (and preferably don’t make a huge mess). Have a lot of them handy on your flight.
- Run Up and Down the Aisles
Oh yes. Actually, this I find is a great advantage of plane travel: Your child is totally contained and quite safe. No one is going to run off with your Little One. And it is quite easy to follow her as she treks up and down the aisles.
So let those toddlers have at it. Let the entire plane be your playground. Not only will you burn off energy and stimulate your little one’s brain with new things to explore, but also I assure you that you will make friends.
Which leads me to Number 9…
- Make Friends
I’ve found that in spite of the reputation travelers have of being a grumpy lot, the reality is that there are tons of friendly people aboard every flight. You just have to find them! From nostalgic grandparents and parents of teenagers, to flight attendants who just coo over babes, there are people who really really love little kids. Make friends! Let them entertain your Little Ones.
You can even make use of the free babysitting! I allowed one flight attendant to hold and play with T while I went to the bathroom, once I’d made sure that he was quite comfortable with her. So comforting to know, too, that she couldn’t possibly run off with him even if she tried.
- Remember: The Worst Experiences Make the Best Stories
I keep my sanity by reminding myself of this travel mantra. Ever hear about that time when your best friend’s trip went perfectly, the weather was gorgeous, and everyone was happy? Nope! That’s because the stories we most enjoy sharing — and remember the best — are about the times when things went wrong.
The time the airline lost Kristen’s stroller when she was flying solo cross-country alone with her 23-month-old and she had to beg the handicap cart driver at the airport to give her a lift through the airport to make her connection on time.
The time Z had a blow-out of his diaper and soaked his clothes in poop. Which was okay for him, because I’d remembered to pack plenty of diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes for him, plus a Ziplock bag to seal it all up in. I had even remembered to bring a fresh shirt for myself. But a change of pants for me? Hmmm…. nope. That I did not bring. Gross! (See my fake smile in the photo above, while Kiran has a laugh from the seat across the aisle.)
Yes, these might be difficult moments to endure at the time. But if you keep your sense of humor, you can laugh at yourself right then and there. And no matter what, I guarantee you’ll enjoy sharing the story later.