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This month, Liz Chapman, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and member of the Slumber Squad {who also is bi-lingual and works with Spanish-speaking families) took her first trip in the air after over a year at home during the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. As the summer after a pandemic begins, traveling is on the mind of many families who may have a bit of cabin fever. Though health is of most importance when choosing what is right for your family to experience, a trip can breathe experience, I hope my hacks can make your journey just a bit more serene:

8 Travel Hacks for Parents with Toddlers

Get TSA Pre-Check (in advance!)

All the mommy blogs I read, sang the praises of being TSA approved. But NONE of them mentioned that it could take up to 2 to 3 weeks after your interview before being approved. Well, we had to scrap that for this trip as we were days away, but I definitely plan on doing it for our next aerial adventure. The cost is $85 per person for 5 years, and any littles under the age of 12 can travel through the pre-check with eligible adults. Thankfully, the times of our flights and airports were a pretty easy TSA experience. Still, I knew I was gambling as delays, long lines, weather, buses, things out of my control and sometimes in my control that can make the experience tougher. So, for a 5-year pass to get through those lines a little faster, especially with kids, I plan to make the experience easier and get pre-check when we have our next trip.

Take Your Stroller on Your Vacation

I knew this one would be important, but boy I didn’t know how much it would be! First of all, a familiar object, especially ones that they are sitting in, often is a comforting thing to kiddos of any age as they are jostled around from lines to seats and so on. This space is safe and not to mention mobile, and it can easily be checked at the gate, and it will magically appear for you right as you step off the plane when it lands.

My toddler had an hour nap (normally she naps two hours, but for traveling I’ll take what I can get and adjust) inside her stroller on our trip to our destination. It was the perfect travel space for her to take the edge off a very long day of travel. I also brought a blackout curtain that I clipped to the stroller so that she would not be distracted by all the hustle of an airport and of course used white noise to mask those constant announcements.

On the Lap vs. Their own Seat

As our flight was a little less than 2.5 hours, we opted to have our toddler sit on our lap. We all know that on a flight, we pay more for convenience and though we made it through just fine with her on our lap, it really was a bit of a chore making sure she didn’t pull down the tray when landing or pressing against the back of the seat of the person in front. I positioned her legs to kick my husband instead and that helped, but when our flight home gave us the opportunity to let her have her own seat. Wow, that was truly a different experience! As you know your kiddo best, gauge their threshold of being in a tight space and for how long to make the best decision for your family.

Practice Mask-Wearing if They Are Over 2 Years Old

Our baby girl was 1.5 years old and was not required to wear a mask but as it is a policy for many airlines, wearing a mask will be something your little one will need to be prepared for. A few weeks before your trip start talking about the process that they will experience. This minimizes anxiety and helps set expectations for behavior and what they will encounter. If it’s their first flight, talk to them and show them videos about airplanes and airports. Help them understand that it is important to keep on your mask till they are told it’s ok to take it off. When other needs are taken care of (sleep, hunger, stimulation) they will usually be more compliant with boundaries and rules.

Check what Documents You Need to Bring for Your Child to Fly

Every airline policy may be different and though most are free for kids until they are 2 years old you will still need to have a document to present at customer service. Any of these will suffice:

It’s always best to check with the airline when you are unsure and having copies of these documents just in case of an emergency. It’s in the excitement of a new trip to forget important documents. But nothing brings on the most amount of stress if we do so be sure this is top on your packing list and double-check before you leave.

Get Whole Mike from the Airport Coffee Shop

This one would have saved me time and effort if I just had done it from the beginning. I did prepare for milk; I brought to-go packages of toddler Enfagrow, but my little one was not having any of it. I scoured for those kiosks, but they only had reduced-fat milk (and of course for an inflated price). It wasn’t until after the coffee shop had closed that I thought about getting it there. So, on the trip back, my husband got in the Starbucks line while I kept my little ball of energy entertained and to my surprise, the barista had given him the milk for free! I know this won’t always happen but finding ways to get the things you need conveniently (especially if they are perishable) can help lighten the load.

Snacks Save Your Sanity 

Every mama with a toddler wanting to avoid a meltdown has learned that snacks can solve most situations. When packing, I focused on:

  • A variety (healthy sweet & salty options)
  • Snacks that are easy to handle and that don’t leave half the snack on the floor. (I’m thinking of you rice cake)
  • Pack in a Ziploc just in case they need to be out of the bag when going through TSA

We bought food at the airport as well, but a familiar comforting snack can help with the changes. Also, I realized just how much easier it was to feed her outside of the plane than inside the plane, so be mindful of your best opportunities to feed.

Toddler Activities for the Plane Ride

Now, of course, I downloaded 2-3 seasons of shows Clarissa enjoyed on a device, but I didn’t want to fill up the 2.5-hour flight with video watching. I made a busy binder as well as brought along a bunny window cling. I kept them hidden from her till we were on the plane so that these new activities would be exciting. And they were, till the window clings and busy book pieces kept falling on the airplane floor. When I pulled a muscle trying to get a bunny ear from the little hole it fell through, I realized these weren’t the wisest airplane projects. Magnetic traveling sets or the Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Pads are a great choice, be sure to not introduce them before the flight to give them the greatest amount of interest when you need them most occupied.

The thing about vacations and trips is that we make great memories, and that is so much easier when everyone is enjoying it. Set your kiddos up for success by giving them the right tools to face this new adventure. Think about the experience through their eyes and be mindful of what you can and can’t control. External stress can be such a barrier to joy when we are traveling, but when we prepare and become flexible with what we didn’t plan on we may be surprised by how well we adapt and how sometimes it makes the trip even more memorable.

Safe & Happy Travels! If you are interested in sleep support, you can learn more about me here. {or in Spanish} Book a free preliminary discovery call in English or Spanish. As a Certified Sleep Consultant, I aim to support your family’s sleep goals, whether it’s sleeping through the night, a nap schedule, short naps, early morning wakings or just wanting to give your child the gift of sleep, I am happy to support you on that journey.

Post-Quarantine Travel Hacks with a Toddler