The thought of flying with a toddler with an attention span as short as they are cute for the first time (or anytime) can be downright intimidating. Ollie had flown with us before, but not since he became mobile and A LOT more active/aware. In preparation for our family vacation to Disney World this past week, I spent a lot of time tapping the brains of all my been-there-done-that mama friends, “researching” on Pinterest, and brainstorming ideas to compile the perfect carry-on bag to keep my toddler entertained and happy on a cross-country flight. Guess what? Our 4.5+ hour flight with a 16-month-old went off with far less stress than I envisioned – without the iPad/electronics or spending a ton of money – so I want to share what we packed, how we packed it and tips for a successful travel day with a toddler based on this experience.
Bonus – the in-flight kit I created could have served as a both a car and restaurant entertainment kit while we were on vacation as well! We were at Disney World so there were tons of things for Ollie to see and do, but I hope you find this post useful when packing a carry-on bag to keep your toddler and you entertained and happy during your travels.
Let’s start with the bag:
I snagged this Mickey tote on Amazon for very little money and think it’s a perfect carry on because A) we were headed to see the mouse, B) it’s small and compact, so Ollie will be able to carry it on his own as he grows, C) since it’s small, we were able to be very selective with the things (and weight) we bought onto the plane, and D) did I mention how cute it was and perfect for our Disney trip!?
I want to note that before I get started… we did still take a diaper bag. Southwest Airlines allows one carry-on and one personal item per person. Dusty took the diaper bag and Ollie’s airplane bag onboard and I had a backpack with our electronics for the trip and my purse. Obviously, you will want to include the normal diaper bag essentials (diapers, wipes, snacks, changing pad, change of clothes, lightweight blanket, wet/dry bag, water bottle or bottle, etc.) like you normally would anywhere. This is just highlighting what was in his airplane bag for entertainment purposes. I did list a few notes of things that we have in our diaper bag that came in handy on our plane trip.
- A lightweight blanket to put over your toddler if/when they nap. Airplane cabins can be chilly and we carry our Audrey’s Bear personalized blanket everywhere!
- Imagine Ink. These are the type of paper that only writes on the page. Perfect, mess free, and ideal for our needs.
- Toddler busy board. This was our favorite. We played with this more than anything else. For more information about Montessori play, see here.
- Snacks. – In our diaper bag at all times. I stocked up with yogurt covered raisins, organic snack bars, Cheerios, and Puffs for our trip.
- Empty water bottles for mama and tot – Again, these are not pictured because they were really in the diaper bag; however, fill these suckers up once you’ve cleared security. I store the water bottles in the outer pockets on either side of our diaper bag.
- 1 – 2 tried and true favorite books – Also in our diaper bag 100% of the time.
- A novel toy like these that we found in the clearance aisle at Walmart.
- An Etch a Sketch, MagnaDoodle, or LCD drawing tablet.
- Window Clings. We opted for seasonal but there are also Mickey-inspired ones.
Other things we had in the bag were some glow sticks for our stroller (at the parks) and for the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party that we attended while we were there, as well as a expandable wash cloth from the dollar store. Fun things to have on hand, but we didn’t necessarily get these things out during our flight.
When all else fails, snacks (and a big variety of them!) will be your tantrum tamers on a flight. In our diaper bag, I packed a ton of snacks I knew Ollie would love. Ollie is also really into cleaning things right now so giving him a baby wipe to “clean the seat” was a perfect activity for him to keep busy and occupied for a long time. We also “organized” the safety pamphlets a few times that were located in the back pocket of the seats in the airplane.
Top Tips For Traveling or Flying With a Toddler:
- Check the TSA and your airline websites well in advance of your flight for their rules and regulations regarding travel with children under 2 years old. For Southwest, at the time of our flight, we had to obtain a special pass for Ollie prior to security with a copy of his birth certificate and a special tag for his stroller prior to boarding the plane. We asked a lot of questions to triple check that we were ready to board and pass through security when we were suppose to. This helped up save time in the long run by not missing any major steps.
- You can bring your own milk or juice in a cooler like this one, but you may have to go through a full on TSA check. One option is to wait until you get through security and buy a milk box from Starbucks (these do not require refrigeration). Some airplanes will have milk depending on the airline and time of day, but if you care for it to be organic, you’re likely out of luck. I think the best option is to bring no refrigeration needed, easily portable milk boxes with you. We feed Ollie his morning bottle prior to take-off, and opted for just water on the trip. When we arrived at our hotel, I ordered a half gallon of organic whole milk using Amazon Prime Now and it was delivered to our room in less than 3 hours. It served its purpose for the week and was cheaper than buying the individual cartons.
- I know it isn’t always possible with logistics, but try to plan your flight time around your toddler’s nap if possible. We booked a mid-morning flight to coordinate with Ollie’s morning nap time and a return flight later in the evening.
- I know screen time isn’t for everyone, but if you allow it this suggestion is for you. Download shows from Netflix or similar and age appropriate apps onto your iPad or laptop. This will, hopefully, occupy your little one and buy you and your fellow passengers some quiet time. We ended up not having to use this at all on our flight; however, found it really nice as a backup with we hopped onto the Magical Express in between the airport and hotel at Disney World.
- Bring empty water bottles in your carry on and fill them up at the airport once you’ve cleared security. Do not fill it up 100% because of the cabin pressure. We use Camelbaks like this one and for whatever reason the cabin pressure does do something funky to them in the air. The only thing you have to do is make sure that the water isn’t in the straw (by blowing down on it) prior to giving it to your little one. If not, they may end up with a watery mess due to the pressure.
- Invest in a travel stroller. Our previous adults-only trip, we watched to see which parents looked like they were having the least difficult time with their strollers. Previously, we traveled with our Solly Baby Wrap, but with Ollie mobile now and pregnant myself, wearing him is less of an option. We opted for a use City Mini GT by Baby Jogger and it was amazing. The stroller is easy to fold open and closed and really compact. It also has UV protection for the hot Florida sun. You can check the stroller at the gate right before you board, but make sure to ask the desk attendant at your gate for a tag prior to boarding.
- Arrive to check in for your flight early, call ahead, or both to ask for an extra seat if possible. Generally, airlines will go ahead and reserve a seat when a “lap infant” is flagged on the manifest and keep it if the flight is not full. On Southwest with the opening seating, we board with family boarding after the “A” group boards. This allows us to get a full row even though we paid for two seats. Each flight the attendants kept announcing it was a “full flight”; however, we sat aisle and window calming with Ollie on our laps. We were also totally prepared to move closer together if needed. The kicker is neither flight was actually full and everybody that boarded late chose the middle seat not next to an infant or toddler. We kept the middle seat open for more space for us. The extra seat makes diaper changes and naps, and the whole flying experience, a lot easier! By the way, this article by USA today does a great job of breaking down how to deal with how to change a diaper during a flight!
- My last, but number one piece of advice, would be to prepare and pack as well as you can beforehand, but then try your best to relax and go with the flow because, as we all know, toddlers certainly cannot be predicted! People are generally understanding and this makes me feel far less stressed when Ollie is making a scene in public!