I have a four year old and she has been on more flights and traveled more places than most adults. My husband and I love to travel so we really had no choice but to figure out the best way to do it with a toddler. We started when she was just under a year old. A big plus about taking her with us when she was smaller was that she was still free. Children that are under two years old are considered lap infants and fly for free if then sit on your lap.
It wasn’t always the best experience but I learned that there are a few basic tricks that keep them occupied and at the same time help you to keep your sanity. First make sure to pack your child a small bag or backpack as a carry on. If they have their own seat they are allowed one carry on. If still considered a “lap infant” then pack things for your child in your bag. I usually don’t let her see the contents of what is in the bag and make it a big surprise for the plane ride. In that bag make sure to pack snacks and lots of them! Veggie sticks, cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, and I will usually throw in a lollipop or two. Crayons, coloring, stickers, and activity pads are a must. Lastly, a few toys, but better when they haven’t played with them in some time so they are not quickly bored. If in the budget, go to a dollar or discount store and get some little and easy to pack toys. We recently took a trip from NY to Scottsdale, AZ. I went to Five Below and got her small Lego pack, an American Girl trinket toy, mini Disney princess figure and a cute little magic set. Each item was under $2. So I didn’t spend much and throughout the flight I would introduce a new item. Once she was bored, I would try a snack, then coloring, etc.
Every child is different so try to customize the bag to what you think they will like the most. Maybe they love nature and animals, so you can put a fake pair of binoculars and flashcards with different animals or if they love art and doing projects you can get sticker sets, paper dolls, legos or whatever else you think they would like. Fill up the backpack with things in that theme.
My family also takes quite a few road trips each year. When Vivi turned one we took a trip from New York to Virginia Beach for a few days, then South Carolina for three days, we worked our way back up the coast and hit Washington, DC for 2 days, then took a seven day cruise to the Caribbean out of Baltimore, MD. This is the trip that I really learned that packing well is key and making sure to keep her occupied can make or break the trip. I didn’t want to have to bring a huge luggage full of two weeks’ worth of toys and activities so I was on a mission to find a way to consolidate and pack much lighter.
One day I was at the Home Depot searching for storage bins for something totally unrelated and they had this Sterilite brand storage box. It’s about two inches high, thirteen inches long, ten inches wide and the interior was split up into various sections. I didn’t even know I needed this, but I bought it anyway. I’m glad I did because it was perfect. Once I got home I started thinking about what to put in this wonderful box. I emptied a 16 pack of crayons in one section, markers in another, pencil crayons and kept going. The box had a little room on top so I am able to put a few sheets of construction or drawing paper in it. This lonely plastic box that was sitting on the store shelf among the other storage boxes was totally transformed. It’s now colorful and filled with things that will totally stimulate my daughter’s imagination.
After some time of just having art supplies in the box I added a few odds and ends. There’s always some random mismatched lego pieces lying around somewhere in my house. I started collecting them and putting a bunch in one section of the box. Then I realized my daughter had some mini toys that she has collected from birthday party favor bags, gifts and little loose random pieces that I added to another section of the box. A great addition was also the random sticker sheets. I cut them into smaller shapes to fit into another section. Now my daughter had this awesome sort of treasure box filled with toys, legos, stickers, and all different art and craft supplies. This is the best for travel and it keeps her busy for hours. When my child is in the car or anywhere that she can put the box on her lap she just closes the top, puts the paper down and uses the box itself to lean on. It’s compact and fits all these items nicely. This box was the answer that I was looking for. You can also put this box in their backpack or carry-on this way everything is nicely stored. Be sure everything is TSA compliant to make the whole flying process as smooth as possible. You can make your own version of the box using whatever items you think your child might love most.
Traveling with my family and making memories is my favorite thing to do, but a great trip can easily turn into a nightmare. I find it better to be prepared even if it takes a little extra. In the long run you will be happy you covered your bases. This will make your flight and road trip go much smoother. I have done enough traveling with my kid to know what works for her and if I can share this advice and it helps at least one mom travel better then I feel I have done my part.