Tips for Toddler Travel?
January 17, 2010 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I am going to be flying alone domestically with my 23-month-old toddler soon, it will be his last trip without his own seat*. He is very, very active, and I am trying to get prepared now so it will go as well as possible.

We've flown together many times before, but every time has been different. Everyone says "DVD player" but my child will not tolerate headphones on his head, and I don't think soundless Sesame Street is really going to hold his attention and keep him from walking down the aisle and trying to make friends with everyone.

He's not a screamer, he doesn't cry much, he just wants to be DOWN and exploring most of the time, not unusual for a child his age. Should I just get a big bag of M&Ms and give them to him one at a time? I have a sealed bottle of Benadryl in our cupboard, but that can have the opposite effect. Homeopathic calming tablets have had no effect with previous use.

The flight is less than two hours.

*even if he did have his own seat, he likely wouldn't stay in it. At 15 months he could and did undo a plane's seatbelt. Nor am I bringing a car seat along, grandma has her own waiting at our destination.
posted by 41swans to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Let him wander. Walk up and down the aisles with him. Don't fight it.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am only one data point, but as a fellow flyer, I find a happy kid wandering in the aisle to be less distracting than a parent wrestling with an unhappy (sometimes screaming) kid in a nearby seat. So I agree with KokuRyu.
posted by cabingirl at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Electrius, did the OP ask if s/he should? Not helpful.

Okay, it is only 2 hours. I'd do whatever you can to make a nap happen. Otherwise:

- bring a TON of snacks. Lots of snacks. His favorites and things you think he'll like.
- get a "toob" (do you know this brand of toys? It is a plastic tube full of ponies or aliens or whatever) - this has proven quite useful in my toddler travels
- crayons
- books

And of course, just let him walk.
posted by k8t at 9:43 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't bust out the toys all at once. Keep some new toys hidden and then bring them out when he starts getting nudgy.

Kids love, love, love to learn new things. Teaching him novel skills might help keep his (and your) interest. Is there anything he has a strong interest in but can't do? Teach him that. If you feel it's appropriate and necessary, you can use the M&Ms as a reward for him sitting (somewhat) still and attempting the tasks; slowly decrease the frequency with which you give the M&Ms so you don't run out of M&Ms. Intersperse things he can do with things he can't do, to keep him from getting frustrated. Put your hand over his hands and show him what to do to help him with the fine motor skills. If he doesn't get something, just show him again.

These might be appropriate depending on his developmental level/interests:
identifying shapes, colors, numbers, letters, animals, body parts
matching, an especially cute one is matching the adult animal to the baby animal
counting with a one-to-one correspondence (one object, one number)
stringing very large beads
stacking large blocks
drawing shapes, numbers, letters, simple faces
doing two skills in sequence (touch your nose, then touch your ear; touch your nose then point to the cat)

Of course some kids love to socialize above all else. I would pray that you have a congenial seatmate and go ahead let him walk up and down the aisle saying hello to everyone.
posted by kathrineg at 9:44 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

By the way, the beads should be large and not prone to roll (like this)
posted by kathrineg at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2010

Mod note: comment removed - just so we're all clear, "how to do it" questions are not well-answered by simply saying "don't" Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:53 AM on January 17, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to say DVD player, as well. But you don't need the volume. Even on mute, there's a lot going on in most kid's movies (e.g. any of the Pixar stuff). But that's not the only thing. Bring toys the are small but interest him. Bring lots of books. Bring a coloring book or a travel Magna Doodle or Aquadoodle. Bring snacks, but not M&M's. Your goal is to keep him calm, not amp him up with sugar. Let him dig through the SkyMall catalog and play with the safety instructions card.

How many times has he flown before? And how did it go? Some kids fly better than others. And any kid can have a bad flight if he or she isn't feeling well. This will be a learning experience for you and your son. Even if he is very active, he'll have to learn that there are times when running around just isn't possible. All kids have to learn that and most all of them have a hard time with it.

As others have said, take him up and down the isle once in a while. Some people like kids. If you're lucky, someone close by will play peek-a-boo with him.

On preview, thank you, Jessamyn! Those who feel put upon by the existence of children should be happy that 41swans is trying to think this through before the flight.
posted by wheat at 9:56 AM on January 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! My boy has flown at least five times before with no real issues, but every three months he is developmentally a different little dude. Last time I just wore him onto the plane, even though he was big for that, and he pretty much slept on me the entire time. If I get really nervous I may pack my Ergo and try it anyway!

(although at 28 pounds....ow my spine)

My concern is for his/my happiness, and to be considerate of others on the plane. I never hesitate to remove him from a situation when he has a meltdown, but unfortunately on a plane there is nowhere to go.

He loves board books - he likes to point at things so I will identify them for him. New board books, crayons, lollipops, snacks, stringing beads, great!!
posted by 41swans at 10:03 AM on January 17, 2010

Look, there is nothing you can do to prevent your kid from having a meltdown on the plane. This is one of those situations where you have to accommodate your fellow passengers as best you can, but everyone should realize that there is no silver bullet to help your kid shut up.

If he cries, or if he wants to be taken up and down the aisles, and if people give you the evil eye for that, well, you will likely never see those people ever again.

North Americans as a rule need to learn to be more tolerant of children.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: At about that age, we got our son a magnadoodle for a plane trip. Previously he had not been very interested in drawing, but being able to draw and erase, draw and erase, draw and erase kept him really occupied. We were amazed. If your son is able--our oldest was, but at that age our second wasn't--you can play games where you draw a picture but leave something out for him to add. We did trucks that needed their wheels added, for instance.
posted by not that girl at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and, if anyone offers you help, take it! I have a tendency to be all, "No, I've got it...really, I've got it..." but if you learn to say yes to offers of help, it will keep you fresher and more patient and energetic. Once when my oldest was about that age, and I was pregnant with #2, a first-class traveler not only helped me board, he waited to get off and came to the back of the plane to help me un-board, and then got me into an executive lounge for my layover.
posted by not that girl at 10:16 AM on January 17, 2010

Props to you for trying to keep him from bothering anyone else - it's much appreciated by those of us high-maintenance kid-intolerant asshole people you'll never see again. :)

That said, as one of those, kids who wander up and down the aisles looking curiously at me are perfectly fine, so long as he's not screaming the whole time. Happy, quietly exploring kidlets are good kidlets.
posted by Xany at 10:24 AM on January 17, 2010

I'm not sure I'd rule out the DVD player. Turn the volume lower than normal, but I think a lot of folks won't be troubled by a kid watching Sesame Street. A low volume kid's show is going to be less distracting than a lot of other options.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:35 AM on January 17, 2010

If you can, sitting near the back seems to be a good move. I've sat in front of a mom and her toddler sitting in the very back-most seats. The kid was freaking out and kicking my seat and even bit her mom during the flight, but it was less of an issue to the other passengers because they were mostly isolated to their corner, and really only I had to hear it. I don't get mad easily at little kids or their parents who are trying their damnedest to keep the kid quiet, so it wasn't a big deal.

Those of us with more empathy understand that kids have a rough time on planes because they don't understand what's going on, and especially when they have ear pain and are too young to know how to pop their ears or yawn to keep it at bay. Or maybe I'm just sympathetic to this because I get horrible ear pain every time I fly.

I've definitely seen a few occasions on planes where people, mostly grandmotherly types, want to hold or talk to a restless little one, so maybe if any offer, take them up on it and let him interact with them if it keeps him entertained for a little while.
posted by ishotjr at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2010

One thing I hadn't thought of and wish I had -- extra clothes for yourself. I had flown with baby range cross-country and US-Europe and thought I had it covered, but when he turned 2 he was old enough to be really excited about being on an airplane.

Really excited. Like, so excited he barfed all over me during takeoff. At the start of a 6-hour flight. Trust me, bring at least an extra shirt, and may you never need it.
posted by range at 10:45 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just the fact that you're concerned about it is a good indication that you'll be fine. I've been paying close attention to parents and children on airplanes ever since my wife became pregnant, and there doesn't seem to be a consistent approach to keep children civil. I've seen piles of children's books, toys and even a mom who held a pad of paper while her little girl scribbled and attached stickers to it. But the thing that all the unobtrusive parents and children had in common was that the parents were making an effort to keep their kid engaged.

The one thing the obnoxious parents and children had in common was that the parents gave up and decided it was easier to read and let the rest of us tolerate their kid screaming.

Thank you for caring about the rest of us, from one parent to another.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:57 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking of ear pain, if your child gets ear infections, please delay your flight until it's over. Contact the airline - they might have provisions for this. It's extremely painful for him and can cause permanent hearing loss if his ear drum pops. I flew on a family trip with an ear infection (I was a bit older though, so I remember) and it was one of the most horribly painful things I've experienced.

I'd second the people that say let him run around the plane rather then wrestling him still in a screaming match. I have low child-on-an-airplane tolerance, but I wouldn't be bothered by a friendly toddler.
posted by fermezporte at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2010

I don't know if you saw this comment, but I happened to remember it because she had a whole hourly schedule of rotating activities. It's for a younger baby but the concept seems sound.
posted by amethysts at 11:30 AM on January 17, 2010

Best answer: I just came back from a trip with my 22 month old. We took a total of six flights, some lasting up to eight hours (so your two hours sound like a dream!). He was a lap child, too, and this is how we survived:
-iPod Touch (for videos and games--Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, we love you!!!)
-coloring books
-a couple of new little toys (I started squirreling away Happy Meal toys, toys from cereal boxes, anything he hadn't seen before. The bonus was that I didn't care if these ones got left on the plane.)
-a small Mr. Potato Head set
-snacks with lots of pieces (cashews, raisins, etc--they're more time consuming to eat and held his attention for a little while)
-we love this bookfor travel because it has lots of stories but we only have to mess with one book
-and yes, sometimes we just let him walk up and down the aisles. But I try not to let him do it every time he asks because I need him to understand that he can't walk around whenever he wants.

It's a tough age for a lap child. Our next big trip is in two months and he'll have his own seat. I can hardly wait!
posted by wallaby at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Man, I'd like anastasiav to come with us. I had not seen that comment, amethysts, she's a badass!

Magnadoodle, YES! And once a nice older gent took him out of my hands on a flight, he wasn't acting up, he just leaned toward him and the guy scooped him up. Fresh faces can do wonders.

No ear infections that I know of, knock on wood. And Mayor Curley, the idea that I would even bring a book on a plane while my son was with me makes me laugh, for real. But stickers, yes, that is a good idea too!

oh and yes - we are sitting in the back, both ways.

unfortunately the best and most entertaining option for my son can't fit into my backpack - my husband. But he isn't coming, alas :-)
posted by 41swans at 11:40 AM on January 17, 2010

Can you acquire some gaming technology for the trip, with some games appropriate for his age/development?

I'm thinking of a Nintendo DS, a small laptop/netbook or an iPhone/iTouch. I know my 18-month-old nephew can be kept entertained for a surprisingly long time with an iPhone.

Good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:57 AM on January 17, 2010

Obviously plan the pre-plane time well. Possibly get him up early that morning if that might make him ready to nap at the right time. Run him up and down the airport to get rid of excess energy. If you can, plan feeding so that he is hungry when he gets on, swallowing helps with ear-pain and eating is a sedentary occupation to keep him still for a bit. Slightly older children love to play with a toy airplane, I guess it helps them to make sense of the experience, but I doubt if he is old enough.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:10 PM on January 17, 2010

I wanted to second the idea of a touch MP3 player. My son loves playing with my Zune, even though it's not a touch one.

My son is 19 months old and loves looking at pictures of himself and family. When we're at home I click through digital photos on my laptop, but he also likes looking at pictures on my digital camera. If you can't bring your laptop maybe you could get a spare memory card and load it up with digital pics and videos (my kiddo LOVES watching videos of himself) and pop it into your camera for your son to look at. My son learned how to push the buttons to cycle through the pics and movies by himself, which is very entertaining.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:15 PM on January 17, 2010

In the terminals, my two were vastly entertained by bubbles. Get those 12 pack wedding favor boxes. I had one bottle in each of our bags, and a little bottle can last about 45 minutes. They're well below TSA limits.
posted by lysdexic at 12:20 PM on January 17, 2010

Other specific things from our arsenal:
-a friend gave us this sticker book. We had a lot of fun looking for the different stickers together.
-a "magic pen" coloring book like this one. (He's actually coloring in it right now.)
-We found this coloring book (with several pages of stickers!) in LAX. We got a lot of mileage out of it. Go Brobee!

(Yes, we had a lot of stuff with us but some of it we acquired for the return trip.)
posted by wallaby at 12:50 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and we keep a beach ball in our carry on. It's great for playing with at the gate while we're waiting to board. We used to bring a mini one but we've upgraded to a larger one. We like to let him burn as much energy as possible before boarding.
posted by wallaby at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2010

Based on experience (Turduckling is a well-traveled 3 y.o.)...

-- An iPhone (and attendant kiddie apps) buys you at last 20 minutes in any situation, be it a restaurant or a plane. (More, if you load a movie and the kid is a watcher -- some aren't.)

-- Schedule flights at naptime. 1.5 - 2hours of bliss right there.

-- Last-minute diaper change, as close to boarding as possible.

-- If you can afford it, spring for the extra-legroom seats on the likes of United and JetBlue. Usually fewer people to bother in these rows, and Junior has to reach farther to kick the seats in front.

-- Bring treats they don't usually get (candy, etc.) and dole them out at appropriate times. Ours is convinced that chocolate-covered pretzels are served only on airplanes and in Upper Bavaria.

-- Unsolicited advice to all MeFi parents, out of love: Again, if you can possibly afford it, buy your kid a seat on the plane, and keep him/her strapped into a car seat -- even if they're young enough for lap status. Your arms are no match for turbulence or worse. (Airline employees have macabre nicknames for lap children, based on their aerodynamic properties during rough weather.) Plus, the familiar car seat encourages somnolence, even in active kids.
posted by turducken at 1:36 PM on January 17, 2010

This may not be the most useful comment, but my earliest memory is actually of flying -- I think I would have been just under three years old. About a two-hour flight, and I apparently colored, just crayons and plain paper, through the whole thing! (That's the bit I -- dimly -- remember, anyway.) If my mother could manage it in 1984, you'll be fine :)
posted by kalimac at 2:19 PM on January 17, 2010

Haha, kalimac, mine too. I was 2 or maybe a little over, and I remember that I had been given one of those cardboard pads where there was a black surface and a greyish plastic sheet, and when you drew on it with a black plastic "pencil" the plastic would stick to the surface, making it look like you'd drawn there - but then you could lift it up and "erase" it? I have no idea what those are called. Anyway, I spent the flight happily drawing away and thinking about what a big girl I was because I had my own seat and was behaving myself.

On the other hand, my husband and I once got on a trans-Pacific flight and saw to our chagrin that there were three kids under 4 in the row behind us. Then we saw their dad open up a Ziploc bag and give each of the kids half a Benadryl. They were all out for the whole flight. We were very, very grateful. A cross-ocean flight like that is really unbearable with three kids taking turns crying behind you. It's unpleasant regardless when you're flying coach, and anything passengers can do to make it less unpleasant is extremely welcome. For a flight under 2 hours, don't bother.
posted by crinklebat at 3:01 PM on January 17, 2010

Response by poster: Turducken - we are flying in an extra legroom row on JetBlue! JetBlue doesn't fly where we normally go, but since we are going somewhere new, we have the pleasure of flying JetBlue.

I was thinking about buying this to secure my son once I start getting him his own seat. I just can't ever see myself carrying a child, a backpack and a carseat onto a plane, ever. I just don't have enough arms.

We are flying at naptime - my ideal situation is to give him a cup of milk and his Elmo, and if the planets are aligned, maybe he'll fall asleep. I'm not counting on it, though.
posted by 41swans at 3:52 PM on January 17, 2010

We traveled with 6 kids 5 years old or under to Aruba.
I checked EVERY thing other than snacks and toys so I could carry all the toys and treats.
I bought big freezer bags and packed MANY per kid.
They had favorite toys that I packed away about a month earlier so they hadn't seen them in a while, sticker books, coloring books, books and little gadgety toys (gyroscope, etc).
Each baggie had a few things in it.
I also brought an itouch and a video player.
When they were starting to get a bit unruly I would give them a baggie filled with a couple of the treats.
I DID end up walking up and down the aisle many times and he did makes friends with some random people.
Less than two hours?? I think it'll be over before you know it.
posted by beccaj at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2010

Everyone has offered great suggestions. I flew with my toddler son (just the two of us) last week and his *favorite* thing was playdough. He was able to sit on my lap and pull the tray down. I offered one color first and then brought out a second color a while later so he could try making a new color. I was amazed at how focused it kept him.
posted by Lullen at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2010


Depending on how often you are flying, you may want to consider "renting" one rather than forking over the $75 to purchase one. Search eBay for "CARES"

We considered getting one for our 3 year old last summer, but she was perfectly content with the seat belt. (We were very lucky!)
posted by stew560 at 8:41 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've already got your tickets and seat assignments, but I would still strongly urge you to consider getting your child his own seat. I fly with my kids a lot (we just moved back from being overseas), and I can't imagine a kid that big on my lap, especially traveling as one person. You won't be able to lean down to get stuff out of the bag, and I bet you won't even be able to use the tray table. And I can't imagine anyone wanting to sit next to you guys (I say this as the one person in the world who might not mind sitting next to you guys). Do you have the window or aisle? Anyway, I never regretted paying the extra money for the seat. If it is nap time, it'll make it so much easier for him to rest.

Having said all that... plan as if you'll need to be on the plane 4 hours. Fill several baggies with different little things/activites (stickers, whatever), and pull out one baggie at a time.

My favorite candy to bring is Twizzlers. Preferably rainbow Twizzlers. They take a long time to eat and aren't too sticky or messy. Also, lollipops since they last forever.

And, for such a short flight, I'd say go with sugar if you need to. You'll pay for it later, but pretty much sugar rules are non existent for me when it comes to keeping my kids happy on airplanes.

My Ergo was great in airports, especially when I was by myself. I remember getting my screaming son, then 3 1/2, into one at JFK when I had a long solo schlep with my kids from one terminal to another. I also used it with my older son when he was 4. They're the perfect terminal carrier.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:25 PM on January 17, 2010

Aisle seat.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:53 AM on January 18, 2010

Response by poster: All right, you guys convinced me. I just bought little dude his own seat :-)
posted by 41swans at 9:09 AM on January 18, 2010

Hurray! Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:28 AM on January 18, 2010

I can tell you this....

BRING HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE (or at least a certified copy) to the ticket counter. You didn't mention if this has been an issue before, but I'm just trying to save you some headache. :)
posted by drstein at 2:38 PM on January 18, 2010

Response by poster: drstein - you sound like you speak from experience. what happened?

We have never had to produce identification for our son when traveling in the past two years that he's been with us. In fact, when I was booking his ticket today, I mentioned that I had no photo ID for him (who has photo ID for a 22-month-old?) and the agent said I would not have to produce any ID for him. She certainly didn't say I needed to bring a certified copy of his birth certificate!
posted by 41swans at 2:48 PM on January 18, 2010

You don't need id for boarding until age 16 or so.

I suspect the person had a problem with confirming the child's age for the lap seat.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:43 PM on January 18, 2010

If you ever do have to travel with a car seat, I heartily recommend this backpack. I used it the last time we flew. My son was much happier having his car seat in the rental car, and I felt better about it, too. (The ones the rental car agencies provide leave a lot to be desired.)
posted by wheat at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2010

Best answer: Man, I'd like anastasiav to come with us. I had not seen that comment, amethysts, she's a badass!

Wow. I've been called a lot of things on Mefi before, but never a badass.... :-)

We travel a lot with my son (now 3 1/2) but mostly by car because I'm terrified of flying. I'm glad you bought him his own seat, not only for comfort but also for the safety part of it.

I can't recommend this gadget highly enough if you need to take kid and carseat through airports. It saved my sanity many times when my son was smaller.

Right now the most exciting tool in my travel arsenal is an ipod Nano with all 72 Sesame Street Podcasts loaded up on it. We have pretty strict video time limits at home, so video is always a great, and they're only about 7-9 minutes long, so there's that whole attention span thing. I can start one, lock the Nano, hand it to him, and he can watch and listen on that tiny, tiny screen and he's thrilled. Wants another one? No problem. Getting bored - move on to something else.

Exploring can be more than walking around. I have a very ... ummm ... well, he likes to investigate things, I'll put it that way ... and I've always found that he will stay in his seat fine so long as I'm giving him new things to try out and investigate. So, think about what you can bring that will really be engaging for him. When E was around 2 1/2 I started giving him simple disentanglement puzzles - very simple ones, ones that I knew I could solve. I would do it once, quickly, having him watch, then put it together and ask him to figure out how it was done. Sometimes they just became rattles. I'd watch him carefully to make sure he wasn't getting frustrated (and when he was we'd either stop or I'd show him a step and we'd move on from there), and work with him, but for an inquisitive investigative child they were a wonderful trick.

Also, as I said before, a fully tummy = a happy baby. Its completely true that I overfeed him when we're traveling, but it keeps the crankys at bay.

Two hours is easy, so long as its really two hours. Feel free to Mefi mail me. Good luck.
posted by anastasiav at 9:27 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have a CARES harness. I have a Magnadoodle, a tube of frogs/dinosaurs. I have a new version of his favorite music box toy (yay for Fisher Price reissues at Target!) I have snacks, oh my god do I have snacks. I have lots of books. I have crayons and a pad of paper.

I have an ipod touch just waiting to be filled with Sesame Street. I have many, many things. I think we will be all right :-)
posted by 41swans at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2010

Response by poster: update! Trip went well. Complete bust - crayons and paper. Surprisingly effective - magnadoodle. Ipod touch more interesting in airport than airplane due to sound, I suspect. Flight harness was tolerated, barely.

He did run up and down the aisles a few times on both flights - both times he wriggled under my legs and got away, but he didn't touch anyone, and no one looked overtly annoyed. No loudness for either happiness or unhappiness, phew.

Changing a two-year-old in an airplane bathroom sucks, but at least they were just wet diapers. All in all, the experiences were positive. And JetBlue is the only airline I ever want to fly, if only for the free and copious snacks, the little tvs on the seatbacks, and the ample legroom. Wait, those are all good reasons!
posted by 41swans at 12:08 PM on February 15, 2010

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