Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a normal parent like the idea of getting on a plane with a toddler. Even if your child is a perfect, civilized, adorable angel baby, the idea of keeping any kid strapped in and reasonably quiet(ish) for more than an hour is daunting. But Ash and I have picked up a few tricks in our time (and also, stolen tricks from other smart parents we know), and put together a little list of the stuff that makes air travel slightly less terrifying. Here, a catalog of the things that we wouldn’t even think about boarding without.
• A car seat travel cart.
If you are going to bring a car seat — something that makes sense if the flight is longer than an hour, in my opinion, both because it’s safer and because your kid will be snugger and more likely to fall asleep — then you will be so, so glad to have something that will allow you to wheel that monster thing through the airport. I cannot overstate how helpful this cart has been: The car seat clips on easily and safely to the metal cart, which can then function as a stroller for the kiddo. It folds up and fits easily under your seat or in the overhead bin. The brand that we both use (because I’ve borrowed Ash’s) is Britax, and it’s a dream.
• An iPad, complete with newly downloaded apps
I know this feels very Captain Obvious, but it’s easy to remember the device and to forget the shows, songs and games. We have gotten a bunch of mileage (ha!) out of the Curious George drawing app (it’s darling!), and all over the Internet you can find expert opinions on picks for the best, most educational/entertaining apps for toddlers, like this one or this one. BUT, a small tip here: Ashley notes that her family doesn’t take out the iPad until most other entertainment (books, games, stickers) has been exhausted. The iPad is a great ace in the hole, but since most kids get antsy after 30 or 45 minutes (or sooner) of a show or a game, you don’t want to squander the easy entertainment at the outset of the trip.
• Headphones to go with the iPad.
To spare everyone the sounds of all of those toddler apps, our personal headphone of choice is this adorable panda version. They also happen to be fairly inexpensive, so no biggie when they inevitably get destroyed. Though I suspect any headphones your kid will wear counts as a win.
• A cheapo art kit or sticker book from Target/CVS/Rite-Aid or whathaveyou
This is one of my favorite tips from Ashley: She buys little activity kits of some type to unveil once they board — sticker books or little artsy coloring packs or some such. They’re easy; they take up almost no room in a bag; and (most importantly) they surprise, delight and entertain the babes without involving any screens.
• This baby backpack.
Because squeeee! But also because the little one can carry or pull his/her own little bag, AND because the teddy detaches so he/she has a friend for the flight.
• The easiest possible snacks
Some favorites: Baggies or prepackaged bags of Cheddar Bunnies or pretzels; cheese sticks or string cheese; those fruit-and-veggie pouches; granola bars or some sort of fruit newton, for a treat. I’ve also packed tangelos or clementines in baggies: They’re easy to peel, sweet without being sugary, thirst-quenching and hydrating … and the baggie can then hold the peel. Also, I like to break out the pop-straw Thermos for the plane — because of lid, it’s less likely to leak when tossed in the carry-on, and it is less germ-collecting than a sippie cup or straw sippie with exposed mouthpieces.
• Duffel bags
Even if it’s a short trip, we’ve gotten in the habit of checking luggage (which is still free if you fly Southwest), simply because a car seat, a kid, and two or three carry-ons feels like a lot to lug just on their own. But whether you check or not, I find it easiest to sling a duffel over a shoulder or across the body, as opposed to pulling a suitcase on wheels while also dealing with a kid. It’s more to carry and harder on your body, maybe, but the pack-horse method nevertheless makes it easier to keep everything contained and under control.
• In-case-of-emergency supplies
In addition to the usual diaper-bag essentials, you might also consider what you’d want in an, um, bodily fluid incident. Things like:
— a couple of plastic grocery bags (great for both barf situations and when you need a bag in which to to put wet or gross clothes)
–extra wipes, hand-sanitizer, and a couple extra diapers
–an extra outfit for the kid
–an extra shirt for you
–a thin baby blanket in case of freezing airplane air-conditioning
–one of those mini bottles of booze (We kid, we kid! You can buy them on the plane.)