Here’s a hard truth: traveling with a toddler sucks.
I know because I’ve done it a bunch. My son is 20 months old and has been on at least 10 flights. My family lives in NC, so we travel there and back several times a year. I usually do this solo (just me and my toddler). My husband works for TSA (airport security), so I have added insight about toddler travel. I’ve included some tips below about how to get through the experience without losing your mind.
Manage your expectations
It’s not going to be an easy day. Toddlers off their schedule are like gremlins after midnight. It’s not a fun scene. Remember that going somewhere new, loud, busy, and boring is hard for your little one. Try to maintain empathy. They are overwhelmed and acting out. They aren’t bad.
Timing is everything
If you have the choice to book a flight during the day, maybe even nap time, versus an overnight or 5:00 a.m. flight, choose the better time! Accept the fact that choosing the cheapest flight isn’t in your best interest anymore, and just try to find the most affordable choice that corresponds with your toddler’s schedule.
I’ve been on flights where I brought lots of toys, and flights where I only brought two. It doesn’t matter much. At some point, nothing you offer your toddler will work anymore. They will probably want to play with the seat back tray anyway, and you just carried a bunch of extra stuff around for no reason.
I try to carry as little as possible onto the plane. Usually, the checked bag fee is $25 for 50 lbs. I check a huge bag like I’m going to Europe (so I can fill it with goodies from NC), and I just bring a baby bag on the plane.
I’m anti-stroller, but that’s because my son will not sit in a stroller for very long. Go with what works for you. I hate checking a car seat, so I try to have one waiting for me wherever I arrive.
Read the TSA Travel Tips Website
It often seems like the TSA rules are mysterious, and there is a ton of misinformation online. However, the official website is pretty great in spelling it all out, and they even have a section dedicated to cute articles full of tips.
I’ve had several people ask me about breast milk rules.
You can take as much as you want, unfrozen or frozen, on the plane. They open and test unfrozen milk by waving a test strip over the open container. They do not touch the milk.
Plan out post-landing
It’s better to get picked up than to have to drive to your destination after traveling. If someone is picking you up, have them park and meet you at baggage so they can help you with checked bags. If they have a car seat for you, ask them to take it to the fire station to get installed.
Often rental car companies make you install your own car seat, so plan time for that if you’re driving.
If you are lucky enough to be staying with family or friends, asking them to do some prep for your arrival will save you time and energy after a long day traveling. Send them a list of what your toddler will need to eat and drink, that way you don’t have to go grocery shopping when you get there. Ask them to get some wipes and diapers (you can pay them back). See if they can set up a pack and play or baby-proof a little. Often we feel bad about asking for help like this, but the people who love us want to do it, and they don’t want us to show up grumpy.