50 essentials for traveling with a toddler on a plane: a packing checklist
We are the kind of parents who want to believe that we can still do things like travel after kids. Plus, we have the luxury of being able to travel, so we want to take advantage.
However, our most recent plane trip was the kind that could turn even the most confident parent into someone who never goes anywhere.
As I was pulling into Logan airport, I heard a faint “my tummy hurts” from the backseat and before we could even park the car, everything was covered in projectile vomit. We used every wipe we had packed to clean up, changed both my son and my husband into clean clothes and ditched the evidence in a plastic bag under the car so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the smell when we got back.
We convinced ourselves it was something he ate and kept moving. We spent the 3.5 hour delay finding out that we were probably wrong as he threw up continuously at the airport - going through every last pair of pajamas I brought. We thought about bailing more than once, but he passed out on the plane and we finally made it to Florida at 2am.
A cancelled boat ride, stomach bug for my husband that resulted in missed dinners and a weekend full of rain that meant no beach or much outdoor time in Florida rounded out the weekend. Until the 3 hour delay on a solo flight back with my toddler, that is.
But we are going to do it again in a few weeks and it’s all because we got one magical hour in the pool and a whole lot of family time with grandma and grandpa.
So here’s what to pack in order to survive even when everything goes wrong.
On the Plane:
We throw all the rules out the window during flights - from screen time to snacks to chocolate, it all goes. Here are some tips for what to pack in your carry-on with toddlers:
Toddler Headphones - we’ve gone through several pairs of headphones, so I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on a pair. These are $15, noise limiting and have an extra port built-in for connecting another headset to the same device. Come in multiple colors, easy.
Fire Kids Edition - this is a staple for a reason. It really is drop proof, holds a charge for even longer flights, lets you download movies and shows ahead of time and comes with different profiles for kids that are more locked down with age appropriate material.
Melissa and Doug Sticker Pads - when i was preparing for a recent trip, another working mom suggested stickers for an airplane activity, which never would have occurred to me, but it really does work.
Melissa and Doug Water Wow - Mess-free coloring. Even if your kid opens it up and spills all the water, it’s not so much that it warrants a change of clothes. These are also sold in most airport bookstores in case you forget until you get there.
Mini Cars - pull back cars are always a hit. Bonus points if you wrap them as presents - opening them is often the most fun part and takes up more time (but also time on you to prep…trade offs).
Mini Puzzles - packable, wooden, colorful and the right shape and difficulty for toddlers.
Other essentials to have in your bag:
2 Changes of Clothes
Full pack of wipes
We try to keep the gear list really short, and have done this without strollers several times, but always regret it in the end. We bring the MacLaren Mark II stroller on most trips - it’s the lightest on the market, holds up well being tossed under the plane and gets the basics done. It needs two hands to drive and isn’t the smoothest ride, but not so bad that the trade-off on size and weight isn’t worth it.
We picked the guava lotus travel crib for the same reason - super easy to fold up, good carrying case - can fit in a plane, car, etc…
And finally, we like to ditch the stroller and go for walks, hikes, snowshoes, etc… so our child carrying backpack makes the cut on a lot of trips. We use the osprey, but there are less expensive models out there too.
What did I forget? What are your must-haves when traveling with toddlers?
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures on the “about us” page.