HI!! It’s been a while, I know, I know. As usual, my intentions were good, but time got away from me and I haven’t blogged in weeks. Anyway, for Christmas last year, my fabulous husband bought Anna and I tickets to visit Kenai, Alaska, the area where I lived for five years before moving to Taiwan, and where my best friends live. I hadn’t seen them since our wedding nearly three years ago. So I was both highly excited and exceedingly nervous at the thought of over 30 hours (door to door) of travel time ALONE with my 17 MONTH OLD!! I spent hours reading online how others handled their toddlers on planes, and started packing a month in advance. I had lists upon lists! Augh. So stressful. But we had such a beautiful time with friends, it was totally worth it!
We just returned a few days ago, and woke up at 4:30 this morning (hello jet-lag..).. now that we’ve survived, I feel like I can add my experience and advice to the many others out there who may be feeling just as nervous as I to fly (alone or not!) with a young toddler.
Aaron and I took Anna last summer to Cape Cod, a trip of nearly 24 hours, when she was 8 months old. But flying alone with her at 17 months was much different in so many ways. Here’s how it went, and advice I will offer you! Warning: this post is pretty long!
First off, here are some things to consider when you are in the planning stages of your trip (like before you book tickets):
- IF you will be flying with a toddler between 1 and 2 years old, PLEASE PLEASE consider buying them their OWN SEAT!!! I cannot stress enough how helpful this will be to you! I would not have even considered going if Anna had been a lap “infant”. Technically, babies under 2 can fly on your lap. However, if you can afford it, please consider buying them a seat, especially if you’re flying alone! Anna at 17 months is so tall and active, that if she’d been on my lap she would have kicked our neighbors the whole way. I would have had no space to really feed her (she’s still breastfed), her feet would have been on the person next to us when she slept, it would have been a nightmare! Also, US based airlines like Delta (we flew Delta most of the way) or United, have modified their planes to fit more seats and the spaces are TINY! I believe we paid 75% of a full priced ticket for Anna’s seat. Please consider it!! Anna in her own seat! I made sure to call ahead and book windows. Not only could she play with the window, but it made it so she couldn’t wiggle out into the aisle, and she wouldn’t accidentally kick our aisle side neighbor.
- After you have booked your tickets, you’ll probably want to consider if you will bring a car seat on board or not (if your toddler has their own seat). I thought about this from all angles, and decided in the end to not bring it. We have a Sit n Stroll (a fabulous contraption that converts from car seat to stroller), but after some research, I found it would be hard to fit on most of our flights, and we actually didn’t need it on the other end (our friends had a car seat). I decided it would just be one more thing to handle. Also, Anna isn’t used to it and I don’t think she would have slept well in it. However, if your baby sleeps well in their car seat, you may want to consider bringing it on board. I noticed other families that did, and their babies did very well.
- After I booked our tickets, I also called the airline to request baby/children meals. Our first leg of the trip (Taipei to Seoul) was on Korean Airlines. They were very friendly to us! This was the baby meal: Anna’s a little old for purees, but she ate them anyway. Korean Air also gave us a Tayo toy! All our other flights were on Delta, and though I didn’t snap photos, I wasn’t impressed with their kid’s meals and Anna didn’t eat them. However, thinking it would be healthier, I ordered vegetarian meals for me (when I called ahead), and they were SO MUCH better than the yucky processed meat meals everyone else ate! We also got our food about 1/2 hour before everyone else by having “special requests”. So you may want to keep that in mind too!
Ok! So you’ve got your trip all booked! Now you need to pack! Whoo boy. I gave A LOT of thought to what bags to bring (carry on), since I would be travelling by myself. I considered all the options and angles: stroller and backpack? Ergo and rolling bag? But a rolling bag wouldn’t fit under the seat and I’d need things, so rolling bag and diaper bag? All my stuff won’t fit in a backpack, AAH!? Yes, I stressed out. In the end, I chose to NOT bring a stroller (extra thing to fiddle with), and carry Anna in the Ergo in the airport. I also chose to bring a rolling carryon, and my Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag. This way, I could keep the most necessary items in the diaper bag under the seat, stow the carry on overhead, and reload the diaper bag as needed during layovers. This worked pretty well, except I kept trying to stuff more things in the diaper bag so it eventually became overloaded at some point in the trip. Here’s what the whole setup looked like.
Packing for 30 hours of travel for a toddler is daunting. You need to consider diapering, clothes, sleep items, entertainment items, snacks, and toiletry items. Here is a breakdown of how I did it:
DIAPERING: I packed 12 diapers. 3 of them were overnight pull-ups (in case one of the planes didn’t have a changing table- I could change her standing on the toilet. Never had to, though). I also packed 30 wipes in a travel case in the diaper bag, and a backup pack in the carryon. Didn’t have to reload at all. I did NOT bring a changing pad. I did order a small plastic bag dispenser for dirty diapers from iherb.com. This came in handy for all kinds of trash, and it clipped on to the diaper bag.
CLOTHES: I packed one extra outfit (top/pants/socks) in the outside pocket of the carryon. I packed a pair of footed,zip jammies in the carryon as well. I changed her into jammies on our nighttime flight. I also packed an extra t shirt for me in the carry on. I also packed an extra complete set of clothes in the outside pocket of my checked suitcase. This way if I had an emergency need for more clothes, when I picked up my suitcase in customs I could quickly grab it. Also had extra diapers in the outside pocket of checked bag. I didn’t need to use them at all, though. I chose to dress Anna in a long sleeved tee (NOT a onesie with snaps) and light cotton pants for the plane. The reason I did NOT put her in a onesie, is if she had a blowout or a leak, I would only have to change her pants, not her top. Also easier to check for dirty diapers.
SLEEP ITEMS: In addition to the jammies, I had a light flannel blanket, which I also used to cover up a bit while nursing. Anna’s lovey (an Angel Dear blankie), and a small teddy also helped her sleep. I brought two inflatable pillows: one was a large pillow intended to fill the space between the back seat and front seat of a car. It worked alright on the plane (similar to a Fly Tot), but Anna wasn’t quite big enough for it yet. So I checked it in the suitcase on the return flight and didn’t miss it. The other pillow was a small flat inflatable camping pillow from Decathlon. This was a tremendous help to just fill those awkward spaces that make getting comfortable on a plane so difficult. I packed all the sleep items in the carryon, and got them out on the overnight flight.
SNACKS: Anna didn’t actually eat most of the snacks I brought. She nursed so much she wasn’t hungry. However, I packed: goldfish crackers, teddy grahams, Gerber puffs, rice crackers, vitamin C lollipops, Cheerios, and fruit pouches. Of these, she really only ate the fruit pouches. I also bought some yogurt and banana bread in the airport, which she also ate. So on my return flight, I packed a lot lighter on the snacks and didn’t have a need for more. *note: the fruit pouches were 4oz, ordered from iherb.com. I had them in a separate Ziploc which I pulled out for security. Only when I hit Stateside in Seattle, I had a problem, and had to be patted down because they were .5 oz over the limit. If you bring these, maybe choose the 3.5oz size, or be prepared for a patdown.*
TOILETRY/MEDICINE ITEMS: In my “liquids” bag, I had: saline/contact case; Hyland’s Calm Baby tablets (which I didn’t actually use); Tylenol (for me); moisturizing oil (for me, and Anna both); small toothpaste and brush; No Jet Lag homeopathic tablets, supposedly to help with jet lag, they may have helped? I don’t know. That was pretty much it! I didn’t bring hand sanitizer, instead I packed these in the outside pocket of the diaper bag: I didn’t use them obsessively, but they were much handier than a bottle of sanitizing spray. Especially when you let your kid roam the family bathroom because you don’t want to chase them in the airport:Gross. But it kept her contained for a while. Sigh.
ENTERTAINMENT: This is easily the longest list. Anna went through just about every one of these items. I will list these with photos.
-The most popular item I brought was, of course, the iPad! Anna doesn’t get much iPad time, if any, at home, so she was tickled pink to have full reign of it on the plane. She has a pretty good attention span for a toddler. I bought these Hello Kitty toddler headphones on Ebay, and she kept them on for about five minutes at a time. Here are the apps that worked well for her: ‘Little Baby Bum’ nursery rhyme videos; ‘Peekaboo’ series: Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Fridge, Peekaboo Forest, and Peekaboo Presents (you can buy the pack. This is a HUGE hit for toddlers and is highly rated, kept Anna busy for a while! She’s playing Peekaboo Barn in the second photo above); also a lot of the Fisher Price apps kept her busy as well, and are free. All airplanes now come with a USB plug next to the screen in the seatback in front of you, so remember to pack your USB charger cable for your device and you’ll be good to go for the entire flight.
Books. Anna loves to read and be read to. The large book is a ‘lift the flap’ that I bought at Costco. My criteria for books was: 2-3 new ones, 2-3 old favorites, had to be either small or light, and had to be time-consuming to read, the more words and pictures to talk about, the better. These all fit the bill.
Next: STICKY THINGS! These were also a huge hit. Stickers of all kinds, Post Its, Window clings, thick glitter Washi tape, sticker books. Of these, the Post Its and the window clings got the most mileage. Plus: they’re small and light!
Next: Pom Poms. Anna loved these. I used a small plastic container (from Play Dough) and cut a hole in the top. Anna LOVED poking the Pom Poms through the hole. This also got a lot of use.
Next: Felt pieces and Velcro board. I cut various shapes out of colored felt, and then used the ‘hook’ side of Velcro sticker strips to cover a piece of thin cardboard. I attached an elastic band around the back of the Velcro board so I could quickly slide it onto a large book, iPad, tray table or whatever flat heavy surface was around so it wouldn’t slide. Then Anna loved pulling out felt pieces to stick and pull off of the Velcro board. This was also light and small to pack.
Next: small, light ‘Magna Doodle’ style toy, bought from Daiso Japan store. I did have to tape the pen to the back. This was also a big hit.
Next: Pipe cleaners and large buttons to poke them through. Also, colored popsicle sticks with Velcro stickies on both ends to create shapes. Anna enjoyed both of these, but I didn’t take photos of her playing with them.
Next: A few pieces of paper, small notebook, and five double sided crayons (more colors, less space!). Anna is just starting to enjoy coloring, with my help. I also brought a few Ikea finger puppets, but she wasn’t that into those yet.
I made this “wallet” with old cards to put in and out for her to play with too, but I forgot it at home so I can’t say how well she liked it. But I thought it was a good idea. 🙂
I packed most of the activities in a large Ziploc bag in the rolling carryon, and then some of the smaller ones along with a few books, in the outside pocket of the diaper bag. I rotated them out on layovers, and on our long flight, I simply pulled out the Ziploc activity bag before putting the carryon overhead, and it fit into the seatback pocket. That stretchy keychain was also fun for Anna to play with in a pinch. This system worked very well, and she went through EVERY SINGLE activity at least a few times on our flights. Whew!
And if you’re lucky, your child’s favorite activity will be this:
This was not Anna’s favorite activity on the plane, though she did take a few catnaps due to total exhaustion, she had trouble staying asleep longer than an hour and usually her catnaps were about 30 minutes. Sigh. So I was glad I had adopted the motto “Prepare for Anna to stay awake the ENTIRE 30 hour trip” and packed all those things for her to do!
I would also add, this should be logical, but if you have time during layovers, let your toddler blow off some energy running around in the airport.
This was easy enough here in the Taipei airport, but in Seoul and Seattle, there were SO many people that I actually just let Anna stretch her legs in the family bathrooms because I couldn’t really keep track of her well while pulling our carryons. I did practice a bit with a “toddler leash” thing at home, and she wasn’t very happy with it.
Preparation goes a long way, a good attitude goes even longer, and the flights will not last forever! I suggest that although you may be nervous, try to see your travel time as a grand adventure, adopt a good attitude, and your child will pick up on that. It WILL be exhausting, no matter how prepared you are. But it will not last forever. 🙂
Please comment if you have any other questions about our trip or want to know where I bought any of the above items! Thanks for reading and good luck to you in your travels, wherever you may be!