Traveling with toddlers can be quite the daunting task, but I’ve found the best way to calm your nerves is to be as prepared as possible! After moving to Ankara, Turkey this past summer, and just doing our first visit back to the states, I’ve compiled some tips and tricks that have worked best for us!
I was SO nervous for this fight back to America; my husband was already in the states so I was traveling solo with my newly-turned 3 year old and newly-turned 5 year old. It was also almost 20 hours of travel… 20 hours of DAYTIME travel because of the time difference going west.
I knew I needed to have all the things on hand to keep them distracted, happy, and full on these international flights. Once you lose them behavior wise it usually takes a full reset to get them back on track… and a reset is almost impossible on a 9.5 hour flight!
Here are all the tips I have for you to help with international flights with toddlers! You can head to the highlights on my Instagram if you’d rather watch that way!
First up are all my logistical tips for traveling with toddlers!
I lay out everything we need the night before, in stacks per person! It’s become a tradition for us and the kids love waking up to this scene. Anything you can do to create a tradition (aka routine) for toddlers is going to help you in the long run!
For this particular trip (me traveling solo with both kids from Ankara, Turkey, to Washington, DC, we took one large checked back for all our clothing. I did pack two of these suitcases inside our checked back, so we will have enough room to bring back all our christmas gifts from family! But the real secret is using packing cubes! We have 4 sets – one for each member of our family – in different colors so we know whos is whos. It’s been a game changer for our travel for sure!
PACK. SNACKS. Our very favorites are cashews, soft belvita bars, either apples or not-quite-ripe bananas, and some sort of cheese it / goldfish snack. I pretty much will feed them at any point and every request they make – a hangry kid on a flight is never the best option haha.
It’s hard to fly in the winter. We opted to bring our coats on the flight TO our destination; if our luggage didn’t make the trip I didn’t want us to be without coats! I tucked the coats underneath the handle on each of their rolling suitcases and it worked well to carry them. On the way home, we’ll put the coats in our luggage since we have other options at our home to stay warm in case the suitcases don’t make it.
When flying by yourself with toddlers, I have figured out that navigating the airports and layovers is easiest if the one adult walks first. When flying with my husband, he always leads, the kids follow him, and I bring up the rear. I assumed I’d just let my daughter (5) lead, so I can see them while I’m walking forward…. That did not work HAHA. They kept turning around because 1. They don’t know where they’re going and 2. They want to see and talk to me about everything! So me leading the way seemed to work the best! It was a bit uncomfortable for me, basically walking backwards to make sure they were right with me, but it was the most efficient option by far!
This seems basic, but seating arrangements are everything!! When traveling internationally, you are usually working with 3 seats in each section of each row. If we’re on a window 3 seat section, I put my littlest who’s still in diapers on the window, me in the middle, and my oldest on the aisle! That way I can work with and help each of them, but can get out for a potty break without worrying about waking up the one by the window! If you’re in a middle section, I still sit between them!
Our big girl gets horrible motion sickness and has since the time she turned one! We now are using seabands which help TREMENDOUSLY for motion sickness, and they’re small enough we can throw them in her carry on. We also bring our own throw up bags on flights – we use these in the car, so she’s used to them and it makes it SO much easier since she knows exactly what to do. In a situation where you’re so uncomfortable anyways (no one likes to feel nauseous!), it’s nice to see something familiar to use if you need it.
These travel foot rest pillows were recommended to me by a friend and they will FOREVER fly with us on overnight or longer flights. It creates a full bed for them to lay out on; at this point these are almost sleep cues for my toddlers! It gives them a place to put their feet that isn’t the aisle haha.
Okay so how do we keep these tiny humans happy for a 20 HOUR TRAVEL DAY?! Here are some great activities for your toddlers to do on a long flight!
Yes, we use tablets on a flight lol. Right now, we have the Galaxy tab actives for each child, but honestly I am only medium impressed. I think that has to do with the fact that all my devices are apple; my brain isn’t wired to work with another brand right now! The kids do better than I do though.
I have a few movies downloaded on each tablet (I don’t have any duplicates, so they can trade tablets if they want to watch a movie on the other one!) We have a few different shows that are downloaded as well, but haven’t ventured into games yet. I’ll be sure to update this post when we do though haha.
We use these headphones for both kids, and also use a splitter so they can watch the same screen at the same time – they love to chat all about whatever they’re watching… plus it doubles the length of your total tablet battery life if they’re only using one at a time HAHA.
The most basic, best kept secret for a creative kid… BLANK. SPIRAL. DRAWING. PADS. These drawing pads are such a lifesaver! You can play 68 games of tic tac toe, or color, or rip out the pages to make a paper airplane. The options are endless and having this was crucial for my 5 year old! I also surprised her with a Multi Colored Pen that had her mind totally blown, and kept me from having to pick pens up off the airplane floor 12 times.
I let my daughter give me a tattoo with said multi colored pen. Honestly this sounds dramatic and ridiculous, but it WAS AWESOME. She thought it was the greatest thing that’s ever happened in her life, and it occupied her like crazy! Win win.
I brought a coloring book for my three year old, and Kindergarten activity book for my 5 year old! We didn’t get to these simply because we ran out of time, but I’m fine with that and am DEFINITELY still glad we brought them!
At the last minute I threw in our play osmo kit! We were taking our family ipad anyways, and when you take the osmo items out of the box this actually was pretty small to throw in my carry on. Blakeslee (5) was able to play with the game on her ipad, and Grady (3) was excited to just play with the dress up pieces on their own! I brought it entirely for her, but was so excited when Grady showed interest!
The last thing I did was download several books on the books app of my phone and ipad! These are awesome to pull out right before you want them to sleep, after you’ve blow up your foot rest pillows! It’s a lot less bulky than bringing actual books, and the kids really seem to be great with it! I had no idea full books with illustrations were on the books app, but they are and it’s fantastic!!
Here is my full packing list for my toddler’s carry-on bags:
- Spiral notebook (plain white paper)
- Activity booklet / coloring book
- Foot Rest
- MutiColor Pen
- 1 set of jammies
- 1 extra outfit
- Pair of socks
My carry on held my (limited) items, and the things that we needed for both kids:
- Headphone splitter
- All snacks (Cashews, apples, bananas, belvita bars, cheese its)
- Play osmo kit
I hope this has helped jog your brain with some ideas of how to keep your international flights with toddlers an awesome experience! I’d love to hear some of your tricks and tips for traveling on long flights with your young children. Leave some thoughts in the comments below!
** All of the photos above were taken on the iphone XR (aka several generations old) and edited with my Winter Preset Pack **