The “Flying With Small Child” Toolkit



I moved to Southern California straight out of High School in 2004 to attend college.  I was a small-town girl who thought she wanted more people, more opportunity, and more adventure.  What I found was, though my body resided in the lower part of our state, my heart and mind were often back in my sweet little Northern California town.

The result of this constant dichotomy has been frequent short plane trips to see family, at least every school break and some long weekends. As a school teacher, I am afforded similar breaks, and becoming a parent hasn’t slowed my travels down, either, because of course I want Lu to know my family, too.  It did, however, through a TINY wrench in the way I travel.  A tiny, screaming, pooping, sometimes very inflexible and active wrench…

Traveling so frequently with a child 2 and under has forced me to become a bit of an expert in keeping a squirmy toddler busy for an extended period of time. I’ve also learned some time-saving and safety tips that help keep my mama mind at ease.  Finally, I’ve built up some strategies I’ve learned to make sure I’m taken care of while traveling, too.

Read on to find out what I keep in my (literal and mental) travel toolkit!

  1. Keep important documents easily accessible: I’m sure you know to bring your ID when you fly, but did you know children need ID, too? We usually bring Lu’s immunization record (you can also bring a birth certificate, state ID, or passport), and I keep that plus my ID and our tickets in an easily accessible pocket of a backpack or purse. Save time and peace of mind by keeping them in the same spot each time you fly!
  2. Wear your kid: by now you all know my love affair with our Tula carrier.  I talk about how wearing Lu has saved me on multiple trips, including here and here.  If you have a child under 3, there is no easier way to keep tabs on him or her and keep both hands free when traveling! You can wear your child through security, but you do have to take him or her off during takeoff.
  3. Let them run, if safe: Before each flight, if it is safe and not too crowded at the airport, I let Lu run around for a little while.  Getting some squirms out can help keep her seated during flight times…or so I tell myself!
  4. Make sure babe AND mama are fed prior to takeoff:  I get hungry frequently, and if I hold off eating too long I get panicked.  Sweaty palms, dizziness, and the shakes…whether low blood sugar or just my mind playing tricks, it can be scary to experience symptoms like this while flying alone with a child.  For this reason, I never get on a flight hungry.  I ALWAYS eat a small meal just before boarding, even if our flight is at strange times.  I make sure Lu is fed, too.  Perhaps you’re not like me and don’t get sudden hunger pangs that cause panic at random times, but I bet making sure you and babe aren’t hungry during a flight could still help keep some grumpies away, for both of you!
  5. BUSY BAGS:  Okay, guys, here is the greatest travel trick I discovered when I was anxious about plane travel with Lu once she got old enough to care about being strapped into a seat for an extended period of time.  Busy bags are literal bags filled with small activities you can pull out for your child as needed while traveling or otherwise waiting for long periods of time.  IPads and tablets are great, but I’m sure you know if you have a small child that his or her attention span is about 2 minutes long.  Once she loses interest in that Disney movie, haul out your busy bag and engage in the fun!  Busy bag activities can be easily made with materials from the dollar store or  Target even sells short and compact activities in their dollar spot most of the time.  We pack these activities in the same backpack that houses our important documents, and they may include: color wonder books, paper pad and pen/crayons, slime or play-dough, window clings, stickers, and some home made activities.  The activities pictured below were all made with dollar store products and took less than 15 minutes total to make! 

  6. Snacks, for bribery:  Sometimes, even a busy bag won’t help quell a storm.  I am not ashamed to say that when I see those little horns pop out and my child start to breathe like she is about to release the hurricane scream of the century…I bribe her.  Okay, okay, in my world I call it “immediate tangible positive reinforcement for desirable behavior”, but let’s be real, a bribe is a bribe is a bribe.  I make sure to always have something that Lu likes that is in small pieces I could give her one at a time.  For us, it is almost always gummy bears, fruit snacks, or M&M’s.  If she is struggling, I tell her to sit quietly and give her one of these treats when she does.  Repeat if necessary.
  7. Something to suck on for take off and landing:  This is an old trick in the book, but an important one.  Lu has recently started getting ear aches from the pressure while landing, and I didn’t have anything with us the first time it happened.  When she was very small, I would nurse her during take off and landing to prevent ear aches.  Now, having a small hard candy or water bottle with straw or sport spout helps keep them at bay.
  8. Mama’s calming tools:  I haven’t forgotten you, mama!  I have had a spell or two of anxiety and panic while traveling with L, and it can be debilitating and humiliating.  Making sure I have some things with me that I know help me maintain my sanity is definitely a necessity.  I always make sure I have cold water and an extra snack, even if I ate right before a flight like I try to.  I carry something doused in my favorite calming essential oils, which changes and might be different for you.  I believe in positive associations with scents, so my oils of choice are often those I use during meditation or yoga.  I make sure I have my phone charger and that my phone is well-charged.  Finally, if I feel a panic attack welling up, I seat myself and Lu somewhere with a busy activity, wet a paper towel with cold COLD water, put it on my neck, and call someone I know and trust for a chat (usually my mom).  Phone calls have always been a way for me to distract myself from my anxiety symptoms, and I know my loved ones appreciate the check in, anyway :).


There’s one more trick I’ve learned can help a mama out while flying, and that is the treat of a nice, cool glass of white wine during flight.  Go ahead, mama, you deserve one, too, after making it onto the plane with that little one safe and sound and happy as a clam!

I hope these tips come in handy for you the next time you’ll be attempting a flight with your small babe!  Thanks for reading along, and happy trails!

Do you travel by plane often with your child?  What has helped you with the travel process?


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