Traveling internationally with a toddler is quite different than traveling with a newborn. Honestly, I would not declare one “easier” than the other, but they are definitely different. We traveled between Spain and California when Luca was about six and eleven weeks old, as well as a few small European trips since then. You can read about my Tips for Traveling with an Newborn/Infant/Baby, here.
One of my favorite tips for traveling with an infant or young toddler is to call ahead early to reserve seats in the bulkhead row, which are accompanied by a baby bassinet or cot. The row itself has extra leg room, which means space for your little one to play on the floor. The bassinet attaches to the wall and is a small cot where your baby can sleep during the flight. In addition, we’ve used the bassinet as a space for Luca to play or honestly, to store all the “stuff” you need to keep close-by during the flight. Most airline bassinets accommodate babies up to about 20 lbs.
I anticipated traveling with a one-year-old who had just learned to walk (a week before the flight) to be challenging. I have to admit, as much as I tried to “shift my mindset” and “maintain a positive outlook”, I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep. I had anxiety for months leading up to the flight. With that said, Luca was a rockstar. Was it easy? No. Painless? No. Did we survive? Yes.
Without further ado…
Here are my tips for flying internationally with a toddler.
1. Bring brand new toys and books they have never seen before.
Children are easily amused. Be sure that your toddler has never, ever, ever seen these toys before. Allow the initial shock and awe to occur during the perfect moment on the airplane. Right before he (or you) is about to completely lose it. Toys with lights, sounds, or cool textures are great. Flip books are a favorite in our family as well.
2. Bring on the media!
The iPad was lifesaver number one. About a month before take-off, we literally trained Luca to enjoy watching Baby Einstein videos on repeat prior to the flight. Load it up with downloaded videos, or games for older toddlers, to keep them entertained during the flight. We also brought along an old mobile phone that he was able to play with/throw around during the flight.
3. Fun snacks (that take a long time to eat).
Buy yourself a few minutes of peace while your little one munches on teething cookies, rice cakes, or works on completely sucking dry a fruit and veggie pouch.
Tip*: Be sure to pack a few extra changes of clothes for you and baby as well as a new bib for each meal. (Many international flights provide jarred baby food and bibs for the babies and toddlers. Air France even offered organic pouches. Score!)
4. Wear that baby!
When strategizing about embarking on an 18 hour travel journey with our 1-year-old, we planned out various “state changes” for him. A state change could be sitting in the seat, walking the aisles, climbing (anything), playing on the floor, or being carried. Our Ergobaby carrier was great for walking up and down the aisle. We also had a very quick layover in Paris and the carrier was perfect for when we literally needed to be running through the airport and couldn’t be bothered with loading and unloading our child into a stroller.
Tip* When traveling with a baby, ask for preference and priority everywhere you go. We skip all the immigration, security and boarding lines when traveling with Luca.
Second lifesaver. We generally always travel through Paris on our way between Spain and California. Although you can check your stroller at the gate prior to boarding the plane, Paris does not allow retrieval of your stroller upon arrival at the airport. Instead, the stroller is checked all the way through with your checked luggage. On our return to Spain from California, we had a five hour layover in Paris. 5 hours without a stroller??!!! Lucky for us, the Doona fits comfortably in the overhead compartment on the larger international planes. We were able to bring our Doona along as a carry-on and because our flight wasn’t full, Luca hung out (and slept) in his own comfortable carseat in the middle seat of our row. Not only did we have his carseat on the flight, but we then had his stroller with us for the long layover.
This was a great last minute decision. We borrowed this safety harness from a friend and loved it! Luca could safely sit in his own seat on the plane as we fed him or he watched movies, etc. He wasn’t tempted to “escape” as he felt secure in his airplane seat, just as he would in a stroller. Definitely recommended. Plus, it gave us peace of mind as he sat on the plane.
7. A large pillow for baby to sleep on your lap.
This allows baby to be cozy as he sleeps on your lap, but also allows you to be hands-free. We all know that it only takes about 10 minutes for your arm to go numb as your little one’s head suddenly weighs 25 lbs as they nap in your lap. You become afraid to move even an inch in the off chance you may disrupt these precious moments of quiet. As Luca relaxed on the pillow, I was able to eat a meal, control my TV and also move around a bit to take a nap myself!
8. In addition to the tips above, I would highly suggest the obvious. Do whatever you can to travel with a partner. Drink a lot of coffee. Pack your patience. And yes, keep an optimistic mindset. It will go smoother than you think. The adventure and the vacation is all worth it in the end.