Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


It seems fitting I’m finishing this post about traveling with small children while sitting on an airplane. Today my 3-year-old and I are on our way to Cincinnati for the holidays.

Traveling with young kids, especially doing it solo as I am today, isn’t easy. Ellie’s had many travel adventures in her short three years, having been as far as Germany and Jamaica, as well as exploring most major (and many minor) Midwest cities. And, last year the whole family (including the three cats) made a cross-country road trip from Wisconsin to Arizona.

So when it comes to traveling with little ones, we’ve picked up some tips along the way.

Tips for traveling with toddlers. Tips for car trips and plane rides. How to keep your toddler busy while traveling.


  • Leave early because you’ll be stopping a lot. Whether it’s for feedings or just to get some wiggles out, your kiddo is going to want to escape from the car every few hours. Leaving early ensures lots of well-lit and populated options to pull over for a snack, as opposed to the dark, isolated rest stop in nowhere Indiana.
  • When you stop to eat, don’t worry about the kids actually eating. Let them run around while you wolf down your burger. Take their food to go and have them eat in the car–that will keep them busy for a bit. And, a little exercise plus a full belly may equal a car seat nap.
  • It’s hard to beat an indoor playground three hours into a car trip, especially during the colder months–think McDonald’s Play Places. If the weather cooperates, a park with a playground and a picnic lunch makes for a nice break in the monotony of a long drive. Think about these options before you get in the car and know where you’re going to stop ahead of time.
  • Make the road part of your trip. If you’re driving through larger cities, there’s probably something pretty great to see and do, so plan your route with side trips in mind. An easy way to get get recommendations about must-do kid activities in the cities you’ll be passing through is to ask your Facebook network.


  • If you’re a nursing mom, bring a bottle just in case if your little one is still young. Your perfect nurser might be too squirmy or distracted to latch, and you’ll want some way for the child to swallow and pop his ears.
  • This summer I wrote a story about family travel and got some great advice from a mom who hosts a popular mommy group on Facebook. One was don’t over pack toys. A coloring book, few crayons and a favorite toy should get you by. Instead of toys, emphasize all that’s new and exciting about the plane–like the barf bags or Sky Mall magazine in the seat pocket.
  • Bring more diapers, snacks and clothes than you think you’ll need. Mid-way across the Atlantic may be just the time your adorable child decides to, in our case, have explosive diarrhea as you and your husband are suffering from the norovirus. Best to throw in an extra shirt for mom or dad too. Lou also learned this one hard way when she flew with her 18-month-old last year to visit Ellie and me in Arizona. During the four-hour flight, Emme threw up twice. They both exited the plane in various states of undress–Lou in a tank top she was luckily wearing under her sweatshirt and Emme in her diaper.
  • Don’t board too early. It can be temping to take advantage of family boarding, but letting your child run around the terminal as much as possible before strapping her in a seat could buy you a squirm-free half hour or more if you time it right. If traveling with another adult, have them board first to secure you adequate carry-on space. If you’re in an open seating situation (like Southwest) and there are no seats together, tell a flight attendant. They’ll make sure you’re seated with your child.
  • Try some simple distractions before you lock yourself in the bathroom with a wailing baby. Since you’ve kept your toy packing light, put a surprise book or trinket in your carry on. Busy bags are also a great option. And, a fun, special snack can often distract an upset toddler. That said, I’ve locked myself in a bathroom with a wailing baby, and it totally worked, the change of scenery was all she needed!
  • Spring for a separate seat for your little one. Saving money is always enticing, but unless your flight is less than 90 minutes, you (and your kiddo) will probably appreciate the option to spread out a bit. This also gives you the option to bring a car seat with you on a plane.


  • iPads have revolutionized air and car travel for my little one. But here’s a tip I’ve learned the hard way: Make sure your child understands apps like Netflix likely won’t work on the plane, and connections can get spotty on car trips through less populated areas. Download a few movies from Amazon before you hit the road.
  • Lastly, and this may sound crazy, try to relax. A stressed mommy is going to make for a stressed kiddo. If your angel starts crying don’t freak out right away. If you’re in the car, take comfort in that only you can hear your screaming child and turn up the radio.

Gena Kittner

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

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