how to survive international travel with toddlers


The blogging challenge I’m participating in provides daily fodder for content. I’m not adhering to the themes nor am I necessarily expressing opinions – I simply said yes to the challenge to write for seven consecutive days. Today’s theme piqued my interest so I’m going with it.

Today’s suggestion in Seth Godin’s  Your Turn Challenge is “Teach us something you do well.” According to my most recent Strengthsfinder 2.0 test, I am a Strategist. According to my sticky kitchen floor, impressive duplo collection and exploding laundry hamper, I am a also parent.

Today’s lesson is for the parents who are planning a trip and have the pleasure (if that’s what you want to call it) of flying with toddlers. Last summer I bravely flew from Edinburgh to Vancouver alone with my two children, ages 3 and 15 months. It was my eighth plane ride as a parent. I feel qualified to call myself an expert in toddler strategy.

The post below is a revised version of an article I wrote for The Graduate Wife blog. My reason for sharing this content as a lesson is to a) maximize the little time I have to write while the kids are resting and b) acheive my goal to spend more time with Steve in the evenings. That, my friends, is my strategy for successfully completing this challenge whist maintaining balance in this household.


Air travel has mixed reviews. For some, it is an exciting event, the precursor to a fabulous vacation or visit with cherished family and faraway friends. If you’re reading this thinking, “Yes! That’s me. I can’t wait to board a plane!” then you need not read any further. I suspect you don’t have toddlers.

Toddlers are a game changer. They can turn flights into arduous battles standing in the way of a good time. Toddlers are the volatile variable in an already complicated equation. Yes, traveling with toddlers is no easy task.

The good news is that it’s not impossible. You can win battles with the right planning. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even enjoy the flight. (Don’t get your hopes up though.) Behold! A lesson in strategic toddler management for jet-set parents.

Here are small things you can do in advance to ease your mind and prepare for a smooth-ish voyage.

See if the airline offers meal reservations for kids. The food is often more appealing to a picky toddler and meals for kids are served before the adult masses.

Consider ordering a meal for yourself that is anything other than the standard fare. The novelty meals are also served before the generic ones so you and your tots can eat in advance and avoid bumping elbows with hangry neighbours.

If you can select your seats in advance, position yourself near a toilet. Hopefully this will minimize accidents.

If you’re in favour of digital play, restrict your toddler’s time on devices prior to flying so it is a real treat on the plane.

Invest in some decent headphones. Amazon has loads of choices in this area, but look for ones that have a decibel limit, to minimize potential damage to little ears.

Download some new apps for the kiddos. May I suggest anything Curious George, Duck Duck Moose, Tiny Hands, and Kapu Forest? Endless ABC is a winner and Richard Scarry’s Busytown and Words that Go should keep things interesting.

If you’re considering medicating your toddler, which some people will do for exceptionally long flights, talk to your doctor or pediatrician about options. Try their recommendations in advance to make sure your child is not among the minority who get hyper, or have an allergic reaction. You don’t want either while flying.

Download some apps to keep you organized and informed. Think airport maps, real-time travel updates, and more. I found this collection helpful.

Prime your toddler for the plane ride. “This is going to be an adventure!” and “I need you to be mommy’s helper” are two favourites.

See if your airports have designated kids play areas. They’ll help get the busy beans out of your toddler and make the time pass quickly.

Do your homework and confirm the specifications for getting medicine through airport security. Some airports may require prescription labels on certain drugs.

Stock up on small treats to reward good behaviour on the plane.

Photocopy important documents (birth and marriage certificates, passports, and visas) to carry with you as you fly.

If you’re flying internationally without your partner, have them write a letter of consent to fly alone. See if there are any specific requirements for the country you’re preparing to visit.


Effective packing is both a science and an art. These tips ought to help.

Make a list of what you’ll need. Obviously. You are not stupid.

Retrieve it all and lay it out on a bed. Now cut your list by physically removing half your items from the bed. Seriously. You don’t need all that.

Enroll your child in packing his or her own carry-on bag. Dote on your child for being such a good helper and pray they enjoy the responsibility instead of shirking it.

Plan your on-flight outfit to include comfortable clothes that hide stains. Leggings, cardigans and scarves are invaluable. Gentlemen, I’ll leave it in your capable hands to choose what is best.

If you plan on tending to your toddlers whilst carrying a baby in a carrier, do yourself a favour and wear a moisture wicking tank top to minimize baptising your child in perspiration. This is my personal favourite. It can be washed in an airport sink and dried under an hand dryer. Here’s hoping you don’t have to.

If it’s a short trip, pack stingy and try to bring it all aboard the plan.

If it’s a long trip, check as much as possible and only bring what you can carry hands-free onto the plane. Backpacks, baby carriers and (empty) clip-on water bottles are very handy.

Pack a page containing contact details in every bag you plan on checking. Place it on top of all your belongings so it is immediately visible to anyone who finds your missing bag.


  • Wipes and tissues
  • Diapers & travel sized ointment
  • Ziplock bags for messy things
  • A least one change of clothes
  • Non-messy snacks
  • Drinks or chewable treats for take-off and landing
  • Empty no-spill cups and water bottles
  • The blankie or other treasured belonging
  • Toddler headphones
  • Tablet and charger
  • Minimal but effective activities (Sticker books, magnadoodle, etc.)
  • Energy bars
  • Important documents

Your mission is to avoid snags through planning so you can sail through with your sanity in tact.

Keep all liquids/toiletries in one bag or one compartment so you can pull everything out in one go. Abide by the rules. Don’t take chances.

Wear slip on shoes. Don’t wear jewelry or a belt.

If you’re traveling with your partner, define roles in advance. “You take the kids. I’ll get the electronics and food.” Take complete responsibility over your territory.

Keep technology together in one place. Make sure your devices are charged.


This is your time to shine. Here’s my advice.

Set up your “home” after you find your seats. Unpack important toys, snacks and activities so that everything is within reach.

Ask for help. More importantly, accept help.

Look for allies. These passengers are your people. Traveling parents, doting grandmothers and former nannies are the jackpot.

Be proactive about bathroom trips. Time your potty breaks accordingly to avoid accidents during takeoff and landing.

Consider giving treats on the hour. This can help older toddlers grasp the concept of time.

Keep your chin up. Ignore the haters. Shake it off.

Stay positive but expect chaos. Managing expectations is the key to staying sane.

Accept that free gin and tonic and don’t be afraid to ask for seconds.

Visualize arriving at your destination. Won’t it be glorious? You will get there, hopefully in a healthy state of mind.

Did I miss anything? Please leave a comment. A teacher never stops learning from his or her students. Good luck!

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