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HELP! Travel with Baby 8-36 Months


HELP! I'm going to travel with my baby/toddler on a plane. What can I bring to keep him/her entertained? (i.e., to keep Junior from throwing a Category 5 tantrum on the plane and to prevent other adults on board from killing me).

Read on for a list of things to pack in your diaper bag: toys and gadgets you never would have thought could entertain your young ones, and tips and tricks to keep the plane ride as painless as possible. (These ideas could also work when trapped on a long car ride, during church, or anywhere else you are forced to keep Junior quiet for long periods).

My children, ages 5 and 2, are very well-traveled as far as plane trips go. Child #1 has been on over 30 flights and child #2 has traveled by plane 8 times (soon to be 10). I say this not to brag, but to gain your sympathy, empathy, to win awards and medals, perhaps even the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping whole plane-loads of people unaware that my child-bombs could have gone off at any time, turning a peaceful plane ride into utter chaos replete with heinous destruction and even death (mine). In other words, I, like many of you, am a veteran of the Mile-High Poop Club (you would think the pressure of flying so high or their anxiety with travel would somehow keep it all in, but alas, no luck). If you think changing a “rocket poop” diaper is bad when you're at home, try it in a plane lavatory, where there is barely enough room for one adult to stand (if you don't know what I mean by “rocket poop,” consider yourself very lucky).

This blog post is dedicated to ages 8 months - 36 months, because based on personal experience I've found that very little can be done while flying with a baby under 8 months, who can barely manipulate a toy, and over 36 months, when most children need nothing more than snacks, a new coloring book with special pens/stickers, and a DVD player with fun videos and a headphone set. Traveling with babies 8 - 36 months is definitely the most challenging of all ages, because there is little to no reasoning with them, attempts at communication are feeble at best (if they can even talk or understand you), and their attention span is shorter than that of a pygmy marmoset high on caffeine. If your baby will watch a portable DVD player, fantastic. If not, you'll need to prepare more.

Traveling with a baby on a plane is very stressful, especially when you are traveling alone or with more than one child. Don't fool yourself into believing that if you can stay relaxed and patient, the flight will go smoothly. Unless you're fortunate enough for your child to fall asleep (and don't count on it), you will likely be frazzled and sweaty the whole flight, inadequately filling the roles of clown and magician for Junior, pulling toys and snacks from out of thin air, and you'll likely never have more than 3 minutes straight to sit in your seat without moving around (especially if you have a lap baby).

Would you rather that I sugar-coat it? 'This will be a grand adventure in which hundreds of strangers will comment on how cute and well-behaved my little Petunia is.' WRONG! From the minute you and Miss Bubbles enter the general vicinity of your gate, people will start scowling and pray that they will not sit close to you. Some may pretend they think she is cute, but if she starts fussing, you'd better believe they wished Delta made a “Baby-Free” flight option. Ignore them. Ignore everyone who complains, or scowls, or tries to give you a tip on how to keep her from crying. Pretend you are deaf. Evaluate your emotions and how you feel about what the other mean adults are saying to you later. Focus on what you can do to keep baby happy (and quiet). I normally start gathering for the trip several weeks in advance. If this is your first time flying with Junior, you'll soon understand that there is no such thing as over-prepared.

Unless you're a an egocentric plebeian neanderthal (and I doubt you are, because you're reading this in a desperate attempt to prepare), then this will be your #1 GOAL: To bother the fewest number of people for the shortest time possible. To simplify: Keep the child quiet while you're on the plane.

What is it about being trapped on a plane with whiny, crying children that makes otherwise civilized, polite adults turn into a rabid, bloodthirsty mob willing to jump off the plane (sans parachute) or eat the baby before enduring one more minute of crying? Claustrophobia is not our friend. Children on planes bring new meaning to the phrase “cabin fever.” However, it is not your job to explain to everyone on the flight how Gerold is normally such a sweet baby, your reasons for conceiving, or why it is your right to travel. Psycho adults don't have ears. Don't worry about what other people say/think of you or your parenting, but for the freaking love, if you're not doing everything you can to keep your little prince from screaming his head off, I swear that I will come over and give you my two cents (but I'll probably give you a toy or something useful; other “single” adults will not be as kind). You can let baby do the whole “I'll let him cry it out” thing at home—but NOT on a plane.

I will now reveal to you my secret list of “keep my child quiet” things to pack in the diaper bag. If you don't have one already, get a big bag/purse/backpack dedicated solely to baby's needs on the plane.


Packing the Baby Bag:

Snacks: A whole travel day of junk food is a-ok! Try to start with relatively healthy/substantial foods and then feel free to quickly roll downhill to foods that have so little nutritional value they have no place in the food pyramid (e.g., fruit snacks do not count as fruit). Intersperse snacks with toys so baby doesn't get bored and full too fast. Try to get snack foods you don't normally buy so it will be more fun. Also, the way you present it can make it take a lot longer to eat (the longer they are happy, the better). *While you are going through airport security, put all of your child's liquids in a big ziplock bag (good in case they spill, too) and declare them for your baby and her “special diet.”

1. Cinnamon Raisin Bread (untoasted, so it crumbles less). Usually available in grocery stores, Sun Maid and Wonder brands are common.
2. Bagels, mini bagels
3. String cheese
4. Grapes
5. Raisins, Craisins, Yogurt Rasisns
6. Apple slices
7. Crackers (Colored Goldfish are fun, Cheese-its, Wheat Thins, pretzels, Graham Crackers)
8. Cookies (small colored Nilla Wafers are great for little hands, mini variety snack bags, unfrosted animal cookies for less mess)
9. Fruit snacks (try buying a “day of the week pill dispenser” case from a drug store or dollar store and put one fruit snack or cheerio in each box. Then Jr. will enjoy opening each lid to get out one rather than snarfing the whole bag all at once)
10. Cereal (Cheerio varieties, Life, Chex, Lucky Charms)
11. Bars (Nutrigrain Bars, Granola Bars, Rice Krispy Treats)
12. Trail Mix, Dried fruit (banana and apple chips, blueberries, apricots)
13. Mini muffins (some brands have individual snack packs)
14. Mini water bottle
15. Juice (in a sippy or Tummy Tickler juice with built-in t.v. Characters for sippy tops—yellow bottles, in most grocery store juice aisles)

Emergency Treats: Eat sparingly and use when crying is imminent. Toddlers will probably be fine eating a variety from 1-15 most of the day, but 1,500 calories on the following may make them “lose their cookies.” Most of these are minimal mess, as far as candy goes, though during the toddler years, my children tend to “drip-in-colors” with certain candy. Have wipes handy (especially for lollipops). If bribery works with your fussy toddler, make a treat rule (he can choose 2 jelly beans for every 10 min. he sits nicely).

16. Licorice
17. Jelly Beans
18. Sweet Tarts
19. Chocolate Chips
20. Mini colored marshmallows
21. Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms
22. Dum Dums (mini lollipops), Ring Pops
23. M&Ms, Mini M&Ms with entertaining pop-top, Skittles
24. Pez, with a Pez dispenser that your child likes (Elmo, a kitty, Santa)
25. Tic Tacs (be aware that allowing your child to shake the box will drive everyone nuts)

*Present the snacks in a special way so it takes a long time to eat them. Encourage a bit of “playing with your food.” You may want to bring a small play kitchen tea set or plastic set of mini cups, spoons, bowls, pretend spatula, etc. to make it entertaining. Set up a tea party for her stuffed animal friends or finger puppets and have them pretend to eat her snacks. Mix up raisins with cereal and do some “cooking.” Use fun containers: plastic Easter eggs, bottles with caps, colored Tupperware, etc.

Toys and Entertainment
The following items are not necessarily all toys and many of them are not approved for under 3-years-old, but since you will be watching your baby's every move on flight, and because my first rule of flying is: “Break All of Your House Rules,” I go with the flow and do what works. What can you possibly bring that will keep Petunia occupied for the whole flight? Answer: things she has not seen before and/or items she normally is not allowed to play with. Consider wrapping each new toy like a present. It is fun and takes longer to unwrap each one.

Coloring and Creation. Recommendation: Bring a smock that will cover Jr's entire lap, so there is no chance of ruining his clothes. If you don't have a smock, you can always use a trash bag (the white draw-string 13-gallon kitchen size is white trash jokes, please). Simply cut head and arm holes. He may look ridiculous, but no one on the plane is going to see or care, especially if he's quiet.

1. Crayola Color Wonder markers/coloring book (the coolest coloring creation of this generation. The markers are invisible and ONLY make colors on the special chemical-treated paper).
2. Small white board and low-odor dry erase markers (my daughter goes nuts with these and rarely gets to use them, because I have to be right there to be sure she doesn't ruin her clothes).
3. Pens and highlighters.
4. Special new coloring books or notebooks.
5. A Real Book (If Jr likes to color in real books, let him have his chance. Go to the dollar store and buy a real paperback book and let him color away).
6. Twist-up Crayola crayons/pencils.
7. Small chalkboard. I bought a folder-sized white board that has a chalkboard on the back. It is also magnetic.
8. Stickers.
9. Magnets (on your chalkboard), Magnet character kits, dress-up magnet kits.
10. Colorforms (I don't see these around much these days. They sell stickers a lot that are "reusable," but they always rip).
11. Play Foam (It is like play dough, but is made-up of tiny squishy beads. It never dries-out and it doesn't stick to things).
12. Glow Doodle board (Use the light wand to draw pictures on the board).
13. Magna Doodle.
14. Stamps, colored stamp pads (So messy, we rarely do this at home, but with a big smock on an airplane and an adult holding the stamp pad, it works wonders).
15. Felt/Flannel kits with animals/scenes.
16. AquaDoodle (Only uses water to “paint” pictures. Some Aqua Doodle-like books reveal color when painted with the water brush).
17. Playdough.
18. Big plastic connecting beads for toddlers.
19. A pack of colored post-it notes (some kids like to take them all apart, others like to color on them).
20. Shoelace cards (where they practice lacing through holes in the cards).
21. Pin art (One of those plastic boxes that is covered in non-pointy pins that you can push your hand or face into to make an impression. My son at 1 year old thought this was amazing. We found a medium travel size. You can use magnets to pull pins up and down too.).
22. If your child is about 2 ½, she may be able to use plastic child scissors with your close supervision. Kids love to cut up paper and make a royal mess. At this age, my daughter requested I cut out paper people while she decapitated them.
23. Finger puppets.

Non-Toy Toys Junior May Love

1. A small case of colored paper clips (they can pick them up with magnets, connect them together).
2. Slot boxes (my kids love to put things inside other things so I find fun little boxes and containers for them. Kids also love slot boxes so they can repeat the slot action again and again until a container is filled. If you can't find a container, consider buying a plastic index card organizing box, and cut a slot in the top with a utility knife or a mini hand saw.).
3. Items to put in slot boxes or containers: plastic coins (see dollar store/party favor aisle), tickets, paper clips, a deck of cards, colored fuzzy pom pom craft balls.
4. Squinkies (A newer toy that has hundreds of different tiny plastic characters and animals that fit into their own plastic ball. You can buy small sets of these.).
5. Mom's Make-up Bag (My kids love to see all of the cool make-up things I have, so I will make them their own “sundry” bag. I buy them a zip-up travel make-up bag and fill it with Q-tips, cotton balls, new make-up brushes of different sizes, application sponges, a real chapstick, a compact mirror or one of the mirror/hair brush pop-out combinations, and anything else that is not messy and I can find or have an extra of.).
6. Lip Gloss (if your child likes real make-up, put the smock on and give her a new pack of sparkly chapsticks or lip glosses to put on. Have a mirror for her to see how beautiful she looks.).
7. Travel-sized Floss (he can pull it and pull it, and once it's all out, you can wind it back up again).
8. Classic Sponge Curlers (A favorite baby toy in my house. You can snap them open, pull the curler off the stick, then put it back on the stick, or just pull them all off and chew on them. If your child likes to pull things apart and put them back together, this is the perfect toy).
9. Small key chain flashlight (so it won't bother other passengers).
10. A calculator.
11. A magazine (to flip, rip, crumple, color on).
12. Scotch tape (Give Jr. pieces to play with or tape little paper characters around his seat or on the window).
13. Popsicle sticks (new, from craft stores).
14. Pipe cleaners (different colors, bend them, put beads on them, create animals, hammers, guns).
15. Mom's Wallet (My babies are always after my wallet, so I gave them my old wallet and have it filled with old credit cards, old health insurance cards, baseball cards with Disney characters, pretend money, and those fake credit cards they send you in the mail. Consider also putting a picture of Jr. in the plastic sleeve for a license).
16. Mom's Keys (Are you noticing a theme here? Kids know that those dorky plastic baby keys are NOT real). Many hardware stores that make duplicate keys have a huge box of mess-up keys. You can see if they'll let you grab a handful for free (they probably will, and be sure Petunia is dressed-up to show the gruff worker how cute she is). Put the keys on a key chain and hook on all of those old chunky key chains you'll never use.
17. Old portable tape player. Do you have an old tape player? Consider letting Jr. possibly ruin it by bringing it on the trip. He'll have fun pushing the buttons and if he'll keep the headphones on long enough, he can hear the tape playing when he pushes the play button. He'll have a blast learning how to eject the tape.
18. Old film camera. Do you still have your old film camera? You know you're never going to use it again. Bring it and have batteries in so the flash will really work. On mine, you push the button and then scroll the film wheel. It has an open and close lens to slide and a lever for opening the back to play with the inside. No film needed for fun play!
19. Battery-operated tea candles. Better than a flashlight, because these are so dim no one will know they are on. Pop one or two in your “Mom's make-up bag.”
20. Mini scroll-up button measuring tape. This is a super small-sized measuring tape that is plastic, not metal that can cut fingers (Can you sense we've had a bloody mess in the past with a metal measuring tape? Not fun, and toddlers never keep their Band-aids on, even with massive strips of masking tape covering their whole finger). Fun to pull out and push the button to retract.

1. A small photo album with pictures of family and friends (newly printed pics for the flight).
2. Toy cell phone or your old cell phone that doesn't work.
3. Lift-a-flap board books.
4. Mr. Potato Head.
5. Enough diapers and wipes for 24 hours (emergencies and layovers).
6. Your survival kit: food (trail mix, beef jerky, protein bars, water), entertainment: a book (if you actually think you will have time to read, ha!). Media player and headphones (audio books are great, music).
7. Your sundry bag: (Don't let Jr. have this one—embarrassing) Period products (I don't care if it's not that time, do it just in case), headache medicine (trust me), travel stain-remover pen, chapstick/lipstick, travel sunscreen stick, hand lotion, Band-aids, infant Tylenol, bobby pins, safety pins (these have been a life-saver dozens of times), hair tye, brush.
8. A change of clothes for you and baby
9. Jackets and a light blanket for baby (useful to cover baby's eyes/head ,with an opening for nose, if he falls asleep)
10. At least 2 of his favorite security items: security blankets, stuffed toys, pacifiers (with clips so you don't lose them), bottles
11. Travel-size Benadryl (if you decide to go this route). They make them in single dose packages that come in a bulk box. It's nice because it is a squirt spoon for no measuring and no mess. The dose is 5ml.
12. Digital thermometer (with instructions and/or what is a dangerous temperature level for your baby's age)
13. Hand sanitizer, wipes for cleaning
14. A bib and/or smock
15. Nose syringe (if your baby has a cold)
16. Tissues
17. A few grocery sacks (dirty clothes, burping rags)

There is no way you're going to bring all of this, so pick and choose as you will. If you are prepared, traveling should be a good workout for you, exciting play-time for Junior, and hopefully nothing more.

If you have more ideas or tips, please post a comment so we can all benefit from your experience.

Best of luck!



Anonymous said...

this is probly the most helpful thing i've seen out there on traveling with 2's and 3's. Tkx--i'll be using this on my holiday travels this yr!

Mandy said...

I wish I had found this list a year ago! My son and I fly all the time solo to visit family, and goingon a plane ride is always so stressful. Thanks for some really fun ideas!!!

Angie said...

Hilarious. I think I will excise my ovaries now. :)

Marcy Roeder said...

Ahh the memories this brings back... Flying across the country, just me and my three kids. Reminds me why it's so nice to just be a three hour drive away from our families! :-)

Anonymous said...

Three other things I found indispensable at this time...prescription ear drops to numb the eardrum. Kurt spent some residency time at the North Orange County Clinic (the one closest to Disneyland). They actually call this Disneyland Ear. Child flies in, has a great time, one day later is shrieking in pain. It takes a while for the ears to readjust and the numbing medicine helps for that transition. Second, unreconstituted antibiotic. If your doctor will prescribe, you can keep this for a while. When you travel, just take it with you and if your child is really sick you can add water and start the medicine while you are trying to get an appointment with the local doctor. The third thing (easier to get) is the little tiny wind up toys that walk or roll short distances. They are extremely cute and will usually stay on an airplane tray-table. Oh, one other thing. Those tables and the little flippers that hold them up don't get sanitized very often and they are guaranteed to be touched by everyone. Do yourself a favor and use your wipes or hand sanitizer on them and on the light buttons and air vents.

Anonymous said...

This is all great!! I always appreciate traveling tips for kids as we do it alot. One thing I want to say, though, is it is not a good idea to let a child play with those battery operated tea lights. I have a friend of mine whose son swallowed one of those lithium batteries (the ones that look like money, quarters) and he's been in and out of the hospital for almost a year. Most people don't know this about those batteries, but they will burn a hole through your child's esophagus.

Thanks again!

ACTRESS said...

Oh yikes! My tea lights have to be opened with a screw driver to get the battery out. Yes, be sure your child can't swallow anything dangerous before giving it to him or her to play with. Thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law flew on a 20 HOUR plane ride to China with her 2 and 4 year olds. She individually wrapped each of their toys in gift wrap and they got to open one every hour like they were getting presents.

Sister Mac said...

You're an amazing mother, too?
Your lists look like the lists of a mother of 5.
One more thing, I always begged the Lord to give me the patience necessary and help my children sit as still as possible.
And lastly, sometimes kids just have a hard time on flights and if they make some noise, it's not the end of the world. And realize there are a lot more mothers on the flight who are feeling your pain than you realize. Pray you sit next to them.

Noah's Story said...

omgeee...Thank you for this! I have traveled by plane, car, and ship with my four year old and he is so easy going I have never had to really prepare BUT I didn't get as lucky with my second who is 15 months old. He is wild and full of energy and we are traveling for a college graduation to California...a 6-7 hour flight!! I am tempted to pay off the people near us with $100 bills...too bad we are too broke! LOL I am four weeks away from this trip and I am already sweating with anxiety! Not to mention My husband has yet to learn patience with our little one. This is sooo informative and filled with ideas...I am tempted to do every single one!! Thank you!!

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