Hi friends! As we were prepping for little lady’s third flight I did a lot of research on traveling with toddlers. I knew that this trip would be a lot different (read: harder) than our flights when she wasn’t mobile or really interested in moving. I’ve rounded up all our planning tips and the gear we bought for traveling with kids and specifically to survive traveling with toddlers. Check out the end of this post to skip to the entertainment section.
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The fear is real
First things first. Traveling with toddlers isn’t for the faint of heart. Since we’ve started traveling with a tiny human the number bags and time needed to get anywhere has doubled – maybe tripled. (To be fair a lot of the bags are travel related – stroller/car seat, etc. — but still). When she was a baby I was terrified she’d just scream the entire flight. Once she became a toddler I dreamed for weeks of all the horrific tantrums that could happen in such a confined space. I didn’t used to be a nervous traveler, but after having a baby, I definitely got a healthy dose of travel anxiety. That being said, I do everything I can to prepare ahead of time. And after all that worrying – we had a great trip to Florida! Here is what we travel with to make our trips as easy as possible.
Travel gear to get you there
- Suitcases (only two for three people)
- Carseat & Carseat Travel Bag
- Umbrella Stroller
- Backpack (carry on)
- Diaper Bag (carry on)
The suitcases & gear
We still need two suitcases. I haven’t figured out how to pack for three people for a week in one suitcase. At least those big items are checked as soon as we get to the airport. The biggest additions to our packing list are definitely the car seat and stroller. We prefer to have a car seat with us so we’re confident on what we’re getting, and the installation. You can rent one with your rental car for ~$50 per week, but I’m always worried we won’t know how to install it safely.
The winning car seat
This is our THIRD travel car seat, and we finally found a winner. The two major criteria for us were that the car seat was lightweight and that it could be installed rear-facing without movement. We also weren’t looking to splurge on a third seat that would likely be under the plane, so the price was also a factor.
The great thing about the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat is that it is a convertible car seat (fits children up to 40 lbs.) and securely fits rear facing while weighing only 9 pounds. My husband carried the car seat on his back and it was lighter than our carry on backpack! We also had no trouble installing it securely which was obviously our first concern. It was easier to tighten the straps once C was in the car seat than our Chicco Nextfit and Britax Marathon, which made for an incredibly easy experience.
And… more about our car seat struggle
We tried a different Evenflo version previously and couldn’t get it to stop wiggling. We also tried the Cosco Scenera Next, and while the price and weight were definitely right, we couldn’t get it secure enough either. This was probably user error as it is rated incredibly high, but we weren’t willing to risk it. Another huge bonus is that we could fit it the car seat carrier we bought when she was in an infant car seat. We chose this carrier because it was padded and a lot of reviewers on Amazon even fully checked it under the plane. We gate checked our Chicco Keyfit 30 infant car seat twice and never had any issues. This carrier also fit the convertible car seat easily.
If you choose to bring on your heavier convertible car seat, another option is this wheeled carrier. I wouldn’t recommend the backpack carrier because it would be incredibly bulky (and HEAVY). A bonus is that you can even pull your child through the airport using the wheeled carriers!
The travel stroller
Our last must have is an umbrella stroller that is lighter weight than our everyday stroller and is much easier to travel with. It also isn’t as expensive as your typical stroller, which is great since strollers always have to go under the plane. Even though they’re gate checked, there’s always room for something to break. I recommend taking off the cup holder and any other attachments before handing it off at the plane. Finally, we bring a backpack as well as something that functions as a diaper bag so that you have one with you during the trip.
What to bring on board
We bring two bags on board with us, one for us and one for the baby. In the carry on bag we bring our computer/iPad/chargers, etc. and anything else you’ll need that you don’t want to check in your luggage. We also pack an extra change of clothes for everyone. Trust me on this, if your little one has an accident, gets airsick, or spills, it probably won’t just be on them. Having the extra clothes on hand is worth giving up a little space in your backpack.
Diaper bag must-haves:
In the diaper bag we make sure to pack the following:
- Diapers (two more than you think you’ll need)
- Changing pad
- Antibacterial wipes for wiping the tray table and hand rests
- Plastic bags
- 360 cup (or any sippy that won’t leak if you press the spout)
- Small toys and books
- Entertainment pack
As I was prepping I read another blog that mentioned using a baby carrier if your little one will sleep strapped to you on the plane, and we considered it but ended up not packing one because we didn’t think she’d fall asleep that way anymore. Although she might not have slept in it on the plane, after all the walking and carrying a toddler through multiple miles of shopping on our vacation – I don’t think it would have been a bad idea to pack for a hip or backpack carry option.
Entertainment pack & busy bags
Ok – here’s where the fun comes in. The diaper bag and travel gear are a given, but it’s the entertainment pack that will be what saves you from a full-fledged meltdown when you’re sitting for an extra hour on the tarmac. We used a trifold case to fit all of our busy bags this past trip. If you’re wondering what the heck a busy bag is – it’s a low mess activity you can pull out to entertain your toddler while you cook, clean, or are traveling in the car or on an airplane!
I got some great ideas from other bloggers, so if you’d like to read more, check out:
Our Busy Bags
We made our own busy bags the week before we left by rounding up some key items at the dollar store. I’ve linked them below for reference but don’t buy a case online, you only need one of each!
- Wooden blocks
- Quiet blocks (a.k.a. sponges)
- Foam stickers in a plastic pill container
- Pom Poms & a cardboard roll
Little lady loved stacking the wooden blocks and taking them in and out of the bag, and has strangely become a huge fan of “quiet blocks” which are just cut up sponges you can stack. I cut two sponges into four pieces each so she could stack and squeeze a handful. I also got some small foam stickers and a plastic pill container because she LOVES popping things open and closing them. The pom poms are really quiet and can be dropped into a toilet paper or paper towel roll for extra fun.
Other fun activities to beat boredom
I’d also recommend some of the Crayola color wonder books and markers because they don’t show up unless you’re using the special paper and markers. Or, get some triangle crayons so they don’t roll off the tray table. We didn’t bring these this trip because I didn’t want little lady to color all over her great grandmother’s house, but she loves these types of activities and I think they’d be a great addition to the travel kit.
The trifold pack I got takes up a lot of room so I may look for another one, or find a better way to keep the entertainment contained for next time. However, if you get the right one, it’s endless entertainment in one zipped pack! For ~$10 you can get multiple items to make an entertainment pack that will keep your little one engaged and hopefully tantrum free.
I’m sure we’ll have a ton of other challenges as we continue traveling, but I hope these products and ideas help you out as you prep for your next trip! By prepping and packing ahead of time, you can prepare with your car seat, stroller, and important travel items. Bringing busy bags may just save your sanity if traveling with toddlers. Good luck on your next adventure.
See below for links to my travel shopping list:
(For traveling with an infant only up to 30″)