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I recently took a trip to Portland, Oregon, to see my sister get married. We had a great time, but boy, travelling with a toddler is quite a challenge. Cricket was almost 19 months old. Our trip up was great. She did really well on both flights. I mean, we were tired, but it was pretty much as good as it could possibly be. On the trip back, however, she was very sleep deprived and basically screamed most of the way home.
Flying with a toddler is tricky because unlike babies, they aren't content to simply be held and fed. They want to be up and moving and get bored quickly. They don't like to be told what to do, and they are upset by strangers and strange environments. At least, that's how mine is. Yours maybe isn't like that.
I was very nervous about flying such a long distance with Cricket, and spend a lot of time scouring the Internet, Pinterest (here and here), and my friends, for anything that would help. Some of it worked, and some didn't. Based on this trip, I'm compiled a bunch of tips that might help someone else. This is going to be a three-part series, starting with arguably the most important aspect: Entertaining your Toddler.
1) Gel Window Clings
I got this idea from this blog. I'm not saying this was the best $4 we spent on the whole trip. I'm just saying it felt like it.
These little things were worth their weight in platinum. Definitely use the gel clings instead of the plastic static clings, because they are easier for tiny fingers to put on the window. Cricket played with these for at least half an hour or more each time. The problem is, they are only really useful if you have a window seat, which we had on only 2/4 planes.
Also, heads up: these things look like the Jello Jigglers you always wished you could make. Even my third grade students used to complain that they look delicious and they wanted to eat them, so don't be surprised when your toddler pops one in her mouth all of a sudden. I can't really blame her.
I got a doll for Cricket at a consignment sale for $3, so if it got lost or damaged on the trip, it was no big deal. I waited to give it to her once we were through security at the first airport, and it became her constant companion. It ended up being great for a lot of reasons. Of course, having some kind of security while traveling when things are constantly changing was great for her, but there was another aspect I didn't think of beforehand.
Having the doll was a tiny bit of responsibility for Cricket, and it really helped her focus. When I needed to pick her up or strap her in, I would tell her to grab her baby or hold onto baby in the stroller, and that gave her a job to do. She loves being "helpful," so having that task kept her occupied for a few minutes while I did whatever needed to be done.
Cricket loves books, so it's no surprise that books were a great source of entertainment. I brought a couple of her favorite board books and a couple of new ones she had never seen. I also brought a fabric activity book that I found in a consignment sale. It was a little more bulky, but it ended up keeping her attention for a good half hour, so I consider that worth the space!
I got a HUGE sticker book at Aldi for $4.99, and it was great. All the pictures and stickers were actual photographs, and the stickers were reusable, so they weren't terribly sticky, and Cricket could re-position them at will. I also brought just a roll of stickers left over from my classroom. You can never have too many stickers.
5) Color Wonder
Bonus to the Color Wonder kit: on the first flight, Cricket spent more time putting the markers in and out of their little slots in the case than she did actually coloring. Hey, whatever makes her happy.
6) Small Electronic Toys
I'm not usually big on electronic light-up, talking toys, but for the trip, it was nice to have one or two. I borrowed a V-tech phone toy from a friend
7) iPad (Maybe)
I went back and forth about using an iPad (or similar device) to show Cricket an episode or two of Sesame Street. We haven't let her watch TV yet, and I really didn't want to start. However, the first flight back was one huge disaster of overtired screaming, so I decided that for the final flight, it would be ok. This ended up being a bigger deal than I thought, because the in-flight WiFi didn't support Netflix or other streaming programs, so we had to download an episode from iTunes in the airport before our last flight. That involved paying $5 for airport WiFi and then waiting 40 minutes for one episode to download on their super slow network just in time to board the plane. So if you are even thinking about doing this, download whatever you want to watch before your trip!
She watched about 30 minutes of it before she got bored, but it did help. I wasn't too happy about it, but sometimes you do what you have to do to just get through the day.
The iPad was also nice for showing her pictures from the trip on the way back, which she loved. That calmed her down after one pretty rough tantrum.
8) Airport Kids Areas
This of course is not something you can bring with you, but it is something you should know about. A lot of airports have kids' play areas in them. Some are small and some are big, but to a toddler, everything new is exciting and it might help you kill some time if you have a long layover. Cricket loved the little play area in the Birmingham Airport. It was made out of this shiny foam stuff that was really soft, so if they fell, they didn't get hurt. The Chicago O'Hare Airport has a fantastic children's play area/museum that we got to see, but Cricket was passed out in her stroller at that point, so she didn't get to try it out.
Check online to see which airports you are going through have a play area, and make a note about what terminal they are in. Here is a list of some of the big ones. Sometimes they aren't worth the long trek from Concourse A to Concourse C, but if you're lucky, they might be nearby!
Other things to Try:
1) Magnet Boards
I have these cool magnet boards from my classroom that I brought, but Cricket really never got into them. I think she's just not quite old enough to play with them. She looked at the pictures for a minute, but it was basically just a short book for her, and she lost interest quickly. Not worth carrying around at this age. Maybe if she were a little older, so it might work for someone else.
2) Silly Putty/Play Dough
I didn't even try this because Cricket is famous for not really being into that kind of sticky texture stuff, but I have read several blogs that say this is awesome. If your child likes that stuff, they will probably be highly entertained by it on the plane.
3) Bean Bag Ball
I brought one with me and never got around to pulling it out. The idea was that it wouldn't roll like a normal ball, but she could still play with it some. I read that one toddler spend a good while just putting one in and out of a (clean) vomit bag on the plane. Whatever works!
Everyone knows you have like, one square foot of real estate per person on a plane, and inevitably, stuff is going to fall on the floor. It is a huge pain to try to double over with a toddler in your lap and get stuff, so bring a few long lengths of ribbon to tie to whatever toy is being played with. Tie the other end to your seatbelt and then whenever the toy falls, you can just reel it back up with the ribbon! Also, make sure you have pacifier clips.
I'm not a super germaphobe, but when something gets dropped on the airplane bathroom floor, you're gonna want to wipe that off. Wipes are also handy for a million other things, as any mom knows: wiping sticky fingers after suckers, cleaning tray tables after applesauce explosions, etc.
I cannot tell you how helpful it was to have a stroller. Let's face it: This is a lot of stuff. Plus of course, you have all kinds of other necessities you are schlepping around. The stroller is great to plop your toddler into while you walk/run to your gate, and it's also great to carry some of your gear.
Just bring a cheap umbrella stroller, so it's light and easy to fold up, and if you lose it, it's not the end of the world. Make sure you put a luggage tag on it beforehand so you aren't trying to do that at the gate in the middle of everything else, 'cause you will have to gate check it.
I will add one more thing: hide these things as much as you can until you get on the plane. The novelty of new toys and books does wonders for holding attention. I even had one friend who individually wrapped all the toys so there was the added entertainment of unwrapping them!
So that's my advice for entertaining your little one while you fly. Check out Part 2 for ideas on the food situation and Part 3 for basic survival tips.