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Flying with a toddler: what to take on the plane

We travel the world FULL-TIME with a 2 year-old. Here's our plane packing list for him and our (extensive) list of recommendations for flying with a toddler. We hope it helps. 🙂

By Grace Koelma | Dare List Mama

Before we set off on our global adventure, there was nothing that struck terror into my heart quite like the prospect of getting on a plane with a toddler. Think I'm over-exaggerating?

By boarding a plane with a toddler you are voluntarily allowing the cabin crew to lock you and that tiny ball of energy with a short attention span, limited communication skills and pre-developed emotional regulation inside a pressurised steel cabin, hurtling at 900 km/h, 50,000 feet above the ground. For 6 hours. On your lap (goodbye personal space!!!) And there's nowhere to run or hide. 

​I tell you this, not to scare you off flying with a toddler, but to emphasise how important it is to PREPARE, PREPARE (and yes) PREPARE, before you get on that flight. I packed, sorted, weighed, and re-packed. Maybe we took too much on that first flight, but I can tell you right now that you will be kicking yourself at 50,000 feet if you only brought one lousy book.

What we took in Leo's carry-on bag

1. Books! Lots of them.

We pick Leo's favourite books, the ones he goes for time and time again, and all small enough to fit inside his little backpack. 

  • Busy Airport is an obvious one for plane travel, it's a pop up, pull tab board book that Leo loves. (Thanks Aunty Laura!)
  • The mini board books 'Aircraft' and 'Emergency' came as a set of 9, with 7 other plane, train and automobile themes, from our local post office of all places! We love them because they fit inside a small purse or handbag, or Daddy's back pocket.
  • Leo's family and friends is a little photo book I created with Blurb, filled with photos of Leo's favourite people. It's one of his favourite books, and helps pass the time as we slowly go through and identify everyone by name.
  • I absolutely love Play School's book series, their images are so aesthetic and link perfectly with the songs and characters in the TV show, so this Alphabet book (or their colours or numbers version) appears often on our flights. 

2. The iPad, pre-charged and loaded with TV shows and games

We aren't a screen-focused family in terms of entertainment. After working online the last thing Eric and I want to do is watch more Netflix (except when it involves Designated Survivor or Jane the Virgin, but I digress!) Leo watches maybe 30 minutes of TV a day, if that. But we make an exception on travel days.

Hint: Make sure you bring a portable charger for the iPad as well, in case you're delayed in the airport or during the flight. 

3. Felt finger puppets

This great little set of finger puppets that was gifted to Leo before we set off (Aunty Laura strikes again!) These are perfect for Leo's age right now (22 months), as he's just starting to enjoy his toys coming to life and 'talking' to him.

He only has one stuffed toy that we brought with us (Eric's threadbare toy bear as a baby - bless!) and his favourite thing at bedtime is to talk to 'Rah-Rah', who nods and whispers questions, and waves and kisses him. We can't fit Rah-Rah in the plane bag, but this little sheep, elephant and monkey do a great 'Rah-Rah' impression 10,000 feet above the ground. 😉

4. Small handheld toys (cars, spinning tops)

I have a small drawstring calico bag which I fill with a whole bunch of small and cheap toys. Matchbox cars (we travel with a total collection of about 7 including a helicopter and a model aeroplane), twisty blocks and spinning tops. The idea is that if they get dropped along the way, it's not a huge issue (however we have tried buying the cheapest brand of matchbox car and they break in about 60 seconds, so we try to just take good care of our Hot Wheels Match Box cars now).

5. Mini Play Doh tubs

Great for keeping little hands busy and the pull down tray table is the perfect height. Hunt around for the smallest tubs you can find (they often come as part of the Play Doh Travel Packs.)  Obviously, you're flying with a toddler, so proceed with caution if you have a thrower!

6. Plastic coloured beads on a long shoelace

This is just a simple game I made using dollar-store beads and a shoelace. It's great for toddlers because they can practise their fine-motor skills and hand eye coordination. Just make sure they don't shake the beads out all over the plane!

7. Animal flashcards

Flashcards are a variation on a picture book, but somehow seem to be novel enough to recapture Leo's attention even hours into a flight. I love these animal cards from Two Little Ducklings because they have the animal picture, name and noise, and make an easy prompt for the 'what animal is this?' game. Also, try singing 'Old McDonald had a Farm' and using these as the animals. 

8. Small battery operated toys

I have no idea where my mum got these little beetles (check the dollar store!), but they are a great little distraction. They are one-time battery operated and have a pretty good battery life. They have a little switch on the back and when switched on they run in circles. Pretty cute, and great on flights if you can keep them within the edges of your tray table.

A few other things (not pictured):

  • A small pad of paper and pencils. If you don't have their favourite toy you can always draw it! (We can't bring Leo's aeroplane on the flight because the wing-tips are too sharp and it wouldn't make it through customs, so we just draw him pictures of planes... and rockets... and trains...)
  • Stickers! We brought a sticker book as well as a small pad of stickers from the dollar store. They didn't last long (hence why they're not in the photos) but you can purchase stickers virtually anywhere in the world. 
  • Volume-limiting headphones. Leo is still a bit young for these, and hates wearing them on his head, but a set like these are great.
  • Sometimes the best toys are the things they'll find on the aeroplane - buckles, moveable seat arms, and plastic cups and straws.
  • A couple of balloons are a cheap, simple distraction. You can blow the up in the airport and pop them before you board the plane.
  • Bubbles are great for airport waits, if you can get them in a container 100mL or smaller.

What are your must-have items to bring for flying with a toddler on a plane?

Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

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