The No-Fail Plan for Avoiding Toddler Meltdowns When You Travel

A travel writer with a two-year-old shares her tips for having a drama-free flight.

As a travel writer, I’ve jumped out of an airplane in New Zealand, hiked up a desert mountain to watch the sunrise in Israel, and learned to surf in 55 degree water in San Diego—but none of these activities compare to the challenge of traveling with a toddler who doesn’t have the word “sit” in his vocabulary.

But traveling with my almost two-year-old son can also be a lot of fun, because he’s so curious about the world. And through trial and error, I’ve figured out the best way to avoid meltdowns when we fly.

1

Pre-Boarding? Forget About It.

toddler-plane-aisle
Photo by Emmanuel Aguirre/Getty Images

Do not get on the plane early with your toddler just because families are allowed to pre-board. That is actually the worst thing you can do! If possible, have your partner board first to set up everything you need while you let your child run and play in the terminal until he’s exhausted. Then board at the last minute. The less time he spends cooped up in a buckled seat, the better.

2

Bring Boxed Milk.

It doesn’t have to be refrigerated! If your child likes milk warm, the attendant can give you some warm water in an airsickness bag to stick the bottle in for heating up. If he prefers it cold, ask for ice to chill it.

3

Skip the Stroller in the Terminal.

Don’t let your child sit in the stroller while you’re walking through the airport. Instead, put your bags in the stroller and have your little one hold your hand and walk with you. The more he moves, the more likely he will sit or sleep on the plane, which is easier than dealing with a squirmy toddler.



4

Maximize Your Fun at the Airport.

Before you leave on your trip, take a few minutes to check out what there is to do or see at the airport. My little boy loves trains, so in the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport, we rode the train six minutes to the international terminal, where there was an interactive art exhibit. We spent a few minutes wandering through it and then rode back to our terminal. Other airports have museums, aquariums, or viewing decks where you can watch the planes take off and land. There might be an activity the whole family can enjoy more than sitting around the departure gate.

5

Plan In-flight Activities.

For every flight I buy an interactive toy and bring an art project. The key is to find lightweight items, so they don’t bog you down with more things to carry. Cupcake papers and pipe cleaners can be used to create paper flowers. I also love the Crayola Double Doodle which has a whiteboard on one side to draw on with crayons, and a gel surface for fingers on the other, and the Play-Doh Fun Factory.