Let me preface this by saying that I’m in no way an expert on this topic, but I’ve just returned from my first solo trip with Enzo and I at least have some insight on what worked and what didn’t… I’m just going to share what worked. I should also say, toddlers are like little unhinged Sour Patch Kids and I’m only sharing in hopes that these tips actually help you on future travel… but I make no promises.
I normally start with number one but let’s shake it up and work backwards with number one being my TOP tip…
6. Schedule your flights in accordance with nap time
If your toddler still naps, schedule flights to be at nap time. This seems like a super pro tip BUT, depending on your kiddo, airport time with a tired kid can be a little rough… so see what makes the most sense for your family. E actually passed out during take-off on both flights which was amazing on flight 2 because he stayed asleep for a lot of the flight, but on flight 1 he woke up within 20 minutes of getting in the air… and that wasn’t my plan.
5. Pack surprise toys/activities
We talked a lot about the trip, what we would be bringing and what the airport experience with just the two of us would look like, and the toys/books I was putting in his backpack were a part of that discussion. But, I also packed a new little squish toy, a new (small) play pack to color that included stickers, plus an additional car toy he loves that he didn’t know we were bringing. E was thrilled when I told him in the airport that I had a surprise and even more excited for something unexpected to keep him busy… at least for a little while. I highly recommend bringing only small surprises especially so your toddler can carry them themselves.
4. Let them carry their own backpack… and march to the beat of their own drum
Having E carry his own backpack filled with his own snacks and water bottle and games and toys made him feel like he was involved in the process of us getting to California. We both had backpacks filled with things needed to get to our next destination and I kept reiterating we were on an “adventure together” and “thank-you so much for helping me by carrying your backpack.” That sense of responsibility was SO useful for this 2 year old. Additionally, it made him feel like a big boy when he got to walk through the airport at his own pace, looking at all the things, often holding hands, sometimes singing, and without me rushing him. Of course I made an effort to keep him out of people’s way, but at the end of the day, just letting him have some independence in the airport was extremely helpful.
3. Screen time on travel day doesn’t count
This tip is pretty self explanatory… but nonetheless, I cannot stress this enough. Screen time limits are great for regular days, but on travel days, do not make your life harder by enforcing screen time rules. Obviously there will be times where you suggest playing with a toy, reading a book, coloring, etc. on a travel day, but if a long car ride or a long security line or a long plane ride requires a screen for distraction and you can avoid a serious meltdown, just do it. I literally carried E’s iPad in my hand the entire time just in case… and I don’t regret it at all.
2. Bring snacks
Do not rely on airport food; bring the stuff you know your kid likes and ideally even a couple of “treats” that they aren’t expecting. E knew I had packed fruit bars, beef sticks, apple chips, etc. But, he wasn’t aware that I packed raisins (his all-time favorite) and these little sweetened crackers that he believes are cookies. When I pulled them out of his bag he was thrilled with the extras. We also needed the snacks in the airport and on the plane so having a variety is so helpful. And, do not bring snacks on one flight and then skip this step on the next… that would have surely resulted in a meltdown because E then expected lots of snacks to choose from on the way home.
1. Like all things in life, mindset matters (a lot)
Truly, this is the most important tip. Heading to California I was extremely anxious — which is not normally my vibe — even though I know how important mindset is… I fully believe that we can manifest less than ideal circumstances, but we can also put the right energy out there for favorable situations. That first flight and airport experience was subpar in comparison to the second flight. Believing that Enzo could step up to the plate, use his listening ears, enjoy an adventure with his mama, and that if something should go array I am a calm and patient mom who is more than capable of handling it even in an airport/plane was an essential shift in mentality and resulted in a 9/10 experience that was literally ALMOST a 10/10 except for E’s sudden shift in behavior after getting our bags from baggage claim… but alas, nothing I couldn’t handle!
I’m not jumping to travel solo with Enzo again while he’s this young, but I could probably commit in the next couple of months as long as I follow my tips above… there’s really something so cool about watching him “grow up” in front of my eyes and become my little adventure buddy.
I hope this helps you and your kid(s), and remember, if your little one totally loses their sh*t — or did the last time you traveled and you aren’t sure you can do it again — that’s okay too… all parents have been there at some point! Breathe in, breathe out, do it again…. and know this too shall pass. 🙂