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One of our goals with the I'm A Good Little Traveler!™ Series is to change peoples' perceptions about traveling with children - particularly by airplane - since much of the press is so negative. If parents are prepared, and don't miss the step of preparing the children as well, travel with little ones can - and should - be an absolute joy.

We know that Children - even very young children! - have the capacity to understand what to expect, what is expected of them, and the ability to play an active role in the journey itself.

We are committed to changing the discussion of traveling families from '"How do parents prepare for (the trouble of) flying with young children?" to "How Can We Prepare Our Toddlers To Travel?"

There are many web sites and books out there with family travel tips and ideas for parents, and we don't want to reinvent the wheel. So ... here are our top four tips for flying with toddlers and young children that aren't usually on the short list, plus links to the best checklists and resources we've found on the web:

Tip 1: Prepare children for air travel and Involve them in the trip.

You spend time researching your vacation, scouring the Internet for ideas. If during this time your child hasn't any idea what's ahead except the destination, it should be no surprise that he or she can become overwhelmed by the journey. "Grandma's House" or "Hawaii" or "Disney World" or "a fun airplane ride" are good reasons to get excited for travel, but not enough to make the trip itself fun.

Most children have meltdowns on planes for one of two reasons, if not a combination of both:

(1) They are confused and scared as a result of being unfamiliar with airport/airplane environments - or -
(2) They are ill equipped for air travel: not allowed to move around before being expected to sit for hours in a confined space, given sugar snacks or juice to 'calm' them (?!!), not having distracting quiet toys/books/activities to entertain them

  • If possible, Take your child to the airport on a day you're not flying and show her what the people are doing: standing in lines, going through security (the loud metal doorway and the requirement that my toddler walk through it alone was terrifying to her until she did it once), etc.

  • Buy the Shae by Air DVD Toolkit™ or one of the few books/media available that SHOW children what goes on at the airport. Give them something to relate to.

Following are recommended articles - each emphasizing the need to involve children in preparation for the trip:

There are only a few preparatory products to choose from. Among them are:

Packing and Pre-Trip Considerations.
The following checklists are our favorites:

Tools to Prepare Toddlers for Air Travel
Toddler Travel Toys and Games
Parent Travel Guides
Travel Gifts for Toddlers
Children's Travel Stories
Family Travelogues

Tip 2: Dress For Success.

As small a consideration as it may seem, attire actually plays a big role in the whole flying adventure. Honor the journey, weight it with preparation, excitement and then dress for the occasion. That's not to say be fancy, but is to say: Match. Layer. Wear clean clothes that aren't ugly t-shirts. It's unconventional common sense advice,not commonly found on family travel websites, (which often focus on the comfort of the clothing) but from personal experience I can tell you that dressing yourself and your children in matching, comfortable, nice clothes (and by nice, I just mean lacking stains or holes) results in at least two positive results:
  1. Your fellow passengers' first impression of you, as with a job interview, is that you respect them, and the journey, and that you are not taking the experience lightly. People are far more apt to be patient and less likely to presume that your kiddos will be a detriment to their flight if the family looks respectable; and

  2. Your children will have visceral, tangible evidence that traveling by air is something special. When they are not dressed as if they it's just another day at daycare or preschool, and you are not dressed like the family is making a quick run to the supermarket, it sets a positive, exciting tone. This is an airplane trip! Whether it's the first or the 500th it is still thrilling. Shae has been on countless planes now, and every time it's exciting - for both of us - and we dress for the journey.

Tip 3: Arrive with Enough Time To Keep Busy Before the Flight.

Since most likely your family will experience long lines at check-in and security, requiring patience and stillness from your toddler,
anticipate your child's need to move! If possible, let your child walk to the gate. Allow children to move around while waiting in the terminal. Take a walk and check out the terminal displays/posters. Have a look out the windows at the airplanes, fool around at the kiddie corner if the airport has one, play games.

Making a child sit in a stroller while waiting for the flight is the worst idea of all. It is impractical to expect a child to sit, sit, sit for hours on end without wanting - needing - to move around. Plus, exploring the airport and terminal waiting area before the flight gives you new and different things to discuss with your child. After boarding, but before the plane takes off, when he must, once again, sit still and wait patiently for the remainder of the passengers to get settled you can ask: "Can you still see that yellow plane from where we're sitting? Do you think the airport we land at will have a shop that sells t-shirts also?"

More ideas for At the Airport and Before/Between Plane Flights with Infants & Toddlers:

Tip 4: Pack Adventure-worthy Snacks and Distractions.

No sugar snacks! It is an unfortunate truth that individual-sized processed snacks are easiest to find, and generally well-packaged for travel, but they are almost always full of sugar and excess salt - and rarely a good idea. Rather than fruit snacks or lollipops, pack carrots, goldfish, raisins, peanut butter crackers.

(Side note: Some parents swear by lollipops or hard candies, since they take so long to suck, and are therefore good time occupiers as well as useful rewards for good behavior ... the downsides of course being that your child is now fueled with sugar and very likely a fidgety, sticky mess. If you choose this option, pack extra wipes!!)

Our favorites? Grapes are easy to pack, fun to eat, and will rehydrate as well as satisfy snack urges. Before our last trip, the night before we put together veggie snack bags of carrots, snap peas and crunchy cucumber slices and fruit bags with grapes, chilling them overnight. In the morning we put the bags in a lunch bag-sized soft cooler pack. Even midday after two layovers, the snacks were refreshing and hydrating. Luckily we'd more than we needed because we were asked and able to share with other kiddos on the flights!

More Healthy Snack Ideas for the Plane, the Car ... en route to anywhere:
As for travel distractions, experience has taught us to bring only items that:
  1. have few (or no) extra pieces that aren't securely attached to the game (or you will spend the majority of your time fishing things off the dirty airplane floor);

  2. pack easily and don't take much room and

  3. will hold attention and be reusable (at least for the flight home!).
Where to find such quality products? A good sampling of toddler travel toys & games and links to reputable vendors with even wider selections can be found in the Good Little Traveler Shop and via the trusted vendors below:

Despite the overwhelming amount of information out there for parents wanting to travel with children, most of it is counterproductive.

We are always on the lookout for articles, sites, products, books that recognize that children - even toddlers! - have the capacity to understand what to expect, what is expected of them, and to play an active role in the journey itself. is chock full of tips and tricks for flying with toddlers, parent guides and family travelogues, gear and gadgets (for kiddos and parents), travel toys & games for toddlers on the plane, travel stories for kiddos (toddler, preschool, kindergarten) and gifts to encourage little adventurers.
Tools to Prepare Toddlers To Fly
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