Toddler Travel Tips: Surviving the Plane?

It’s just over a week until we (Immy, my Mum and I) jump on the plane for Singapore. I have travelled on planes with Immy before but not since she has become a real toddler – well and truly mobile and incredibly active, exceptionally curious and social, and occasionally, very temperamental!

So I have been searching the blogosphere for tips for toddler plane travel, hoping that those who have gone before me have both sound advice and inspirational wisdom to offer, preferably in the form of a ‘For Dummies’ manual that will see us both arrive at our destination fresh and refreshed, well fed and rested. A Mum can dream, can’t she?

The advice I’ve found can be described as some good, some questionable, and some, well, contradictory!


Unfortunately, we are not flying business or first class. Down the back in economy we will be, with Immy on my lap, which I am sure is a massive mistake given that she is now a 20 month old wriggle pot who doesn’t sit still for anything but Playschool. It is however, less than 5 hours to Singapore from Perth so I think we will manage (just!) We have requested the bulkhead row for more room to move around but I what I am really hoping for is a spare seat for Immy to sit on.

Flight times seem to be an important consideration when flying with children. When Immy was a baby she would fall asleep quite quickly on the plane and sleep most of the way from Sydney to Perth so I would usually book a flight that coincided with sleep time. This time, I am doubting it will be so simple as she is way too interested in what’s going on around her (read, total busybody!) We fly out late morning so I am counting on a bit of fidgeting and socialising, followed by lunch, a feed and a snooze, with time afterwards for some kids viewing (unless I am really lucky and she has a massive sleep).

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to boarding the plane. The first suggests boarding early so that the toddler has time to look around and get her bearings before being restrained for take off. The second advocates boarding last so that the toddler has the maximum amount of time to run around (read, exhaust herself) before being encased in a metal tube for hours. I am leaning towards the latter option with the possibility of sending Mum on first to get our carry on luggage stowed so that Immy and I can just board and sit straight down without mucking around with baggage.

Snacks and Meals

There seems to be a consensus that lots of snacks are a good thing and I have found a number of good suggestions. I am thinking of taking little containers of sultanas and cheerios (dry cereal), packets of Tiny Teddies and crackers with the cheesy dip, and some pre-cut fruit. I know small foods can be easily spilt (which is a bad thing) but I am thinking they take longer to eat (which is definitely a good thing). I may have to invest in one of those snack cups with the lid that the toddler pushes their hand through to try and circumvent the spilling problem. I am also thinking that less sugar, colouring and additives will be a good thing.

We have ordered a child’s meal for Immy and had the wonderful suggestion from @sunnyroadmum to, “Ask the hosties if they can bring her meal first so you have a chance to feed her before yours arrives.” I love this idea as I never get to eat on the plane when travelling with Immy, she is always in the way and the food is hot and messy when juggling a squirming toddler or sleeping bubba.

Keeping little hands busy

There are all sorts of suggestions for toys and activities to keep Immy busy during the flight.

Toddler Travel suggests;

Make sure to pack plenty of things to entertain your toddler, such as toys, books, and some comfort things such as a favorite blankie or stuffed animal.

You might also consider going to the store and letting your toddler pick out his/her own carry on bag and a few inexpensive toys that will be used only once on the plane. Be sure to pick out a few toys without your child seeing so that he/she has an extra surprise when he/she opens his/her carry on.

I am not sure about packing a child’s favourite comfort toy for the plane as I can only imagine the grief if it was left behind on the plane or lost. I think a favourite soft toy is a good idea but maybe not the irreplaceable, most favourite comforter.

I like the idea of letting Immy have her own little bag of goodies but am concerned that I will just end up carrying it! I love this little backpack which also includes a safety strap for Mum to hold to prevent toddlers wandering off in the airport. It also includes a chest strap so the toddler cannot remove it.

I will definitely be packing both a few new and a few familiar toys/activities though I found that the last time we flew, Immy was more interested in pulling everything out of the seat pockets, destroying the contents of the airline provided kids pack, and socialising with other passengers, than in anything that I had packed to entertain her.

I think we will go with some stickers and a notepad, a mini magna-doodle, one or two favourite books (including her family photo album) and whatever else I can find at the shops that is not noisy and does not contain little pieces that can be easily dropped or lost. I like the idea of this Quiet Play book which includes lots of interactive play pages but think its a little on the expensive side.

I am confused by suggestions I have read of playdough as a great on board activity? Immy makes heaps of mess with playdough! We’ll definitely be leaving ours at home.


Be sure to pack 2-3 changes of clothes for each of your children. You will need this in case they get sick, spill something on themselves, or in case your luggage gets lost. – Toddler Travel

And another great @sunnyroadmum suggestion;

Pack changes of clothes for you and the toddler. Prepare zip lock bags each with a nappy and a change of clothes so you can quickly grab them for a trip to the loo.

So I will definitely be taking multiple changes of clothes for Immy and at least a change of top for me (each packed into a separate zip lock bag), otherwise Mr Murphy is sure to dictate that we need them five minutes into the flight. I don’t fancy sitting in wet (or worse, smelly, vomit-stained) clothing for five hours.

I will be taking plenty of nappies and baby wipes, although I did have the idea of putting on a double layer of nappies (reducing the likelihood of leaking and/or odour penetration) to avoid the challenge of changing a struggling toddler on a change table the size of a playing card balanced precariously over a toilet in a tiny toilet cubicle.

The most bizarre tip I found;

When the girls were young, their bodies responded to what they ate, so we gave them a few slices of banana the day of the flight and it seemed to help reduce the number of dirty diapers.

I am all for reducing the likelihood of changing a poo-ey nappy on the plane but think we will just leave that one to fate.

And my favourite piece of travel advice;

“Wear spunky clothes and dark glasses so that other passengers think you are someone famous enjoying quality time with your kids.” – Flying With Kids

So, that will be me doing a Nicole Richie with super big dark glasses and accessory toddler on my hip, sauntering out of the plane, fresh as a daisy!

I wish!

What are your tips for plane travel with a toddler? Share by leaving a comment below.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who voted for Childhood 101 as Best Parenting Blog in the Nuffnang Asia Pacific Blog Awards. Voting has now closed. Winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony to be held in Singapore on October 23rd.

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  1. You could get REALLY lucky and find that Immy has inherited your habit of falling asleep before the plane has even left the ground.

  2. Thank you for this timely post. I have just bought our tickets to the UK in Feb when J will be a squirming 17 months and it will just be the two of us. I look forward to you after post to let us know what worked for you.

  3. Oh but you are famous ;)

  4. Belinda Butler says:

    Hi Christie,

    I used to travel a lot with my kids when they were toddlers, keeping them busy is definitely the key. Taking them for walks up and down the aisle takes up a bit of time and on the big planes, you can actually do laps. I always had some empty tic tac containers and plastic bottles to keep them busy. They love to open and close the lids and put things inside (like scrunched up bits of paper). Other great things to take are pens that click up and down and other small containers with lids that can be taken on and off (you can cut a hole in the lid to 'post' things into it too). I also used to make sure i would take ANYTHING the hostesses could give me for free!! My kids would spend a good 10 minutes putting the headphones into the socket and taking them out again. My best tip is that every second counts, so only give them one thing at a time and let them choose when they're finished with it. I found in the beginning, I would rush them along and try to move them onto the next thing. I soon learnt, if they want to play with a tic tac box for 20 minutes, that's 20 minutes I don't have to worry about!!
    I actually wrote an article about travelling with toddlers around a year ago that has never been published. I could forward it to you if you're interested.
    Hope you enjoy your trip and good luck in Singapore!
    Belinda x

  5. canuck_grad says:

    I travelled with my now 18 month old 2 months ago. About 20 minutes into the 2 1/2 hour flight he pooped. He is petrified of lying down on change tables so I had to change him standing up on it. Usually when I change him standing up I stand behind him, but he was nervous of the plane bathroom, and wouldn't remove his arms from around my neck, so I had to change him facing me, and he peed all over the front of my shirt. And I didn't have an extra one. It sucked. So I second the change of clothing for yourself.

    They really can't lay down on those change tables anyway though, so I think I'd go with pull-up type diapers – it's really hard to get a regular diaper centred and fastened properly when they are standing.

  6. DQ Mountain Girl says:

    I flew with my daughter when she was about that age, and her brother who was 3. our flight was a disaster. We flew from Denver to Minneapolis and I held Adi on my lap. As the plane was leaving the runway, my car-sickness prone son started throwing up (and with my daughter on my lap I had a hard time grabbing the puke bags). He threw up at least four times during the take off. Meanwhile, my daughter had stuck her finger up my nose, giving me an enormous bloody nose and I didn't have any tissues available (again, this was during take off) so I ended up having blood all over the place. It was horrible and I vowed to never fly again with my children. We are, however, flying to florida in February… I hope everything works better. This time I'm nervouse because one of the planes we are flying in has a two and two configuration. I'm trying to figure out how we can work that out for all three of us. phew. I hope the weather is good…

  7. We have a Quiet Book very similar to the one you linked to, and it is the BEST THING EVER on the plane. Only thing that will keep him occupied for any length of time. Some new and/or favourite books are good too.

  8. I cannot speak from experience here as we have not taken our two toddlers on a plane yet. I enjoyed reading all of the advice and tips you shared.

    Friends who have travelled have certainly emphasised that the key is to keep little ones busy, very busy. One of our friends makes up ziplock bags with different activities contained within each bag – crayons and paper in one ziplock bag; a lacing activity in another; a sticker activity in another, some books in another etc.

  9. My sister just came back from a trip with her toddler and infant daughters. And she mentioned that a real life-saver for her was anything that her daughter was not allowed to play with at home. So a little bag of twist-ties, for example, another of barrettes, and the hands-down winner: band-aids! She got a box of novelty bandages with her daughter's favorite character on them and pulled them out on the plane. Like the other things she chose, they're things my niece isn't usually allowed to play with, so she spent the entire flight opening them, taking them apart, and actually then sticking them to her shoes. I thought that was just brilliant!

  10. We traveled to Australia when my son was 16mo old and I did a lot of these things and it all went very well (forgot the change of clothes for myself and needed it- Aunt Flo came to visit!).

    We are doing the trip again this coming February and I will be keeping this post handy to refresh my memory as we pack. He will be 2.5 this time and his interests have changed. One thing I hope is that the in-flight entertainment will be more interesting to him this time.

  11. Sunny Road says:

    Glad you found the tips useful and hope it all goes smoothly for you. The other tips are great – I particularly like the suggestion to use nappy pants (toddler pullups) on the plane – in fact I would probably go so far as to say use these for the whole trip, because you're bound to find yourself in all sorts of places where its difficult to change a nappy lying down. I have a pack of these that I keep in the car for out and about changes (they are too expensive to use full time).

    You're probably right about the dangers of losing the most favourite soft toy – it depends on how much comfort it will provide to have it there. My girls both have a favourite teddy that goes everywhere important with them and I always stress about losing them, but we're pretty vigilant about always checking that we have them. That's why I think having lots of "semi-disposable" toys for the plane is a good idea – doesn't matter if they get left behind. Don't forget to save some for the return trip too!
    The zip-lock bags was a tip someone gave me before our last big trip and it was a lifesaver – B did an explosive poo requiring a full change of clothes in the airport before we even left!!!
    Also, definitely follow the advice to take everything the hosties offer in the way of games/activities and don't underestimate the novelty of the plane safety instructions or the inflight magazine – can keep them occupied for quiet a while!
    Can't wait to hear how it goes. :)

  12. Hi Christie,

    A big HI from Leonny, your fellow nominee in the Blog Awards :)

    I traveled to Perth earlier this year, when my son was about 2.5 years old. He's one wriggly kid and I thought by choosing a night flight (ie. reaching Perth at midnight) was a good idea so that the kid can 'fall asleep' on the plane. Which turned out to be a BAD idea! Because he's so excited about the trip and he refused (together with my 5yo daughter) to rest / sleep.

    When it comes to traveling with a toddler, I personally find these tips help (well, at least for my son's case :) :

    - let the kid sit on the 'floor'
    (my son couldn't really sit still, and the trip was like, 5 hours, to Perth) .. and so I let him play with his fave car toys, and he just chose wherever he'd like to sit …

    - pack some quick snacks (help with the ear pressure too esp. during take off and landing)

    - I think we let him watch a video from our phone (I can't quite remember now .. blaming it on my rusty memory). But anyway, if it's allowed on board, it'll help a lot in getting the kids engaged for quite a while

    Anyway, you probably know the above already :)

    Other than that … look fwd to meeting you next Friday at the Awards Nite! Hope the plane trip goes really smoothly !


  13. ickle kids says:

    Hi Christie,

    Great post! I have also flown loads with my two young boys. It's daunting at first … but like you said, planning is everything!

    I found it quite hard to find travel toys for my kids and that's why I started my own business! But here are some ideas to entertain your little one that you will already have at home:

    * simple things like small containers with little toys hidden inside. The lid will have to be easy for them to open and close. You can then hide other things inside (my little one loved – sugar sachets I picked up from the coffee shop at the airport! Luckily he didn't know what was inside and didn't put things in his mouth so … that was good! But they will love opening and closing the containers!

    * we also wrapped up little pressies/toys for them. We did this with their old toys they hadn't seen for ages! They loved it! Just the whole idea of a pressie makes their day! Spread them over the journey!

    * double up with bath toys. We brought toys on the plane that could also be used in their bath when we reached our destination.

    * balloons are a hit. We brought them and just blew them up when we were waiting in transit for hours! Kept them amused and us in one spot which was nice!!

    Hope these hints help! Let me know if you want more ideas. Email me if you like! I totally understand how daunting it is to fly with little ones.

  14. Christie - Childhood 101 says:

    Wow, you guys have so many great ideas. Thank you!

    Beef – let's hope so.

    Jots Mum – good luck, I will let you know how it goes!

    Fiona – thank you *blushing*

    Belinda – Have bought some tic tacs

    Canuck_grad – I am going to test drive the pull on nappies before we go

    DQ Mountain Girl – you poor thing! Hope the next trip runs smoothly. Definitely packing spare clothes for the plane (for both of us)

  15. MansTouch says:

    A well planned trip is an enjoyable and exciting adventure. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    The Truth About Paris

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