So You Want to Go on a Vacation: Tips for Flying with a 2-Year-Old

Every parent knows that there's nothing more relaxing than a family vacation. 

Sorry, I can't say that with a straight face. 

It's incredibly worth it to take kids on trips (I promise—I'll let Abbie convince you), but we all know it's definitely more work than staying home. That's why you'll find about five million or so similar posts to this on the internet. I've been strapped into cramped airplane seats for six plus hours at a time with a toddler, so I thought I may as well throw my two cents in with the rest.

Tips for Flying with a 2-year-old: bring puffy stickers so they're easy to remove but entertain for hours!

This week, we're jetting our way across the Pacific toward Hawaii (I'm tying myself in knots waiting for that tropical air!) and I'm getting us prepared for our many hours in the air. Here's what's in my bag as well as some tips. Since my daughter will be a couple weeks away from turning two when we board the plane, these tips are specific for two-year-olds—but are certainly maleable for younger and older kids.

1. Bring Cheap *New* Toys and Snacks

Before every long trip, I hit up the local dollar store and the dollar spot at Target. It's amazing how far a novel toy will go, even if it's cheap and ugly. This time, I picked up some new matchbox cars, light-up finger clips, and some new tiny board books to read. I also pack a few snacks—just a promise of the right snack food can stave off a tantrum. Make sure you repackage everything in resealable bags. Even a lot of individually packaged snacks aren't resealable, and there's nothing worse than crackers all over your bag (or your seat). Here are my favorite snack ideas. 

Flying with a 2-year-old: snack ideas
  1. Dried fruit: Fairly healthy and mess-free.
  2. Crackers: Again, these are mostly mess-free and a kid favorite.
  3. Rare treats: I'm definitey planning on pulling out a few less-than-healthy snacks if/when we're entering meltdown territory. 

2. Keep it Easy with Activities

It's tempting to buy every activity kit and Frozen-themed sticker book before boarding a flight, but a lot of these are more work than they're worth when you're in the air. For a car ride, they're great. But when you're avoiding the stink-eye from a grouchy flight attendant already, the last thing you want to be doing is frantically attacking pink marker scribbles on your tray table with baby wipes. My favorite low-key plane activities for this age are easy and portable. 

Flying with a 2-year-old: bring along window clings for easy entertainment!
  • Puffy stickersEmphasis on the puffy. What I've found is that large-sized puffy stickers don't adhere as well, making them reusable and easy to remove. They're also way easier to clean up than tiny traditional stickers. Charlie spent a good hour finding new places for her puffy stickers on a flight from Philadelphia to San Fransisco. 
  • Window clings: Target dollar spot, you get me every time. Jason grabbed some seasonal window clings before one of our flights last year, and they were a major hit. Again, they're easy to clean up, and you can toss them on your way off the flight if they're torn or fuzzy. 
  • Small coloring books: It's a pain lugging the regular-sized coloring books on flights, so I always hit the dollar store for tiny notebooks and pack one or two crayons. At Charlie's age, she only scribbles for a bit and then asks me to draw cats and dogs, so anything bigger is just a waste of valuable carry-on space. 
  • iPad: Charlie first discovered the wonders of the iPad on a long flight when she was one and a half. Download some new toddler games and a few favorite movies. If your kiddo will wear them, pack some headphones. Charlie thinks headphones are meant to suck her brains out so that convenience isn't an option for us (we endure the sidelong glances from nearby passengers anyway). 
Tips for flighting with a 2-year-old: individually pack snacks so they're resealable.

3. Go Small or Stay Home 

I've made the mistake of packing too in my carry-on much before, and I won't again. On a flight from Denver to Philly, my wallet was stolen right out of my overstuffed diaper bag—which I'm sure wasn't a hard feat to accomplish since it was about to fall out anyway. When in doubt, leave it behind (unless it's baby wipes—always bring more baby wipes). 

4. Make Your Toddler Portable

This time around, we're lugging two babies—although one is in utero—and I want my toddler as portable as possible. That's why I'm still going to grab the Ergo carrier and bring the stroller through security. The stroller doubles as the handiest luggage carrier ever and the Ergo is fantastic for when a jetlagged toddler needs extra cuddles. 

5. Don't Forget Mom & Dad 

Because I'm always trying to pack light, I often completely forget an important person on our flights: you know, me. In the few minutes or hours that Charlie naps on a flight, I always end up staring out the window or awkwardly trying to wedge my neck into a comfortable sleeping position. It's that or catching up on the riveting material in the latest edition of SkyMall. Don't forget to pack yourself something to read, enjoy, or relax with. Since I'm big on keeping that bag light, I like to give myself digital content on my phone—then it takes up zero extra space. My favorite light-packing diversions include: 

  • Podcasts: Ahhh, podcasts. My parenting getaway. I'm planning an upcoming post to share my go-to podcasts, but in the meantime, let me say: if you haven't jumped on the podcast bandwagon as a parent, you're missing out. Here's why: podcasts are entirely portable, easy to listen to while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or changing diapers, and can fit any mood, taste, or preference. Want to laugh? There's a podcast (or a thousand) for that. Want to learn something? There are even more podcasts for that. Want to cry? Want to relate to other parents, writers, blogger, runners, Christians, lovers of food? You can do all of that with podcasts. Download a few hours worth of podcasts on your phone, pack your headphones and enjoy. 
  • eBooks: I purchase Kindle books on sale and download them to my phone using the Kindle app—then they're always available for reading on the go. Admittedly, the tiny screen isn't optimal for long reading, but it's a good way to pack books along without taking up space. 
  • Magazines: I never get to read my magazines at home, so taking them on a flight is a good way to catch up. They're easy to pack and you can toss them when you're done. 

There, you're ready for a relaxing, nothing-could-possible-go-wrong flight! 

Sorry, I couldn't say that with a straight face either. Good luck, fellow parents!

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