Flying with Kids: Spend a Little to Stay Sane

flying with baby

Any parent who has been faced with the prospect of flying with kids knows that feeling of fear. Flying with toddlers, in particular, is especially frightful.

It’s all exciting when you book your tickets- travel, yay!

As the trip approaches, it hits you. You wake up in a cold sweat, having mini-panic attacks at the thought of being confined in a small space with an unpredictable little ball of energy.

Don’t get me wrong- I love my kids, but that doesn’t mean that I ever love the idea of being trapped in a metal tube with them, and hundreds of strangers, for hours on end.

My first solo trip with my daughter was overseas. It was 2 flights, with a layover, and clocked in at about 17 hours total. 17 hours of solo air travel with a tot. It was as exhausting as it sounds, and I’m pretty sure that I have the grey hairs to prove it!

But, other than that, we made it through relatively unscathed. I also picked up a few ideas about how to make the next flights with her more pleasant. We’ve flown many times since then, and these tips have worked like a charm. Here are some of my favorite tips to use when flying with kids:

Shiny New Toys

Attention passengers, this is Captain Obvious speaking: Pick up some cheap, new toys and bring them out once you’re on the flight. Think dollar store stuff. Go for small items that fit easily into your carry on, and things that you don’t care about losing.

Pro-tip: Avoid toys with a lot of parts, because those pieces will inevitably end up under your seat or in the aisle, and you’ll get tired of having to ask people to hand them back to you. They will also get tired of handing them back to you.


Those dollar bins are your best friend when it comes to finding activities. I love those little “Play Packs” that contain a mini coloring book, 4 crayons, and some stickers. I see them all over, but they always seem to have them at Target. Keep your kid busy with coloring, stickers, stencils, etc. Keep these things hidden away in your bag, because you always want to have a surprise to pull out.

Cheap Puzzles/Puzzle Pieces

I have to thank the wise flight attendant who gave me this idea. On one of our flights, an attendant handed us an Lufthansa themed board puzzle. It seemed a bit age inappropriate at the time, and I’ll admit, I thought it was going to be a dud with my tot.

Clearly that woman knew her stuff, because the puzzle kept my 1 year old daughter entertained for so long! She would take the pieces and drop them back into their bag, one by one, then take each one out again.

There’s no guarantees that you’ll get one of these for free on your flight, but you can buy a cheap cardboard puzzle from the Dollar Tree and bring a baggie along. Easy!

Snacks & Candy

Make a pre-flight trip to the store to stock up on your little one’s favorite snacks. If you’re a parent who reserves candy only for the specialist of special occasions, this is a special occasion.

Don’t feel guilty- your munchkin can eat healthy tomorrow. This is about survival, people!

Now of course, if your kid gets all wired on colored candies, rethink your options. A little chocolate bribery can go a long way. Use your best judgement.

Favorite Shows/Games/Apps

Now is not the time to limit screen time. Charge up that tablet and queue up the videos and games!

For my second overseas flight with my toddler, I decided to download one of her favorite shows from iTunes. It cost about $10 total for a bunch of episodes, and it was well worth it. You want to save this for when you need to pull out the big guns, when your kid is restless and you’ve exhausted all other options. I would wait until the last 2-3 hours before using up precious battery power on the devices.

Yeah, I hate paying to download cartoons too, but just do it. Take it from me, a mom who’s survived many overseas flights. It’s so worth it!

Bottom Line? Do yourself and your fellow passengers a favor, and making flying with kids as easy as possible. Spend a little money to stay sane. I know this isn’t Earth shattering advice that I’m sharing with you, but these little things can truly spell the difference between a miserable few hours and a Plane Parent of the Year award. Trust me, I know!

flying with kids

Have you flown with little ones? Let’s commiserate in the comments section!

16 comments on “Flying with Kids: Spend a Little to Stay Sane

  • Erin @ Journey to Saving , Direct link to comment

    Oh wow, I can’t imagine taking a 17 hour flight period, let alone with a toddler! I’m sure I was annoying to travel with when i was a kid…I vaguely remember asking my parents “are we there yet?” repeatedly, as if five minutes was going to change everything. Maybe that’s why we didn’t take many vacations =). These all seem like great tips, though!

    • Lauren , Direct link to comment

      The good news is that it isn’t as bad as I had imagined beforehand. My daughter does the “are we there yet?” thing on roadtrips, though!

  • Tennille , Direct link to comment

    You are a much braver woman than I am. I have 2 boys ages 2 and 4 and I can’t imagine taking either one of them on an air plain. Especially on a 17 hour trip with a layover.

    • Lauren , Direct link to comment

      I was dreading it the first time, but it wasn’t that bad after all. Just so exhausting trying to keep us both comfortable and happy for all those hours.

  • MillionDollarNinja , Direct link to comment

    You have to make everything in your power to keep toddlers entertained and bringing toys and activities on the plane are a great way to do this.

  • Natalie @ Budget and the Bees , Direct link to comment

    I was months old on my first flight. My mom’s two brothers were on the same flight, but sitting in a different area of the plane. When I started crying my uncles thought it would be funny to harass my mom by yelling, “Hey lady! Can you shut that kid up?” My mom, who didn’t find it funny at all, walked me to where they were sitting and left me in their care. Apparently I quieted down, and the flight attendants fawned over the good looking men with a baby. I’m not sure if the moral of the story is to fly with other family members or not.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde , Direct link to comment

    When my son was 2, we traveled with him to my sister’s graduation and we knew it would be a challenge to keep him in a seat, so we invested in a series of Elmo DVDs (this was before iPads), and it was the greatest investment I have made in my life, and I know my fellow passengers appreciated it as well. Flying is tough for kids, especially toddlers and I think that we need to try to do the best we can for their mental health and ours.

    • Lauren , Direct link to comment

      I agree- you really can’t expect a little one to understand why they can’t get up and run around for hours on end. It’s up to us to keep them occupied and as happy as possible.

  • Brandy @ Busted Budget , Direct link to comment

    Great tips! I like the idea of bringing activities. I feel like this is one that many new parents might miss.

  • Kirsten , Direct link to comment

    I cannot imagine a flight that long with a toddler. I did a three hour trip when we moved (up and back for interview and then again for the move) and it was miserable. If course, she was under two, so I also held her to save money. But I did download brand new shows for her to watch on my iPad and that kept her entertained. My biggest problem turned out being on the aisle and trying to keep her asleep while I got up and down for the other two lovely people to go use the restroom more than once. Seriously.

  • Kara , Direct link to comment

    These are all really great tips, especially the one about bringing along toys you wouldn’t mind losing. We’ve also purchased a season of Mickey Mouse Club to have on our iPad. It’s been a lifesaver and definitely worth the money!

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