Pre-Trip Prep for Flying with Toddlers

Is a vacation really a vacation if you have small children in tow?  The answer, of course, is not really, and we learned this firsthand on our recent jaunt to Colorado. Airline travel can range from a minor inconvenience to actually kind of fun when you’re by yourself or with a significant other.  With small children, it can be barely preferable to a colonoscopy.  You never want to be that family.  The one that while proceeding to the security line in the airport, people eye disapprovingly because they know that it will take that family a good thirty minutes to get through all those safety measures.  And they most certainly do not want to get mixed up in the pile of shoes, strollers and forbidden liquids that your brood will be scrutinized for—and re-checked until everyone is completely sure that the only threat that family presents is to other travelers’ peace.

Well, we are that family.  We have a chatty 4 year-old that has the vocal projection of an opera singer, a tender-hearted two-year old that tends towards tears, and a squirrel-y one-year old that is pacified in her quest for adventure only by snacks and nursing.

So I feel the burn of self-consciousness the minute we step in the airport.  In order to try and be less of a traveling circus, we have to be organized for our flying adventures.  I have a timeline that helps me do everything, and I do a little at a time so nothing gets forgotten and at least the packing part feels manageable.

We just took a 10-day trip (trip, not vacation) and as I prepped,  I took mental notes, hoping to share them with you to make your next experience that much better!

Getting Ready for the Trip Timeline

Before You Book:
As you plan your trip and buy tickets:  Consider, “Is it worth it to save a few dollars getting a flight with one or more connections?” I avoid itineraries that include stops if at all possible.  Don’t just think about the flight time, consider what time that would mean waking your kids up to get to the airport in time, what naps they’d miss, and what the time zone is where you will land.

2 weeks ahead Focus: Communication

-Communicate with a point person at your destination site.  Is there anything they can get for you so you don’t have to bring it along? What do they have on hand? Can they borrow a car seat? Do they have a pack and play? Would they be willing to pick up some kids snacks and diapers if you reimbursed them when you got there?  If it is family or friends you are going to see, this tends to be easier than if you are heading somewhere where you do not have personal connections.  Even so, many hotels have concierge services that may be able to help with some details, or at least confirm what they have available.

-Determine details about getting to the airport and other types of logistical questions that take a joint decision or may involve other people. (Car rental? Sleeping scenarios?)

1 Week Ahead Focus: Pack Clothing

-Determine a packing space.  This is key because it will be your “packing central.” I find it much easier to bring everything to one place rather than have different spots all over the house.  I usually choose our bedroom because I can shut the door and keep little investigators out of the piles.

-Pull together clothes for everyone into a “packing space” somewhere in the house.  Make a small pile for each person. Bring a pen and paper with you to make a list of things you still need to grab.  I try to bring half the number of outfits as the days we will be gone. So for our 10 day trip, I brought 5 or so outfits (plus the one they’re wearing during travel.)  Don’t forget to check the weather of destination to pack the right type of clothes.

-Set out one outfit for travel for each person, including shoes, in your packing space.

traveling outfits

-Try to pack light!  I did not want to deal with checking baggage, so on this particular trip, I challenged myself to the following:



How does one go about such nonsense? Well, since my children are pretty small, their clothes don’t take THAT much space.   I roll up each outfit and tuck them on top of each other.  I only bring one additional pair of shoes along for them.  For myself, it’s harder but I have been traveling light for years. First, I make a pile of everything I want to bring…then I keep cutting back until it fits. It helps to stick to a color scheme where everything matches, keep the outfits simple and accessorize with scarves and jewelry…and deliberate carefully over shoes…since they take the most room.

5 Days Ahead: Entertainment/Snacks

-Go to the dollar store and pick out a few new items to peek the kids’ interest during travel (flashcards, books, coloring books, slinkies, etc).  Remember that everything you bring will end up on the floor or the seat multiple times during the trip so stay away from toys with lots of small parts.

-Make your snack haul. Don’t be shy. Snacks can make or break the trip. Pull together all eating items you will need for the kids: cups, utensils, bottles, snack catchers (see link below).  I bring suckers, crackers, fruit squeezes, raisins, almonds, etc.  I like to keep my eating items simple so I am not carrying too much. A plastic spoon to feed baby food, one bottle and a quart size bag of formula, take and toss cups.


3 Days Ahead Focus: Toiletries and Accessories

-The step I dread most: assemble the toiletries. I make a toiletry bag for myself and one for all the kids. Since we try not to check luggage, I put everything into travel size containers.  I love the set by Nalgene and then I pretty them up with my label maker.


-In the kid’s toiletry bag I pack: toothpaste/toothbrushes, Desitin, Tylenol, Saline spray, Wet Ones, Hand Sanitizer, Hair clips/ties, brush, travel size baby shampoo, and nail clippers.

A Day Ahead: Details.

-Get any necessary last minute things at the store.

-Clean out the refrigerator.  Freeze what you can, toss or give away other food.

-Clean at least the bathrooms and kitchen.

-Finalize arrangements for mail/household chores-garbage, plants, pets

The Night Before Focus: Technology

Technology is essential when flying with little ones. Honestly, I don’t know how parents did it before!?

-Print your tickets. Note: if you have a lap baby, many airlines will still make you check in at the ticketing counter.  DON’T FORGET A BIRTH CERTIFICATE FOR THE LAP CHILD! I called an airline once and they said I did not need it, and when I got to the airport they said I did.  So now I always bring them.  When my children are born, I order several copies of their birth certificates so I don’t feel funny bringing an original along.

-Charge all technology and put in “packing space.”

-Put movies on your I-Pad/tablet/phone: In order to be able to watch a movie during the flight, you need to “download them” to your device prior to travel because you usually will not have Wi-Fi access on the plane.  Amazon and I-Tunes have digital movie rentals available and instructions for downloading them to devices.  Usually once you pay for a rental you have a 30 day window to use it and once you press play you have a 24-48 hour window to watch the entire movie as many times as  you’d like. I usually download 2 movies for a flight just in case. Note that it takes several hours to download a movie to a device so start at least the night before.

-Consider putting your kids to bed in their clothes if you have an early flight.

-Put any completed luggage pieces in the car.

-Put breakfast in a to-go bag in your packing space.


We try to minimize what we bring because the more you bring, the more you have to manage.  Here is the breakdown of what we brought on our last trip:

1. My suitcase with clothes for me and the kids.  It was tight but doable, probably because we only had summer clothing along.

2. My personal carry on with my wallet, toiletries, tickets, birth certificates and other personal items.

3. A large carry on bag with diaper bag contents + entertainment + snacks.


4. My husband’s suitcase.

5. A personal backpack for my 4-year old with snacks, books and toys.

6. My husband’s golf clubs (for my brother’s pre-wedding golf shindig).

No car seats, n0 strollers, no pack and plays. We had all that arranged on the other end.  We carried the baby through the airport in an Ergo carrier and the other two walked.  Even with what we had, it was hard to schlep it all through the airport and to fit in the rental car.  Further motivation to continue to travel as light as possible!

Getting Through Security: Notes about TSA
Security does not take away items necessary for small kids/babies as a general rule.  See the clip from their website below.

“Declare larger liquids. Medically required liquids, such as baby formula and food, breast milk and medications are allowed in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, you must tell the Transportation Security Officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the beginning of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subjected to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container.  We recommend, but do not require, that medication be labeled to facilitate the security process.”

More information can be found here:

What I have found is even though they will allow you to take juice boxes, milk etc, you will be subject to further screening. The current situation is you can opt for a full pat down for one of the adults in your party OR allow them to open one of the objects for testing…e.g. a juice box. But then it’s open and not helpful for the flight.  So either bring an extra, go for the pat down, or buy something after security.

Just Before Boarding:

-Last minute potty time/diaper changes.

-If applicable, fill up a baby bottle with hot water–>McDonald’s? Restroom? Depends on how picky you want to be about your hot water.  It’s nice to be able to time a bottle with take-off because having kids suck on something during take-off helps minimize ear pressure pain.  For older kids, I let them suck on a hard candy.

On the Plane:

-Wipe down trays and arm rests with Wet-Ones.

-Set out most needed items: Wet-Ones/wipes, the iPad, snacks and a bag for garbage. (You could bring a plastic one or use the throw-up bag on the airplane).

-Consider giving the kids Tylenol doses to prevent headaches/other discomforts that flying may present.

-Pace yourself based on the flight time.  Don’t give them all their snacks, the movie, and all the books at once. Try to gradually use your tricks throughout the flight.


The transporting of the all the stuff needed to care for kids (let alone myself) away from home base is one of the greatest challenges of traveling with small children.  Trying to keep what we bring to a minimum and packing with forethought helped us get through the airport and to our destination this time with only a couple glances of horrified pity and plenty of approving nods, which almost made up for the lack of sleep when we traveled to a different time zone.  But that…is a different post.









  1. Boy, that is organization – Grandma H. would be impressed!! ;)) Cute blog – you have so much energy!

    • You know I got a lot of Grandma H in me 🙂 You do too. I’m really looking to this creative outlet! Thanks for following!