Surviving travel with a toddler

family pic





My husband and I recently took a trip to visit family in California with our 18 month old. We had never taken him on a plane and were now facing two 6 hour flights with him. Needless to say I was nervous at how we were going to make it through. I did the one thing I know how to do best : research and prepare. Below are all the things I did to prepare , what I bought , what worked , and what I would do again! I hope you find this helpful if you are attempting travel with a little one.

Plane Prep

Here are some tips and things I did to prepare for such a long flight. Below are our particular set of stats so you can compare to your own.

Our trip stats :

Flight length : 6 hours

Child : 18 months

Lap seat : yes ( it was going to cost us $500 to buy him a seat , so we opted to do lap child to save money )

Luggage : we checked a car seat , gate checked a stroller , and checked one suitcase for all of us for an 8 day trip. We also brought two back packs on the flight.

Things I learned for the flight

We flew American and every airline is going to be a bit different but here are things I learned.

1.) if you have a lap child you must call to have them added to your ticket even when buying online

2.) You can gate check a stroller for free ( or check one ) + free check a car seat. We did both of these. I highly recommend gate checking a stroller so that if you have a layover or just will be in the airport for hours waiting before your flights , that you can wrangle your toddler to stay in one spot while you get stuff done.

3.) you can request to board before everyone else if you have a lap child. This is very helpful and I also recommend! helps you get settled and have them Hooked on entertainment prior to take off.

Things we bought for the plane / our trip in general

1.) toys to entertain Arlen ( I’ll post links and pictures later in this post )

2.) document carrier / wallet : We were carrying our passports/ID, Arlen’s birth certificate and our plane tickets. I knew with all the kiddo stuff I was toting that I was likely to lose my wallet in the bottom of a backpack and wanted easy access to everything for our trip. So I went to handy dandy Amazon to find a wallet that could hold it all. I am so glad I purchased this! Worth every penny and I’ve even continued to use it as my every day wallet since we got back. Comes in  a lot of colors and really well made. Check it out here on Amazon.

travel wallet

3.) Travel stroller : After researching about checking a stroller on American Airlines, I saw they had a weight limit of 20 lbs. Our stroller weighs 24 lbs — soooo I knew if I wanted a stroller to bring with us, I’d have to purchase a lighter one. After researching for hours and hours, I landed on the Summer 3D infant lite. It only weighs 13 lbs , easy to fold up, reclines well for naps, and was only $80 on amazon. It had great reviews, so I finally pulled the trigger and am so glad I did! I will continue to use this for going to the mall or outings where I don’t want to lug our heavier stroller. Win! Check it out here on Amazon.

travel stroller

4.) car seat carrier : After learning that car rental shops don’t really keep a lot of car seats around and some don’t offer them at all, we decided to bring ours since the airport allows you to check them for free. However, Arlen’s car seat weighs a TON, and we didn’t see how we could lug all our luggage, back packs, and Arlen around in an airport without some help. I took to researching and found a lot of different ways to pack your car set. I decided to purchase a backpack carrier for our car seat. This had great reviews, would allow us to be hands free, and would protect our car seat from being thrown around by the airport attendants (lots of stories online about car seats being damaged.) This one is padded as well! Well worth the investment. Check it out here on Amazon. 

car seat carrier

5.) Packing cubes for suit case : Since we decided to only check one suitcase for the week for all three of us, we knew we had to be strategic in our packing. We decided we could always do laundry while we were there and save ourselves some serious money from checking more bags. Plus, less to carry! Enter : packing cubes. I got the ones I used from Ikea – they are worth it for the $$. But there are tons online! The ones I used are only $10 for the set of 6. Check them out here on ikea’s website. 

packing cubes

Toys we bought for the plane

1.) peg toy game : We purchased this on amazon and it was Arlen’s favorite! Highly recommend for a great plane toy. Doesn’t make a lot of noise, light, easy to use on a back seat tray. Click here to check it out!

peg toy

2.) Sticker books : Anything will do! I found some great options on Amazon for reasonable prices.

3.) Melissa and Doug water wow books : These are perfect for Travel! Arlen loved playing with the water tool more than anything 🙂 Can be found here on Amazon!

water wow

4.) Crayola invisible ink coloring books: Another great plane option. Packs light, no mess. Arlen wasn’t very interested but I think he may have been more interested if I got truck themed ones! Here is the one I bought on Amazon!

invisible ink

5.) magnetic farm game : Also another great buy for Amazon. Arlen wasn’t too keen on this one even though I thought he would be! I’m thinking if it made sound or lit up he would have loved it. But obviously I needed quiet toys for the plane! I still recommend it for travel. It was light weight, easy to pack, and easy to play with. Might be better suited for 3-5 years old. Check it out here on Amazon!

farm tin


6.) Toddler head phone : these are wonderful head phones especially if you have an extra tiny tot like us. Highly recommend especially for the price! I should have trained Arlen to wear them before our trip. He wouldn’t wear them! So needless to say, they went unused. :/  Click here to check them out on Amazon!

toddler headphones

7.) Connect plus plus blocks : We purchased these for Arlen while we were in California for the trip back. After realizing he was really only interested in our peg board, we knew we needed another toy that he could build with. These are wonderful, quiet, kept him busy and can be used a dozen ways! Check them out here on Amazon.

plus plus blocks

Also brought : iPad which we already owned

All of these items I saw over and over again for toddlers on blogs. I still think they are great recommendations – however – the only toy Arlen was really interested in was the peg toy ( which he loved) , his movies on the iPad , and the plus plus blocks we bought in California on the way back.

I think after thinking about it all – I assumed new toys Arlen had never played with would be exciting and fun. But i kind of ignored the fact that my son really only loved two things in this world : trucks + blocks. I should have focused on the things he already loves. Maybe if I got coloring books that were trucks or a huge car sticker book, he would have been more engaged. So i recommend bringing toys they already love or stick with a theme you know they love.

Things I looked for in a hotel

1.) a hotel with suites – we wanted a second room so we could put Arlen to bed early and for him to take naps in. We were SO glad we did this. Worth it completely and we didn’t spend more $$ on the room either.

2.) Call and ask about pack n play and crib availability. Arlen only sleeps well in cribs. Our hotel wouldn’t let us reserve a crib but i could call the day of and ask for one. There was one available and again this was so helpful for us!

A note on rental cars

We searched for all different rental companies and all gave us the same answer : you can request a car seat but we can’t guarantee one will be here. Not helpful. So we decided to bring our own! also read some stories on the car seats being in bad condition at many places. So as annoying as it is , I recommend bringing one. Upside is all airlines allow you to check one for free!


I hope this information is helpful to you if you’re planning to fly with a toddler. Remember to breathe, plan, and pack lots of snacks when all else fails 🙂


This page contains affiliate links to Amazon. I put a lot of thought and energy into these posts so that they will be most helpful to anyone who reads them. By using my links to purchase you help support my family and the work I do here. If you are able to use my links, I am incredibly grateful!


xoxo Kelly

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