I think most parents would agree that toddlers are inherently free range creatures, who do best in the wide open spaces of parks or playgroups. (Though a church basement crowded with small plastic furniture, dolls with matted hair, and some rickety trains might not seem wide open to you, to a toddler it’s a vast expanse. Perspective.) I know that it takes Bingo, at least, all of three hours and a rainy afternoon to get distinctly squirrelly. Coop her up for a full day and you will suffer full out toddler wrath. Given this common knowledge, I think that we can accept an airplane as one of the worst places to bring a small child. A chinaware store would be better. Or a silent meditation retreat. Or a judgmental in-law’s living room. Really, anywhere.
Even knowing this, a few weeks ago we boarded a transatlantic flight. One week ago, we did it again. In total, we spent more than 16 hours on an airplane and another 8 + in transit. Our journey included trains, planes, buses and cars. Now that all of our jetlag has passed, I feel equipped to offer some notes and tips on travelling with toddler.
Thought 1: There’s no point trying to pack enough diapers/outfits for the entire trip. Whatever the number that you calculate to be necessary, even if you multiply that number by five, you will need one more. Case in point: Bingo, who usually goes through one outfit per day, managed to burn through three outfits by the time we made it to our gate. She boarded the plane wearing a diaper and my hoodie.
Thought 2: Though you won’t be able to pack enough outfits, you might as well try to pack enough snacks. Minimally messy foods that don’t require cutlery, ideally. I’m not speaking to the need for sustenance here, but the need for bribery. For us that meant packing approximately 100 tiny boxes of raisins and two bags of cheddar crackers. Not the most health giving snacks, granted, but the trip was short enough that scurvy was unlikely to set in before we landed.
Thought 3: Plan pint-sized activities. No matter how wonderful your child is, s/he will not sit, enraptured, looking at the clouds out a plate-sized window for more than ten minutes. In fact, s/he will not do anything for more than ten minutes. There are 480 minutes in that eight hour flight—organize accordingly. Luckily, Sea is both crafty and Pinterest-savvy, which meant that she came prepared with 10 different activity bags (pencil cases from the dollar store), each containing their own treasures. Activities included colouring on a whiteboard with markers, playing with toy cars, sticking together and pulling apart popsicle sticks with Velcro on them, pushing pipe cleaners through holes in a piece of cardboard, and a million stickers. There is a reason babies are allotted their own carry-on. This is it.
Thought 4: Pray that your child sleeps. (We were lucky enough to score an overnight on our way there. Granted, it meant that I spent eight hours sitting awake, uncomfortably pinned under 25 sweaty pounds of toddler, but nobody else suffered.) If your travel involves a time change (ours did), you can almost guarantee that this will be the last time your child sleeps for the next five days.
Thought 5: Even the most dedicated “screen free” parent will cave at some point. In our case, that point was before the plane even took off.
Thought 6: Don’t worry about the people around you. Even if the person sitting next to you is this lady, who apparently thinks that children shouldn’t be allowed to fly. Yes, toddlers are inconvenient travelling companions. Having about five inches of legroom and eating overcooked pasta is also inconvenient. It’s also a part of travel. Not one person on that plane had paid for a private jet. I mean, I did feel a little bad for Mister Business-Casual sitting in front of us, who had ended up in a section of the plane with a very high baby/adult ratio. Bingo opened and closed her tray table once every seven seconds. The one year old sitting next to him splattered yogurt across his neatly creased pants. The three month old two rows back wailed, refusing to nap. I stood hovering over his shoulder, having sacrificed my own seat to Bingo. Mister Business-Casual eyed the emergency exits. And you know what? We all survived.
If an 840 000 pound hunk of metal can fly, so can you.