Traveling with a toddler – 10 things to do, 5 things not to do, and will I ever do this again?

I held off a bit on writing this post because honestly, I had a bit of PTSD that I wasn’t quite ready to relive haha. So, for starters lets talk about just how long we were traveling.

We left from our apartment in DC in the late morning. We had to be out by a certain time, so we got to the airport very very early before our evening flight. We were at the airport by noon and our flight out was not until 6 that evening.

Arrival at the airport

Now I know that’s a long time to be at the airport, but I thought that we could use that time to let Naomi run around, burn some energy, and watch all the planes, she LOVES planes! And if she wouldn’t nap in her stroller or anything that would be fine because we were going to be taking an overnight flight anyway, so maybe this would help her sleep better.

Now just to let you all know, I spent hours upon hours prepping for these long flights we were about to take. I read ALL the mom blog posts on how to travel with toddlers, I pinned every cool idea and fun airplane toys for toddlers I could find on Pinterest, I prepped by putting together an activity bag for Naomi, new toys to get her excited, downloaded her favorite shows and movies, bought medicine for sleep and flights, I DID ALL THE THINGS. I went into this with pretty low expectations, hoping to just get by and survive and if some of things I did to prepare for this worked then that would be great.

Our inflight nightmare

Ugh, let me tell you, that first flight was a DISASTER. To start things off when we got on the plane, we were immediately told that the flight was going to be delayed for about an hour due to a tire issue, but we couldn’t get off the plane. This is where it all started to fall apart. I’m not 100% sure if it was the overstimulation, the feeling of being overtired due to no afternoon nap, or the idea that she could not leave her seat and just do whatever she wanted, Naomi LOST IT. And I don’t just mean crying, she was full on screaming and the screaming DID NOT STOP FOR TWO HOURS.

There was nothing under the sun that we could have done at that time to make her chill out, except for maybe getting off the plane, which we of course could not do. We had kind strangers from across the isle, behind us, in front of us handing us treats to give her, toys, stuffed animals, ANYTHING to get her to calm down.

I will be honest 45 minutes into this madness I started to break down too, so I was crying, Naomi was screaming and we hadn’t even taken off yet!! We had to do this for 8 more hours and THEN AGAIN in 2 days! Nope, nope, nope, this wasn’t happening.

Takeoff (finally) and a little rest

We finally took off and Naomi eventually settled down, she passed out on Joel’s lap and stayed asleep for only 2 hours. The rest of the flight was a constant battle of trying to keep her as content as possible while she would squirm and cry and occasionally scream. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I thought, this is it, she will not get another sibling, she will be an only child and that fine with me! (It’s funny to think about now, but at the time I was about 99% sure that was going to be my final decision on the matter).

Eventually we created a space on the floor for her to lay down used one of the blankets given to us on the flight as a pillow for her and she eventually fell asleep. We landed in Germany and all of us had maybe slept a total of 3 hours? Probably not even.

Ok. So first long flight was done. THANK GOODNESS.

5 key takeaways for what DIDN’T work while traveling with a toddler

#1: Skipping the nap did NOT work in our favor, she was overtired and overstimulated from all the excitement.

#2: Instead of keeping her in the seat and making her feel so strapped in, we should have let her lay on the floor a lot sooner (now I know that this is something that would probably not be allowed on a lot of flights, but our flight attendants were ok with it, and honestly I think everyone on that flight was just desperate for Naomi to chill out). Naomi has always liked her own space and the ability to stretch out and move around, so the floor thing should have been a go to right away.

#3: Temperature. Naomi gets over heated super easily, I was so afraid that she would be cold on the flight because most flights I have been on I’ve been cold, this flight however was super warm. I took off her sweatshirt and she was in pajamas, but I maybe should have put her in shorts, who knows, but that might have helped a bit.

#4: Medicine. Ok so this might not be a popular way to handle things for a lot of people but I think for us it would have been super helpful. Now Naomi gets motion sickness, so I gave her Dramamine before the flight, but I was afraid to give her Melatonin too soon because what if she fell asleep right away and then was awake for the second half of the flight? Oh if I had only known….I should have given it to her when I gave her Dramamine. I think her resting in the beginning and not being so overtired and overstimulated would have worked in our favor. Now once again I understand that this is not something that would work for everyone, but for us these medications are helpful.

#5: My fear of bothering other people happened, but you know what? 90% of the people we came in contact with on that flight were beyond understanding, helpful and reassuring saying they had gone through it themselves. People are awesome and kind, we just don’t hear the good stories, but they are out there and they are beautiful.

Time for a breather

OK so our first flight was over, we were in Germany and we were going to be there for a day and a half before our next flight would leave out of Frankfurt for Dammam. If anyone is planning a two leg trip with back to back 8 hour flights I could not recommend enough doing a long layover like we did. Once we got all of our luggage and got to our hotel (thankfully our hotel in Frankfurt was located right inside/attached to the airport, we never had to go outside!) we paid to get into the hotel room early. We all crashed and crashed hard. We showered and then napped for about 3 hours.

Read more about our Germany layover in this post

Having a place to stretch your legs and sleep and let your toddler run free was a big big deal for us, not only mentally but emotionally as well. We needed that time to unwind a bit, regroup, re-pack and get prepared for the next flight. I know for a fact that we would not have done well getting off the flight in Frankfurt and getting right on another long flight.

We recharged and it did us well. The next day our flight left in the early afternoon. Now believe it or not I was far less terrified for this flight. I mean honestly at this point could this next flight be any worse than our last flight? I doubt it, I had experienced the low of all lows, it could only get better, right? And get better it did, this flight was a complete 180 from the first flight. And I mean COMPLETE 180! The one nice thing about having a first really crappy long flight, we learned A LOT about what we were not going to do again and what we would do differently on the next flight.

So before we even got on the plane Naomi got ALL the meds. Yea I know its probably not a popular opinion to “drug” your kids, but we knew that she needed it and so did we. So she got her Dramamine, a little bit melatonin, and a half dose of Tylenol. This did the trick. She fell asleep in my arms before we even walked up the stairs onto the plane. When we were settled in our seats on the plane she woke up a bit, looked around and didn’t make a sound. We got her all tucked into her seat with a blanket, some airplane pillows, her Nuk to help with the pressure from taking off and she was out like a light.

She slept for THREE hours. Now I think it was a combination of a few things. She was exhausted from her previous travel days, we gave her medicine early enough this time (not 2 hours into the flight), it was technically her nap time, and I think a part of her probably realized that this was going to happen no matter what so she might as well just nap instead of fighting it.

Also we upgraded this flight to premium economy seats, and while I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, it was a huge deal. We had more space for all of us. Naomi had more space to recline and relax and sleep and for our flight there were very few passengers in the premium economy so we didn’t feel as nervous about bothering people if Naomi did get a bit upset.

Joel and I decided that spending the extra money to give us a little bit of extra comfort for a long flight like that would forever be worth it to avoid the craziness we had endured with the first flight. We were complimented on this flight about how well behaved and sweet Naomi was, honestly I don’t think any of the travelers from the first flight would have realized that she was the same kid. Joel and I couldn’t believe it, she was sleeping, we were able to eat our lunch in peace, AND I watched an entire James Bond movie before she woke up!! When she woke up she was as pleasant as can be. She had some snacks, watched a movie, played with her new toys and toys from her activity bag that I packed. She was a perfect little passenger.

Read more about our flight to Germany here

We arrived in Dammam that night and Naomi had not cried once. We made it and we had survived!

10 things that worked well with a toddler on our flight

(I will include links of items that we used)

#1: Giving medications early

This helped Naomi not fight sleep and therefore was not overtired or overstimulated.

#2: Resting comfortably in her seat.

Also and I didn’t mention this before, but on our first fight Naomi was by the window, I thought this would help her be distracted so she could look outside. This time we put her in between us and I think she felt safer this way and knew that on either side of her was mom and dad.

#3: Downloaded shows and movies – we have Netflix and Disney Plus

At the time Naomi was obsessed with the movie Coco, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory and all things Cocomelon. I made sure I had those movies downloaded before the flight, and a few of the Cocomelon episodes. (she only ended up watching Coco and a few episodes of Cocomelon) but I’m glad I had them all downloaded anyway just in case things were getting desperate.

#4: Pink headphones: (worked well, one downside was they were a bit too big for her head).
#5: Activity bag

Now this was super fun for me to put together. I bought a fun colored travel toiletry bag that had few different compartments and I filled it with goodies. I had a compact mirror for her to look at herself, multi colored small silicone suction cups that stuck to everything, a few of her favorite books, an erasable writing tablet, some sticker books and a few other goodies.

#6: Sticker books (this was a huge hit for her!):
#7: Squigz suction cups:

(These are currently unavailable, but the site Fat Brain Toys Store, has TONS of other really fun travel toy options, some that we also own!)

#8: Writing Tablet:
#9: New toys for during the flight.

So some of the items I had packed for her she was familiar with like her stuffed puppy, some of her favorite books etc. but I made sure to buy a few new things to have for the flight to get her super excited about, and that worked, she was so excited to play with something new and it kept her entertained for about a half hour! We gave her a stuffed Minnie and Mickey Mouse (we love all things Mickey and Minnie!) to cuddle with, some Disney princess little people toy (Naomi is really into these right now) at our halfway stop in Frankfurt and the sticker books were new for her on the last flight!

Small stuffed Minnie and Mickey:
Disney little people princess parade float cars:

Something else to keep in mind, is if you do decide to get something “new” make sure it is small enough and easy to travel with, and for me I made sure to get toys and activities that were quiet as well so they wouldn’t bother other travelers, but still keep Naomi occupied.

#10: Snacks!

Now I know Naomi could have had a meal on the plane but I know she wouldn’t have been interested in what they had to offer so I just made sure to have lots and lots of her favorites packed, which is pretty much goldfish and cherrios haha and that’s all she wanted!

Here is one of the stackable snack containers I used:

Other snack containers I used:

Here’s to successful drama free flights in the future!

All right, so I realize that this all probably WAY more than you cared to know about but I learned so much about these flights with my almost 2 year old that I felt in a way almost obligated to share so that if it saves even one of you a little bit of sanity on your next trip then I will feel it was worth my time to share. There are also so many other things I could go into detail on (like car seats, strollers, how I packed my carry on bags etc.) but I don’t want to bore you all to death. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions, I would love to talk about my experience with you!

Moral of the story, we SURVIVED, and if you decide to travel with a toddler you too will survive. Remember this is all thankfully temporary, most people are so incredibly kind and will do their best to help you and a little bit of preparation might go a long way. If not just wing it and pray the next flight is better, haha! That’s what I plan to do, because crazily enough I plan to do this again.

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