Living in a different state than our family means traveling back to Illinois at least twice a year, every year. Over the past 4 years of traveling with our son, I have learned a thing or two when it comes to flying and driving with a kiddo. For those moms and dads traveling for the first time with your kid(s)… breathe. You got this. Liam’s first flight was when he was just two months old. He did really well as a baby! Just slept the whole time. The real issue was actually how much stuff we brought with whenever we went anywhere ! I usually am flying or driving without my boyfriend , it’s just Liam and I. And having to haul two suitcases, my purse, the diaper bag, the stroller and the infant car seat was a real PAIN. Not going to sugar coat it. BUT! It does get easier! As kids grow up they need less and less stuff, right? Traveling becomes easier and lighter and now this being Liam’s 6th or 7th flight, we have got this flying thing down.
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The last couple times flying I had packed just WAY to much stuff to “entertain him” in that little carry-on. He didn’t use half the things I brought and what he did use, we were dropping and losing all sorts of pieces and crayons and stickers… The people sitting behind was handing back over all the things my son was dropping and rolling under the seats.
I do have a TIP for when traveling with toddlers…. bring that car seat on the plane !! If you have a kiddo that can’t sit still, strapping them into the car seat can be immensely helpful! Ask a flight attendant to help you carry it to your seat. Southwest is usually great about this and always offers to help me before I even ask.
My son was diagnosed with SPD (sensory processing disorder) when he was 1 1/2. He had therapies every single week from then until about 6 months ago. His brain could not process certain things like other children. Bright lights, loud noises, too many people in a room… were all things that could set him off. He also had a speech delay and was in speech therapy for awhile, so communicating with him was very difficult, making his SPD more difficult to understand. So a bright, loud airport was my son’s least favorite place to hang out, to say the least. The loud noise of the airplane would sometimes set him off too and he was also an extreme sensory seeker, meaning that he was like the little energizer bunny. Never could sit still for more than 4 minutes, constantly needing to move his body. So a 2 1/2 hour flight where he couldn’t get up was just torture for him. He would scream and kick and headbutt and climbing all over the seats and try to grab food and drinks out of passengers laps…. it was kind of a nightmare. But as he got older and learned to cope with the sensory inputs, and we as parents learned ways to fill his sensory diet, life (including travel) become MUCH easier. So if you have a child that has SPD, you CAN get through it. You CAN travel. Trust me when I say that just going to the store or a restaurant with Liam usually ended with us both in tears and sweaty. And we still traveled. We never gave up because if you just keep them in the house where it’s “easier” they will never learn to live in the “real world”. Hang in there and just remember that you most likely will never ever see those people on that plane again, so if there are rude ignorant passengers (I have had my fair share) just ignore them and know that your child is perfect. That flight is temporary. This too, will pass. My number one tip for traveling with a child that has SPD- headphones and sunglasses! If your child is sensitive to light and sound, an airport can be hell for them. Having a small safe fidget toy for their fingers and something chewy like fruit snacks or a chewy necklace can make the world of difference for them too!
I use to pack all sorts of sensory-friendlty items in his bag. I would make busy bags, magnetic popsicle stick puzzles, sensory bottles, I would have crayons, markers, like three meals worth of snacks…. It was ridiculous.
Now I pack a lot less stuff and he still keeps busy the whole time in the airport and on the flight.
What is in Liam’s carry-on :
- Fun Animal cookies ( the box becomes a toy during and after the snack)
- Organic fruit snacks
- Gum (for take-off and landing and for a sensory input)
- Juice box (for bribing) -NOTE: make sure it is under 4 oz ! Ours was not! oops!
- A couple Grab & Go Play Packs- you can find these at Target and dollar stores
- Leap Pad
- Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free coloring books and markers in a ziploc baggie (Melissa and Doug Water Wow‘s are great too!)
- A silly faces sticker book from the dollar store
- Alphabet and Numbers tracing workbooks (these are good for when waiting in the airport)
- Magnetic toy (I love this one because it’s small in size and has different backgrounds to put in the case for different scenes, plus its under $10)
- A felt book (this one was in the dollar section at Target a couple months ago and I love it ! I only will be using this for travel so that it will be new and novel to him)
Now, I do have a couple more things for him but I keep those in my bag… Twizzlers, Annie’s cheddar bunnies, an IPad with a couple movies on it, Young Living Peace and Calming rollerball, baby wipes for his sticky fingers, and a surprise for him if he is behaving well! I always wrap one toy or book on the way there and on the way back. I only give this to him if he is behaving exceptionally well. This time I got a super cute book where the character’s name is Liam ! I bought it a few months ago and had it gift wrapped right there knowing this would be the perfect surprise for him on the flight. I have done this with McDonald’s toys and Chik-fil-A board books too.
My son got this bag from my best friend as a gift and it has been the BEST travel bag! It has wheels and a handle so Liam can pull his own bag behind him through the airport. He feels all grown up when he gets to roll his own bag around. Plus the side pockets are perfect for snacks and a water bottle.
My last tip for flying with a preschool is this… stay cool. If you are overwhelmed, stressed, hurried… your child will feel it too. This may seem obvious but I will catch myself feeling a bit anxious when I first get to the airport because I am always afraid I will miss my flight. I will notice instantly that my son will start to act up. Breathe, roll on some relaxing essential oils on your neck (and your kiddos) , walk calmly and smile ! Have fun ! The last time I flew with Liam we played a game pointing out all of the colors of luggage we saw while waiting for our flight. He was cracking up and I gave him a cookie for a prize when he “won”. Now Liam is actually excited to fly and I am not dreading it one bit.
I hope these tips and ideas help!
I would love to know your number one item you bring when traveling with your kiddos!
Have a beautiful day !