Updated: Nov 13
My daughter is 3.5 years old and has been to 15 foreign countries. She's endured long overnight flights, multiple long layovers, the worst of airline indigestion mishaps, and then some, and yet she's been a trooper through all of it. People always ask me, "how do you do it? How does she do it?" Now that she's turned three, it's only gotten easier, but for those traveling days from just a few months old to the day she turned three, we had a lot to learn. Learn from some of our successes and failures with this advice on how to entertain and what to pack for a toddler ages 1-3 on an airplane ride.
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What To Pack For A Toddler On An Airplane Comes Down to These Three Things
Base your packing on three things:
You of course will also need to plan in advance for eating and drinking, napping and potty stuff, and interactive things to do with your child.
Eating and Drinking
Snack Catchers: If your kid likes goldfish or cheerios, this is a good way to minimize a mess.
On this vein, always bring a sippy cup that can't spill!
Pro tip: get them to drink water upon takeoff and landing to help with the ear pressure
Water Wow. At least 10 minutes of coloring fun. These come in educational formats as well - your child can trace numbers, letters, or do seek and finds!
Be sure to fill with water that is drinkable. My kid likes to suck on the water stick.
EooCoo Writing Tablet. Endless Fun. We play Pictionary and she has to guess what we drew. Bonus factor: the pen is attached and can't get dropped or lost. This toy is slim and fits in any bag or purse, and can be fun in restaurants too. My daughter likes to pretend she is taking my order and scribbles down as if she were taking notes.
A Quiet Book : this has buttons, zippers and other things to keep baby fingers busy. Nothing can get dropped or lost except the little carrot in a hidden zipper.
Etch a Sketch: These pocket sized marvels can be purchased individually at the Dollar Tree. I put them in every purse. Slam dunk every time.
I Spy Books: Keep your kid busy for a long time with these. You'll both have fun pointing out objects and learning about what's on the page. We like the I Spy Letters book because it reinforces her alphabet and things that start with that letter.
Highlights Magazine Products
Highlights Hello Magazine
Babies 0-2 will really enjoy Highlights "Hello" Magazine. This thoughtful book is perfect for curious babies and smart little kids eager to do some interactive reading with their parents.
Hello Magazine offers:
Simple seek and find
Interactive poems (like pat your belly)
Short 1-2 page stories
I have found that sticking one of these small palm-sized "magazines" in a purse has saved many a dinner or plane ride.
Highlights High Five Magazine
This one is also a favorite in my household. My daughter looks forward to receiving this every month in the mail, and we excitedly read it together at breakfast time and definitely on airplane rides.
The whole magazine takes about 30 minutes or more to read, making it great for short or long haul flights with your kids.
Inside High Five Magazine you'll find:
Hidden pictures (they can get pretty hard, even for me!)
Recipes for kids
Crafts and tear-out activities
Fun facts regarding science, weather and more
Silly photo game
Same and different comparison game
The target age for this magazine is 2-6 years old, but even as an adult I find this magazine highly entertaining and engaging with my daughter. This is a must-have for every airplane ride if you ask me!
Get a one year subscription to Highlights High Five Magazine here.
Highlights is pretty much the top dog when it comes to kids workbooks, and their hidden pictures series is part of that. Like the ISpy series above, kids can look for hidden objects, taking a lot of time on airplane rides.
We recently stepped it up a notch with a red spyglass style hidden picture book, but they are all great! Here's a few ideas for purchase:
As kids get older, Highlights products offer endless fun with write-on wipe-off books, workbooks on spelling and math, advanced puzzles and hidden pictures and more.
Highlights For Children is truly a treasure trove for kids!
Highlights Flash Cards
Easy to find at the Dollar Tree, I like age-appropriate cards for my kid. In my purse currently is the Alphabet seek and find. It re-enforces her language skills and is fun too!
Airlines That Give Out Free Activities For Kids
Forget to pack plenty of fun for your child? Every now and then we get free stuff from the airlines, especially on long haul flights. If your kid is cute (or acting up) the staff tend to swoop in and bring out these hidden goodies.
Delta Activities for Kids
Delta gives out wings and activity booklets to kids, including crayons, stickers and more. I found the drawings to be a little more complex than a three year old would like, so I ended up coloring in a lot of it! They were basically those mandala adult coloring book style pages, but of airplanes and such so it took up a good hour of my time!
But yes, there's tons of kid stuff in there too :-)
Iberia Activities for Kids
Another one we really were wow'd by was Iberia. They love kids and we were surprised as heck when they offered my daughter an entire purse full of awesome gadgets and toys.
One toy was a mix up the picture tiles toy, where you have to get the tiles to match up again. We've had it over a year and I still haven't been able to put it back together, but that doesn't stop me from trying! This stupid little toy is a great time absorber for the whole family.
Air Canada Activities for Kids
A welcome greeting at the gangway bridge, the Air Canada staff are ready and prepared to give kids their own purse full of goodies as well. Inside kids will find a drawing book, personal headphones for the ride and more.
That said, next time you fly overseas or on longer flights, ask the flight attendants if they have any free goodies for kids.
Bring their favorite stuffed animal (only ONE!)
Let them pick 3-4 little toys from home. I'm talking McDonald's happy meal type of stuff - one piece figurines or fidgety objects. Cracker jack prizes. Little things that an imaginative mind can play with without losing a bunch of little parts. Dollar Store buys are perfect for this.
Extras to Pack in The Diaper Bag
Extra diapers/underpants/wipes/whatever you need in the bathroom
Extra set of clothes (we've seen it all - puke was the worst!)
A little sweater
A tip on potty time: Pee before you board.
They'll want to pee the second the seat belt sign comes on (i.e. you can't get up) and again when you land, so always plan around that.
Get up and have stretch breaks at the back of the plane. They usually offer water or snacks too, so it can be a fun little outing in the middle of the long hauls. Head shoulders knees and toes is good here, but don't sing too loudly.
Make up little quiz games. Here are two we play: "Muscle or Bone?" I make up stupid stuff like this to play in the mornings when she crawls in to bed with me. We point to areas of the body and say, "hard or soft?" If it is hard, it's bone! If it's soft, it's muscle! It teaches the basic concept without being super correct. Forget cartilage and further medically accurate details. It's muscle or bone! Another one for younger kids just grasping the concept of their body is to say, "where's your ears? your eyes? your belly button?" Have them point to the part as you quiz them. This is repeatable fun for a good 5 or 10 minutes.
What Not to Bring for Your Toddler on an Airplane
Chocolatey or sticky snacks
Snacks that have a lot of bits (think crackers, raisins, things that create a mess)
Blankets and pillows - forget the extra "stuff", you don't need it.
Things that make noise.
Crayons, colored pencils and other loose articles get dropped like crazy and it's not fun to dig around your underseat area for this stuff the whole flight.
Toys with lots of small parts (no polly pocket, legos, etc).
Their own backpack - I have done this and ALL the toys and snacks get tossed around in the first 10 minutes of sitting down. All the snacks get eaten and it's all over in a flurry! Carry the toys and snacks in your mom bag and distribute when needed.
Entertainment for yourself. You won't have a chance to read that book or magazine or watch that series you've been dying to catch up on. This will not happen.
Trust your kid to be pretty chill. They'll catch the vibes from around them. Look out the window with them, point out things you see and hear. More than anything, stay engaged with them the whole flight and they won't get bored. For the long hauls, they will sleep more than you, so plan for that. They'll spill their free beverages, beg to eat your dessert cup, and want to crawl all over mommy and daddy as many times as they want. But ultimately, no matter how wriggly or whiny they get, you'll get through it.
Remember something my mom always says to me, K.I.S.S - Keep It Simple, Stupid. With 1-3 year olds, that is the key. Pack only a few essentials and let their imaginations do the rest. Tell them about your destination and the things you'll do there, ask them questions and teach them things you know about life. This is a great opportunity to hang with your kid.