Once upon a time, when it was just my husband and me, we were travelling around the world, hopping on cheap flights with just backpacks on our shoulders. We had our time of spontaneous travelling but the tale has made a turn. With two toddlers, the story now is very different…
When the two little ones popped up, we chose to recalibrate and adapt to the new way of flying because exploration is in our DNA. Airports had to become our playgrounds in order to survive the several challenging hours of security, check-ins, and a gazillion queues.
We made everything a game. For the kiddos – to pass the time quicker and for us – to not lose our minds in the madness of an airport.
Through trial and error, we’ve accumulated a bunch of hacks and come up with some imaginative solutions of our own.
I assure you, these guidelines will be the key to surviving the airport whilst travelling with a toddler and maybe even encourage you to take a leap and set up your first trip with a toddler.
1. Before leaving – research your airports
Seeking and gathering information will make all the difference. There are useful things you can research so that you are prepared for the time at the airport and the journey goes much smoother.
Nowadays, websites are developed well and googling your airport won’t take long. If you invest some time, you might find some exciting things to look forward to. Major airports are like cities within cities, there is a chance you’ll miss out on fun opportunities if you do not read what they have to offer.
Key things to research:
- Look out for play spaces. Some airports have designated children’s areas which is a major saviour while waiting for your flight with a bored toddler.
- Create a food strategy. If we’re being honest, the food at the airport is rarely good or cheap. If you’re not one to bring your own lunch or there isn’t any space left in your bags, research what kind of restaurants there are at your airport. This will not only save you a headache from figuring out how to feed your toddler at a busy airport but it will also save you money because some restaurants offer FREE meals for kids. Once you’ve passed security, you can head straight to the restaurant that will have free nuggets for your nugget.
Extra Tip: Bring a bunch of snacks. You will have a lot of time on your hands at the airport and snacks are a great way to have your toddler settle nearby for a minute. Just don’t forget utensils and lots of napkins. Some great options for snacks include:
- Homemade muffins. Everyone loves muffins and you are in control of what to put inside so instead of making sweet ones that will give your toddler a sugar rush, you can make savoury ones.
- Fruit pouches. They are still considered to be under the “baby food” category which is why they are allowed in.
- Whole grain crackers or pretzels
- String or Babybel cheese
- Baby carrots
- Hummus & carrots
- Porridge pots
- Boiled pasta kept in thermos
2. Arriving – give yourself time to breathe
Give yourself room to breathe – allocate enough extra time to alleviate any unnecessary stress. Your toddler might provide enough of that on-site. Make sure to arrive with plenty of time to clear security, have something to eat, and play before boarding.
BUT remember that often you can’t check in your suitcase earlier than two hours before the flight.
3. Check-in – keep your stroller
It’s tempting to just leave the stroller behind and have as few items as possible, however, the stroller is an extremely useful item that will help you throughout your time at the airport. It’s especially helpful if you’re travelling solo because you can use the stroller to carry all your hand luggage including the travel car seat if you’re bringing one on the plane. The toddler can walk by your side or ride on their suitcase with wheels (check out some of my toddler travel suitcases recommendations).
4. Security – be organised and prepared
The hard part starts now. Security queues, metal detectors, and stuffing your liquid bags. All these things are already intimidating to go through. Add a toddler to the mix and it’s now overwhelming.
I have a number of small suggestions that will go a long way. If you follow them, there will be no reason to fear the security at the airport because you will be organised and prepared.
- Wear all the passports close to you. Whether a zip pouch or a fanny pack, find a comfortable way to carry all the important documents close to you because you will need quick access to them and every second with a toddler counts.
- Family security lines are not always the best choice. Some family lines are not the quickest so if yours is moving slowly, head to the queue that’s moving fast. You can also try the fast queue as most security lets families use it, too.
- Use a low-level machine. Find out if there is a low-level machine available to use. With it you can scan EVERYTHING at once including buggy, suitcase, and other things, saving a lot of time and energy.
- Avoid wearing items that you’ll have to take off. Taking off things like jewellery or shoes takes time and chasing your toddler barefoot won’t be fun (unless you’re up for it).
- Familiarise yourself with the TSA guidelines. Firstly, you need to know what you can and cannot bring while travelling with a toddler. For example, most securities let you carry a bottle of water while travelling with a toddler. Being familiar with the guidelines will also help when advocating for yourself and the baby formula with a newer TSA agent.
- Use a metal-less baby carrier. This one’s a no-brainer. If you’ve got an option to choose, a metal-less baby carrier will come in handy when your baby is sound and safe in the carrier and it’s time to go through the scan. You can just keep the baby inside the carrier and walk through the metal detector with confidence.
- Tell your toddler it’s a game. This one requires imagination but it’s crucial with kids. If you tell your toddler security at the airport is an activity they enjoy like a car wash, they will be excited for the whole family to go get a car wash. Introduce them to the security check in advance and you will save yourself from many upcoming questions and tantrums because you’re not giving the kiddo enough attention.
5. While waiting – it’s all a game and the airport is the game field
Airports can truly be fun for you and your family if you switch your perspective and look at the airport as your playground.
With the following hacks, it will be much easier to turn your imagination up and redirect your energy to creating a fun experience at the airport rather than a stressful thing to get through. That serotonin boost will help last longer without fights during the flight.
- Play crossing-off games. Because kids are naturally curious and there will be many eye-catching things that will draw their attention, having a Printable travel bingo or Scavenger Hunt will make it a bit more systematic and easier for you to keep the toddler focused. They will be excited to cross off different stages of the airport like check-in and security.
- Avoid airport germs by playing the Touch It game. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Most toddlers explore the world by touching things and the airport will have many unexplored territories. You’ll keep on repeating “Don’t touch this!” but it will only annoy the toddler. To avoid airport germs try this simple trick – tell them what they CAN touch. Instead of saying, “Don’t touch the toilet!” redirect them with, “Can you touch your nose?” Or even break out into a song with “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
- Create a race by the gates. Burning your toddler’s energy right before the flight is crucial. To do that you can set up a short track (make sure not to annoy other passengers) and have your toddler run back and forth as quickly as possible telling them they need to beat their own record each time.
Extra Tip: prepare for your toddler to be lost and found. There are many different gadgets and simple bracelets to purchase that will bring you peace of mind. You won’t have to worry as much while meandering the airport through the sea of people.
6. At the baggage claim – save a few toys for the end
Be patient, you’re almost out of the woods. You’re so excited to be finally getting off the plane but you’re not out of the airport, yet. When you think it’s all done, your toddler keeps on dragging you and running away at the baggage claim. They’ve got all the energy stored up, you can’t really blame them but the last bit of your patience was left on the plane.
Keep some emergency toys to yourself until the very last minute. Having something extra and exciting for the toddler to play with will save you from a meltdown while waiting for the luggage or even loading onto the taxi.
Use a muslin blanket to secure a toddler to a chair at a restaurant. If you don’t have a high chair travel alternative and there are no high chairs at the airport restaurant, simply tying your toddler to the chair with a muslin blanket will solve the issue.
Use a suitcase as a bassinet. It’s a long time till your flight or maybe you’re extremely unlucky and your flight has been delayed. Though it may seem counterintuitive to unpack your carry-on at an airport, using it as a bassinet will bring the necessary comfort for your baby to sleep, which means two free hands for you. If you’ve packed your things into packing cubes, it won’t be a hassle to set up the suitcase as a bassinet.
It will all be forgotten in the end…
An airport full of hazards, stresses, and chances to lose your toddler is not a place of choice to take your kiddo. You may be considering travelling by car or not travelling at all till the toddler reaches a certain age. But deep down you remember the fun you had exploring unfamiliar places, experiencing unexpected adventures you couldn’t plan even if you tried to.
You can still have all of that with your toddler and flying is the quickest, most efficient way to get it. I swear if you get organised and most importantly prepare emotionally for what’s waiting at the airport, deciding it’ll be a challenge that you will conquer, the rewards of a trip with a toddler will be tasteful while all the miseries of the airport will be long forgotten.