How to Travel with a 12-18 Month Old

by - Monday, May 23, 2016

We know a thing or two about flying with our baby. From 12 to 18 months, we flew on 6 trips, so a little under 20 flights if I count. A lot of trips. Most of the advice out there for flying with a baby is all about the newborns or at least under one crowd. As long as their ears hold out, they can be so much easier! If you are breastfeeding, you are carrying their food, and they are perfectly happy to hang out on a lap for hours and hours.

Not so for toddlers. Even less so for very young toddlers, who don't really know what is going on and why they can't walk around on the plane. It can make for some very long days! We have learned some tricks for making the whole thing easier, so I thought I would share what we know now.

How to Buy Tickets

We are big on sitting by the aisle, because you need to be able to get out for diaper disasters. We have received the advice to buy tickets on the window and aisle to discourage someone from sitting in the middle seat. Not a bad idea, but flights are always full now, so that opportunity never much happens.

I would say Alaska and Southwest are the nicest to fly with if you have a baby in tow. Alaska is just awesome all around, and we actually watched an amazing flight attendant make sure that families could sit together. Southwest's seating system has a break for families between A and B, and if the flight isn't full, you can count on people to not want to sit with you (on the other hand, on our most recent flight, the flight attendants were not very kind).

Never, ever fly with Frontier. Yes, it is cheap, but it is not worth it. Also, your days of red eyes are over. It will be so brutal, so just let it go.

What to Bring

Baby Bottles
Water Bottles
2 Pairs of Jammies
A FEW Toys
A Screen
Bags for diaper explosions
Treats for Parents

Diapers- I don't need to tell you this. If your trip is under one day, just pack as many diapers as your baby goes through in a day. We have tried using nighttime diapers and sized up diapers. Both worked pretty well, so that might be worth trying. Wipes and whatever else you need.

Bottles- We bring 3 or 4 Evenflo glass bottles with us. We don't use many plastic bottles (they aren't good news- BPA replacements are sometimes just as bad as BPA), and we don't have to worry about these bottles in transit. We bring all the same size with the same lids, so there is no additional nonsense when a lid goes missing/ that kind of thing.

Back in the formula days, we would put the same amount of formula (4 scoops, no water) in each one. We also brought one adult-sized refillable water bottle which we could fill in the airports. If the water ran out, we can ask for more from flight attendants as well. 4 bottles got us across the country, but if you are worried you need more, bring more servings with you (maybe in biobags?). You fill the bottles as you need them, and you don't fret about it all day.

Now for milk, we start the day with two filled bottles. When we need more milk, we buy whole milk from coffee places (they always have it) and refill the bottles. Way simpler than trying to cart around a cooler and you do it before you get on a plane and on layovers. Sippy cups with milk would work about the same I think, as we are now solidly moving in that direction.

Jammies- The Bub stays in jammies all day long when we fly, because it seems like a good day to just be comfy. We don't mess around with anything with snaps- we mostly use Leveret pajamas, which my Mom bought for him. Yay for zippers and breathable fabric (boo they are made in China, so if you can scoop them up used, do that). Back up jammies are a must, because inevitably something is getting peed on.

Books- The best advice I can give is to subscribe to Baby Bug. The Bub receives these once a month as a gift from my Aunt, and honestly, he goes crazy for them. They are so stupid, and he just loves them. They have short sweet stories and poems that lend themselves to singing, and they have Kim and Carrots, who are just the craziest (I kid, they are not). Even better? They are magazine thickness and heaviness, not board book, so you can bring 4 or 5 of them (we sometimes save one for long flights) and they won't take up much room or weigh you down.

Want a second option? Something new or something they keep asking for again and again. Don't bother with ones you already have memorized; you can recite that and keep their interest.

Snacks- We usually pack two little snack bins ( we have these from Kids Konserve, and I also love these from Re-Play) for The Bub. One has berries and tomatoes (just out of the fridge that morning) and the other has bran flakes and raisins. These are the winners in our house, but you know your baby- do what will work! Those are just for on the plane- in airports, we just order a little extra and share all our food with him.
Green Toys from Amazon
Toys- You know your kid. What toys suck them in so they stay still longer? I have read one toy for every 15 minutes on the plane. I think that is crazypants; that is so much stuff! For a 12 month old, a set of keys or an empty bottle with a lid can make just as good of a toy- they just want to explore, so whatever they don't usually touch can be better than a toy. The toys you bring should be small and not have tons of pieces:

- We brought cars like these for him to play with, and we tried string to it, so when he dropped them on the floor, we could just yank them back up.

- We have this lacing toy from Holgate that can keep his attention for a long time.

A Screen- Yes, yes, no screen time until 2. We try to stick to that rule in our normal life, but a toddler on a plane is not normal life. Winnie the Pooh or older Sesame Streets have helped us buy an hour of calm (we pick things that are older- the editing is much slower and the sound dynamics are usually less dramatic, so it feels a lot less demanding of them). Our plan is to watch Christmas movies on the way home for Christmas. My mom also has a very slow game on her phone where The Bub pops bubbles. Nothing fast, but something to help when things get rough.

Bags for Diaper Explosions- In an emergency situation, I bought a small box of plastic bags to hold diaper disasters in- we are still using them at least a year later, because they are only necessary for emergencies. Still, sometimes they just are necessary. That's what it is.

Treats for Parents- Overall, the Bub will have a swell day, but it can be rough/suspenseful/stressful for the parents, so do like Tom and Donna and Treat yo Self. I am slowly trying all the local airport chocolate in the United States, and I usually buy a Seattle Chocolates bar before we leave. Do what makes you happy, you brilliant survivor you.

Purell- We try to push for cleanliness, but kids this age are all over everything, and the Bub has been getting sick too often after we fly. Do better than we do and just keep Purelling those hands!

Carrier/Stroller- As long as it doesn't hurt your back to carry your bub in an Ergo, I highly recommend it. It is so much simpler in security, and I personally hate having to gate check the stroller. It stresses me out to have to collapse it right at the bottom of the jetway. On the other hand, our Bub is now WAY TOO HEAVY for someone to carry him all day, so we bring the light umbrella stroller, and it still works just fine.

Our Basic Flight Survival Strategy

Do Your Prep- Some airlines (mostly Southwest) want to see a baby's birth certificate to put them on the ticket. Look it up before you go, so you know you have what you need.

More Stuff is More Work- Just like in regular life, your not really "prepared" you are just weighed down. Resist the urge to overpack for the trip. Stuff is heavy, and you already have to keep a person contained. I think this is the most common mistake I see. You don't need blankets. Or a big honking stroller. Check the carseat. We have it wittled down to one diaper bag, one backpack, and one stroller. That's it. Everything else gets checked.

Give Yourself Time and Ask for Help- I think security is pretty easy; you go through the metal detector and they do the hand check. The hardest part is now they will check the bottles and sometimes the wipes because of the moisture. Be sure to have them out if you can. If you are on your own, just ask around for help. The TSA agents or your neighbors in line will totally pick up your stroller or pull out your laptop, because people are generally kinder than we give them credit for (plus they want to keep the line moving).

Before we get on the Flight- Same things every time. We get food/ snacks if we still need them, we all take a stop at a bathroom and change the baby (the fewer diaper changes on the plane are better), we stop and get whole milk at a coffee place so the baby bottles are full, and we fill our water bottle at a water fountain. After that, we try to either find a kids area or go to our gate so he can run some energy off.

Time the sleep! We try to keep the Bub active and moving right up until we get on the plane, no matter what time the flight takes off. Since he is walking now, one of us will hold his hand and let him explore while the other sits with the stuff (when it was just me, we did this less, but I did find play areas in the airports to use when I could). Sitting down can be the hardest part, he is often worn out, fussy, and ready for a bubba.

We give him a bottle as the plane takes off and pat him to sleep. Sometimes, this goes easily, but not always. He sleeps a good percentage of every flight- usually 2 to 3 hours. After he wakes up, we play and read with him. If things get dire, Winnie the Pooh comes out.

Once we reach the next airport the whole thing starts over again. Of all the flights he has been on, he didn't sleep on one or two. That's it. The more he can rest on the plane, the more painless the trip is for everyone, because parents get a break, he doesn't have time to feel stuck, and its a much shorter window we have to fill of stillness.

What Goes Where- We actually put the diaper bag up in the overhead; the bottles and snacks come out and go into the back of the seat, but the diapers and changes of clothes stay up in the diaper bag. You can only change a diaper when it is also safe to open the overhead, so no need to cramp the space with more stuff. The backpack with books, games, and stuff for us goes down by our feet.

Be Friendly to your Neighbors- You don't owe them candy or anything like that, but a sweet hello and introduction can earn you a lot of goodwill or at least let you know who you are dealing with.

How to Survive Diaper Changes

In the Airport- Family bathrooms! Any time you can team effort a diaper change, do it. Also, in some airports (looking at you, O'Hare) the diaper changing area is too close to a sink or other distracting toys. Teams efforts are just happier, and even if you are on your own, you don't have to feel like a room of eyes are on you.

On the Airplane- Once we decide it has to happen (sad moment every time, one person take the Bub to get in line and the other person gets the diaper (and often a change of clothes- damn you illuminated seatbelt sign!).

The Boy lays him down on the "changing table" but he is often terrified, so I hate that. I will let him stand and rest his arms on my shoulders. Everyone seems much more sturdy, though it can be a little tougher. As soon as the diaper is changed, we go back to our seat with a half-naked baby, and we dress him back in our seat. We try to minimize the time spent in those bathrooms.

Other Tips

-Time changes get hard for the baby at this point. You just have to plan that any major change in schedule to take multiple days to adjust to.

- DO NOT WORRY if your baby cries. Basically everything you do on these days is for the comfort of other people- either your baby or the people around you. Sometimes, it won't work out, but your neighbors can stand a

- You can do this! Be prepared and try to think about it as a fun adventure for your baby, instead of a miserable day for you. Attitude makes a big difference, and they do pick up on it. I feel like we are always less positive and enthusiastic on trips back to Seattle (usually because we just flew days before), and you can see the difference. Adjust your own attitude and avoid panicking, and it will all be fine!

Want more advice about kids and toys? I have tons of it. Check out my Ethical, Eco-friendly, and Made in America shopping lists!

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