How to survive an international flight with a toddler

How to survive an international flight with a toddler

Let’s just jump right into it. Ever since we welcomed our first born into our lives, people have been asking us what is the best age to travel with a baby. And if we’re honest, most of the time those people (and their babies) have already passed the mark. We felt that the easiest time to travel with a baby was around the 3-6 month age and now that we have a toddler we’re in uncharted territory. That being said, we made it to South Korea and back with a 2-year old and a 6-month old in tow. While it doesn’t necessarily make us experts, here’s a few tips for surviving an international flight with a toddler.

Snacks. And lots of them.

I don’t know about you but our toddler is extremely active. So active that he doesn’t realize he’s hungry until he’s well into the hangry stage. There are few things worse than a hangry toddler stuffed in a small space with hundreds of strangers. In order to prevent the typical meltdown, we packed what I thought was a ridiculous amount of snacks.

I packed healthy snacks. I packed naughty snacks. I packed old favorites and brand new treats. I even ordered Holden a pizza and a cheeseburger for both of his meals on Korean Air. My bag overfloweth and yet, we were running on literal crumbs by the time we landed.

You know the old traveler’s adage, “Pack your suitcase and then remove half of your items.” Well, when it comes to packing snacks for your toddler, do the opposite. And as always, make sure both you and your kiddo are drinking lots and lots of liquids.

New toys and games.

Thirteen hours is a long time to be flying with a toddler. These tiny people have tiny attention spans and can only fixate on one thing for so long. While most international airlines now come equipped with personal TVs, it might be beneficial to pack a tablet uploaded with your child’s favorite shows, movies, and games. While we try to steer clear of screen time at home, travel days are the exception. If it makes them happy, keeps them quiet, and lets mama get a little shuteye, we’re all about it.

Even then, our toddler can only be riveted by the iPad for so long. Since he was very into construction vehicles at the time (he’s now moved on to planes- go figure), I bought a few small construction set toys and stored them in my carryon until we were at max boredom. Holden’s face would light up every time I revealed a new surprise and he would be entertained for another hour.

I also packed a handful of activity books that, to be honest, weren’t really a hit with our guy. That being said, if your child is into reading and coloring, I believe activity books would be a worthy investment.

One thing we always bring with us on our travels is blue painter’s tape. We use it to baby proof outlets and restrict blind cords in hotel rooms as well as to keep coloring papers in place on plane tray tables. It does its job and is easily removable. Bonus: it doesn’t take up a ton of space.

Organizing your toddler’s carry-on

Since your toddler is now flying in their own airline seat (yay for a free lap), they can also reap the benefits allotted to most travelers i.e. a free carry-on and in-flight meals. I found it best to pack everything you need for your toddler in one bag that you can store underneath the seat in front of them. That way, you’re not frantically ruffling through three different bags to find diapers, wipes, favorite blankies, and Wet Ones wipes (a serious plane necessity).

For our 13-hour flight to South Korea I packed Holden’s bag with:

  • diapers
  • wipes
  • clean comfortable pajamas
  • a change of clothes
  • activity book and crayons
  • surprise toys
  • Wet Ones wipes
  • children’s tylenol (and any other medication needed)
  • reusable water bottle
  • iPad & headphones
  • small books (one familiar and one new)

On our trip to Korea I packed all of this in my Nena and Co CDB (convertible day bag) but when we’ve traveled internationally before (to Germany, Czech Republic, Scotland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria), I used our Kånken Fjällräven backpack. Both do the trick.

Prepare for the worst

Ok, this kind of sounds doomsday-y but if you prepare yourself for all of the worst case scenarios, you usually find yourself pleasantly surprise that not all of them happened. Our flight to Korea actually went really well until the last two hours. Our sweet son has a serious case of FOMO (“fear of missing out”) and although his eyes were bloodshot and he could barely keep his head up, he refused to go to sleep. This resulted in an extremely grumpy child. A child that was so tired he would only exhibit his discomfort by half-awake wailing. Nothing was good enough for him- no treats, no bulldozers, no Blippi. And of course, he passed out half an hour before landing thus leading to what might have been the angriest child through customs.

But you know what? We made it. No one was scarred and I had to really dig through my brain catalog to even remember that Holden had a rough time at the end of our flight. While traveling with a toddler certainly isn’t the easiest way to explore the world, I truly believe that everyone is better for it. Plus, look at all the fun he had in Korea!


What did I miss? Are there tried and true methods that you use for traveling with your toddler? Let me know in the comment section below or reach out to us on Instagram (@captainandclark).


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