Lessons Learned from Our Turbulent Flight with a Toddler: Tips for Stress-Free Travelling

Lessons Learned from Our Turbulent Flight with a Toddler: Tips for Stress-Free Travelling

Last week was a great example of how simply knowing what works isn't enough. You have to put it into practice.

My partner and I are currently visiting family with our toddler on the Gold Coast, and we were naïve to think that a 2-hour flight would be easy. We thought "2-hour drives are not a problem... why would flying be any different?"

It was.

Further to this, my partner and I caught the flu before going on holiday so we delayed our packing and prepping to the last minute - almost right before we drove to the airport.

So there we were, checking in at the airport with the stroller and car seat bagged up for checking (tick!). The carry sling to get our heavy little traveller to the gate was at the ready (tick!).

So far, so good.

Waiting at the gate, our son had no interest in sitting in a highchair. When you’re 18 months old, sitting still is like serving a jail sentence. Luckily, we found a little play area where he could burn off some of that seemingly limitless energy.

When boarding time arrived, it didn’t take more than five minutes for us to realise our first mistake: we didn’t book a seat for our son. We didn’t think two hours on one of our laps would be unbearable for him, however he informed us immediately this wasn’t what he'd expected.

We shared the row with one poor lady who sat by the window (luckily, with ear pods at the ready). My son was on my lap in the middle, and my partner sat on the aisle.

The two hours that followed became the longest of my life. He bawled, kicked and screamed for most of the flight. The relief was during take-off and landing, which he surprisingly enjoyed, along with an un-scheduled bottle break. Nothing else calmed him down and we were forever grateful when the lady in the row behind us started playing peek-a-boo to brighten his mood.

Ah, the kindness of strangers.

We felt exhausted and emotionally numb when we got off the plane.  So, what had gone so terribly wrong?

These are our lessons learned:

  • Book a seat for your toddler: No more flights on the lap. He hates it and won’t stop reminding us all the way. We booked him a seat for our return flight as we didn’t want to go through this painful experience again.
  • Utilise a seat hammock: These hammocks are an amazing invention. They provide more space for your child to play and relax. Plus, they prevent toys from constantly falling below the front seat.
  • Bring your tablet: Get it ready, charged and loaded with many hours of Miss Rachel, the Wiggles or whatever your child loves. It’s this little guilty treat when everyone’s sanity is at stake.
  • Pack some other entertainment essentials: My son enjoys water colouring books to doodle and see-through containers with heaps of little toys in them, which he can empty and refill over and over. He also loves anything he can open and close repeatedly, such as a pen with a cap, a yoghurt pouch with a cap or even just a plastic bottle. Sometimes, it’s the simple things.
  • Bring their favourite music or stories: You can either play it from your phone (just make sure you downloaded it for offline play) or bring his Toniebox. Unfortunately, Tonieboxes & Tonies are incredibly expensive here in Australia, but they are fantastic for toddler entertainment. If you plan a trip to the UK, you will get them there for a fraction of the price. 
  • Prepare for snack time: Pack lots of your child’s favourite snacks. We will take homemade carrot cake, cheese sticks and yogurt pouches. Plus, a bottle if he gets very unsettled.

With these tips in mind and better preparation this time, we will fly back to Melbourne on Thursday. I will report on how we went after making most of these improvements. Wish us luck!


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