Flying Across the Country with a Toddler


We recently returned from our first plane trip with our 24-month-old. While we’ve been on road trips before, this was the first time we’ve taken a plane ride with her, stayed in a hotel, and been in a different time zone, all at once.

I can honestly say that now that it’s over, we were NOT prepared.

I mean, sure, we did fine, but there were some lessons we learned the hard way. Now I’m going to share them with you, readers, so that whether you’re preparing for your first or twentieth trip, maybe you can learn from them!

  1. BRING ALL THE SNACKS. Why are toddlers the most hungry when you don’t have food with you? Or adequate food? We packed, what I thought at the time, was an overabundance of food for the plane ride. Then we got on the plane, things got boring, and we had neither the right amount or type of food to satisfy a tired, hungry toddler. 
  2. TAKE MORE STUFF WITH YOU WHEN YOU DO THINGS. When we’re home, Piper usually needs one pair of underwear and one back-up bottoms (pants or shorts) for any trips out of the house. Apparently, being in a new place is rough on toilet learning (a note: Duh, Emily). We had one afternoon where we went through two bottoms and three pairs of underwear before 3pm. One accident happened in the car seat, a location thus untouched by urine. 
  3. IF YOU’RE CROSSING TIME ZONES, THROW ALL NORMAL SLEEP OUT THE WINDOW. The first night there, we went to bed at 10pm, which isn’t bad considering the traveling and adventuring we’d fit into the day. Except it was 10pm PST, which equals ONE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING EST. The following night we tried to do better, but it’s hard to go to bed when the sun is up! My daughter ended up taking two naps nearly every day we were there; one about an hour after she woke, and the second in the early afternoon. She hasn’t taken two naps since she was 12 months old!
  4. CONSIDER THE TYPE OF ACTIVITIES YOU’RE GOING TO DO. We spent our first full day in California on the beach. While I had packed our swimsuits for the trip, I didn’t think to put them into the car for the day, we had no towels or beach toys, and ended up spending thirty dollars on a beach blanket and a small sand bucket! YIKES! I knew beforehand that we would go to the beach, but I completely forgot to bring normal beach supplies. 
  5. PLAN DISTRACTIONS. Plane rides aren’t very entertaining after the first 10 minutes, but they’re even less entertaining to toddlers, who aren’t used to being confined with little to do. Fortunately, I planned for THIS at least, and downloaded a couple favorite movies ahead of time. What I couldn’t plan for? My laptop crashing when we tried to boot it up and spending 45 minutes trying to explain to a 2-year-old why we couldn’t watch Moana. Thank goodness for all the new toys I packed! 
  6. GO WITH THE FLOW. I’m normally a planner; the person on any vacation who has a list of proposed activities, along with the logistics already determined and cataloged in some sort of binder or book. This time around, with Easter, Piper’s second birthday party, and other responsibilities right before we left, I didn’t get around to that level of planning. AND I WAS GLAD. Being less planned out meant that I wasn’t feeling like we were missing out or off-schedule if we decided to go watch the sunset on the beach or take a trip to a taco stand (which were both awesome, by the way). 

So, the next time you’re planning your cross-continental family vacation (or just visiting relatives two states away), learn from my mistakes and hopefully, you’ll have a wonderful, relaxing time.

Or at least you won’t be cleaning urine out of a car seat in the middle of an In-N-Out Burger parking lot. 

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Emily was born in Cincinnati but transplanted to rural Michigan as a toddler with her parents. She moved back while in high school and has been here since. She met her husband, Eric, while completing her undergrad in education at Miami University. Two master's degrees, a house, and a dog later, they decided to expand their family. Their daughter Piper was born in April 2017. Emily spent 18 months as a stay-at-home-mom before taking a GIANT leap and becoming a doula. Shortly thereafter, she was approached by the owner of a local agency about taking over the business. She now works from home running Tender Beginnings while sharing adventures with her daughter.


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