Survival Tips: Flying with Toddlers

planes-dusty-3It’s almost Christmas and many readers are preparing to fly home for the holidays. For some, this is an exciting event, the precursor to a fabulous visit with cherished family and faraway friends. If you’re reading this thinking, “Yes. That’s me. I can’t wait to board that plane!” then you need not read any further. We suspect you don’t have toddlers.

Toddlers are a game changer. They can turn flights into arduous battles standing in the way of a good time at home. Toddlers are the volatile variable in an already somewhat complicated equation. Yes, traveling with toddlers is no easy task.

The good news is that it’s not impossible. You can win the battles with the right planning. We’ve picked the brains of several graduate wives to compile what we hope to be a valuable resource. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even enjoy the flight. (Let’s not get our hopes up though.)


Here are small things you can do in advance to ease your mind and prepare for a smooth-ish voyage.

See if the airline offers meal reservations for kids. The food is often more appealing to a picky toddler and kid’s meals are served before the adult masses.

Consider ordering a meal for yourself that is anything other than the standard fare. The novelty meals are also served before the generic ones so you and your tots can eat in advance and avoid bumping elbows with hangry neighbours.

If you can select your seats in advance, position yourself near a toilet. Hopefully this will minimize accidents.

If you’re in favour of digital play, restrict your toddler’s time on devices prior to flying so it is a real treat on the plane.

Invest in some decent headphones. Amazon has loads of choices in this area, but look for ones that have a decibel limit, to minimize potential damage to little ears.

Download some new apps for the kiddos. May we suggest anything Curious George, Duck Duck Moose, Tiny Hands, and Kapu Forest. Endless ABC, is a winner and Richard Scarry’s Busytown and Words that Go should keep things interesting.

If you’re considering medicating your toddler, which some people will do for exceptionally long flights, talk to your doctor or pediatrician about options.  Try their recommendations in advance to make sure your child is not among the minority who get hyper, or have an allergic reaction. You don’t want either while flying.

Download some apps to keep you organized and informed. Think airport maps, real-time travel updates, and more. We found this collection helpful.

Prime your toddler for the plane ride. “This is going to be an adventure!” and “I need you to be mommy’s helper” are two favourites.

See if your airports have designated kids play areas. They’ll help get the busy beans out of your toddler and make the time pass quickly.

Do your homework and confirm the specifications for getting medicine through airport security. Some airports may require prescription labels on certain drugs.

Stock up on small treats to reward good behaviour on the plane.

Photocopy important documents (birth and marriage certificates, passports, and visas) to carry with you as you fly.

If you’re flying internationally without your partner, have them write a letter of consent to fly alone. See if there are any specific requirements for the country you’re preparing to visit.


Effective packing is both a science and an art. These tips ought to help.

Make a list of what you’ll need. This goes without saying.

Retrieve it all and lay it out on a bed. Now cut your list by physically removing half your items from the bed. Seriously. You don’t need all that.

Enroll your child in packing his or her own carry-on bag. Dote on your child for being such a good helper and pray they enjoy the responsibility instead of shirking it.

Plan your on-flight outfit to include comfortable clothes that hide stains. Leggings, cardigans and scarves are invaluable.

If you plan on tending to your toddlers whilst carrying a baby in a carrier, do yourself a favour and wear a moisture wicking tank top to minimize baptising your child in perspiration. This  is my personal favourite. You can wash it in an airport sink and dry it under an hand dryer. Here’s hoping you don’t have to.

If it’s a short trip, pack stingy and try to bring it all aboard the plan.

If it’s a long trip, check as much as possible and only bring what you can carry hands-free onto the plane. Backpacks, baby carriers and clip-on (empty) water bottles are very handy.

Pack a page containing contact details in every bag you plan on checking. Place it on top of all your belongings so it is immediately visible to anyone who finds your missing bag.


Wipes and tissues

Diapers & travel sized ointment

Ziplock bags for messy things

A least one change of clothes

Non-messy snacks

Drinks or chewable treats for take-off and landing

Empty no-spill cups and water bottles

The blankie or other treasured belonging

Toddler headphones

Tablet and charger

Minimal but effective activities (Sticker books, magnadoodle, etc.)

Energy bars

Important documents


Your mission is to avoid snags through planning so you can sail through with your sanity in tact.

Keep all liquids/toiletries in one bag or one compartment so you can pull everything out in one go. Abide by the rules. Don’t take chances.

Wear slip on shoes. Don’t wear jewelry or a belt.

If you’re traveling with your partner, define roles in advance. “You take the kids. I’ll get the electronics and food.” Take complete responsibility over your territory.

Keep technology together in one place. Make sure your devices are charged.


This is your time to shine. Here’s our advice.

Set up your “home” after you find your seats. Unpack important toys, snacks and activities so that everything is within reach.

Ask for help. More importantly, accept help.

Look for allies. These passengers are your people. Traveling parents, doting grandmothers and former nannies are the jackpot.

Be proactive about bathroom trips. Time your potty breaks accordingly to avoid accidents during takeoff and landing.

Consider giving treats on the hour. This can help older toddlers grasp the concept of time.

Keep your chin up. Ignore the haters. Shake it off.

Stay positive but expect chaos. Managing expectations is the key to staying sane.

Accept that free gin and tonic and don’t be afraid to ask for seconds.

Visualize arriving at your destination. Won’t it be glorious? You will get there, hopefully in a healthy state of mind.

Did we miss anything? Leave a comment below. Safe travels and good luck!

-written by Elissa, a current graduate wife


The Skinny on Academic Conferences

So, we’ve been on the grad school journey almost two years now and we recently had the chance for my husband to attend/present his first big conference.  When I found out the conference was being held here, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, it took about two seconds for me to conclude that we were indeed all going.  Yes please!

The conference was to be a week long.  A week long in sunny Croatia.  Lounging by the Adriatic Sea, eating gelato twice a day, catching some rays, all the while cheering on my husband as he lectured and learned at his first major conference of this sort.  Right??

Haha…not exactly.

Not to say that it wasn’t close to this.  We did indeed eat a good bit of gelato, we did enjoy the Adriatic Sea in all it’s glory and we did even catch a few rays…however the entire week looked a lot different that I had envisioned as I shopped for a new bathing suit and read up on Croatian travel guides online.

I can’t speak from a lot of experience (obviously) but I wanted to throw out a few tips and pointers for other naïve :) (just joking) grad wives out there planning possible trips like this in the near future.

1)   If this is your spouse’s first conference of this sort, don’t plan on it being a full on vacation.  They are going to need the time to prepare their slides (rather than lounge by the pool drinking caiparinias with you).  They are going to need time to process, share and practice all they are learning and preparing to present.

2)   Plan ahead if you bring the kids.  With your spouse out at the conference all day and with you in a new country, make sure you have done your research.  I made sure our hotel (amazing place with stellar deals in off season! Yeah!) had a nice heated indoor pool.  I packed many of my daughter’s favorite books, scouted out the closest mini-mart to fetch milk boxes from time to time, packed a few small but special toys and a lot of our regular everyday snacks to have on hand. (Not just for her, but for us too! It saved a ton of money to have pre-packed snacks.)

3)   Give up control. Just give it up.  It was raining half our trip (and hadn’t rained in ages apparently), I had a cold, my husband’s talk got slotted for Friday afternoon-which meant he had to spend all week working on it/questioning it, and my daughter had a hard time with the time change and wouldn’t fall to sleep all that well. It was a good reminder that I am not in control…and that is ok, and that being open and flexible is a much better attitude to have when traveling on a trip like this, than not.

4)   Travel with other grad families or try to connect with some there?  Unfortunately, no other families with children (at least to my knowledge) attended this conference, but it would have been fun to meet some of them and to enjoy exploring the city with some of them as our spouses were in the conference.  Maybe try to set something like this up before the event by emailing the conference coordinator and asking if other participants might be bringing spouses?

5)   See if you can attend any of the conference or if there is a special banquet or closing dinner you could plan to attend?  I couldn’t do this with our daughter, but otherwise would have loved trying to pop in.  We did manage to make it over to the conference centre so that we could at least meet a few of the other guests during a coffee break and we got to see the facility where my husband was spending so much of his time.

6)   Get an early presentation slot. If it is at all an option for your spouse to choose their time slot for presenting, try try try to get an early slot, so that if you do want to do some relaxing/site seeing, they won’t be too focused or mentally distracted the entire time as they anticipate their presentation.

7)   Encourage your spouse to study the conference schedule beforehand and try to determine before you leave what talks they could or could not miss out on.  That way you can have a realistic idea of how much time you might have together during the week.

All in all, we had a great trip, it just looked quite different than I had thought it would.  If you are able to get extra funding or take off work and make it happen, I think it is a great idea to attend the next conference with your spouse.  Although frustrating that we couldn’t be together the entire time, I know that it was so encouraging for my husband to have us there to cheer and support him during the week.  Then again, others of you might be saying ‘yeah right!’ about attending a conference with your spouse.  Some might need to go alone, focus, get it done and would much rather do it by themselves than have cheerleaders waiting for them in their hotel room.  I suppose you should feel it out for yourself and talk it through with your spouse before planning anything.  If you ask me :), I’d say research some crazy conference in an exotic location, apply for funding if possible, and spend hours planning a trip with Rick Steves.  But, just be open minded, patient and ready to be flexible when your role as ‘supporting spouse’ takes on a whole new look while traveling.


 Do you have any more tips, thoughts or stories to share about your experience with attending conferences with your spouse?