Flying with a Toddler, Part #4 – Toys and more!

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and since I just had a friend ask me for advice on this very subject I thought now is as good a time as ever.

Question: “…it’s going to be her first time on a plane, any recommendations on plane/toys distractions??”

Answer: Yes!!! So many!!! Here we go…

My little one is almost 4 ½ now and has been flying regularly since she was 3 weeks old; and for the last 2 year most of her flights have just been the two of us. I wouldn’t dare say we’ve mastered it, we figure out something to improve every time, but we do have our system down pretty well at this point. When she was transitioning from being a baby to toddler, we were geared up to take several long flights and I was a little nervous. I reached out and asked several different friends, all of which had done long flights with their toddlers. The one overlapping comment everyone made was food! Snacks, snack, and more snacks; and they were right – so let’s start there.

The goal of flying with a small child is to get on the plane in one destination and then get off the plane in another. That’s it! How you make it through the time in between doesn’t matter, you just need time to pass. So I start with never helping until I need to. I don’t open anything, I don’t provide direction, and most importantly I don’t try to move anything along. The longer it takes the closer you are to meeting your goal. With that in mind…

FOOD – both productive (at least during mealtime) and entertaining. I took the advice of my friends and had a ton of snacks, some are everyday staples and some new surprises. If she does nothing but eat the whole flight and is happy- that’s a win!

This is my favorite way to do travel snacks

This picture was not taken with plane travel in mind, so it has fresh fruit and ice to keep things cold.  When I the plane I would use only self-stable items.

This picture was not taken with plane travel in mind, so it has fresh fruit and ice to keep things cold. When I the plane I would use only self-stable items.

This is kept in her backpack of toys and she is welcome to explore it whenever she wants. When flying I fill it with things like: dried fruit (strawberries, apples, peaches), nuts, pretzels, crackers, baby bell cheese, fruit snacks, and I usually have one chocolate treat in there too.


If we are going to be on the plane for meal time I have started using Annie’s Snack Packs. Normally, I would pack a lunch for us, but these snack packs are great for this occasion. They are in a box so they are exciting and she can open it and figure it out (all very thrilling). It also takes one thing off my to do list for the day we are going to leave, which is actually a very nice little moment of relief (that I don’t have to worry about making lunch as we are as worried about suitcases).

I give her the box at meal time and I do help her with parts of it so she doesn’t make a mess. The only challenge is going in with the right mindset. If she’s unfocused and lunch takes 4 times as long as normal, who cares; I go into the process trying to remember that there is only downside to being done with lunch faster, the only goal is to pass time until arrival.

TOYS – Like the snacks I do a combination of staples that I know she loves and a couple new surprises. The toys that she already has that I want to bring, I make magically disappear at least a week in advance so they have an element of newness to them. The new surprises are usually things I picked up on clearance, at the dollar rack or at holidays and birthdays when she gets more things then she can play with at once. I’ll pull some smaller items away for a special event or travel we have coming up.

With the exception of a few small things that I keep on hand at all times these are packed in her backpack just to be used on the plane. As mentioned in Part #3; I pack her backpack for her so that everything is a surprise. Even the act of opening the backpack and exploring what’s in it is entertainment. And if I have to sit on my hands to not help her as she fumbles with the zippers so be it; as long as she’s not frustrated there’s no upside to anything going faster.

In the main body of the backpack I use 6 busy bags (that’s just what fits), but baggies could work as well. I find having a standard size and ability to see into the packaging without opening makes everything much easier to see and pack. Some of the busy bags are things I’ve made, and some are things I’ve bought and just put in a bag for ease. In the little outside pockets I hide smaller things.

Some of our favorites are:

Coloring – small pad or coloring book, crayons, stickers

Puzzles – shapes, popsicle sticks, store bought

Lacing Practice – lace with buttons/beads, lacing shapes

Color Sorting – button/beads/pom-poms, ask the flight attended for a couple of cups
Pom Poms

Dry Erase Book – store purchase, or use a 4 x 6 album and fill it with whatever you’d like

Play Dough – 1 small container, 2 shape buttons (I keep them right in the container)

Magnet Fun – We have 3 of these they are great for travel and restaurants. She only ever has 1 at a time, I rotate them out.

Mini Bags – I used to carry a hand full of mini bags around in my purse, ready to entertain at a moment’s notice. I have combined them into travel or restaurant survival kits in my shop, but you could also make your own.

THE REST – We’ve covered food and entertainment; here is what’s left.

Blanket – If we are flying during the summer when she’s going to be in summer clothes but the plane will be air conditioned I bring the smallest blanket I can find just to put over her lap.

Tray – As I mentioned above I always carry a handful of mini toy bags around with me; many of these include small pieces. In a restaurant I used to ask for a second plate as soon as we sat down for her to play on without everything rolling on the floor. When we were gearing up for a long flight I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that. Which sent me on a mission to find a small, thin try; this ended up being far more exhaustive then I ever would have thought. I finally found the perfect tray though! It’s small so it’s easy to pack with us and also so it fits on the fold down tray perfectly and on restaurant tables without have to clear anything out of the way.

Tablet – We (and by “we” I mean our 4 year old, since before she was 2) have a Kindle Fire. We went with a Kindle because of its Kindle FreeTime app, which at the time no one else had. I always have it with me (in my bag, not hers), but I save it for in case of emergency. As she’s gotten older I’m actually shocked at how little we use it (but of course I still wouldn’t leave home without it).


Flying with a Toddler, Part #1

Flying with a Toddler, Part #2

Flying with a Toddler, Part #3

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