Flying Vs. Driving: Toddler Travel Tips

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The first time I traveled with my now 18-month-old to Disneyland, he was just 4 months old. I remember sitting on the couch—and all the items we needed to bring were spread all over my living room floor…and the couch…and the bedroom…and the kitchen counter. Let’s just say, I wasn’t heeding my own advice of packing light anymore. I had no idea what I was doing. I do have a distinct memory of crying….I was incredibly overwhelmed. (It didn’t help that I had serious new Mommy hormones raging through my body!)

I packed every burp cloth I owned, (what if he spit up 45 times in one day!? It could happen!), almost every item of clothing he owned, including short sleeve and long sleeve onesies (it was January-the weather in Anaheim can go from 75 to 35 in one day!), oh, and not to mention all 20 bottles he had. Since we were feeding him every three hours and I didn’t want to reuse bottles in one day, I thought, “Why not just bring them all?” (We were driving to Anaheim, after all.) I can’t forget the fact that I started him on formula the day we were leaving, so I had no idea how much he would need for a one week trip! You can probably imagine I over-packed. (Did I mention I was traveling to Anaheim, where they do actually have grocery stores?) So I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I could shop while I was there, I just wanted to be (overly) prepared. Did I mention the crying?

I think I have come a long way since that first trip in relearning how to pack and travel more efficiently, whether it’s for a road trip to Anaheim or a flight to Orlando. This week we will be flying off to Orlando once again, and there are many differences and similarities when traveling via car or plane on how I pack. Here are some tips:

  •  The term travel light does NOT exist in car travel—but is exponentially important for a flight! This is the biggest difference in the two forms of travel. I can’t tell you how many times I have uttered the phrase, “Well, we’re driving, so just throw it in the trunk!” I tend to be much more flexible with what I pack when driving. Whether it is an extra pack of diapers, wipes, another box of cookies-or even the one time I brought two strollers-car travel is always more accommodating! However, my hotel room tends to overflow, and I always end up with more than I need. Flying forces me to be more efficient.
  • Which brings me to my next topic-only pack essentials when flying! Buy diapers, formula, and baby food when you arrive at your destination; only bring enough with you for one day in case of emergencies. This saves space in your suitcase and money! This is a great way to avoid paying for more luggage or for paying for having over 50 pounds of luggage! If you are renting a car, just stop at a grocery store when you arrive. If not, you can have items delivered to your hotel in Orlando from, or certain car services will give you a complimentary thirty-minute stop at a grocery store before they drop you off at your hotel.
  • Buy a new toy you KNOW will hold your child’s interest-but test it first. This is much easier on a plane since your child will have your undivided attention for the entire flight and you can assist him. On our flight this week, our plan is to bring along a few new toy cars (his favorite), and we have uploaded the movies Cars and Cars 2 onto our iPad, along with a few new apps (It’s a Small World and The Monster At the End of The Book). The key to the new toy: test it out first-but not too much so it’s still new and exciting. I played the apps for my son a few times, and he seems interested. We played Cars 2 on the iPad on the floor, and he sat and watched it. On our last flight, we brought an untested new toy, and he didn’t care about it at all-it was just a huge waste of space in our luggage.
  • While driving, make sure the new toy is user friendly since you will have limited access to help your child use it. A movie is easy as long as you have a video player out of reach-especially for toddlers! Otherwise, movies on iPads or other devices should wait until the kids are old enough to use the devices independently. Books are also a good go-to for us. My son really likes to flip through board books and chatter to himself since he can’t read yet.
  • Throw all of your dietary restrictions for your child out the window-car or flight. I am not suggesting you start giving your child sugar if he or she is a diabetic. However, I am suggesting doing what works to make things as easy as possible. Goal: avoid massive meltdowns at all costs! For example, I restrict my son to 24 oz a day of milk normally because he is a little bit of a milkaholic. However, it soothes him like nothing else will, so if he is upset on the flight or in the car-I just keep giving him milk. I also like to give him special snacks-like a sucker, since it helps with the ear popping due to the change in pressure and gives him something to focus on! I would avoid over-sugaring, though-that can make a child SUPER hyper and have the opposite effect (i.e., a major meltdown).
  • Finally, be flexible, flexible, flexible! Traveling with a toddler can be super stressful. Whether you are alone or with family, the immediate need of a toddler who can’t fully communicate combined with the normal stresses of traveling will cause anxiety. However, if you go with the flow and try to laugh about the difficulties, not only will you be happier, but so will everyone else-including the toddler! We’ve all been puked on during take-off and have had to deal with major crying fits during landing-and in those scenarios, you are stuck on that plane and can’t move-so take a deep breath and remember: this too shall pass!

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Becca Braunstein

Disney Travel Planner for MEI-Travel & MouseFan Travel, Mom to a beautiful and spirited little boy, Wife to a fellow Disney nut. My husband and I spend our days dreaming & planning our next Disney vacation! Follow me on twitter @beccabraunstein or email me for a quote at

4 thoughts on “Flying Vs. Driving: Toddler Travel Tips

  • April 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

    We fly a few times a year with our now five year old son. We have a his ‘airplane backpack’ with toys and books that he only sees when we fly, and I add a new one each trip too. Make sure that whatever toy you get does NOT have sound effects, and bring headphones for any electronic devices. A sippy cup filled with something for them to drink at take-off and landing is also allowed to come through security and helps to ease the pressure in their ears.

  • April 27, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Don’t know if this has been posted or not, but there is a problem with optimizing, I ran it 5 times this morning, with the 3 options, minimize walking, balance and minimize waiting, without changing anything on the plan and I got 5 different results. I also did this yesterday with strange results. Less walking actually resulted in the most walking at one time. The slider works now, but after you optimize always goes back to balance, shouldn’t that stay at minimize if that is what you chose last? Here are my results.

    4-27 results AK for 10-21-12
    Bal l/walk l/wait l/walk balance
    total 468 465 485 477 477
    in line 94 84 79 72 73
    busy 257 258 258 258 258
    free 15 14 32 30 31
    walking 102 109 116 117 115

    • April 27, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Let’s try it this way, the grid above did not copy correctly.

      balance 468,94,257,15,102
      less walking 465,84,258,14,109
      less waiting 485,79,258,32,116
      less walking 477,72,258,30,117
      balance 477,73,258,31,115

      (number left to right are Total, in line, busy, free, walking)
      Never can get same result either


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