Advice Needed: Traveling with a Toddler

In one month, Nellie and I will be flying by ourselves to Chicago to visit my family. Yeah, I’m willingly putting myself into a flying metal contraption with mobile, curious toddler. Snakes on A Plane is mild compared to Toddlers on a Plane. Seriously. Chaos and carnage. Anyway.

My grandfather turned 90 years old (!!) earlier this month but his party was pushed back to late September so my cousin (who was very pregnant on his birthday.. So pregnant, in fact, that she had her daughter on his 90th birthday!) and her family could attend. Joshua wasn’t able to get the time off work, so Nellie and I got our flights booked and we will be flying solo. I’m really excited to be going home to Chicago, because it’s been almost three years since I’ve been and my grandfather has never met Nellie. His wife, my late grandmother, is Nellie’s namesake so this is a really special visit.

The flight is only about an hour and a half long, but I am begging you for advice. What is your #1 tip for flying with a toddler? I also have a few questions/worries that I’ve been obsessing over wondering for a while. Such as:

  • Nellie has her own seat and I planned on putting her car seat in it so she’d have something comfy and familiar to sit in. Since my husband can only come so far with me into the terminal, how the shit am I supposed to wrangle a 20 month old, luggage, my purse, and a car seat? The car seat is the main thing. What the hell am I supposed to do with it?
  • Should I get a baby leash? I hate them normally but the thought of Nellie in a crowded airport surrounded by plague-carrying, baby-snatching, brain-eating strangers makes me a little panicky. STAY AWAY FROM MY BABY OR I WILL CUT YOU.
  • What are guidelines when it comes to sippy cups? Am I going to have to carry several thimbles full of milk/juice/Jack for Nellie to sip on during the flight or do they make exceptions for sippy cups?
  • Anyone have an iPad I can have borrow? I swear there’s almost a 43.1% chance I’ll bring it back. Those are good odds. C’mon.

In all seriousness, I would love your advice for flying solo with a toddler. Lay it on me. Also, please send vodka. For me, not Nellie. She likes margaritas.




  1. 1. They will not allow any liquids through security including a sippy cup. The only expection is for formula or breast milk which they will test but Nellie is too old for that. I would suggest bringing an empty one and buying a milk once through security.
    2. They will help you get to your gate if you have to much luggage using a golf cart.
    3. Baby leash – I am totally against them but it is totally up to you.

  2. I tried to post links here in my comment, but can’t. Anyway, ‘google’ TSA Guidlines and then at the side of the page there will be a thing that says “traveling with children.” Maybe something there will help.
    Also if you go to the website One Step Ahead and type in item #13334, you get a stroller type adapter thingy for your car seat. See if anyone you know…at all! has one you can borrow. I cant seem to find it anywhere else other than one step ahead. Otherwise, Im not sure how it would all work. Your husband can be with you when you check your luggage so he can help you there. After that, yeah you are on your own sadly. I cant imagine carrying Ethan and a car seat and a small bag. Stupid regulations. Im glad you did get her a seat though. It will be easier on you both in flight. Good luck
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  3. First, no iPad. I wish I had one to loan to you, but, alas, we just got smart phones in May…it’ll be a while before we get an iPad. For geeky people we certainly are behind the curve with tech-y gadgets.

    Second, baby leash…eh, can’t really comment. We’ve tried one once before, but didn’t really need it. But when we tried it, The Punkin was younger than Nellie is now. If Nellie’s prone to exploring, you might think about it.

    Third, fourth and so on…We’ve taken two air trips with The Punkin, for a total of four flights and three airports. And I can honestly say a lot of what you can and can’t take depends on the airport. Forget what the TSA says about following guidelines. Guidelines, schmidelines…there’s a lot of variation between airports.

    One airport let us keep The Punkin in her stroller and wheel her and the stroller through the metal detector. Another made us take The Punkin out of her stroller and send the stroller through the x-ray machine. We never had a problem taking a bottle or sippy cup through security. One security guard even let us take a sealed bottle of orange juice (not a huge jug; the size you get at a convenience store) and told us to tell the screeners it was for the baby. We’ve done the same with bottled water. (The water really was for The Punkin’s bottles. The OJ…that was left over from breakfast and we didn’t want to throw it out.)

    The caveat to all this information? The most recent plane trip we’ve taken was three years ago. So there’s been three years of various world and domestic events and non-events that have changed things for airport travelers. So, I’d take a sippy cup, but be prepared that you might have to pour out the contents and then buy a $3 bottle of juice once you get on the other side of security. And I’d also pack an empty sippy cup in your carry-on bag, too, just in case you need it.

    It just depends on how much traffic that airport gets, what kind of mood the screeners are in, how strict their supervisors are and whether or not they’ve ever traveled with kids. That’s what irritates me about all the hoops we have to jump through now just to get on a plane. How vital can they actual be to our safety (and how effective) if the procedures aren’t followed across the board at all airports? OK…enough of my soapbox, back to your questions.

    As for the best way to lug everything around the airport? Do you have a purse you can wear across your body so your hands are free? Or even a fanny pack – fashion faux pas that they are – that you could wear in the airport with your wallet and ticket and pack your purse in your luggage for when you arrive. (I don’t have an iPad you can borrow, but I do have a fanny pack. Aren’t I awesome? :-) )
    A friend of mine had this contraption that looked like a small shopping cart that was a ‘universal’ stroller base. Universal is in quotes because although it was supposed to fit all car seats, I don’t think it actually fit hers and she took it back to the store. You might check around about one of those. I know it was made to fit the infant car seats; it may or may not fit a toddler car seat. And, at least three years ago, airlines would let you check a stroller at the gate and pick it up again once you get off the plane. That could give you a way to transport your carseat, stow a small bag underneath it and wheel Nellie around…at least for as long as she’s content to stay in the stroller.

    Good luck. I know you’ll have a great time. And any mishaps…um, I mean adventures…will just make for a good blog post when you return.

  4. Aha! I came across this article yesterday and thought of you:

    I really hope it helps.

    Advice – get to the airport really early (especially O’Hare), so you can take your time. I hate being rushed and I can only imagine what it’s like to be rushed and have luggage, a car seat and a toddler.

    But you’re probably going to do that.

    I’m all for a baby leash, but you may be able to convince Nellie to stay with you if you tell her to. Get down on her level, look her in the eye, and say, “Honey, I have a really important job for you – I need you to stay by Mommy, okay? Hang onto my purse strap” or whatever.

    I have no idea if that actually works. I mean, know Nellie, she doesn’t strike me as one of those kinds of kids that mentally says, “Fuck all” and takes off, but my experience with toddlers is limited.

    Becky’s got some great advice – go for a purse you can wear across your body, or stick it in a diaper bag you can wear across your body.

    And maybe ditch the car seat? I don’t know.

    Dammit, my not having kids means I give questionable (read: shitty) advice.

    But I hope the article link helps. I’ll be pulling for ya!

  5. We’re flying next year when Mittens will be just over 2, and I’m contemplating buying one of these:

    I think you just separate the car seat from the frame and check the frame when you’re boarding.

    Also, you might just want to pack an empty sippy cup and hope that you can fill it with tap water/juice/milk after you clear security. Most US airports let you buy bottles of stuff once you’re in the gate area. If you don’t want to pack the sippy, try those little screw-top no-spill nozzle things that screw onto a regular bottle. They work pretty well.
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  6. My advice: Skip the car seat unless you need it on the other side … it would be much better if the people picking you up could lend you a car seat.

    Flight is only 1.5 hours, so that shouldn’t be a problem. First 15 minutes will be safety briefing, looking out the window at machines and the takeoff. Last 15 minutes is the landing. That leaves an hour during which you can just talk or read or color or whatever with the child. Does the child really need a drink for only an hour and a half? If so, carry the cups empty and fill with water after security.

    I get the kid to stay close in the airport by asking them to help me. We have a suitcase on rollers so the kids have pushed that around the airport. Also, plenty of things to see so just walk them around and look at stuff.

    Avoid check-in bags if you can, but if you must then put as much as possible in the check-in so you have less to carry.
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  7. If you put our child on a leash, when you return for a month everywhere we go we are putting you on one and letting her guide you. Shame…….SHHHAAAA-AAAAAA-AAAAAAAMMMMMEEEEEE!!!!!

  8. We just flew cross country with our 2 year old. We got a Go Go Baby to convert the carseat into a stroller. It worked great, especially getting around the airport with a very active little one. It kept her contained. But, I would just gate check the car seat and not bother with it on the plane, especially for such a short flight. Sippies: I had a ziplock with two small and empty sippies, and just filled them on the plane when beverage service came around. They have milk and juice. Chicago has a great kids play place, so if you get to the airport early on your return trip you can kill some time there. If you can get the go go baby, you won’t need to worry about a leash. If josh takes you to the airport, he should be able to get special clearance to go with you to the gate, which will be a huge help. Just make sure he has his I.d. and they will give him a pass at the ticketing counter. Good luck, 1.5 hours is very manageable on your own! Also, if you can get an ergo, beco, or similar carrier I have found them to be a huge help.

  9. Once i traveled with my 4year old kid and it was really very tiresome. Carrying 1 luggage, a kid and a hand carry bag for his needs. Whoaw! I really felt I was Samson at that time.
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  10. Make sure to be nice to the security/TSA guys, then they’re nice to you too. I’ve never had anything but the most friendly and helpful people there, and I’ve flown 3 times with Ben now. Say hello, please and thank you, and ask questions when you’re not sure about some things. Don’t assume anything, help them do their job. :) Good luck!

  11. Think extra outfits are only for infants and award show hosts? That is wrong, toddlers find new and creative ways to destroy their clothing every day, so never forget that extra outfit (or two).

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