Flying with your baby or your toddler: an expat mom’s top ten tips and tricks


I’m the third generation of expat mom in my family. Both my grandma and my mom had to travel with young kids, often on their own, now it’s my turn! With family scattered around the globe, family reunions mean many hours spent on planes, trains and other means of transportation… Here are my top ten tips and tricks for flying with babies or toddlers.


1-      When possible, get a seat for baby and try to get seats in the middle row. Why? When you get tired of holding baby, you can make baby a little nest in his seat with pillows and blankets and get some rest. Some parents actually like to board the plane with their car seat, so baby is securely seated in something that feels familiar. With a toddler, having the extra seat allows your squirmy kid to have their own tray table to play on and their own screen to view cartoons. More peace for mom and dad… Most people want to have window seats so more often than not, if you pick seats in the middle-row on a plane, you’ll end up having the whole row to yourself, which allows you to have more space to stretch out. Remember that the plane bassinets are scarce and only hold babies up to 6 months. Booking an extra seat is totally worth the expense on longer flights!

2-      Leave with little tummies full! Nothing stresses out a parent or other passengers like a kid having a  I’m-too-hungry-to-behave meltdown when it’s time to board… Fill-up before leaving and pack extra snacks just in case. For babies, feed them just before you board the plane, it will make the transition easier for everyone, especially if baby tends to fall asleep after a feed.

3-      Pack a little bag just for the kid with snacks, toys, coloring books and their favorite blankie or stuffed animal.  With babies or toddlers, bring out one toy at the time, keeping them busy but also preserving some surprise for the trip as you pull out a new toy or game.

4-      Care for little ears. Most babies and toddlers will cry during take-off and landing because of the pressure in their eardrums. To avoid the frustrating cries, try to nurse babies during take-off and landing or give your toddler a sippy-cup with some water or juice to drink. Swallowing will help with the pressure.

5-      Use technology wisely! My last trip solo with my toddler, I packed my laptop with some of his favorite Curious George shows. It kept him busy through a nine-hour flight and another two-hour train ride, when we needed some calm time and we had run out of games to play. With the new tablets and other gadgets, you can keep kids busy, just beware of getting them over-excited!

6-      Pack wisely and dress comfortably! If you are travelling with items that will be checked at security, make sure to pack them in a way that’s easy to unpack during security checks. Remember to collapse your stroller at security and avoid all liquids that could be scrutinized. If you are travelling with breastmilk, just notify security, it’s OK to travel with breastmilk for baby. Check ahead of time what items you will have to show at security: liquids, electronics etc… Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, slip-ons are the best if you have to hold a squirming baby while passing security. Also remember to pack a few more diapers in case your flight gets delayed. One trick I learned for breastfeeding: wear a tank top you can pull down with a loose t-shirt or blouse on top, that way you can keep you pull the top layer up and the bottom layer down, avoiding cool drafts on your midriff while preserving some modesty and avoiding nasty comments from unsupportive fellow passengers.

7-      Check your airport’s  and your airline’s website to see what their rules are for travelling with young kids, most of them offer good advice and knowing in advance what their requirements are will allow you to be prepared. Some airlines don’t actually require you to strap baby on for take-off and landing which makes it easier if you have to breastfeed them.  I was actually able to keep my baby in his wrap carrier on one instance, which was great because he was asleep…

8-      Plan ahead for transit: we often have to change planes and go through transit. This can be stressful with young kids. Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of time between two flights if you have to change terminals, do a pee-pee stop or stop to check out the play zone to tire the kids a bit… If your baby likes to be worn, use your baby carrier, it leaves your hands free to hold on to bags. If you have a stroller, have it gate-checked and ask to have it delivered when you are in transit so you can use it to move your kid from one plane to the other.

9-       Do not give drugs to your kid! It may seem very tempting but according to my mom (who has extensively travelled across the world with kids and is a medical nurse), cough syrups and other drugs supposed to make your kid drowsy often backfire on you when you’re travelling, turning the calmest kid into a monster. Best to keep them happy and occupied with games and their favorite snacks.

10-   Keep your cool. This is the one thing I learned from my travelling family. Chill parents often have chilled kids when travelling. Kids will pick up on your stress and act out because that will raise their own anxiety. Fussing over them will get them over-excited and more prone to acting out. By staying relaxed and acting matter-of-fact about the whole trip, your kid should stay chill. Also, keeping your cool when dealing with unhelpful flight attendants or other obnoxious passengers can get you out of a lot of sticky situations!


The little passenger packing his bag

I think the only hard situation we encountered when travelling is when our kid was sick and his dad had to travel solo with him from Montreal back to Vancouver. Even then, he pulled it off. Remember to keep everyone hydrated!

What were your experiences travelling with kids? I’ve heard horror stories of horrible security checks and crazy toddler melt-downs on planes. Do you often travel with your kids?


  1. Great post Elodie! Flying with kids is a reality when you’re an expat parent. Although we love being with our families…getting there is a totally different story…
    Great timing too since I’ll be taking the plane really soon :)

    The first (and last) time we flew with Big Kiddo he was 10 months old and sick. He cried the entire flight. The good news is that the staff on board and the other passengers were very polite and understanding. One of the flight attendants even took Big Kiddo from our hands for a good 30 minutes and showed him around while we relaxed.

    Of course we had to go through all the parents in the plane giving us advice on what the best position is to hold our baby, but honestly we were so happy that they weren’t throwing tomatoes at us, that we just did whatever they told us to do :)

  2. A couple more tips. Don’t forget to pack a spare t-shirt for yourself… If flying international, check in early and ask for a bassinet they make life so much easier. Take snack that take long to eat and do not have much sugar, my kid likes edamame and it takes her forever to open and eat them.
    For toddlers pack a bag of cheap plastic new toys similar to bday goody bags, with sticker books (if you can find an airport one), take toys out one at a time. Take a small blanket to put the kid on the floor while waiting. 😉 good luck flying

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