traveling with a toddler on a plane to Malaysia

When it comes to travelling with a toddler on a plane, you might spend weeks having nightmares about what can go wrong. That is if you’ve decided to take the plunge, because how many parents prolong their travels until the kids are a bit older.

Knowing that you will be locked in a tin box for X-number of hours with no way out, freaking out is not uncommon. Because: will they stay in their seat? Will they take a nap? Or on long-haul flights: will they sleep at all? Will they eat something? Will they annoy the passengers next to us? Will they scream the whole flight? The list can go on and on and on.

Fear not, most people travelling with a toddler on a plane don’t think it’s the worst experience of their life. Phew! That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows either. Putting a toddler on a plane can be hard work at times and there’s no guarantee they will act the way you want them to. There are however quite a few things you can anticipate to make your airplane travel with toddler go as smooth as possible.

We flew quite a few times with our daughter during toddlerhood including long-haul flights from Europe to Malaysia and Colombia. Even though we feel like we have a decent base to give you information, we believe that you could use all the intel we could provide. Just to be sure you’re well prepared. That’s why we’ve asked 20 experienced family travellers to share their most indispensible item to travel with toddler on plane.

TIP: If you would like to read more tips for flying with a toddler, click here!

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WHAT DO I REALLY NEED TO BRING WHEN I’M TRAVELLING WITH A TODDLER ON A PLANE?

Don’t start panicking when you see the list below, we’ve made a selection of items that would be useful but we don’t expect you to bring them all!

So, what do you really have to bring on that toddler airplane trip?

Sleeping: make sure you’ve got the sleeping part covered with at least one item that will help your little one get comfortable for the night. That might be something small like a blanket or pillow (read more on the best travel pillows for toddlers here) or can go as far as airplane toddler beds.

Toddler plane activities: you want your little one to be as calm and quiet as possible when you are traveling with a toddler on a plane, so airplane toys for toddlers will be an important part of your carry-on luggage. That doesn’t mean you should bring everything you can find just to entertain your kiddo (make sure to read tip nr. 3 of our tips for flying with a toddler!). Three to four well-thought items should be more than enough to keep your baby occupied for a couple of hours. Add to that a bit of naptime and some snacks and you’ll be at your destination in no time.

Things that will make your life easier: there are a couple of things that will make traveling with toddler on plane so much more comfortable. First of all you’ll need something for easy transport on the airport: a travel stroller or toddler carrier. (Check out our article on the best lightweight stroller or our post about the best travel baby carrier from newborn to preschool.) Other essentials include a backpack, some sort of snack container and a water bottle. We never travel without these travel products!

COMFORT & SLEEPING ON A TODDLER AIRPLANE SEAT

The main point of concern for a lot of parents is the sleeping part. On a red-eye flight you really really want your little one to sleep, for a variety of reasons (not disturbing the other passengers and their need of sleep as the main ones). But even on a short(er) flight, you will all benefit from a good nap (yay, movie time!).

The bright plane lights, the new environment, people passing through the small airplane isles, chatter and just the whole excited feeling of going on a trip and being in a plane might be too much for a toddler.

You can help your little one relax in two ways: habit & comfort.

Habit: sticking to your bed or naptime ritual is key. Implement the things you do at home on the flight. Bring a sleeping bag if they’re used to sleeping in one, brush their teeth and read a bedtime story. Toddlers love structure and they will benefit greatly if their usual ritual is applied, even if it’s in an unknown environment.

Comfort: your kiddo isn’t going to sleep if they are not comfortable. If they’re under two and you have them on your lap, you unfortunately can’t use a sleeping aid (as they need their own chair to make something that will resemble a toddler bed for plane). On the other hand, there is nothing more comfortable than mummy or daddy’s lap. For your baby at least. Our 3,5 year old still always ends up sleeping on my lap (or stretched out over both our laps). If your toddler has their own chair, you can use equipment to get them more comfortable or install a complete airplane toddler bed. Read on to discover the most useful items for getting toddler to sleep on plane.


Travel Snug

favorite of Carrie from Flyingwithababy.com

Carrie's daughters love this airplane seat toddler
Carrie’s daughters love their Travel Snug!

We love taking our Travel Snug with us on flights. 

It is essentially a padded cushion with sides and a back which slots onto an airline seat making it very comfy for toddlers. There are loops so the seatbelt can be used normally and securely.

It is a bit bulky to pack and needs to be carried in addition to hand luggage, but we found the benefits far outweigh the cons. Our youngest quickly snuggles into it and falls asleep comfortably. It definitely is a great airplane seat for toddlers.

You can find a full review of the Travel Snug on Carrie’s blog.

You can buy the Travel Snug online, but only on the website of the brand itself. The Travel Snug comes in 2 sizes (15 months-3 years & 3-6 years) and in 2 models (with or without shoulder slots to use with a harness). Designs include (among others) dinosaurs, zebra stripes and brightly coloured dots.

Jetkids Bedbox

favorite of Frankie from Asthebirdfliesblog.com

When we were preparing to fly to Australia from Amsterdam with a short layover in Singapore, one of the first things I did was investigate ways to help our 18-month-old son sleep on the flight.

One of the options I kept coming across was the JetKids BedBox. An expensive piece of kit, yes.

We were ultimately sold on its versatility as a toddler suitcase he can ride on through airports which not only stores his toys and snacks, but then converts into a horizontal airplane bed for toddler in a plane seat‘s footwell.

I’ll be honest and say my son didn’t sleep for hours and hours on the BedBox but he did stay put in his chair as it gave him extra space and blocked the escape. It was also the perfect size to store a wide variety of airplane toddler toys and he loves riding it in airports which saves lots of arguments and tired arms.

We have used it on every long-haul flight we have done with him since and will now also use it for his younger brother who is coming up to toddler age. You can read a full review of the JetKids BedBox here.

Toddler travel pillow

favorite of Diana from theelusivefamily.com

Toddlers nap.  Most of them anyway, and sometimes they can be picky about comfort depending on whether they are in the car, on a train, plane or public transportation.  

A small child size pillow is a great solution. Toddler pillows can be stuffed into backpacks easily and their size makes it easy to squeeze the pillow in small spaces.  

It’s perfect for traveling on a plane when your toddler wants something under their head, or they simply want their own pillow from home.

It has always been one of our top travel items whenever we fly anywhere and since it is washable, it is never an issue to get it cleaned at our final destination.

Read more about Diana’s traveling family on her blog The Elusive Family!

TIP: check out our extensive article on the best kids travel pillows here!

A thin blanket

favorite of Chelsea from Packmoreintolife.com

Sometimes flying with toddlers can be an adventure and I know as a parent it is a bit daunting.

My son and I have flown all around the world for the past few years and when it’s time to pack the carry-ons and get prepared for a long flight, a thin blanket is always an item that we grab.

It is super versatile and doesn’t take up a ton of space like some other items. We use the fabulous thin muslin blankets made by the company Aden and Anais.

My son loved to create forts with the blankets, which also helped him when nap time rolled around. We also used them on overnight flights to help keep the overhead lights off his face and create a place of slumber. They are also great for rolling up and shoving on the sides of your little one to keep little toys from falling into the cracks between the seats, snuggling up as a comfort item and to be used as a nursing cover for privacy. In an emergency, it can also be used to clean up spills! An essential item to toss into the carry-on.

Check out more ideas on items we deem essential for traveling with kids!

Car seat

favorite of Kate from Tearfreetravel.com

toddler sleeping plane in a car seat
Kate’s toddler sleeps great in the car seat!

For us, the most indispensable travel item for flying with a toddler is a car seat! With our first, we never really thought to bring our car seat ON the plane, and it was only with our second that we tried this option.

I will tell you, using the car seat on a plane is a total game changer! Not only is it safer for your little one, but it makes the plane ride so much smoother!

Our little ‘wild child’ would have been climbing all over the seats and into the aisles, but with the car seat, he very happily stayed put!

It’s also really convenient for a nap on the plane as our kids are both already used to sleeping in their car seats.

If you’ve already got a plane seat for your toddler, I would definitely recommend bringing your car seat along!

TIP: if you’d like to learn more about travelling with a car seat, read this article.

Cares harness

favorite of Diana from Theelusivefamily.com

Sometimes it isn’t entirely possible to travel with a car seat on the airplane, but having a toddler also means you want to keep them safe.

The Kids Fly Safe Cares harness is the perfect option for creating a safer way to travel on planes.  As the only harness approved by the FAA for use on the airplane, it is a good option for children 1 year or older who weigh between 22-44 pounds.  

It has a simple belt and buckle design system and can easily be adjusted on any airplane seat.  It is lightweight and can be brought on board without any hassle.  It provides safety and security when traveling on a plane, and is a wonderful alternative to a car seat.

Read more travel tips and stories on Diana’s blog The Elusive Family!

AIRPLANE TOYS FOR TODDLER

If you are wondering how to entertain a toddler on a plane, this section of the article is just for you! We’ve selected the best travel toys for toddlers on airplanes that were tested and approved by parents that are used to flying with little children.


Soft toy

favorite of Amber from Hilltribetravels.com

Amber's little one going on a trip with his Soft Bunny which is a great toy airplane toddler
Amber’s little one going on a trip with his Soft Bunny

Flying with toddlers is hard. Trying to get toddlers comfy to sleep on a plane is even harder! As much as I’d love to leave the precious soft toys at home (so there is no chance of them getting lost) we really can’t do without them.

The kids’ soft toys give them something to play with, something to snuggle up with and can also work quite well as a pillow against the arm rest or window.

The soft toys are also something really familiar for the kids in what can sometimes be an unfamiliar environment. As soon as my kids have their favourite soft toy they seem to instantly relax.

Amber shares her love for family travel to far away places and music festivals on her blog Hill Tribe Travels.

Etch A Sketch

favorite of Mary Beth from Areluctantmom.com & MBsees.com

I love my toddler’s Etch A Sketch for travel.

In an effort to minimize electronic screen-time as much as possible (though, let’s be honest, we fail more often than not!), my husband and I opt for the magnetic screen instead! It keeps our son busy for hours on end, giving us time to breathe – and sometimes even nap! – on long flights.

My tip would be to get one with an attached stylus instead of the turning knobs (knobs don’t seem to be very user-friendly for kids that age). My son has a ball drawing dinosaurs, making smiley faces, tracing his hands… the list goes on. For such an inexpensive contraption, this airplane toy toddler has been worth its weight in gold!

Mary Beth also has some great tips for traveling with babies!

Books

favorite of Sharee from Inspirefamilytravel.com.au

When travelling on a plane with children, we always ensure we take in our carry-on luggage some special items from home to help entertain the kids on the flight. Some of these are hand picked by us, and others we allow our girls to choose.

We are avid readers, and our girls have loved books from a young age, which is what makes them the perfect travel accessory as they enjoy sitting with us to read a story.

This becomes extremely handy on a flight if you have a restless child or when the seatbelt signs are switched on. They are a practical travel toy as they are mess-free, can be stored easily in a bag or the seat pocket of the plane and there are lots of light-weight options.

We find they are even useful when we were in a queue or waiting to board as the girls could flip through the pages looking at the pictures.

If you are travelling on an overnight flight, they are a great way for the kids to unwind and hopefully nod off to sleep shortly after you read them their favourite book. 

Sharee shares the best travel tips about the Australian Gold Coast and more on her travel blog Inspire Family Travel.

Triangle Crayons

favorite of Keri from Ourglobetrotters.com

One of the easiest airplane activities for toddler on the move is colouring, but nobody wants to spend half their flight with their head stuck between chairs picking things up. 

We quickly discovered that chunky triangle crayons were one of the most genius inventions and best airplane toys for toddlers. Not only do they stay put on the tray table, they’re easy for little hands to grip and they can be used for quick and easy stacking games too.

Get more tips on flying with kids here!

Lego

favorite of Sinead from Mapmadememories.com

We never travel without a bag of Lego pieces and it might be one of the best toddler toys for airplane! Lego is a creative toy for children of all ages and occupies our kids for hours on long flights.

It does not make a noise, will not roll away down the aisle, it does not make a mess and the tough, durable pieces won’t break easily. Best of all, once you have finished playing with it, Lego is easily washed for reuse another trip. This toy airplane for toddler won’t end up in a landfill after one use!

To use on an airplane, bring a small baseboard and attach it to the seat tray with a dab of sticky putty type adhesive. This stops models from sliding around during the flight and will keep young toddler hands happy!

Toddler noise cancelling headphones

favorite of Stephanie from Navigatingadventure.com

Screen time for children is a contentious issue, but even if there is only one situation that you’re willing to give in to technology, flying with a toddler should be it! When a meltdown is imminent and distraction is critical, pre-downloaded television shows and podcasts, or the onboard entertainment system will be a lifesaver.

In order to be prepared for this moment, make sure you pack toddler headphones in your little one’s carry on. These should include a safe maximum level of volume and be comfortable for them to wear. The right headphones will also help to block out surrounding noise which can be scary for small children – especially if they haven’t flown before.

Our son thinks it’s a real treat to wear his special headphones on flights. And when he is drowsy but finding it difficult to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings, we will sometimes find a guided meditation for him – the soothing voice and music relaxes him, while his headphones reduce other distractions which could disturb him, while he dozes off.  

You can follow Stephanie’s adventures on her blog Navigating Adventure.

Water wow writing pad

favorite of Diana from Theelusivefamily.com

One of the best toddler toys for airplane that has proven to be used time and time again with kids is the Melissa and Doug Water Wow writing pad. 

The painting with water book has a hard-cardboard backing and a refillable water filled brush. Children have fun scribbling on the pages with the brush and watching the colors of the pictures come to life with every stroke. 

When the page is filled with color, they move on to the next page to start all over again. Each page dries in the air in just a few minutes, even when closed! 

There are numerous themes to pick from and it can also easily be brought on the plane for hours of entertainment!

Get some travel inspiration on Diana’s blog The Elusive Family!

Boogie board

favorite of Catherine from Wegowithkids.com

The Boogie Board LCD eWriter tablet is an indispensable item for flying with toddlers. 

We particularly love the Boogie Board Jot 8.5, which serves as an endless notepad that can be used for doodling and erased up to 50,000 times. 

The Boogie Board Jot 8.5 is sleek and compact and easy to throw into a carry on or handbag.  The stylus is easy for little hands to manipulate, and our kids love the bright screen. This is one “screen” that kids can use while still remaining unplugged. 

The Boogie Board Jot 8.5 encourages hours of creativity without WiFi.

Imagine Ink Books

favorite of Bethany from Wavesandlilacs.com

Whether you are flying or driving with your kids, we all know just how challenging it is to keep track of markers and crayons from falling all over the place. Not to mention the child who likes to get extra creative and draw on things around him!

That’s why our family loves to travel with Imagine Ink Books. These books are coloring books designed to only work with the special marker it comes with.

My kids love seeing the pictures comes to life and I love that it is only ONE invisible ink marker that I need to keep track of and it cannot draw on anything else. It’s definitely on my list of best toys for toddler on plane.

There are so many different kinds available from Disney characters to kids’ favorite NIckoledeon shows. Be sure to check them out and bring them along on your next adventure!

You can follow Bethany’s adventures on her blog Waves and Lilacs.

Tablet

favorite of Chris from Morelifeinyourdays.com

Of course, you want to take a range of toys and books to keep your little one entertained on a flight. But I am not sure that I would get on a plane with toddlers without an iPad or tablet. And many parents would agree that when they think about the best airplane activities for toddler, the tablet will be at the #1 spot.

In one small package, you can carry their favourite music, tv shows and games. Just what you need when they start to get a bit grumpy about being cooped up on a seat for hours on end.

Our girls also really love looking at photos and videos of themselves so why not relive your holiday on the flight home?

Make sure that you charge the battery before you go (don’t forget that powerbank that is mentioned below!) and it is a good idea to add a couple of new games or apps for your little one so that they have something new to play.

If you are looking for a tablet for your child, you can check out Chris’ review of the best tablets for toddlers.

OTHER ITEMS THAT WILL HELP YOU TRAVELLING WITH TODDLER ON PLANE

There are definitely other items on your traveling with a toddler on a plane checklist than a airplane toddler bed set and a selections of the best toys for toddler on plane. Toddler airplane tips include a big bag full of snacks and keeping your hands free at all times. Read on to discover more essentials on how to travel with a toddler by plane and keep your sanity.


Sanitizing wipes

favorite of Amanda from Toddlingtraveler.com

Amanda's toddler taking a look around in the cockpit. What a great way of traveling with toddler on plane!
Amanda’s toddler taking a look around in the cockpit

Before traveling with a kid, I certainly didn’t worry as much about germs. Things have certainly changed since flying with a baby and now a toddler. 

One item we don’t fly without is Sanitizing Wipes.

Right when we sit down, we wipe down everything with the sanitizing wipes: the seat, the tray, seatbelt, armrest and everything in between. The last thing you want to do is pick up all of those airport germs when your little one is touching and even biting everything.

Sanitizing wipes are a great way to help combat germs and sickness during travel, and the little travel packs make them easy to throw in a carry-on when flying with a toddler.

Travel Stroller

favorite of Frankie from Asthebirdfliesblog.com

Frankie's son in the Babyzen Yoyo+ stroller
Tropical holidays with a toddler in tow are peanuts with the Babyzen YoYo+ stroller

Once my son was too heavy (and mobile!) to be contained in a carrier, we knew we would have to invest in a good collapsible stroller that ideally could also come on the plane with us for long layovers in airports.

After a little research the BabyZen YoYo+ stroller was an obvious winner as the best travel stroller. It was also going to be a great city buggy for living on a third floor apartment (no stairs!) in Amsterdam.

The reason this is such an indispensable piece of kit when travelling with toddlers is that it’s light (under 13 lbs/6kg), it folds up to be the same size as a briefcase and so can be placed in the overhead luggage bins or even under the seat in front of you. It can open up or fold down with just a few hand movements (and even with just one hand if you have to contain the toddler with the other) and it’s the sturdiest lightweight travel stroller I think you’ll find on the market.

We’ve had ours over two years and it’s still going strong even after taking it with us on over twenty flights with our toddler son, and using it multiple times a week at home too. It’s also pretty comfortable for the kid too, which we know to be true as our sleep-dodging toddler will regularly sleep in it when we’re travelling – yay!

Frankie also has a great article on how to survive jetlag with a toddler.

TIP: Check out our article on the best travel stroller here!

Baby carrier

favorite of Babs from travelgearforkids.com

our daughter in the carrier while Babs is picking strawberries
N. in the toddler travel carrier while we’re picking strawberries in Malaysia

If there is one item we call indispensible when traveling, it is a baby carrier. Actually, make that one item for life with kids in general.

Wherever we go, the travel baby carrier comes with us. Ever since our daughter was 3 days old, we’ve been carrying her and it’s only now at 3,5 years old that it’s occasionaly left at home.

A toddler carrier is useful both on the airport and on the plane. When you have to manoeuver through customs and security, you need your hands free to grab all your stuff. You often don’t even have to take your toddler out of the carrier, which is even more convenient. Putting your toddler in an ergonomic baby carrier allows you to cross the airport quicker as well (because we all know how slow and/or distracted a toddler can be if you are in a hurry). And while you can keep your lightweight stroller with you until the gate, you don’t have one on the other side. With a travel baby carrier immediately have something to transport your toddler when you arrive at your destination.

A toddler baby carrier is great to use on the plane as well. When they won’t calm down or if they have a hard time settling to sleep, you can put them in the carrier and rock or walk around a bit at the back of the plane (yes, we’ve been there!).

TIP: check out our article on the best travel baby carrier here! We’ve also got more information about the best carrier for hot weather and the best waterproof baby carrier.

Rucksack/backpack

favorite of Karen from Smartstepstoaustralia.com

I feel well qualified to comment on this as I had twins and another baby two years apart meaning for a while we had three kids under three!

The most important travel tip for me is to always use a rucksack as your hand luggage so you can keep your hands free for toddler-wrangling.

My twin boys used to run in opposite directions so wearing a rucksack for travelling meant I could hold both of their hands while also carrying their baby sister in a carrier on my front. When travelling with multiple little ones, the last thing you want to be doing is thinking about your bags.

Rucksacks also usually squash under the seats on planes, so you can get to your bag easily mid-flight rather than needing to stand up to access the overhead compartment plus they tend to unzip all around giving you access to everything from nappies to wipes quickly.

Water bottle

favorite of Nichola from Globalmousetravels.com

We always take our water bottles when flying with toddlers or small children.

First, having cups of water in the small space of a plane seat and tray table is a recipe for disaster and the last thing you want is wet clothes if the water gets spilled.

Bottles of water are also really expensive and we find airline staff are usually more than happy to fill up a water bottle for any children we are travelling with.

Remember to keep it empty when going through customs and fill it up either in the departure lounge in one of the restaurants there or on the plane. It’s great to have when you get to your destination too.

You can find more travel inspiration on Nichola’s blog Global Mouse Travels!

Battery back up

favorite of Natalie from Blissmersion.com

Have you ever been delayed once you’re already on the airplane?

It has happened to us while traveling. I was so thankful to have my Anker PowerCore portable charger with me!

My kids’ tablets don’t hold their charge very long and I was able to hand over my fully charged phone to help keep them entertained during the unexpected delay. I also use my phone as my main camera, but the battery gets depleted quickly. Again, my portable charger to the rescue!

I always throw it into my purse before a trip and I always end up using it. Whether it helps to preserve memories or makes a travel delay tolerable, it’s my must have item when traveling with kids.

You can find Natalie’s great article on car seats here!

Snack container

favorite of Katrina from Mamasorganizedchaos.com

There are some items that are just indispensable while traveling with a toddler. Whether your child is in a growth spurt (which they seem to always be), or simply food motivated, snacks are key to having success with travel!

Giving your little one some snacks is one of the best toddler airplane activities as they keep your child distracted and happy all at the same time. After all, a hungry child usually leads to meltdowns… and well, we want to avoid meltdowns at all costs!

I’ve always found that snacks are also way better than activities with keeping toddlers occupied.

For infants and younger toddlers, we love the oxo tot snack container because it does not spill when dropped! And for those food pouches that are super handy… we love these pouch toppers to prevent squeeze overflows.

For longer trips, bento boxes are amazing to pack all sorts of fun snacks in. Our toddler loved all the compartments!

Preparakit or other First Aid kit

favorite of Carlita from Themamapirate.com

It is a must have item if you are flying with your little one.

A Preparakit is a mini first aid kit which contains bandages and medicines for toddler safety.

The kit contains Kids bandages, Fabric bandages, Large fabric bandages for knee or elbow, Fabric fingertip bandages, Sterile gauze, Hydrocortisone Anti Itch Cream and Burn Cream packets, Antibiotic Ointments, Swabs / Cotton tip applicators, Lip Balm, Alcohol Free Antiseptic Wipes, Antibacterial Wipes, Thermometer Strips and Safety Pins, Tweezers, Nail Clippers and Bandage Scissors, Roll of adhesive medical tape and Stickers to soothe away tears.

Contents may vary depending on the manufacturing company. But a Preparakit can make you feel safe while traveling with a toddler.

This small kit about the size of a purse has everything to provide first aids if your kid gets an injury.

On her blog The Mama Pirate, Carlita shares stories about traveling, parenting and gardening.

What is the favorite item on your flying with a toddler checklist?


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