My Secret Weapon For Taming My Toddler On Our Plane Trip

Okay Girls, this is Susan here… and I have to tell you how excited I am about my new secret weapon for entertaining Julia during our marathon plane trip to Italy…

First, let me say… I’ve been stressing about this trip since before she was born.

I hate airplanes and taking a fussy toddler on a nine-hour plane ride is far from my idea of fun. The entire journey usually takes about eighteen hours in total with getting to and from the airports, waiting forever for security, customs and all that jazz, transferring planes etc.

(By the way, if you’re curious why I’d take on such a trip… my husband’s family ALL lives in Italy. That’s right… mom, dad, sisters, brothers, cousins the whole gang lives in Northern Italy.)

I’ve been trying to figure out how to take enough toys to keep her occupied but yet still have room in my carry on for all her extra food since I’m sure the airline food will be even less thrilling for her than it is for me.

So as I was calculating quantities of playdoh and crayons, I had a brilliant idea…

MP3 PlayerI’m going to mesmorize her with a fancy little MP3 player stuffed full of her favorite video friends!!!

I’m going to wait to unveil the little treasure to her until we’re on board and the boredom begins.

This Insignia 4GB player should work well. It’s got enough memory for up to 14 videos and we can even get an extra memory card if we want more space. I really like that it is small and light weight so we can easily have it on hand to whip out as soon as she needs serious distraction.

Now, I realize that many of you may be thinking that I’m succumbing to the babysitting boob-tube… and perhaps I am… But I hate to say it but at that altitude, trapped in coach with an overtired and under stimulated 2 year old, I will be desperate!

So what do you think of my plan?

Have you ever taken a 2 year old on a long plane ride? How did you survive? What did you bring? What did you wish you brought?

Please girls, I need all the help I can get… I think my secret weapon is going to help, but I still need all your suggestions.


  1. Susan says

    Oh… I thought I’d let you all know, we’re not leaving quite yet… it’s a few weeks away… around April 22nd or so… and we’ll be gone for a month!

    Yes, it will be a wonderful break… once we’re there.

    And Janice will definitely be busy running everything while I’m away.

  2. says

    Your plan sounds very practical…and I think it’s wise to wait to show it to her until after you’re on the plane and she starts to get bored. Otherwise, you’d run out of videos!

    I don’t let my kids watch more than 45 mins/day the vast majority of the time, so this kind of thing would work wonders for my kiddos. They sit very still during movies etc…

    I think a 9-hour plane ride completely justifies a complete breakdown of any and all TV rules (except, of course, for content!)

    You go girl!

  3. says

    Oh – oh – oh – feel free to email me and let me know where you’ll be. We live in Northern Italy too and we all love visiting (of course, we’re leaving for vacation in the states mid April…)

  4. says

    We moved to Okinawa Japan from South Caroline when our youngest was right about 2 and our oldest 7 or 8. We made a crayon holder by sewing ribbon across a washcloth so that there were slits for the crayons to slip into and that way a box wouldn’t fall all over the floor — you’d just have to reach down for the towel :-) It worked great! We took lots of coloring books and each child had a small adjustable backsack that had those things along with a sippy cup, a favorite bear/doll, and a travel pillow. It was small enough for the kids to carry and feel like they were helping but not too big to overpower them! Have fun on your trip!!

  5. says

    yes! I’ve taken a 9,7,4, and 2 year olds on an international flight. There are videos automatically on for 3/4 of the flight, although not all what you’d want your dear one to see (Jack Black = not good! ;))….there’s usually ONE kids’ video there. The secret? Pipe cleaners and stickers. Lots of them. THey’re cheap and wonderful! My kids made pipe-cleanery gifts for the stewardesses, they stuck stickers all over the (cheapo) notebooks I packed in their backpacks, and they were happy.
    I gave them each a (new, cheap) backpack with all new stuff in it, plus a couple snacks that they could get into themselves at their choosing. Each had colored pencils, notebook, stickers, pipe cleaners, quiet toys, matchbox car, drawing book, and I can’t remember what all else. They were each in charge of their backpack and carried it themselves (Hey! They get a carry-on too, to share the wealth of carrying!)
    It worked, for the round trip I took them alone, and for the one that I took with hubby and kids. From Germany to Oklahoma City both times.

  6. says

    I gotta say that Leapster saved us on a 10 hour flight from HI to the mainland(SC). My 4 year old is really active and he was VERY entertained(and maybe a bit educated) by this. Don’t forget the change of clothes tho- with only5 minutes to go b/f landing, we had a very unpleasant “re-visit” of “dinner”. I thought things had gone soooo well. . .but hey- can’t have a huge flight w/o something going wrong !

    I LOVE the idea too for the MP3-like a video ipod for kids!I can assure you that if I fly to Singapore with my little one, we will get one of those too!

    Have fun!

  7. says

    We live in Ireland and took our girls (then 6 months and 2.5) to my husbands home in St. Louis, MO last year. I was really stressed out about it. We got a special little bag for the oldest with stickers and stories and crayons etc. all things she had never seen before. There was enough so that everytime she got bored of one I’d whip out another. We ended up having a bomb scare on the plane and having to return to Dublin, ambulances, fire engines, the whole deal. It put us back 4 hours including being quaranteed at the airport with no access to food or drink… not good when there’s two kids. The only word of warning is that some of the american airliners won’t let you used the DVD anymore… if you’re flying Al Italia I’d say you’d be ok. Don’t know why as they have proven time and again that even cell phones don’t interfere with the flight, but oh well! The only other advice would be to relax… if she wants to run up and down the aisles, let her, people are so nice and would prefer that than her screaming in her seat! LOL! Hope you have a wonderful trip – we’ll miss your posts! :-)

  8. says

    Don’t forget extra BATTERIES! I have never been on a plane w/ a toddler but what everyone else is suggesting, sounds right on. Some kiids don’t like earbuds so you might want to try the buds to see if she likes them. I’m not a kid and I hate them! I bought noise cancelling headphones for my IPod. :)

  9. says

    Luke was 2 when we moved back to the States from Germany. We used our portable DVD player! I bought an extra battery. Worth every penny! Good luck, I know how stressful it can be!

  10. says

    Good ideas. The longest we’ve taken our 2 year old on a flight was about 3 hours. We found the Color Wonder products (by Crayola) to be a great distraction.
    I also agree about the magnetic books or toys. Those are great as well.

    And this gets a little messy, but a mess can be better than annoying everyone w/ a tantruming toddler! Froot Loops with a straw. Our son loved to pile them on the straw, slide them off, etc.

    And stickers. Lots of stickers. :)

  11. says

    It will help you so much! We took a portable DVD player with us, and it worked as well. I usually try to be strict about TV, but desperate times call for desperate measures. You do what you can on a plane! Also, Color wonder fingerpaint products worked well for me. My 2 year old loves them, and I didn’t have to worry about her getting paint on everything. Good luck!

  12. says

    Some notes on flying. When I was fresh out of high school I flew to China. Now I had some great kids on the flight from Tiawan. My flight was 1hr from Phily to Chicago the 17 hours from Chicago to Nariata Japan and then 3 hours from the to Beijing China. Flying across the international date line is crazy but My biggest observation about kids on airplane is the screaming during take off and landing. It’s because of the air pressure in their ears. I have a huge problem with this too! Anyway your idea it great but be sure to have something for her to be eating during take off and landing. The other thing is you from Canada right? I don’t know what your stipulations are there for food and water but here in the states you can barely take anything anymore because of the terror threats. Check what the air line stipulations are. They are insane here. My parents and brother flew to Texas this week and they were allowed to take much food and drink wise for the plane trip!

  13. says

    LOL we used our iPod video the same way ;). Also the laptop ;). Best creations ever. Bring an empty sippy and buy juice or something after security to put in it to drink on takeoff/landing (or beg the attendants once you get on the plane).

  14. says

    In 2004 we took our then 2 year old to from PA to London where we had friends living. It was hard both ways. We did the Dramamine bit and it helped that he slept a little, but he had a couple of fits of fussing and crying, not as bad as it could have been but enough that we decided never to do it again! The way back to the States, our 14 year old daughter was sitting across the aisle next to a woman who assumed, I guess, that 1. the whole row belonged to her alone. If Juliette accidently bumped her elbow she’d give my daughter a dirty look. and 2. Juliette was responsible for our son because every time he got loud she’d also give our daughter a dirty look. My poor daughter was just trying to read a book. Finally this woman switched places with her husband!!

  15. says

    I took a 2 year old on a 13 hour bus ride. I think your idea is a wonderful one. For me we had snacks, books, toys, and her lovey and that seemed to work pretty well. But I would definitely have used your idea if I could. Have a great trip! How exciting!

  16. says

    Our flight with The Boy wasn’t that long, but I can vouch for the videos as a lifesaver. This is one situation where the “TV as babysitter” is not just OK, but necessary! We have a portable DVD player, not the MP3 player type, but whatever works, right! I would also suggest bringing lots of snacks and making friends with the flight attendant to keep you mind for juice refills, since you can’t bring liquids on the flight and it’s my experience that most airport gift shops don’t stock juice boxes (although McDonald’s sells them and milk, now that I think about it and there seems to be one of them in just about every airport in the country)

  17. says

    We’re all about the portable DVD player but that little MP3 player looks so much easier to handle!! Another suggestion I have is to buy little toys and wrap them, then pull out the “surprises” as needed on the plane. Kids love presents – even if you wrap an old toy they won’t necessarily realize is already their toy, it’s a fun distraction.

  18. says

    We only had to take Mia on a 5 hour total flight. ut with a child that barely knows you it can be scary. I would try to get the bulkhead. Mia wanted to move and dance and such and with the bulkhead we had enough room for herto “roam” and dance without having to get in the way of the stweards and other passengers. She wasn’t interested in anything we brought for her but I think that was the scared/new people/blind thing…

    Good luck

  19. says

    Sounds like a great idea honestly. People who are against using T.V. once in a while to get things done either don’t have kids or have hired help. My son isn’t old enough to enjoy videos but I will confess to giving him a bit of Benedryl on our last five hour flight and it helped tremendously.

  20. says

    I just wanted to say good luck! We took our son with us to Hawaii when he was 7 months. He did quite well . . . lots of different stimuli . . . new books, and some new toys . . . but I know 7 months is a big difference from 2 yrs. I can’t wait to hear how it goes. I love your solution and I know I would do it. You do what you gotta do to keep mommy and daddy sane and child happy and interested! :)

  21. says

    On a family trip from CA to HI (6hrs) my sister brought little gifts that she had wrapped for her 3 yr old. He liked the idea of getting something to unwrap. They were just little things she got at the 99 cent store or Big Lots. A couple were better like Thomas the Train but it kept him occupied and excited to see what was next when he got bored of the other.

    There are a ton of great ideas here. Definetly use the MP3 player it can work miracles!

  22. says

    love your u/s pic! I’m due in July 1st!

    Anyhow, we had a portable dvd player, but it got stolen it was great for long trips, that mp3 video player looks awesome! That may be our replacement! Thanks for posting about it!

  23. says

    I wasn’t going to comment b/c I no longer have toddlers, and have only flown with them once for only three hours, but I have to echo the pipe cleaners comment. We were recently in the car for a few hours and someone sent us on our way with pipe cleaners. My kids are 9 and 11 — but made different things for almost an hour with a dollar’s worth of pipe cleaners!!! Who knew? I was amazed — for a 2 year old it may only last a few minutes, but it’s a buck! I would get some pipe cleaners — you can make your own “special glasses” for yourself and not see the rest of the plane! :-)

  24. says

    I’m going to wait to unveil the little treasure to her until we’re on board and the boredom begins.

    Oh sister, that is KEY to entertaining a child on an aircraft; pulling out the weapons ONE. AT. A . TIME. and engaging your child in EACH. ONE. until you have milked every last ounce of interest and play out of it before moving on to the next. In this case (a 9 hour flight) the MP3 player is your “big guns.” Btw, I’m coming at this as one who worked in the airline industry for nearly 14 years, whose dh still works there, and who has traveled with a 3½ yo, 14mo and 6 week old (and got stuck on the tarmac for over 3 hours on that trip, only to have the flight cancel, and our kids never fussed except once when our ds was tired and falling asleep).

    Items to consider:
    -mini flap books (take less space and little ones love to open the flaps a g’zillion times)
    -small stacking cups (and a ball or other object you can hide to play “find the ball” as you shuffle 3 cups).
    -a very, very, VERY soft afghan (made from baby yarn).
    -a pen ( to draw a puppet on the barf bag)
    -those little 6-packs of cheese or peanut butter crackers
    -raisins in mini boxes
    -capri juice drinks (they’re nearly colorless).
    -ziplock bag of cheerios or other cereal
    -10 lego blocks or so
    -sewing cards
    -tiny notebook, pencil and a large eraser (you draw a small image and let her make it “go away”)
    -a mini penlight or flashlight
    -a small liquid motion toy

    The KEY is definitely DEFINITELY to pull these items out one at a time. And I need to back up and say do not bring out even one item until you have completely and thoroughly exhausted every single entertainment item on the aircraft that stirs your child’s curiosity. For starters, just keep her looking out the window and watching the baggage handlers while on the ground. Point out the moving bag belt. Count the bags riding on the belt. Try to wave at the handlers. Oooh and aaah over planes moving on the tarmac. Move to opening and closing the window shade when she gets bored of just looking out. Move to the air flow knob overhead. Get breeze going and make a big deal about feeling it. Move to the magazines. Scrutinize the pages together. Find the toys in the onboard shopping magazine. Make believe you’re using them (ie. “Mommy’s going to ride down that slide. WeeeEEeee!”) Find a magazine photo of a full face, tear out the lips and put it over your face like a mask and talk through the torn hole. She’ll crack up forever over it. And when you’ve done all you can do with the plane as entertainment, THEN begin to bring out the guns, oh so slowly. And even a trip to the bathroom can be a distraction.

    There’s my waaaay too long suggestion for getting through.
    We also took these same kids on a 5 hour trip from Cleveland to LAX when they were 14 mos, almost 2½. and 4½. It went quite well, all in all (now we have a fourth to work into the travel routine; Oy vey).

  25. says

    I think I am an expert in this department. I have took my daughter from Seattle to Hong Kong every year to visit her grandparents since she was 2 months old. 15 hours flight each way! I didn’t know how i can make it, but it is definitely not something I enjoy … It was a nightmare when she was 2 years old, man, i was so tired I almost cry.

  26. Julie D. says

    Our life saver was definitely some new notebooks with crayons and lots of stickers! Also the new color wonder paper and pens are great, as she was always excited to see what would pop up and the markers only color on the special paper. We also took our portable DVD player with us, and lots of videos… it would entertain her and sometimes another child on the flight :) Have fun!

  27. says

    Oh I forget to mention: my secret weapon is a portable DVD, i always bring along a few my daughter’s favorite DVDs to keep her occupy; also, a lot of snacks!

  28. says

    What i wished [italics] i [end italics] did was upgrade to first class no matter what. I highly regret taking a two year old on a plane trip from southern california to the atlantic coast of florida in the rear seats of coach. W H A T – A – M I S T A K E ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! And a DVD player might work. Benadryl DIDN’T work for my incredibly active 2-year-old (maybe it’s because she should’ve been a boy)!!

    Blessings darling. May the God of peace, comfort who is also the creator of your child show you His grace through the traveling “happiness” of your trip. I certainly will [honestly] be praying for you!!

  29. says

    We are out of the toddler stage, but short of drugs…I think your idea is the way to go. And you know I would not REALLY drug the kids, right? 😉

  30. Amy says

    I am a Navy wife and I cannot count the number of long plane rides I have taken with my children just to get out of our house when the husband was away. Especially when my oldest was 1-3 years of age. One of the greatest discoveries was those paint books that just require water. I can’t think of what they are called but the pictures have colored dots on them and when you paint with water the color spreads across the page. I can find them at Target here in the States. We were able to just get a little cup of water from the flight attendant and you only need a little bit so if it spills it isn’t that big of a deal. Color Wonders area also great because you don’t have to worry about your daughter coloring on anything besides the paper. Also sticker books are a godsend. My kids could spend hours doing them. They also just love to stick stickers on anything, so sheets of stickers and paper are also great. And of course the portable DVD player! I recommend getting headphones if you think your daughter might wear them but I know people would rather here a movie than a screaming child so that is not a big deal. I also have a friend who has done many international flights and she always grabs a blanket and makes a tent over the seats. Another great item is the travel size Doodle Pads.

    I saw someone recommended the Leapster and having a 5 and a 3 year old I know the Leapster is going to be too old for your daughter (recommended age range starts at 4). My 3 year old doesn’t have a clue on how to use it.

    But whatever you get for the trip HIDE it until you are on the plane and you need it. Also let your daughter carry a backpack, it makes her feel very important. A light weight wheeled one is great. We actually love the Pottery Barn Kids Rolling Backpacks becauase the handle telecopes to two heights so if we need to pull it we can without being all hunched over and since it is a backpack we can also hang it on the back of the stroller.

    Also people are very right about the ear popping issue. It is important to have something to chew or drink when taking off and landing. If that doesn’t work just wiggle her ears for her to help clear them. I felt so bad once for a baby that screamed all during decent and I politely recommended wiggling her ears to the parents and they got very upset with me, but the poor baby just cried and cried and I am sure it could have been prevented.

    Medicines affect kids differently so if you want to “help” them sleep, try it at home first. I know Benadryl makes my youngest hyper so that would be nightmare to give to him before a long flight. :-)

    I love the pipe cleaner idea! I am going to have to get some of those for when we move to Hawaii from the East Coast this summer! Thanks!

    Have a great trip and best of luck!

  31. says

    I read through almost all the comments to not repeat the already good advice, but one thing that helped me with my 2 year old was the SLING! Can you believe it! Sometimes in line, or even sitting on the chair in the plane just to be snuggled close to mom was what she wanted. Also in line I could carry her and have my arms free and this worked great when she was tired.

  32. says

    I think it is a wonderful idea! I wish I had my iPod last September when we made a 12 hour drive to Topeka. Now I fill it up with Dora and the Backyardigans – even for the short 5 hour drive to Atlanta!!

  33. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) says

    Thank you all sooooo much!!!!

    What fantastic advice… I am so excited to try all your suggestions.

  34. says

    Susan, we took a 4 year old, a 2 year old and 6 month old on a 24 airline trip ( with three flights and stopovers) to India last year! Definitely not for the faint hearted! They did show some kid movies on the flight but my 2 year old was not interested. The 4 year old was ok with the tv. They did sleep for most of the latter two flights.

  35. says

    Well, neither of them were two, but we flew from Moscow to Zurich to Chicago to Seattle (36 hours of travel) with newly adopted non-English speaking children (5 and 6 yrs old).

    The Swiss Air flight gave us plastic sticker books, the ones that you can move the stickers on over and over. These were awesome.

    The best thing we took, however, was oodles of earplugs. We handed them out to the folks around us who obviously needed them.

  36. Jen says

    I have traveled with 11 mo twins and 2yr old twins. The pipe cleaners are awesome for the 2 yr olds let the creative juices flow! the younger ones we had a few new toys and lots of chewy toys as one was teething too and those helped during take-off and landing. When I travel with toddlers I usually bring circle cereal like cheerios or fruit loops and some string. The kids have to make a necklace out of the snack before they can eat it. For some of them its VERY entertaining for them and myself to watch. Large buttons and lacing string was a big hit too. small cars and and toys with music or lights that were not seen before. We actually hid a few of their favorite small toys a month before and then pulled them out on the plane and their eyes just lite up like they had found an old friend. Okay last one I promise. We had a small box about the size of two duplos that they loved putting other toys in and out of, can’t remember what it was from just a simple cardboard box. Good luck!

  37. Jenn says

    I love all of you great ideas thank you! We are taking our son to Italy departing from the states in september he will be almost 3. After reading all of your posts I feel more hopeful about the trip.
    Things are as exciting as you make them for toddlers.

  38. Jenn P says

    You guys got my creative juices flowing. Just thought I’d share my brainstorming with you:

    simple origami
    simple game: which post it note is the sticker under
    finger puppets

  39. stacey says

    I am traveling to Egypt from London on the 24th and after reading everyones suggestions I now have lots of ideas of how to keep my 2year old entertained thank you!

    A few other ideas:

    shape sorters
    paint dabbers
    etch a sketch

    hope u have a wonderfull holiday and a safe journey!

    thank you everyone for ur excellent ideas!

  40. Amber says

    Thank you so much for your suggestion! It is so true. I am learning- in a few months from now I will be taking my 16 month old from New York City to Montana, two 2 1/2 hour flights and a two hour drive. This will be her fourth flight, the longest was to phoenix, 5 long hours. As soon as I buy the ticket for each trip, I immedietely start a complex, mapped out, every minute orchestrated strategy for how to keep her entertained it seems like! New toys, hide favorites, everything you guys have all said! I become consumed- everywhere I go whatever I am doing, until the flight I am constantly searching for flight toys!

  41. jenna says

    hi, my name is jenna and i a mummy of 1 little 2yr old monster lol. Hes into everything and very hard to keep occupied for any longer than about 20mins. We are heading off to turkey in may and i am dreading our flight there and back. He got an i teddy for x mas so i think that will be our best bet, he can watch all his favourite cartoons on the plane and ill also bring colouring in books and crayons to help keep him interested in everything i can.

  42. Q says

    Here are some small toys that have helped my three and two year old boys on long flights:

    -McDonald’s toys (a couple of small items with characters that they like – Star Wars, lego cars, hot wheels – its even better if the items are still individually wrapped as the boys love to open them up, I buy them on EBay);
    -Post it notes (draw a picture or write their name under a post-it and mix it up with two other notes, asking them which one has the drawing)
    -Wikisticks (like pipe cleaners except they can stick together due to their wax composition)
    -New types of drawing utensils (glitter crayons, mini stampers, color wonders markers, non-drip paints ( look like markers, by Crayola))
    -Building kits (foam cars, people, bugs)
    -Play doh, model clay (by Crayola)
    -Different sets of stickers so that they can create a story
    -Kids chopsticks (attached at the top) or plastic toy tweezers and small snacks that the kids can pick up and place in a cup

  43. Marla says

    We actually just drove from TN to PA took us 2.5 days with my 22mth old. The way we did it; we planned various stops, like petting zoo in VA, Chliden’s Science Museum in TN, Water Parks, and we filled up the rest of the time with her favorite TV programs, such as Diego, Dora, Backyardigans, on a portable DVD player. And we stopped for the night lates 7:00pm. That worked, we were surprised at how well she dealt with such a long trip. We seem to be more bored than she was.

    We are off to Denmark in about 4wks, so definately taking the portable DVD player.

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