Flying High in the Sky

So my husband and I recently had the pleasure of traveling, by plane, with our two-and-a-half-year-old toddler. I should mention, too, that she has never flown before. Oh yeah, and she’s potty training.

During the months leading up to this adventure my emotions ran the gamut from extreme excitement to pure dread.

I was eager to participate in my daughter’s first air travel experience and excited to watch her face light up when she saw the airplanes through the airport windows and as she got her first glimpse at the world while flying high in the sky. Would she remember those moments? Maybe. Maybe not. But seeing her experience them for the first time was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for me. One that I will remember for a long time.

As excited as I was, and as much as I was looking forward to our trip, a feeling of dread kept creeping its way into my head.

I mean, this was uncharted territory for us! I didn’t know what to expect and dreaded that we would be THAT FAMILY on the plane. You know what I mean, the family with the child who screams bloody murder during the entire trip. Just thinking about it made me break out into a cold sweat and caused me to second guess our grand plan to take a family vacation with an unpredictable toddler.

There was nothing I could do about it though. The plans were made and the tickets were purchased. But I didn’t just sit idly by and hope for the best. I did everything I could think of to make the trip smooth, easy, and entertaining.

I scoured Pinterest for quiet activities to keep my toddler busy and reached out to friends who are veterans when it comes to flying with kids. In the end I landed on two main things: Busy Bags and Snacks.

Busy Bags
I found hundreds (yes, literally hundreds) of busy bag ideas on Pinterest. I sifted through pin after pin, repinning ideas that were quiet, non-messy, and required very little effort on my part – I was not willing to learn how to sew, nor interested in purchasing a sewing machine for this endeavor! In the end I created six different busy bags (you can also have your kid(s) help make the busy bags for an added bonus!) that were sure to be FUN and EDUCATIONAL:

  1. Pipe cleaners and pony beads
    I bought a package of multi-colored pipe cleaners and a bag of pony beads. I poured the pony beads into a small plastic container I found at Michaels for $1.00 and put that, along with several pipe cleaners, into a sandwich sized baggie. Possible activities: count the beads and/or pipe cleaners, match-up the different colored beads, match the beads to the same colored pipe cleaner, string the beads onto the pipe cleaners.
  2. Container of pom poms
    For this I bought a small bag of colored pom poms and used an old sour cream container I already had on hand. I cut a hole in the lid of the container and used Washi tape to cover the sharp edges of the plastic. The pom poms fit nicely inside the container and didn’t require any other packaging. Possible activities: count the pom poms, match the colors, push the pom poms through the hole.
  3. Clothespins and colors
    I had bought a large bag of clothes pins at the outlet mall just before Christmas and was happy to use some of them up for this busy bag (and the next one). I stopped by the Lowes paint department one day and snagged a few of the free color cards. I cut off a small strip from the side of each card and glued each color to the back of a clothes pin. This is a great activity for matching colors and for practicing fine motor skills with opening the clothes pins.
  4. Clothespins, shapes, letters, and numbers
    I took the colored clothes pins and flipped them all over and wrote letters and numbers on the other side. I bought a small bag of foam stickers that included several different colored sports balls and wrote the same letters and numbers on the back of the stickers (without removing the paper backing). Possible activities: matching letters/numbers, putting letters in alphabetical order, putting numbers in numerical order, matching colors, matching types of balls.
  5. Foam shapes and stickers
    I found a couple packages of foam stickers and a package of larger foam shapes in the $1 section at Target. Possible activities (depending on the stickers): matching stickers and decorating the larger foam shapes with the smaller stickers.
  6. Felt shape matching
    I bought two pieces of felt at the craft store, one to use as a base and one to use for the cut-out shapes. I traced different shapes on the white piece and cut out the same shapes with the red felt.

I also threw in a coloring book,crayons, and a dry-erase activity book.

I knew that it was going to be very important to pack snacks. Not so much to tide everyone over if we weren’t able to eat lunch or dinner on time. I figured, if nothing else works to keep my daughter happy on the plane, I would resort to stuffing her full of her favorite snacks (yes, even the unhealthy ones). So I gathered up some of her favorites, but also bought some new treats she’d never had before. I also threw in some dried fruit for good measure.

Other Tips
I divided the busy bags into two groups: one for the plane ride there and one for the plane ride home. I packed each activity into its own contained baggie, then packed each group of baggies into a gallon Ziploc bag. One gallon bag went in my daughter’s carryon suitcase and the other went in a checked bag. I did the same thing for the snacks and found it really helpful once we reached our destination. We used up the snack items in the bag that we had on the plane then pulled out the new bag for the return trip.

SuitcaseTo help make the trip more fun, I bought my daughter a special suitcase just for her. I used that to pack all of her activities and snacks in. Plus, it was just the right size for her to push/pull on her own. I also made sure the suitcase had a strap that I could use to sling it over my shoulder when my daughter got tired of pushing/pulling it on her own.

We all know that airplanes are not the most sanitary places to be and it’s very easy to catch and spread germs in such tight quarters. In light of that, and the fact that we were traveling on the tail end of the flu breakout, I made sure to pack some things that would help limit our chances of getting sick. I packed a small package of Wet Ones sanitizing wipes (found in the travel section at Target) to wipe down the tray tables. I also brought along a package of plastic table covers (like the ones available in the mall food court) to use on the wiped down tray tables. The table covers not only protected my daughter from the germy trays, but also protected the trays from my daughter! Another item that we don’t leave the house without are the Johnson’s hand wipes which also kill germs as well as clear grime from little hands. With a potty training toddler you never know when you’ll need a good old fashioned butt wipe, so I threw in a package of Huggies princess wipes which my daughter picked out herself!

Potty Training
My daughter is at the point in potty training where she is in panties when awake. However, we didn’t want to be faced with the dilemma of her having to go potty RIGHT NOW when the plane was in the process of taking off or landing. So we put her in a pull-up and that was that. She remained dry during both travel days and she and I both got to experience, twice, the special treat of cramming into the airplane toilet so she could go. I can’t really offer any tips/tricks on that score–you just have to figure it out as you go!

Getting to and Around the Airport
I absolutely HATE feeling rushed. So we planned our travel days to best accommodate our routine and schedule. We booked late afternoon flights so we weren’t rushing off super early in the morning. That, along with a time zone change, gave us a little bit of time in the evening to get from the airport to our final destination without encroaching too much on bed time. We arrived early at the airport both days which gave us plenty of time to navigate the airport ticket counters and security lines without having to run like crazy.

Once we were there and settled with time to spare, we were able to casually walk around. We lucked out and both airports had small play areas for kids which helped keep my daughter busy and gave her a chance to burn off some extra energy before sitting on the plane for three hours.

We chose to bring a stroller in case our daughter got tired of walking through the airport, but it actually came in handier to use it for some of our bags. And it was super simple to gate-check a stroller.PipeCleaners_Beads_02

So, by now you might be wondering how our travel experience went down. Was it a pleasant jaunt across the country, or was it a nightmare from Hell? Did the busy bags and snacks work to keep my daughter happy and content?

Overall I’d say the trip was great and a huge success. But my daughter really wasn’t interested in most of the busy bags I made! I’d pull one out and she’d do it for about 3.5 seconds and say she was done. The busy bag she liked the best was the pipe cleaners and pony beads. That kept her busy for about 20 minutes.

As for snacks, she really didn’t snack as much as I thought she would. At the last minute I threw in a couple of candy sucker sticks and that kept her busy most of the way home.

So maybe I over planned a little! But I’m a firm believer in Murphy’s Law. If I hadn’t packed all the busy bags and snacks, she would have wanted them!

Are you planning a trip in the near future with your little one(s)? Or have you traveled with them in the past? What do you do to ensure a smooth traveling experience? Tell us below in the comments!

Becky is a Minnesota Native and Wisconsin Badger fan living in the heart of Hawkeye Country. Since graduating from high school, she has lived in Duluth, MN; Birmingham, UK; Minneapolis, MN; Louisville, KY; and Madison, WI, but is now happy to call Iowa City home. She and her husband have been married for ten years and have a spirited four-year-old daughter and a mischievous baby boy. Becky juggles working from home and keeping two kids happy each and every day. In her free time, she enjoys working her side business, spending time with friends, relaxing with a good book, and eating snacks.


  1. This brings back memories 🙂 I have one almost 2 and a half year old who has flown 6 times already 1 domestic and 5 international- each time increasingly difficult and with more planning required. One thing I recommend for toddlers are gel clings- the actual thick gel ones, not the flat window stickers. They sell them for all of the holidays at the target dollar spot or at hobby lobby in fun shapes and characters. They are good for the plane window or the huge airport windows and kept my daughter busy for ‘minutes and minutes’ (which is a long time) on the last 3 trips! When she is done playing on her own we stick them on ourselves or fling them (carefully) at the windows for lots of laughs! And for a dollar, we toss them when we are done!


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