Remember when one airline's slogan was "Fly the Friendly Skies?" Not anymore. Flying with young kids has become a full contact sport, with more airlines canceling priority boarding for families with small children, putting weight limits on gate-checking strollers, and parents being forced to pay a premium to actually sit with their kids. Add to those headaches the task of keeping a toddler happy, quiet and safe as they're forced into immobility by the rules of either the road or the airline.
If we can give you just one piece of advice, it's this: Be Prepared. Yes, we know the Boy Scouts said it first, but preparing well in advance for your trip can save the sanity of everyone involved. Start by contacting your airline and making sure you understand their policies on traveling with children, from pre-boarding, to carry on restrictions, to available in-flight food and entertainment. Then, take a look at this list of travel-friendly products, they're sure to make life easier for you and your young world traveler.
Getting Around: The QuickSmart Backpack Stroller (*Est. $170 - pictured) transports your toddler through the airport and throughout your vacation adventures. It weighs just 11 pounds, can be carried like a backpack (carrier included) and folds up so small it fits in the overhead compartment of most planes. It's suitable for children from 6 months to 45 pounds.
Staying Safe. Hauling a bulky car seat through the airport and on and off a plane is a big hassle. Fortunately, there's an alternative for toddlers from 22 pounds (or 1 year old) to 44 pounds: the CARES Airplane Safety Harness (*Est. $64 - pictured). Approved by the FAA, CARES is portable, easy to install and secure. It weighs only a pound and fits into a small pouch. Babies under 1 year old should be in an FAA approved car seat with rear-facing capabilities, such as our Best Reviewed Chicco KeyFit 30 (*Est. $180), which holds babies up to 30 pounds.
Keeping Busy. Portable and contained are the key words when traveling with a toddler. Organize an activity kit for everyone in advance, like this simple Kid's Travel Kit from Martha Stewart. For toddlers, fill it with finger puppets, crayons and simple coloring and activity books. Also, check out this Pinterest board for dozens of ideas on travel activities for kids of all ages.
Feeling Full. Snacks are a necessity, but they're probably not enough for a long plane ride. It's crucial to pack a filling meal for your toddler, including drinks. Don't count on cabin service; they often don't have anything more substantial than peanuts and if it's turbulent they won't serve at all. Pack your child's favorite foods in a Zoo Lunchies (pictured) insulated bag from Skip Hop Zoo. It attaches to our best-reviewed Skip Hop Zoo Pack backpack so your toddler can carry all his own stuff.
Desperate Distraction. Eventually, your child is going to get restless and bored with the art supplies and snacks and want what you have. No need to surrender your expensive, big person iPad to your toddler to head off an imminent meltdown. The Android-powered VINCI Tab II M (*Est. $165 - pictured) looks like a small tablet or smart phone and is suitable for children from 18 months to 9 years. It offers access to a library of games, apps and videos. For older children, enable WiFi so they can Skype with friends and check email. For other kid tablet suggestions, check out these kid-worthy options.
Safe Sleep. If you're traveling by car and are leery of hotel loaner cribs, or with friends or family and don't want them to have to scramble to buy something, the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light (pictured) should be in your trunk. It folds up fairly small, comes with a carry bag and weighs only 11 pounds. It accommodates newborns through age 3.