Ten Tips for Traveling with a Toddler


image1 (2)In the spring, I traveled to Congo on an escort trip. Since I’m not yet a parent, traveling internationally with two toddlers back to the United States required some planning and some mental preparation. I had no idea what to expect, and thankfully my co-workers prepared me well. Here are some tips that I found helpful:

  1. Make friends with the flight attendants early in the flight. It helps to share as much as you’re comfortable sharing about why you’re traveling, where you’re coming from and what your final destination will be. While not every flight attendant will be as nice as the ones who worked my flight back to the United States, hopefully talking about why this trip could be a challenge will stir up empathy. It was helpful for me that the flight attendants knew that the children I was traveling with didn’t speak English and had never flown before. Bonding with the flight attendants led to warm chocolate chip cookies left over from first class travelers.
  2. Pack snacks for the flight and for the airport. Fruit snacks were a hit with the children who I traveled with and they also liked pretzels. While I thought lollipops were a great idea, halfway through eating it, the child would hand them back to me and the only thing I could do with it was throw it away. Having snack-sized Ziploc backs with either Goldfish crackers or pretzels helped me distribute snacks to different children.
  3. Use your calm voice, even when you’re not feeling calm on the inside. Even though the children you’re traveling with may not speak English well, they can understand the tone of your voice, making your tone as important, if not more important, than the actual words that you say.
  4. Bring headphones for both you and the child you’re traveling with. Thankfully many popular international airlines have a good variety of children’s entertainment in not just English, but other languages, too. Additionally, television and movie options for adults are substantial.
  5. Wear warm clothes and pack seasonally appropriate clothes. This may require bringing a sweatshirt with you when you travel to bring your child home. It’s likely that he or she will not have appropriate clothes for winter, or even an air conditioned airplane. An extra pair of kids’ socks would also be a good item to include when packing.
  6. Plan activities for the airplane, but don’t forget about time at the airport. Coloring books may be a great activity on the airplane, but activities that expend more energy could be a great way to tire the child out at the airport. The toddlers that I traveled with enjoyed driving Matchbox Cars across the floor.
  7. Carry a backpack. Traveling with one or more children means hand-holding and cart pushing. Having a backpack allows you to put all of your belongings on your back and have free hands to navigate through the airport with children. Backpacks also fit well under seats on the airplane.
  8. Prepare for escalators and other technology that they may have not been exposed to. Bringing a child home may be the first time he or she has ever been on an airplane or in an airport. Airports are full of conveniences for travelers like moving walkways and escalators; these may aid you in moving through the airport with a young child. However, these conveniences will likely be foreign to a young child joining his or her family through international adoption. Make sure to leave plenty of time to walk f
    rom one location to another, and keep your eyes open for stairs and elevators when necessary.
  9. Save snacks for when you’re going through immigration. Proceeding through immigration will happen toward the very end of your trip, and likely traveling with slow-moving children means that you’ll be toward the end of the immigration lines. It helps to have fruit snacks, Skittles, pretzels, or something else relatively easy to give out in small portions to keep your child or children entertained and motivated as you wait in potentially long lines.
  10. Lower your expectations. Some children travel very well, and others are not good travelers and even just putting on their seat belts will cause a meltdown. Prepare for the worst; then if it’s better, it will be a pleasant surprise.

If you have specific concerns about traveling to bring your child home, be sure to speak with your Program Director during your travel consult. She will be happy to provide you with additional resources and provide insight specific to the country you’re traveling to.


Caitlin Snyder works as the Director of Marketing and Outreach for MLJ Adoptions. Working in international adoption has given Caitlin the unique opportunity to pursue both a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people and a profession at the same time.