Traveling with a 16-month old: what worked, what didn't

This past month, Chad and I decided to take our daughter to Hawaii. Yes, we've been putting off taking her anywhere for months now, for fear she wouldn't "behave." And when we finally decide it's time, we choose one of the longest flights possible. You guys, EIGHT HOURS. I'm talking a short hop and skip from St. Louis to Dallas and then the long-haul to Honolulu.

We may be idiots.

Anyway, here is my synopsis of a few traveling tips that worked for us and some that were complete flops. Fair warning: you're probably going to think I'm a little nuts for the things we bought...

Flying with a 16-month old
I started researching the second Chad talked me into this madness. "How to fly with a toddler," "Flying with baby," etc. As an A-type pharmacist, you can imagine that I was full-on preparing. I took screenshots of articles. I bought things on Amazon. I prepared my laptop with an entire season of Vampirina. Here's what happened...

  • CozyPhones Kid Headphones ($18.97): We do not expose Maya to a lot of electronics, but she does love a few choice television shows and everyone said DVDs and an iPad to keep her occupied. We thought even if she can watch one or two it's a few minutes that she is distracted. I got these headphones so she could listen since music is her favorite part of most of these shows. However, I've made the "mistake" of hardly ever putting headbands or hairclips on my daughter, so she HATES anything on her head. She realized she could hear through them, so I thought this would be a big win... and frankly, this is a brilliant idea in my mind... but she wouldn't use them. I will say there were two kids a bit older (about 3 and 6) sitting in front of us who had these and absolutely loved them. Probably good for older toddlers/children who understand headphones.
  • Seleware Portable and Stackable 4-piece Twist Lock Panda Storage Jars Snack Container ($13.99): That's a mouthful of a name, but I loved this product the most. Now, I'm sure you can use plastic containers, snack jars or plastic bags. But what I loved is this fit nicely in the drink holder of our backpack diaper bag and was easily accessible. Since it's clear, it also allowed Maya to point and choose what she wanted. We kept this with us literally at all times throughout the trip.
  • Munchkin Snack Catcher: I had these so I brought one, but I'm not sure why because it just wasted space. I hate these and think they are relatively useless... I've basically resorted to just allowing Maya to spill food and accepting that I will sweep it up. When they're new, they work so well she can hardly get her hand in. But then they seem to wear out and snacks spill anyway, so I don't see the point. Great in theory... didn't work for us.
  • Snacks: This was the large consensus from everyone. TAKE A LOT OF SNACKS. They're right. Snacks. Also be prepared that airlines don't always have milk and apparently everyone has reduced fat milk (you want to give toddlers whole milk until they are at least two years old for proper growth and development), but this won't hurt them for a plane ride. If they're old enough, they can also drink some water, breast milk, or formula. I enjoy the formula container from Munchkin. It's minimally messy and rarely gets stuck. I've found glass baby jars repurpose well for pre-portioned formula as well. Of note, we took granola bars, goldfish, animal crackers and cereal.
  • Paper and crayons: easy investment, usually works for about 15 minutes.
  • Books: We took 3 to 4 smaller, flexible books. She loves anything Todd Parr, so we took two of those. 
  • Pacifiers: Maya has tubes so the pressure changes weren't an issue, but we had these regardless and I would suggest them for takeoff and landing if you aren't feeding to help with this issue.
  • Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs ($10): You see those thoughtful parents who make kits, right? I didn't want to waste a bunch of tiny Ziploc bags (trying to reduce my carbon footprint), BUT I did want this to be available, so I purchased a pack. We didn't end up needing a single pair as most reasonable adults know that sometimes children fuss during an eight hour plane ride, and we only encountered one couple that seemed upset (during one of our short flights from Honolulu to Hilo). I'd say I do not see children in the near future for them... or at least not a happy version of a future... but they are nice to have and if you offer them, people are immediately kinder and more empathetic to your "situation" when they know you are trying. I believe this is worth the small investment.
  • As always, we brought a couple of diapers, one or two extra changes of clothes, a portable changing mat, a couple of empty waterproof bags for soiled clothes or diapers (when we changed her in the seat, which we did twice when it was just a light pee) and a couple of shirts for us (you never know - see my post on The Great Poop Extravaganza). 

All of this preparation and do you know what worked best? Two things:

  • Microsoft Surface Pro Paint: She loved drawing on this. She also enjoys a Magnadoodle and this is probably a better option for parents who want to protect their surface. It wasn't my intent to let her do this, but when we pulled up Vampirina, she wasn't interested and wanted this instead. 
  • Two empty plastic cups and my boarding pass. Seriously, she played with this for an hour and a half. Save your money with fancy toys and get ups and ask the flight attendant for a couple of extra cups. Geez.

A couple of other notes on flying: 

  • We did end up purchasing her a ticket so she had a seat. We called the airline who told us the flight was relatively full, so we are glad we did this. We couldn't even get seats together at first, so we had to go to the gate early to make this happen (and they were extremely accommodating for each of our flights in this regard). We had a row of three and for most of the flights, we actually put her by the window where she had some space to crawl up and down on the seat (when the seat-belt sign was off) and sit on the floor some. We found this was actually better for us than putting her between us. 
  • We did not use a bassinet (they were not available), but we did take one of her blankets and it was a great idea. She used it to calm down and nap a couple of times. 
  • Give yourself a break. Again, most people realize children aren't always easy. They're not being bad, they're being kids. They can't always communicate using words, so they cry. It's all going to be okay! And you'll likely never see those people again, so try not to worry if they are upset. 



Again, researched some found hacks and items to keep my baby UV protected and safe from the waves, especially since she has ear tubes. I also tried a couple of beach tricks to see if they worked...

  • Tuga Baby Sunglasses ($14.99).  Maya has a tendency to stare at the sun. Every time I believe she is the smartest baby ever, she just looks right up and stares, blinks her eyes together and turns away... and then does it again. Knowing the sun is going to be stronger, I grabbed these thinking they'd stay on great. I don't think the fail of these is in the product itself. They are fairly sturdy for child sunglasses and come with two, fairly easy to use straps. Maya simply wouldn't keep them on. Again, I don't put headbands on her much, so she isn't used to having things on her face or around her head. Another con is that this may not work well depending on the child's face shape as I found it basically has to smash to her face to stay on.
  • The Good Ears Swimming Headband for Baby ($15.99). As I mentioned previously, Maya has ear tubes from frequent ear infections. We were worried about water getting in these and causing issues, so I invested in a "swim headband" to protect her ears. Thing is, Hawaii has pretty rough ocean waters on most of their beaches. We took her in the water once or twice and while she was submerged once, I'm not sure it was worth it to invest in one of these. I'd say if your child is a bit older and able to handle the waves OR is in a pool regularly, this is a more worthwhile item. I don't really recommend it for kids under the age of 2 going to a beach where the waves may whip a child away; hence, you won't really be letting them swim alone.
  • HIG Anti Lost Wrist Link for Child & Babies Toddler Safety, Harnesses & Leashes Walking Hand Belt Straps (4.9ft Orange + 8.2ft Blue) : YES, I absolutely ordered this. I don't care what you think about me "leashing" my child, it was a safety concern for me. If you know anything about toddlers, you know they are unpredictable and fast. My biggest fear was that she'd run to the waves and get swept away. Admittedly, she did not love having this on, but I was able to relax some knowing she was attached to me at all times and if she ran off and a wave caught her, she wouldn't go far. I did not get a life jacket or water wings as she's relatively small for these and the other flotation devices are really useful in the ocean.
  • Baby Powder: There is this hack that says to use powder or cornstarch to get sand off of your body. The idea is it dries your skin quickly to allow the sand to be easily swiped away rather than wiping/scraping baby's skin, etc. Did this work? Meh... kind of. I was worried it would turn into a goopy mess when mixed with wet skin, which I will say did NOT happen. But I felt you needed to really coat the skin to get this hack to work. All-in-all, easier (and more fun for Maya) to go use the outdoor shower (she LOVES showers, though). 
  • The upside-down sheet in the sand trick: I thought this hack was such a flop, my husband and I were laughing to death on the beach. I'm not sure why it looks so good online - maybe I did something wrong - but I could not get the sheet to stay stretched and Maya didn't want to sit "in" it anyway. We gave up after one go of it. My advice is to just accept sand may be an issue and sit their butt on a beach towel. Maybe useful for napping babies if you can get the edges to stay taut and the sheet to lay flat.
 Image from: https://

Image from: https://

 Image from:

Image from:

  • Other things I think are useful for the beach (you can buy these in most stores there OR search your AirBNB/VRBO details for these benefits: beach towels, beach mats, a frisbee or ball (Maya used the frisbee to scoop sand), and an umbrella. We propped a regular umbrella in the sand to provide shade while she sat. 
  • One last note: swim diapers are meant to catch poop only. They are not absorbent and do not catch pee... like at all. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense as regular diapers with any sort of absorbent properties would just fill and sag, but I apparently wasn't thinking. I explain all of this to say: don't change the baby into a swim diaper until you actually go the beach (i.e. not for breakfast beforehand). We learned this one the hard way...


Other travel tips/hacks

  • Travel laundry detergent. Yes, I used this. Yes, I think it's worth a few bucks. We were gone for a week, so to pack enough clothes for a toddler who sometimes pees through her diaper or has blowouts still was worth it. I ended up doing laundry at our AirBNB and washed a couple of things in the sink at our hotel later in the trip. Very useful and a small investment to make.
  • Make sure any electronics have a good screen protector or case. Your child will likely get a hold of electronics at some point and you want them safe. Maya dropped both my phone and the tablet at some point and the tempered glass screen protector on my phone shattered. When I peeled it off, my actual screen was good as new! You can purchase these almost anywhere.
  • I highly recommend silicone rings (if you wear rings). I did this because I have yet to meet someone who went to Hawaii and didn't lose their wedding ring, especially if you're busy bustling around with your child. We each bought some from the ThunderFit brand and they worked well for the trip. 
  • Ask your AirBNB, VRBO or hotel for a Pack N Play and if possible, set up a separate space for them away from your bed so they can actually relax. Our first AirBNB did not have a bed. I panicked momentarily on what to do with her, but ended up cleaning out one of our suitcases, lining with towels to cover the poles and creating a bed. It worked beautifully (Note: you should not do this if your child is still a SIDS risk). Other options I've heard people say (that may work better for infants as you wouldn't need to pad in the same way) are a dresser drawer or laundry basket if available.
  • We switched out our jogging stroller for a smaller umbrella stroller that my in-laws use (both ours and my in-laws stroller linked here). I can go both ways here. In some ways, I would have loved to have our jogging stroller to handle some of the terrain we encountered. In other ways, it is too bulky and I was very glad to have a much smaller option. I will say we had to replace the cup holder when we got back as it isn't very sturdy and fell off.
  • Ask the locals for travel tips: Chad and I had ideas of what we wanted to do. But when we asked locals for child friendly activities, we often found they recommended different things that we believe significantly enhanced the enjoyability of our trip.
  • Take a camera/use your phone, but remember to be present. People can get so caught up in documenting all of their daily activities that they sometimes forget to actually take part in them. 



And the biggest tip: be flexible. It's an obvious one, I know, but sometimes hard to practice. But I promise, if you let things go, you'll be happier. I learned that a lot of these "hacks" didn't work for our situation, but we were able to adapt and quickly find something that did which made our trip, all-in-all, an amazing one.