Will he send an entire plane-load of people over the edge? How will I help him in the itty, bitty potty? How on earth do you keep a small child occupied for four straight hours in an enclosed space?
I’m here as a survivor, and to tell you traveling with a 3-year-old is very possible. And actually, gulp, fun. Here’s what to know before you go:
Be a Bookworm
Prior to takeoff, I used one of the best resources we have right at our fingertips – the public library. In the comfort of my home (after the little guy was fast asleep), I logged on to the digital catalog and found age-appropriate books about ocean animals, the sea, airplanes, and the country we were visiting. It’s nearly impossible to hunt for books while toting a curious boy through the library, so I requested they be pulled for me. A couple of days later, voila! We headed to the library and there they were. Just like that. Now we were armed with fun information about the upcoming adventure.
The Magical Backpack
If you don’t have a clear backpack, drop what you’re doing and grab yourself one. I’ll dive into what to put into the backpack next, but having a bag that shows you exactly what you’re fishing for, without having to dig and dig and dig – it’s a game changer. It also made it easy for my son to choose his next activity because he could see his options without dumping the entire pack. Try to find a bag with a cup holder and space for a blanket, it will come in handy!
Fun Stuff for the Pack
The backpack activities provided enough entertainment for a round-trip flight and distraction during an extended layover! The dollar store was the MVP with items like sticky guys who crawl down huge airport windows, small puzzles, crafts, Colorforms, and coloring books. Amazon was also a team player and had a great selection of no-mess coloring pages and magnetic play sets. We even brought small, travel Play-Doh and plastic tools for the plane. Toss in headsets, snacks, and your child’s favorite stuffed animal or action figure, and you’re set!
Encourage (Some) Independence
My son loved when he was able to help. He always wanted to carry his own pack (so don’t overload it), roll luggage, and talk to people along the way. We allowed him to do things like give his passport to the customs officer and choose his snacks on the plane. One of his best days was when he had a dollar in his pocket and could spend it at his discretion. Exercising this traveling freedom made the trip even more fun for him.
A 3-year-old may not be able to philosophize about the meaning of culture, but they can experience it. New foods, language, people, and activities are eye-opening at this age. One of my most favorite things about traveling with children is helping them to take part in something outside of what they know. To move beyond their comfort zone. With our guidance, they are able to absorb more than we realize, as evidenced by my son still using phrases at home he discovered during our trip.
The World is Waiting
Don’t let the fear of traveling tantrums keep you home. Yes, little ones have their moments during long travel. Heck, I have my moments. But the rewards far outweigh any minor turbulence. Just buckle up! There’s a whole world out there to see!