Flying with a Toddler: Top 5 Tips

I get a lot of questions from new parents related to flying with a toddler and infants now that travel restrictions are lifting and the weather is improving. Here are the top tips I always give out for successful experiences!

Flying is one of the most effective ways to travel with children, but caregivers face unique challenges.
Photo credit: Leio McLaren

I can remember the first time I had to fly with my little one: it was under duress (more on that, in a later post!), during the very beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic here in the United States, and across the country. I had no idea what I was doing, I was under an unreasonable amount of stress, and I was flying as a solo adult. The second time, it was for an extended stay at my parents at the height of the pandemic, also across the country. My trials and tribulations benefit you: below, I’ve listed the top 5 tips for traveling with a toddler.

1) Car Seats: Toddler Safety

While airlines do have different seating options for infants and toddlers, the safest will always be an FFA-approved car seat or other approved restraint system. Note: international travel does not always permit car seats on planes! Check with the airline in advance. Kiddos under 2 are permitted to fly as lap infants, which is a popular budget-friendly option. Full transparency: I flew with Bean as my lap infant the first time out of necessity.

It was a last-minute booking and I didn’t have the equipment or the finances to buy a suitable travel seat. I would not do this again. We hit a very minor bout of turbulence and I had difficulty keeping hold of her! Additionally, I was so incredibly sore at the end of the flight, as I had to hold her the entire time.

The second time, I purchased the Cosco Scenera Next for about $45 alongside a seat next to me. The seat itself was easy to carry (9lbs!) and fit the plane seats without issue. Keep in mind, you will need a window seat for the car seat, and cannot sit in restricted emergency rows.

This is the amazing 9lb that I used. It goes for about $50.
Photo credit: Walmart Stock

2) Strollers: Getting Through the Airport

“But, Sarah! How the heck did you bring everything through the airport?” Excellent question! Keep in mind, I flew as a solo adult with a little one both times. This may be easier (or not) depending on if you have another adult, older child, or additional small children with you.

I had my toddler, my main bag, my laptop bag, a backpack-style diaper bag, Bean’s little backpack, the car seat, the stroller, and an additional carry-on item with me. If you can: check bags at the counter so you’re not hauling them around. Easy step one…which I did not do. Oops.

Next, use that stroller! Load it up (safely) with any remaining bags and your car seat of choice. You can tote it about the airport and check it at the gate by talking to the gate agent when boarding. It will be there for you as you de-plane, so you can load it up and go again upon arrival. “But…what about the little one?” That brings me to…

Whether you choose to put your child or your gear in a stroller, having one on hand to gate check is really, really helpful.
Photo credit: Saray Khadangan

3) Baby Wearing and Harness Backpacks

I brought my buckle-style carrier to the airport so I could haul Bean about while pushing the stroller. Easy up and down for breaks, and she loved it. Took a nap and just watched people come and go. It kept her safely attached to me, too, in a place where it’s all-too-easy for a little one to wander off or get picked up by someone nefarious.

Saying this, I recognize not everyone is able to or comfortable with babywearing. I recommend using the stroller to cart the little one about, one of those harness backpacks or another form of “child leash” if they’re stretching their legs, and carrying the car seat and diaper bag instead. (Remember: the Cosco seat is only 9lbs…a fair bit lighter than a 25 or 35lb wiggler!) If it is still a struggle, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance at the airport and while boarding and deplaning.

For young infants, ring slings and stretch wraps are great. As they get older, there are buckle carriers, hip carriers, and a new minimalist carrier…the options are seemingly endless!
Photo credit: Al Soot

4) Napping and Snacking

Littles are always hungry. I brought, and recommend bringing, enough favorite non-liquid snacks on the flight in the diaper bag so I didn’t have to rely on plane food. Favorites include Cheerios, those expensive-but-amazing puff snacks from the baby food aisle, and cheese sticks. I brought a sippy cup but left it empty through security.

What about formula, pumped milk, or baby food, you ask? The official TSA policy is that you can bring reasonable quantities of these on a plane, so long as you put them out for screening. I do not have personal experience with this, as I breastfeed directly. You shouldn’t, however, have any issues with boarding.

Take advantage of snacking if you can during take-off and landing: drinking will help littles pop their ears and lead to fewer tears. I even played a game by putting out one Cheerio at a time during fussy parts of the flight…until Bean took a nap in her seat. Speaking of, it’s not much different than them snoozing in a car! Take advantage of it.

If you’re able, scheduling a flight during nap time is very helpful. Some little ones will sleep the entire way! Photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem

5) Entertainment

I used my phone. No, really…I used my phone. It’s hard enough to fly solo with a little one; I would never fault someone for using tech to keep the littles from a tantrum. Not all planes have Wifi options, so make sure you download some favorite shows and charge up prior to boarding.

Other options include favorite small books, stuffed dolls or animals, teethers, small toys such as a car, et cetera. You know your child best: perhaps a ball is not the best option if your little one is aspiring to be a softball pitcher. I also recommend thinking strongly about anything that makes a bunch of noise.

No crayons for us…still in snack-on-things mode. But they’re a great low mess option for older toddlers during travel hours!
Photo credit: Kristin Brown

No matter where you’re going, there are ways to make traveling with a toddler much easier for all involved. Remember: you know your situation and your little ones best! Use your judgment, take a deep breath, and fly safely.

Have you flown with young children before? I’d love to hear about it!

My First Cannabis Dispensary Trip

I had no idea what to expect for my first trip to a cannabis dispensary and only a basic understanding of cannabis products. Since then, I’ve grown from “cannacurious” to “cannamom” and I hope to extend the market to others like me.

For context: I reside in Florida where recreational cannabis is not legal (as of May 2021). Medical cannabis is expensive. The market is dominated by a small list of multistate operators.

Part 1:  The Cannabis Dispensary Waiting Room

I’m not sure what I expected pulling into the narrow parking lot one hot Florida day. In my purse sits a post-it of products listed as available online; I put aside a budget for my purchase accordingly.

It felt more than a bit strange openly buying cannabis after years of avoiding the substance. It was never worth risking my career; I wouldn’t even talk about it! Frosted privacy glass blocking any view of the inside, plus a security buzzer, certainly didn’t assuage internalized stigma.

One of my qualifying conditions is anxiety and here I am, feeling like a criminal while navigating an entirely new social situation. Fun, right? Anyway, the door opens and I find myself standing in a stark, sterile room.

Lights? Fluorescent bright and headache-inducing. Music? More what I’d expect in a dorm common room. The space itself is so large that all of the sounds echo and blend. Not having a clue what to do, I pretend to text on my phone and wait.

Another patient comes in behind me. I watch how he navigates the space before following suit and approaching the desk.  The poor receptionist tries twice to give me instructions before I actually register what she’s saying. Sorry, ma’am!

I present my medical card before taking a seat in the middle of the room with everyone else. There is really nowhere to look, nothing to look at even, except for other people or the wall. If I didn’t know better, I would think I’m getting called in and fired from a job.

So far, the experience has been a nightmare for someone with anxiety issues. Then comes the waiting. Sit and wait. Sit and wait. Oh! My name was just called! In front of everyone? Awkward…

All I needed was a dunce cap.

Part 2: The Back Room of a Cannabis Dispensary

The gentleman calling my name motions for me to follow him back through a clouded privacy door. Again, I can’t see the other side and have no idea what to expect. We enter and I’m guided to a station with a register and budtender.

It’s all very sterile and busy. There’s no readily available information about products. “No problem!” I think. I can always ask if there is an issue.

But…the music is still loud and the room is shaped like a “U”. Here I am, telling the very peppy budtender what my medical need is in earshot of other patients. Thankfully, I can say anxiety and not PTSD. Anxiety gets less attention from other people.

The budtender smiles. “Well, we are out of that one,” she says about the flower on my list, “I recommend Pink Cookies. It’s a personal favorite and very popular.”

“They’re out of stock? Is this even a good idea for my needs?” I think it over. “Ok, I’ll try that. How much?” I figure it would be a wasted trip to leave empty-handed.

Expensive. It is expensive. I can’t tell if the budtender genuinely meant what she was saying or if there was a push to sell that product in particular. What I can say for certain is that she can’t explain why it was a good choice outside of its popularity and her personal preferences.

Swallowing the cost of the product, which I had never tried before and could only toss if it made things worse, I reach to pay with my bank card.

“Oh, we can’t accept that particular one. But there is an ATM behind you by the door!” She nods to a nook behind me. My eyes travel the room. Did I miss payment information posted somewhere?

“Oh…thanks.” How embarrassing. Still, I manage a small smile. It isn’t her fault.

It takes a couple of minutes to withdraw the cash, plus a fee, before heading up to the counter to pay (for real this time). The price hurts almost as much as my back! Pink Cookies is twice the cost of the flower I had selected at home.

I think I hear a “have a good day” as I scuttle out of the cannabis dispensary with my little white bag, stapled and labeled “THC.” Not sure, though. The music is still going and all of the sounds blend together.

I spend the next ten minutes reflecting upon the experience and collecting myself in my car before pulling away to head home.

In hindsight, the experience left me feeling apprehensive and uneasy. It turns out that Pink Cookies is alright, but not a good pick for my day-to-day use. I have a toddler at home and that particular strain hits a bit harder than is comfortable.

Save for specific products, which can be delivered after a couple of days, that dispensary is off of my shopping list. There are a couple of others that have fewer product choices (arguably worse quality) but the consumer experience is welcoming.

Improving the Experience

There are five major aspects of the cannabis dispensary experience that I urge owners to consider. If you already address these concerns or are finding a way to do so: you rock. This totally isn’t about you. Keep on keeping on.

  1. Audio: Volume, vibe, and echo all make a huge difference when done well, especially for hard-of-hearing folks or people with processing difficcannabiulties. In the example above, lowering the volume would have been an immediate improvement.
  2. Visual: Please, anything but awful office lights! I can’t imagine being there as someone who gets migraines. I’d have kept my sunglasses on if it didn’t look so sketchy.
  3. Information: It is very helpful to have a menu of in-stock items with pricing both in the waiting room and at each budtender’s station. Online stores aren’t always accessible nor updated properly.
  4. Employee Training: It needs to be clear that the typical budtender is not a medical professional. Yet, they’re expected to give medical advice. This is unfair, unethical, and dangerous.
  5. Medical Consult Area: This is both a physical space and a personnel thing. Ideally, each dispensary would find someone with the knowledge and credentials to actually dispense advice in a quieter consultation room, out of earshot of other patients.  
This is so much cozier and welcoming.

Challenges and Solutions

I understand that regulations are intense and there is still a need for credentialled medical personnel versed in cannabis. There is also a lot of missing medical research because of the Schedule I designation at the federal level. It’s a tangled mess but there so much potential for the industry.

A short-term solution may be special training programs for budtenders if not stricter hiring guidelines. Having partnerships with reputable cannabis educational resources and medical doctors would be a boon, too.

What would happen to patient experience if there wasn’t an oligopoly of multi-state operators keeping start-ups out? What would a mom-n-pops shop do if they could afford to enter the market and compete? How could that change the game?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Send me an email at Sarah@MamasCauldron.com to have a chat.