Flying with a toddler is enough to make even seasoned parents break out in a sweat. There are the nervous stares as you walk down the center aisle. The repeated utterances of "Oh, so sorry!" and "Thanks for picking that up!" The shuffling back and forth between seats until you have just the right set up, with everything you need within easy reach. Sound familiar? If you've ever traveled with a toddler, you know this scenario well. Although just getting settled on the plane alone is an exercise in patience and stamina, it's only a small part of the whole production that traveling with small children involves. Preparation is key, and useful expert tips can help you and your child get through your plane trip with less hassle and maybe even a little more fun. Be Strategic With Your Flight Time When you're planning on flying with a toddler, the preparation for your flight should begin long before you head to the airport. Colleen Lanin, the founder of Travel Mamas and the author of "The Travel Mamas' Guide," suggests booking a flight that arrives at your final destination shortly before bedtime. By doing this, "you start your vacation off with a good night's sleep instead of playing catch up throughout the whole trip," she says. Return trips are important, too. "If possible, avoid flights that depart too early in the morning for the same reason," she says. Lanin also shares that "some parents like to book red-eye flights and dress the kids in pajamas to sleep through the journey, but I have only flown once on a red-eye with my children for fear that they wouldn't sleep." Rest Up Before the Trip Travel writer Annabel Candy, who blogs at Get in the Hot Spot, agrees that overnight flights can work well -- "If you leave in the early evening ... and assuming your little ones fall asleep after a few hours, that is." She also recommends that everyone gets enough sleep in the hours leading up to the trip, and that parents try not to get children too over-excited before the flight (as difficult as that might be). Practice a Zen-Like Acceptance Ultimately, no matter how perfectly timed your flight plans may be, sometimes kids are just going to be fussy. "I remember one flight with my 4-year-old where I tried everything to settle and calm her but nothing worked," shares Candy. "It felt terrible but she soon made a full recovery and went to sleep on my knee. I think as parents we have to accept that sometimes no matter how hard you try, things will fall to pieces. It's normal." Go in with this mindset and you'll be able to handle whatever gets thrown at you. Space Out Connecting Flights In terms of flight plans, Lanin encourages parents to schedule a few hours between flights if you need to book a layover. "This reduces stress in terms of running through the airport to catch a connecting flight or worrying over a delayed flight and missed connection," she says. "It also gives your family time to purchase some food, use the bathroom and burn off some energy between flights." Stock Up on Games, Books, Water and Healthy Snacks Lanin advises that you start collecting travel toys, games and crafts for use on the plane. "Slowly dole them out once you're up in the air," she explains. "Pack lots of healthy snacks and a few forbidden treats, too. Prepare kids before leaving home days in advance. Tell your toddler that you will be flying up in the sky and point out airplanes that you see in the air. Tell them that they will need to sit still for a long while, but there will be toys and games to play with." Think Outside the Box Candy agrees that keeping your little one's hands and mind busy at all costs is paramount to a stress-free experience, but thankfully nearly anything can become a toy at this age. Parents should "be creative with finding ways to entertain kids. Sometimes even a cup of ice or a silly game fanning each other with the safety card can entertain a toddler for a while," she says. Be Prepared For Physical Discomfort Although toddlers who have never flown before may be excited about the prospect, the change in air pressure might be painful for some kids, warns Lanin. Prepare for this possibility, she says, by "bringing along some earplugs for children and putting them in your children's ears the minute the airplane begins its descent to avoid ear pain. Young kids have small Eustachian tubes that can easily get sore from change in cabin pressure, which explains why so many babies get noisy at the end of a flight."
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