How to Travel Screen Free with a Toddler

This past week we flew from Toronto to Cuba with a toddler. It was a three hour flight and I knew the plane was going to be too small to have personal screens at each seat.  My son has a pretty boisterous personality and constantly needs to be engaged in something or another.

I was determined to not bring an iPad with me because we have phased out iPads in his regular day to day. (We have used it in the past to zone him out during meal times to make it faster and more efficient to feed him.)  For me, it seemed like a step in the wrong direction to reintroduce it to him and remind him that it still exists. Because rabbit hole.

For me it was important to equip myself with enough tactics that would be screen free to ensure that he would enjoy the flight but would not kill my sanity in the process.

Here are some tactics I used:

  1. Scheduled my flight later in the day. I tried my best to book a flight as late as possible to use the day to tire him out prior to boarding.
  2. Skipped his day time nap. We let him skip his nap, albeit unconsciously because we were busy doing last minute packing. I actually took him to work in the morning to shock his routine as that normally would tire your kid.
  3. Packed a mini carry on for him. I packed a mini roller bag for him with an extra set of clothes, a stuffie, book, snack box and other little toys. Then I made it his responsibility to pull through the airport. The added burden of making sure he manages his own stuff was a little overwhelming and caused him to tire out faster.
  4. Talking through takeoff. We engaged with him during takeoff by explaining what was happening. Showing him through the window the process, enjoying the view and answering any inquisitive questions. This worked well to distract him and let him actively focus on something else entirely.
  5. Snack box. We packed a snack box with various options. Making sure to pack his favorites and some new snacks he had never tried. Try to also pack different flavours and textures to keep him interested in eating as an activity rather than for satiation.
  6. Small toys. My son is not an artist. He prefers to play with small figures and likes creating and telling stories. We encouraged that by playing an active by side role to his main Dino character. Do what is best for your child. If he likes to colour, bring some small colouring books and play dough that they can engage in non directed play.
  7. Read a book. I usually have a travel themed book on hand to use as a guide to help him navigate his new experience.
  8. We were device free. During the flight, I did my best to not pull out my phone while he was awake so as to not tempt him to ask for my device. This is harder than it sounds because I love my phone.
  9. Stretching his legs. Although we didn’t do this, it’s a good idea to walk the plane. He would be able to stretch his legs and is less likely to ask for a screen.
  10. Encourage sleep. Most kids have a serious case of FOMO. They will likely fight the suggestion, but if they fall asleep, you are basically home free.

I know not everyone will use all the above to encourage a screen free flight, but a few of these ideas will help to occupy their energy enough that they forget a screen is even an option and eventually they, like my son, will fall asleep. And that, my friends, is the ultimate goal. So that you can sleep and awake to a fresh toddler ready to enjoy some sun and sand!

What are some tactics you use to occupy your children on short haul flights?

Let’s share in the comments!

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