Monday, January 24, 2011

A Toddler Airplane Survival Kit

[Update 8/7/2015: Check out my latest Kid Surival Kit here]

Between our last few trips and useful links the web, I was inspired to redouble my efforts to make plane travel as painless as possible for us and our 17 month old.

See, he's at a tricky age - not so young that he's just satisfied with snoozing and sitting in one place, but not old enough to be bribed with a Disney DVD. He wants to move and explore. Always. And the fact that we have 6 cubic feet to ourselves isn't something he quite understands yet.

So, I took at a shot at developing an Airplane Survival Kit for him. It basically focused on three areas: brain activities (reading, drawing), tactile activities (opening containers, playing with various textures) and controlled destruction (un-spooling dental floss, sticking tape everywhere, etc.). I figured the last category would be especially important to provide - what toddler can't resist doing something they aren't supposed to?

Here's what was in the kit:

  • Travel Magna Doodle
  • 3 books rented from the library that he had never seen before. Two had photos, 1 had hand drawings. All contained some objects he knows the words for.
  • ID holder retractor thingy
  • Heavy duty tin foil
  • Couple of balloons
  • New container of dental floss
  • Unbreakable comb
  • Handful of colored pipe cleaners
  • Toothbrush that packs within itself
  • Handful of glow sticks
  • Various colored toothbrush containers
  • Roll of masking tape
  • Squigglet
  • Velcro cable tie
  • A few pairs of medical gloves (not shown)

As you can see, it all packed down quite snugly. There was actually more room to add stuff, if I felt like it.

How did it perform?

This last weekend, I had a chance to field test the kit on flights to and from Boston. The flights were a little under an hour. I've got to say, many items in the kit performed well.

The Magna Doodle, for example, was a definite winner. Last time we traveled, I brought along crayon and paper for him to use. Even with supervision, he managed to tag the wall, both sides of the tray table and his seat, before I could wrestle the crayon away from him. The Magna Doodle let him do some serious drawing without the potential mess. That, and the erase feature was just as fascinating to him as the ability to draw.

Other items like the dental floss were used in ways I hadn't expected. I would have imagined that he would have gotten much joy from unspooling the 20+yards of material. But really, we just ended up getting into a fascinating game of open-and-close. I'd flip open the cap, he'd close it. Repeat. Hey, it kept him in one place and occupied, which more than worked for me. In general, he liked playing with the containers.

The medical gloves inflated perfectly into characters he could interact with. And the texture of the Squigglet was as interesting to him as I thought it would be. He tugged away on that sucker, but nothing broke.

One trick that did work well, was that instead of asking for a drink, I asked for a cup and a couple ice cubes. Our little one entertained himself by playing with the cubes. Again, it was a bit of destruction, but didn't do any harm.

Overall, the kit worked well, and it was nice to have a variety of items to bounce between.

Have any suggestions for what I should add to it?


  1. Thanks for the post. I just ordered the travel magnadoodle and squigglet for an upcoming flight and plan of trying tin foil. In the past my son has been fascinated by the emergency guides in the seat back pockets. We usually spend a bunch of time walking around, if we can. New snack foods can also keep him occupied - yogurt melts they sell at Target have worked well.

  2. Thanks Aletta - those are great ideas too.

    Our little one liked the emergency guide, but every time he grabbed one, he managed to rip it. I'm sure that's against the law to do :-).

    Good luck - and let me know what works (and doesn't) on your next flight.

  3. The squiggle was the only real winner on my flight recently with my 2 year old. I tried floam, a couple of blocks and some peppa pig characters, some marble posting but that just slid off the tray table and nesting cups, her bath doll, which is small and compact, a peppa pig car (which i discovered drives very far on it's kinetic charge) and a cuddly blanket thing with a kiwi that could be turned into a puppet and a sock and some stickers. The squiggle was the best performer, then the sock and the stickers turned into a puppet, and we used an airplane stirrer to feed the baby a floam apple. We made a baby out of floam too but it just disintegrated which she wasn't satisfied with.

    I plan on my next flight which is a whopping 3 days! to try the tin foil, i have already got a magna doodle, a little doll, tattoos, stickers, balloons, window gels, her dvd player, some lollies (ok, lots of lollies). I also have some elastic strings, blue tac, post-it notes, a multi coloured pen which has different levers for each colour, a note book, puppets, silly putty, and a bunch of other things!

  4. Hello! I just wanted to let you know that this post made our 2.5 hr flight with our one year old a fantastic experience! I found a fun patterned pencil case on clearance and filled it with with some of the odds and ends you mentioned, along with a few free items I found laying around. I was able to locate a little off-brand magnetic-drawing tablet at our local toy store, and it worked wonders! My son carefully removed and studied each item one at a time, and especially enjoyed the "magna doodle." When other babies were fussing, he was quietly and happily occupied! I wanted to say THANK YOU for sharing your ideas and also for following up with which items you found most successful. :)

  5. Claire - whoo! Success! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hello, not sure you even check this blog anymore, but I wanted to say thanks so much! I loved these ideas and so did my son! And everyone around us was shocked that he was totally content and interested and not watching a screen. Ha ha.

  7. Thanks Ashley! Glad this was helpful!