We have survived long-haul flights with a lap child, managed tantrums on trains, and survived every travel adventure (near and far) that we’ve taken with our daughter.
At first, traveling with a toddler can be intimidating, heck trips to the grocery store are exhausting BUT it is possible to have an enjoyable time traveling with little people and these best toddler travel tips can help.
TIP 1: PLAN WITH YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN IN MIND
No one knows your children better than you. Use that to your advantage.
- If you know your toddler would find it difficult to manage long periods in a car seat consider flying to your destination.
- Avoid long plane rides if your child wouldn’t do well. Sometimes, there are other transportation options like trains, buses, and car rentals.
- If you want to avoid constant moving around choose places that offer all-inclusive options or even a cruise.
- If you want to have frequent opportunities to get outdoors, trips to mountains and parks are an option.
Use what you know about your children and their temperaments to plan travel that works for everyone in the family. Children deserve to be considered when making any travel plans.
TIP 2: PACK CAREFULLY
Imagine getting to your destination without the toy, blanket, downloaded songs or apps that your child needs to sleep. It could be a disaster.
Here are some things that can help prevent disaster:
- Don’t leave packing to the last minute. Just don’t. Give yourself a few days or more to put everything together.
- Instead of just throwing a bunch of stuff in the luggage you think you’ll need, make an organized packing list and check it
twicesix times over.
- Be mindful about not packing too much, while also packing enough.
- Consider the things you can get from your destination, to save space in your luggage.
- Bring extra clothing for your little one, they will make a mess.
- Bring your own personal care toiletries. Although many accommodations offer complimentary toiletries, they may cause irritations.
Packing has never been the highlight of my trips – even before I was a mom. But now, I take the time to pack carefully and thoughtfully when traveling with my toddler.
TIP 3: CHOOSE APPROPRIATE ACCOMODATIONS
Before I was a parent, a hotel room was just a place to rest. I always enjoyed a bit of luxury but I never complained or worried about the size. Now, I check room size for exact measurements if possible. And the more square footage the better.
Toddlers like to explore and our toddler is the reason we opened ourselves up to Airbnb accommodations.
- Airbnb’s usually have a full kitchen which is great for refrigeration needs and not having to do dinner out every night.
- Airbnb’s are often larger than hotel rooms.
- Airbnb’s can be in less touristy areas of the city you are wanting to explore.
With children you may find yourself spending more time indoors and places that have multiple rooms and/or big open spaces are ideal.
TIP 4: KEEP ITINERARIES SIMPLE
Planning a days full of several activities with toddlers in tow can set anyone up for disappointment. The simple act of being in a new environment is often a thrill for children and lining up activity after activity can be overwhelming.
Keep it simple. Choose one or two things to see in a day and let the rest happen. No one wants to feel like their being dragged around – not even children.
TIP 5: ALWAYS HAVE SNACKS
Definitely pack snacks in your travel bags and if you get low, purchase more snacks at your destination. On your way home, stock up on more snacks. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY SNACKS.
I love having snacks packed and ready for every adventure. However, be mindful of the amount of sugar in the snacks you choose. A toddler on a sugar high is nothing to challenge yourself with, especially if you will be in a confined space.
Our daughter loves fruits high in water like grapes (red and green), melon, strawberries. She also enjoys seaweed snacks and crackers. We try to mix the flavors and textures. The thing to remember is that all snacks aren’t created equal, choose mindfully.
TIP 6: KID-FRIENDLY ISN’T JUST KID-FOCUSED
Many destinations are kid-friendly. Looking for kid focused activities is nice but not every outing needs to be centered around kid focused activities.
I love to give my daughter a chance to engage her imagination with open-ended toys and time in a park. Finding walking trails and just walking around the city we are visiting is great too.
We pop in and out of stores and make every activity a kid-friendly activity. It is more enjoyable than spending time each day surrounded by thirty other children (there is a time for that too) just not every day on our family holiday.
TIP 7: TRY TO KEEP YOUR SCHEDULE
Many toddlers thrive on a semi-predictable schedule. At the time of our daughter’s first international trip she was predictably taking two naps a day. In an effort keep that schedule and avoid melt-downs, we opted for a red-eye flight and purchased a reclining travel stroller that allowed her to nap.
If you’ve ever met a sleepy toddler, then you know there are two things you don’t mess with – their snacks and their naps.
TIP 8: BRING TOYS & BOOKS & STICKERS
Children enjoy books and toys, bring them along on the adventure. An acquaintance of mine suggested inexpensive Dollar Store toys wrapped and newspaper – it was genius.
- Some books are heavy and bulky, leave those and opt for thin paperbacks and even felt books (I found a few at Target).
- Inexpensive new toys are intriguing because they are new and you don’t mind losing them.
- Coloring pages and crayons are easy to bring along for short-term entertainment.
- Kids love stickers so bring them. Put them where you have easy access.
Also visit local street markets and community events. We found cute books and toys there, they only cost a few dollars in Belgium and The Netherlands.
TIP 9: DON’T BE AFRAID OF SCREEN TIME
I have a masters in family life and youth development and I understand that screen-time should be limited but I’m not afraid to have a tablet stocked and loaded with engaging videos.
- Download several videos and movies on the device just in case wi-fi is not available.
- Bring headphones for sound control, these are the ones we use.
- Even while on vacation, be mindful of the amount of screen time you allow.
Cheers to the families who travel without screens, I’m not in that camp. I try to find a middle ground and rotate different activities.
TIP 10: INVEST IN A GOOD TRAVEL STROLLER & CARRIER
A good travel stroller will be your best friend, especially if you plan to do lots of walking (we always do). On our last European trip, we went to three countries and never once got in a car. We walked and used public transportation (trains, trams, metros) and our travel stroller was the one thing we couldn’t do without.
Our definition of a good travel stroller:
- Lightweight – some airlines have weight restrictions, so be sure to check it out.
- Easy collapsible – the last thing you want is to have to fight to fold up your stroller while foot traffic builds up behind you on the metro.
- Shoulder strap – yes a shoulder strap is helpful. It means you can throw the stroller over your shoulder and be on your way, even if you don’t have assistance.
- Reclines – as I mentioned earlier, nap times are crucial. If you have a stroller that reclines your child can nap without you having to go back to your hotel or other accommodations.
- Handles difficult terrain well – while vacationing you may encounter cobblestone, dirt, gravel, rock – who knows? A sturdy stroller can handle it all.
Good doesn’t mean pricey and when we settled on this stroller we had high hopes and we were thrilled with the performance.
* We also used a baby carrier that was super convenient and easy. You may not need both but our toddler is heavy and having both is useful.
TIP 11: CHOOSE NON-STOP FLIGHTS
If your travel plans involve a flight, choose non-stop flights. Oh how great it is to get off a flight and know that you don’t have to get on another right away.
Another flight means more lines, more waiting, and possibly more frustration. Avoid the hassle whenever possible. Any and every time non-stop flying is an option, that’s what we chose. It’s for the sanity of us parents and the baby.
Also we opt for red-eyes when they are available. It likely means that the flight falls during the bedtime hours our daughter is already accustomed to.
TIP 12: DON’T BOARD WITH THE FIRST CALL
Many airlines offer families an opportunity to board first. Don’t do it.
We like to board last. The idea of 45+ extra minutes in a plane seat while everyone else boards and gets settled is stressful. Instead, we are the weird people allowing our toddler to run around the boarding area – hoping to get her good and tired before final boarding.
*Some people worry about losing out on overhead space but if you pack light and gate-check your stroller, it tends to work out fine. Another option, if you have help, is to have one person board with the stuff and have the other person bring the child on at final boarding time.
TIP 13: RESEARCH
We all have so many questions about what we need for travel with children, the best and most annoying answer is that we have to do some research that is specific to our individual travel plans.
- If your destination requires that you’ll be in and out of vehicles, find out if you need to pack your car seat or rent one.
- Most airlines don’t charge for having a car seat and often gate check them if they aren’t being used on the flight.
- If you are hiking then a carrier would be more appropriate than a stroller. Do some research to find the best one.
These are just a few examples but you get the point. Sometimes, you can even call a hotel in your city of choice and the receptionists are often happy to answer your questions or offer resources.
TIP 14: ENJOY THE NEW PACE
If you traveled frequently before having a toddler, then you may not be prepared for the stark difference in speed of your travels.
We’re friends here, so I’ll let you know that you’ll be slower than ever before and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate the new pace of our travels. I find myself more engaged with the surrounding and more relaxed because I’m not rushing off to a new destination every few days.
Instead, we’re walking slowly, sitting in parks, and really enjoying the destinations through our daughter’s eyes and it’s one of the most beautiful things to experience.
TIP 15: RELAX
Once you’ve done the packing and preparing, it’s time to relax. Trying to control everything can be exhausting and that’s not what vacations are all about.
- Your toddler’s schedule might not be the same – it’ll be OK.
- You may eat less healthy while traveling – it happens.
It’s all temporary. So don’t forge to enjoy yourself. Children are resilient and most likely they’ll be fine with a different structure while they travel. It’s a lesson in adaptability for everyone in the family.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Traveling with a Toddler
Becoming a mom was a transformative time in my life. Initially I struggled to find balance and I kept questioning whether our child could thrive if we continued living a life that included frequent travel. The answer that resonated loudly was ‘YES’.
If adults can benefit from travel experiences, children with their incredible ability to learn and adapt can benefit too. Justin and I want to ensure our daughter gets to experience many of the things that gave us joy pre-baby and that includes travel. Her first three countries were France, Belgium, and The Netherlands.
Where are you taking your toddler? Join The C2T Travel Forum and let us know.