So, you want to travel with a toddler?
Let me first commend you on being brave! Why? Taking a toddler anywhere is a feat of its own, but keeping them entertained, rested, and well fed when you’re not at home for several days, well that’s courage!
Now, I can only speak from experience and my experience has only been with my 2 1/2-year-old daughter, so do not take this as expert advice, but rather as a friend, telling you how I’ve prepared for our trips, and managed to enjoy our vacations.
Before the trip:
Make an Itinerary
- Start by writing down the places YOU want to see. Be selfish! You’re the one paying for this vacation anyway.
- Next, write down the places you want to take your children to experience. If they’re two like mine, and do not really care or know much about where they’re going, think about playgrounds, parks, aquariums, or other things they might find enjoyable.
- Be careful about planning a packed itinerary with only adult interests. While there are great museums in the world, not many two-year olds are interested in seeing paintings, even if it’s the Mona Lisa.
- Always add about 30-45 min more to each activity than what you think it might take you. You’re with children, they’re hungry at odd times, and need a diaper change when you’ve just entered an exhibition. In our visit to a museum it took us about 1 hour from the time we arrived, to the time we actually started seeing the exhibits. We arrived, made a line to go to the restroom, had a snack because we knew we were not going to be able to eat once inside, checked our backpacks and coats, and when we finished the snacks, she pooped her diaper, so here we go again to get our checked bags, make another line at the restrooms, and rechecked our bags.
- If you’re like me, you’re planning for this trip way before the weather forecast is available, and that is ok, because you can look at the climate history for the place you will be visiting to get a range of temperatures. Use this information to help you decide what activities/events might be feasible.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I have a type A personality. I need a plan, and the more specific the better; however, being a mom taught me that I can never be a stickler about sticking to a plan. I have to remember my child has only been on this planet for a few years. She knows nothing about agendas, or even the concept of time. Be flexible! Put your children first. If they’re tired, let them rest, if they’re hungry before you thought they were going to eat, feed them.
So, your itinerary is done. You’ve added points of interests for both adults and children. You allotted for more time in those points of interests than you think you’ll need, and you promise to be flexible, if the itinerary doesn’t pan out. You’re ready to begin thinking about what you’ll need to pack.
Packing for the trip
Since your itinerary is complete and you know what type of places you will be visiting, choosing what to pack is hopefully a little easier.
- Start by making a checklist of the items you and your children will need.
- Buy and/or order items you’ll need such as rain covers for strollers, rain/snow boots, etc.
- Begin packing a few days early, and the way to do this is by packing your ideal luggage, pack the ideal number of items you want to take, and begin removing until you get the desired weight and space you want your luggage to have.
- If you have a weight limit consider packing laundry detergent travel packets and wash a versatile piece of clothing such as jeans, or a solid colored shirt you can use twice on the trip. Do the same for the kids. You’ll always find space to hang the wet clothes somewhere in your hotel room. I’ve tried the packets on the link above, and it did a good job of taking off chocolate stains from my daughter’s sweater.
- Buy a luggage scale! We bought ours at Marshall’s for $7. It is practical, because it does not weigh much, and has saved us money in overages.
Preparing for the time on the airplane
You have your itinerary and you’re packed!
Now it’s time to think about the time you will spend sitting on the airplane with your child. Below I’ll tell you how to prepare for this scary time for parents.
An airplane is a scary place for me because I will be in a closed space with 100+ people that want to read and sleep for several hours. I don’t mind them, but I’m afraid to bother them. I do want to point out that if your child has a rough flight, you must not feel bad or guilty. After all, your baby is not behaving or acting in a certain manner out of malice. They’re just being their age.
That being said, I do believe there are some precautions you may take to delay/prevent such behaviors.
- Think about the time of day you’ll be flying. What does your child normally do during that time? Is it bedtime, nap time, lunch time, snack time? Pack for their needs.
What about that idle time when they’re awake? What do they do? What do I do?
- A few days before the trip, I head out to Dollar Tree, you know, that store where everything is $1. I buy a few items/toys that will entertain her. The number of items depend on the length of the flight. I buy some for the way there, and some for the way back. Why is that important? You see, it’s novelty! If your child has never seen a toy, they’re more likely to keep engaged for longer. I open up the packages and place them into Ziploc bags that weigh less and take up less space. I would say that on average, one toy will kill about 30 minutes time. Then, if those toys no longer fit in our luggage, I do not mind leaving them behind because they’ve cost $1.
- “Optimize” the iPad/tablet- I know, I know, some of you might be against screen time, but you’re on vacation. If you want to enjoy a book, let them enjoy some movies, games, videos, or whatever they like to do on a tablet/iPad. Keep your children content during this time. They’ll enjoy to appreciate traveling, and the atypical things they get to do while on vacation. My husband and I call the iPad, plan B. This is what we take out when toys and coloring are no longer serving us for entertainment. Download some movies or shows from Netflix that your children like. Look for some educational apps that they can use without internet. Think about it this way, if the flight is 2 hours long, and they’re entertained for 1 hour with technology. You’ve kept people around you happy, your toddler entertained, and yourself sane. Now you just have one more hour to go.
- Candy/Chocolate-This was not an issue when my daughter was younger, but now that she is 2 1/2, she cannot sit still, and does not yet understand why she needs to wear a seatbelt for 15-20 minutes during takeoff, and another 15-20 minutes for landing. Because I do not expect her to understand, I keep my best tool for these moments. My secret is either a small chocolate bar, or lollipop. When it is time to stay sitting down with their seatbelt on, I ask her, “Do you want a lollipop?” She’ll say yes, and I’ll say, “if you want a lollipop you need to be sitting down with your seatbelt on.” Guess what she does? She sits down! By the time we’ve landed, she’s finishing her lollipop. Try it with your children and let me know how it goes.
I have different tips for being on vacation with young children depending on the type of place that you’re visiting. Visit the rest of this section to see tips on traveling to an all-inclusive beach resort, Europe, Walt Disney World, and to a ski resort.
A good advice that I can leave you with is:
Vacations and family time are great, and we get to create beautiful memories. Understand that not all of the time in our destination is going to be a smooth sail, and that there might be bumps along the road. It is easier to get irritated at our children, partner, or family members when we have not been home in a few days, we are tired from sightseeing, or something did not pan out like you envisioned. Remember that they might be feeling the same way, especially our kids. This can be easier said than done but be patient with them. Children feel safe when there is consistency, and a vacation takes them out of their element. Take it slow! Make time for play and rest. Stop and enjoy the new place you’ve waiting to visit.
I wish that you get an ideal weather for you vacation, and that beautiful memories are made.
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