It is time to plan the annual family vacation, but this year things are slightly different. You now have an independent, strong-willed, tiny human who knows no fear or boundaries and can leave a path of destruction like a Tasmanian devil. The mere thought of containing a relentless youngster during travel can be horrifying. What if she has a meltdown mid-flight? How do we fit everyone in a hotel room? What if someone gets sick? After extensive travel with our now 16-month-old daughter, we are here to tell you to not let your fears hold you back from seeing the world. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help make traveling with a young toddler a little easier. (This page contains affiliate links, therefore if you click through and purchase something I may get a few pennies to put towards this awesome website!)
Most young children have a schedule that they follow closely, albeit probably unknowingly. Even an hour off the normal bedtime time can wreck havoc! (I hate you Daylight Savings Time). If you are traveling to a different time zone, keep in mind how that is going to effect naps and bedtimes. My suggestion is start to slowly implement the new time a week before you leave. Move bedtime up or back a half-hour. That likely means they will be up a little earlier, but it will help them adjust to the new time easier. Once you are at your destination I would recommend a nap if they didn’t sleep a lot on the way there. Be prepared to go with the flow. Flexibility is key and you may have a bad night or two before they adjust: roll with it.
Take A Close Look At Your Itinerary
Have you included things that are toddler friendly in your plans? For example, are you visiting the local zoo or children’s museum? Have you allotted park time to run off some energy? Have you researched local libraries’ story times or see if there is a discovery/nature center nearby? By ensuring that your little one gets the stimulation and exercise they need you can be more confident that little energy is left for those oh-so-epic tantrums. Not to mention that this is a trip for your child, as well — fun for everyone! Allow time for naps and try to plan activities accordingly.
Prepare for Illness
Nothing is more discouraging than having an illness strike during vacation. Flu season is creeping in so take precautions to keep you and your family well. Hand hygiene is the single most-effective means of preventing infections, but, pack a Tummy Bag in preparation for the worst case scenario. Include plenty of medications, zipper bags, sanitizing and bleach wipes. A thermometer, extra pj’s, toothbrush and towels are essential. If you are road-tripping, stuff a Halloween bucket in the car just in case. Know where the nearest Children’s Hospital is located; while a visit to the hospital is never on anyone’s itinerary life happens and it is good information to know in the event of an emergency.
There are basic three things you need to consider while you start to pack . Where is my child sleeping? Where and what is he eating? And, how are they getting from here to there? Answers to these questions will determine what you pack besides basic everyday items.
My go to pack-n-play is The Graco Jet Setter. It weighs 22 pounds and can fit in a full size suitcase, with room to spare. The only downside with this is there is no mattress, only the padded travel mattress at the bottom. It’s a few inches shorter than an average pack-n-play which could make it too small for some children.. Don’t forget well-fitting sheets for your pack-n-play.
For eating on the go we use the Ciao Baby Portable High Chair. While there are tons of different options, this was our preferred one based on portability and that it is table-height. It folds up easily and can fit inside a stroller bag if you are flying.. If you plan on feeding your toddler in the hotel room, pack a high chair mat to keep food from going EVERYWHERE. It is part of being a decent human to the hotel staff.
In the event you are not driving to your destination, car seats fly free or most rental car companies have them available for a reasonable fee (about $8-10/day, which might be worth it considering you’re avoiding the hassle of lugging another thing to the airport and back. Take into consideration what stroller will everything fit in your car, taxi or means of transport. Hands down our Summer Infant 3D Zyre Stroller takes the cake. Portable and lightweight this stroller even comes with a strap attached for you to be able to carry it on your back while folded.
Always ensure to have a proper meal for your young toddler. They will not make it on puffs, grapes, and random bites of your food. We ran into this issue on a three hour flight that fell during the lunch hour. We were able to satisfy her with all the snacks we had packed, but she really needed lunch and was starving again by the time we touched down. Pack or buy food to bring with you if there’s the slightest chance you will be moving during a meal. We are a big fan of the portable pouches, string cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt, bananas, berries and other easy, portable, wholesome foods. Don’t forget your utensils, bib, and sippy cup!
Hotels bring about new challenges as they can be very constraining for families with small children. This is where things get hairy with a little munchkin running wild. If your wild child is anything like mine, we can’t be present/visible after we lay her down for bed or its game over. Little eyes peering at your from over the rail is a sure indication that sleep is not going to happen. This forces you to bring out a whole new level of creativity and skills.
My first piece of advice is see if you can get a suite with a separate living space. That way, toddler in one area, parents in the other. Always ask for the upgrade, because the worst they can say is ‘no’! Look up the hotel in which you’re going to stay before you arrive and sign up for any free loyalty or rewards program they have. Sometimes, just having this will be enough to get you an upgrade. Ask for a room located at the end of the hallway since it is often quieter with less traffic.
Finding the ideal location for a crib in a hotel room can be a challenge. Don’t be afraid to utilize a bathroom or closet as a designated sleeping area. Hallways and corners are also good starting points. Be sure to bring a good sound machine with you, as well. We can’t recommend this enough.. Worse comes to worse, you may have to place your child down for bed and step out of the room until they fall asleep. We bring our monitor with us, because the layout of the hotel room is often a surprise until arrival. We then hang out in the hallway or in a sitting area until it is safe to enter. Don’t forget to take your room key with you!
As much as I adore hotels they are not my choice when traveling with small children. I will often book a house through Home Away or Airbnb. This allows us to rent an entire house or apartment often for a comparable cost. This is ideal for making meals, having somewhere for us to go after the little one goes to bed, and just having more space. I always bring things to childproof the best I can. It is amazing how a roll of painters tape can act as outlet covers, tie back or bind curtains together, pad sharp edges and keep cabinets shut.
Getting From Point A to Point B
Whether you are traveling by plane or on a eight hour road trip I have found a few basic travel rules apply.
- There will likely be a meltdown and the other passengers on the airplane will just have to deal. Harsh, I know. In reality even if you little one cries for the entire flight once you reach your destination in a few hours it is over. The memory of the crying child during the flight will fade the moment the plane touches down. Read more tips for flying with a baby here.
- Get Organized: Have busy bags that are readily accessible or use a shoe holder to keep books, snacks, toys and other activities contained.
- Bring Plastic Bags: I recommend keeping three on you at all times. They come in handy for trash, dirty diapers and quick clean-up.
- Road Warriors ensure you have a great playlist, a car seat mirror, and a deodorizer. Prepare to settle in to be a personal clown. Read more about road tripping with a baby here.
- Snacks, Snack Cups, more Snacks, and yet even more Snacks.
- No parent should ever fault another for allowing a little one screen time in moments of sheer desperation. We all know everyone limits their children’s screen time and some just happen to save it for the plane or car ride. Don’t judge.
Go Make Those Memories
Every child will travel differently. Don’t get discouraged if one trick works and another doesn’t. You will ultimately figure out what works best, then as soon as you do, it will change. Different stages of development and growth will leave you figuring out new and innovative ways to entertain, sleep, and travel. Remember, any hardship experienced is immediately wiped away the moment you see the sparkle and wanderlust in the eyes of your child.
Looking for family friendly vacation ideas? Check out where we have ventured!