Above photo by CHEMA PHOTO on Unsplash
I must admit, I have had my fair share of grieving over my solo traveling days. Traveling with a toddler is a completely new beast and it is important to try not to compare experiences (although I am definitely guilty of this). It can feel incredibly overwhelming to even entertain the idea of traveling with a toddler and honestly it is exhausting.
That said, it’s not that you should avoid traveling at all costs. There are things you can do to prepare and make your traveling experience the best it can possibly be. Go into your vacation with low expectations and know that things are not going to go exactly how you want them to go. I once heard a saying “traveling with toddlers is a trip not a vacation” and I think that can be a helpful approach. Have a flexible mindset and be ready to switch things up if need be. It will feel so good knowing you have given your child a new experience and memory to hold onto (and for you too).
Here are some tips and advice for how to travel with a toddler in order to make your next trip as fun and successful as possible. Please share your best tips in the comments too!
How to Travel with a Toddler
Make a Packing List
Packing for a toddler can be stressful and consuming. There are just so many THINGS! From the diapers to the pack n’ play to the monitors and sound machines. The list goes on! Make an organized list to ensure you don’t miss a thing. It may feel silly or ridiculous to pack so many things, but having their favorite stuffy to cuddle with in a new environment might be what helps them sleep through the night.
To ensure you don’t forget any of the THINGS make a detailed and organized list. Try to pack in an organized and efficient way so that you can fit all of the items into a small space. Consider whether you are driving or flying and what you can and cannot bring. If you are flying there are companies like Baby Quip to use for crib, stroller, and carseat rentals to help lighten your load. Things are so much more convenient these days and there are so many resources. If you are traveling to see family or friends, see if there is a pack n’ play or stroller that can be borrowed from a local friend.
Plan Your Travel Day Thoughtfully
Depending on whether you are flying or driving consider transportation to the airport, flight times, travel routes, tolls, traffic, nap times, etc. Honestly, kids are unpredictable so no matter how much we plan, they may decide not to nap or they may have explosive diarrhea mid trip. Who knows? Just try to be prepared for it all. For our recent 7 hour drive we went back and forth between leaving first thing in the morning or late in the day. We ended up leaving first thing in the morning and lucked out not hitting traffic and our 15 month old was a rockstar traveler.
But his naps were irregular, I had to jump in the backseat several times to entertain and give him snacks and we made stops about every two hours to stretch, go to the bathroom and refuel. Oftentimes we make things more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes our kids surprise us and exceed our expectations… and sometimes they don’t! Unfortunately most of that is out of our control so we can only do our best to be prepared and keep them content.
Pack Tons of Snacks and Activities When Flying
The number one piece of advice from all of my friends who’ve traveled with toddlers was to pack TONS of snacks and activities. Practice with headphones before you go so they’re used to wearing them. Bring surprises and things they can open/unwrap to keep it fun and pack ALL the snacks. We borrowed Jess’s Minu Travel Stroller for a trip to Calfiornia and it was a game changer. Highly recommend. A few helpful things to bring on a flight with a toddler:
- Mess Free Coloring Books
- Toddler Headphones
- Lift the Flap Book
- Trash Bags for dirty diapers/waste
- Sanitizer, Extra wipes/diapers and change of clothes
- Kids Tablet or iPad
Set Your Expectations Low
This sounds negative, but I only mean to try not to set your expectations so high that you will only be disappointed in the end. You can make some plans, but know that planning with a toddler is always difficult and things have a way of changing quickly. Back when you travelled without a toddler, you could probably fit so much into one day. I can see it now… a hike first thing in the morning, breakfast at a sweet cafe, shopping late morning in the village, lunch at the brewery and then beach and swimming in the afternoon before dinner out and drinks at a bar.
News flash, that isn’t going to happen with a toddler. Pick one activity for the day and you can always go from there! Find pleasure in the simple things and try not to compare to what used to be. Don’t worry you will have your solo travel time again someday.
Roll with It
Know that toddlers are unpredictable and things may not go as planned. You may have a plan to go to the beach but all they do is eat sand or you may have dinner reservations and they are completely melting down. You may have to switch plans on the fly and that’s okay. While on our recent vacation we got all dressed up to go out to eat and our toddler fell asleep in the car on the way there. He was completely zonked from a day at the beach and forcing a dinner out was just not fair to him and would not have been enjoyable for us either. So we called in takeout and headed back to the house.
We sat on the porch with cocktails after putting our toddler to bed and enjoyed the peace and quiet. It ended up being a lovely evening. Be flexible and roll with it, don’t force something that isn’t feeling right. And try to keep some sort of routine so that your toddler can feel rested and fun to be around.
Find Humor in the Failures
We had a lot of laughs on our family trip this summer and honestly those stories are what we will remember and tell year after year. My husband was determined to visit a new place and despite my warnings we went and things got a little hairy to say the least… In the end, everything was fine and now we laugh about his stubbornness and our wild adventure. Find humor in those silly moments that don’t go as planned and try not to take it all too seriously. It is supposed to be fun after all!
Get a Babysitter and Plan a Night Out
Everyone has different comfort levels with babysitters, especially while traveling, but if you have a trusted recommendation for a sitter, I would 100% recommend planning for a night out with your partner while away. Being in a new place with a toddler is exhausting. Oftentimes rentals or family and friends homes are not child-proofed and keeping your child safe can be exhausting. Packing and prepping for new activities throughout the day is also equally draining and you will be pooped by the end of each day. Worth it, but yes exhausted and that’s just parenting for ya!
We were given a recommendation for a fantastic babysitter while away and enjoyed a night out on the bay with cocktails, sunsets and ice cream and it was absolutely perfect. Having an opportunity to get out without your child will give you a taste of those solo travel days and re-energize you for the rest of your trip. You won’t regret it, I promise!
A New Appreciation for Home
Although it is always sad to say goodbye while traveling, one of the best parts of travel is returning home and the renewed appreciation for all the comforts of home including your lived in spaces, friends, family and everything else that is special to you in your life. This sounds super cheesy, I know, but when we returned home from our recent trip, we all laid in the grass together on our lawn cuddling and taking in the beauty of our Vermont home and everything we are so grateful to have. It was really special. Soak it all up!
What tips and tricks do you have for traveling with a toddler? Let us know in the comments below!
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