Traveling With a Toddler: 17 Tips for Your Family Vacation

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Whether you are flying or driving, get over 17 tips for making your trip with your toddler smooth so you can make great memories!

Toddler sitting on suitecase

Traveling with a child can be a little bit scary in your mind–especially if you haven’t done it much or if you have had a bad experience in the past.

Some travel tips work across multiple ages, but there are certain things you want to make sure happen when you travel with a toddler. Top tips for infants will be different than for toddlers.

Here are some tips to travel with a toddler successfully.

Vary Sleeping Locations at Home

Prepare for sleeping in other places: a few weeks before traveling, have your child sleep in the playpen for a nap or night sleep in various parts of the house.

One note about this, if sleep gets really bad, you don’t need to follow this tip at home. Personally, I would rather have bad sleep while on vacation for a week than for the few weeks before AND during vacation.

It is a wise thing to try. A new bed in a familiar home is less scary than new bed in a new location.

Pack for Sleep at the Destination 

There are some things you can do to help make sleep at the new destination better.

Use towels around playpen: using towels or blankets around the playpen block the toddler’s view of where she is in a strange place. Do not do this if your child just pulls the towels or blankets into the playpen.

Take a bed if possible. Take your playpen (or peapod) along if you can. This makes it so your toddler is sleeping in something more familiar with familiar smells.

Pack your toddler’s own sheets. Again, this provides a familiar scent. You might be flying and can’t take a bed with you and will be using a crib in the hotel, but your own sheets can provide some familiarity.

If your toddler sleeps with a pillow, bring that along.

Bring a sound machine even if your toddler doesn’t sleep with one. You have no idea what noises will be outside or what your neighbors will be like.

There is also a lot you can do to get your hotel room sleep ready. Check it out here: Baby Sleeping in Hotel Room {Guest Post}

Tell Your Toddler What to Expect

Toddlers like things to be very consistent and predictable. Mixing things up can cause anxiety.

Tell your toddler what will be happening as you travel. How will you get there? What will you do as you travel? If your toddler will need to sit still for a long period of time in the car or on a long haul flight, let your toddler know that ahead of time.

Talk about where you will sleep while on vacation and what activities you will do.

As you do these things, you can talk about expectations. This is called Training in Times of Non-Conflict and is super effective.

Pack a Diaper Bag / Essentials Bag

Pack a diaper bag or essentials bag to take with you while you travel and also while you go out to activities.

Include wet wipes in this bag even if your toddler is potty trained. Wet wipes are always handy for toddlers! You can wipe dirty hands or dirty surfaces.

You also want to include a change of clothes for your toddler, some plastic bags or baggies, snacks, books, and toys.

Pack a “First Night” Bag

Have a suitcase or bag that has everything everyone needs for the first night. That way you can find what you must have that night quickly. You won’t have to unpack several bags–just one piece of luggage.

Some people like to simplify when traveling with a toddler by using just one family bag for their luggage. You can help keep things separate and organized with packing cubes.

Adjust Schedule for Time Zone

Time zone change is another issue. Split bedtime by half when you arrive (so if it is 10 your time and 7 real time, go to bed at 8:30 night one), then continue to shift each day.

>>>Read: Tips for Shifting Your Schedule {Time Change, Time Zones}

Be Wise with Snacks

Limit sweet drinks and snacks. Sleep is already going to be disrupted. If you add lots of sugar to the event, sleep and behavior will suffer.

With that said, situations like traveling are when I turn to snacks a lot. Young children get very bored sitting for long periods of time. So don’t be afraid to use snacks. Just do your best to make healthy choices.

Eat Healthy Food

Eat real food. If you can, try to eat food you make rather than just eating out. Food does affect behavior. Even just making a peanut butter and jelly for lunch can be better than going through the drive through again. 

Maintain Sleep Schedule

Maintain sleep as best you can. You can’t always get naps in while on vacation. If you miss a nap one day, try to have an earlier bedtime that night. 

Avoid late nights.

Try to keep nap time when you can. Your toddler can skip nap some days, but probably not every day.

Get Babysitters so You Can Go Out

Get babysitters. If you are visiting people you know well, they might know of some babysitters who would be good to come stay at the house while you go out after bedtime. This will help maintain sleep for your child and you can still go out and explore the area more.

Take Comfort Items and Favorites

Take favorite toys and comfort items. Whether flying or driving, take along favorites. These are helpful for soothing if stressed and helpful for sleeping both while you travel and at your destination.

Tips for Car Rides

If driving, plan activities. Long car rides can be hard on kids, so plan out activities to make the trip MUCH smoother.

If driving, stop for potty brakes. Let your child burn some energy. When we drive long distances, I have races with my kids when we stop. Think about being strapped in a five-point harness and unable to shift your weight around for several hours straight–it wouldn’t be comfortable! So give your kids breaks as often as practical.

Get even more tips for traveling via car here: Tips for Traveling in a Car With Kids

Tips for Flying

When you book your tickets, decide if you would like an aisle seat or not. It can be nice to box a toddler in, but it is also nice to have quick access out of the seat if your toddler needs to go potty.

If flying, you might want to pre-board. Just like driving, take activities for the flight.

Before getting on the plane, let your child work his energy out. Don’t keep him strapped in a stroller or car seat while waiting to board.

It is a good idea to use a car seat on the plane if you choose to purchase a seat for your toddler. Your toddler is likely very accustomed to the fact that being strapped into a car seat means he can’t move around, so it can help keep him still.

Your toddler can only be a lap child if under 2 years old. Once she turns 2, she will need her own seat.

If you do not want to haul around a bunch of baby gear, you can consider using a CARES harness. You will need a car seat if you plan to drive once you get to your destination, however.

We have traveled to places like New York City where we used subways and didn’t need a car seat, but other times we have need the car seat after we landed. You can always check the car seat.

An inflatable toddler bed can be a great option if your kiddo will sleep on the go. A popular one is also expensive–the FlyTot. You can find similar items at varying budgets on Amazon.

Make sure you arrive at the airport with plenty of time. Don’t cut it close. We parents are much less patient with our kids when we are late. Give yourself plenty of time to check-in, get through the TSA check and security, and get to your gate.

Even with our older kids now, we arrive with plenty of time.

If you are traveling out of the country, be aware that all children need a passport no matter their age. If your child is under the age of 18, you do not need any ID (like a birth certificate) to travel domestically.

People traveling with young children are offered the chance to board early. While you are having to get on the airplane earlier than you might prefer, take the opportunity to get on and settled before it is crowded.

>>>Read: Surviving Flying with Children

Plan to Entertain Your Toddler

No matter how you travel, have lots of activities and rotate them often. There are a lot of things you can use as entertainment for you kiddo.

Movies on a tablet with headphones can work very well. This is a time you will probably use technology more than you would ideally like, but it works to keep kids quiet and happy.

Take a Stroller

Take a stroller. If you will be doing any sort of site seeing or walking around, a stroller is a great idea. I have many times thought Kaitlyn could just walk only to be carrying her a short time in. 

If a stroller is impossible or too cumbersome, you can also try a baby carrier.

Avoid Sun and Heat

Consider the sun. The sun zaps energy, so if you are in the sun a lot, try to have some shade breaks and keep your child well-hydrated. 

Be Prepared to Deal with a Tantrum (or twenty)

On Becoming Toddlerwise has some ideas for traveling with a toddler. These are found on pages 162-165. Here is a brief summary. 

Conclusion

Toddler travel can be stressful, but it is also fun to make great memories on a family vacation together. The stress is worth it. These tips can make it much smoother for you so you can make happy memories.

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This post originally appeared on this blog in September 2011

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