Travel with a toddler. Definitely my biggest travel challenge to date. We seemed to master travel with a baby quite easily – babies sleep regularly, are lulled into a blissful state by the ‘white noise’ of aircraft and public transport, and if all goes wrong, you can just offer them the bottle/boob to placate them – but travel with an inquisitive, energetic, sleepless, hungry, demanding and excited toddler is a whole different ballgame.
Despite this and all of the struggles that we’ve had to contend with when attempting to get ourselves, our toddler and all of our luggage from one side of the world to the other, all in one piece and with sanity intact, Mr Sunshine and I remain huge advocates of family travel. In fact, I believe that it’s one of the best things you can do for yourselves and for your children in life, and there really is nothing to fear!
Focussing on this positive mindset, I asked some of my favourite parenting and travel bloggers to offer their top tips on how to travel with a toddler – and the results are rather marvellous! I hope their thoughtful and creative advice helps some of you like it’s helped me.
Carrie from Flying With A Baby suggests purchasing a stroller bag, not only to protect your pushchair, but to use as extra packing space for blankets, toys, nappies or anything else you might need. We own this one by Bugaboo and love it as it’s lightweight, padded and spacious (with enough room for all our stroller attachments, plus some of the extra paraphernalia we need when we travel with a toddler too!).
Jemma from Have Kids Will Travel says that a good range of snacks is the most important thing to pack in your hand luggage. Not only will this prevent your toddler from becoming hangry while travelling, but chewing helps to equalise the air pressure in the ear while flying.
Nita from Mummy Wishes advises that as well as your usual nappy bags, you should also pack a number of larger ziplock bags in case of soiled clothes, or to use as makeshift rubbish bags.
Emma from Our Fairytale Adventure says that it’s always important to remember to pack warm clothes and hoodies in your hand luggage, even when travelling in the tropics, as airports and flights can get really cold.
Claire from This Mummy Rocks advises packing a really good, spill-free water bottle so that your toddler can drink easily throughout your trip – just wash it out and refill. Baby Sunshine’s favourite is this one, and we don’t go anywhere without it. Alternatively, Daisy from Inspire Create Do suggests popping a metal straw like one of these in your bag so they can drink on the go, as it’s lighter than a water bottle and easier to transport.
As for me, I always pack a few travel packs of antibacterial wipes in my hand luggage along with my standard baby wipes. Aeroplanes and public baby changing facilities are hotbeds for bacteria, so it gives me some comfort if I am able to have a quick wipe-down of any surfaces that Baby Sunshine is going to come into contact with.
2. Flying and In Transit
Char from Taylor Hearts Travel rates these animal 4D cards as an alternative to traditional stickers and screen time to keep your toddler engaged while they travel. Once you download the app you simply scan the card and the animal ‘pops out’. You can feed them too and even create a zoo if you scan multiple cards. Great for inquisitive minds, a bit of fun and for learning on the go.
Carla-Marie from My Bump 2 Baby and Emma from Emma Reed both agree that the best way to keep their toddlers entertained on long journeys is to buy a number of small gifts such as toys, stationary and stickers, then wrap them up and pop them in a special bag, allowing your toddler to select a new gift at intervals throughout your journey, or whenever they get bored. Alternatively, you could try these Gifts In A Tin by Apples & Pears.
Ayse from Arepops always takes stickers on her travels, and has come up with the genius idea of using them as positive reinforcements for good behaviour!
Clare from Freddie’s Mummy UK advises that if you are planning on bringing an iPad or tablet along, that you also pack an appropriate portable charger. There’s nothing worse for your toddler (or you!) than it running out of juice mid-film! We have this one for our iPad and iPhones because it’s lightweight and lasts for a long time. We also own this cute shockproof iPad case and stand for easy handling and to protect it from knocks while on the road.
Kaidan from A Suffolk Dad thinks a tray table (our favourite is this one) is a vital piece of kit whenever he travels, be it by road, air or train. The table can be attached onto car and aeroplane seats and allows your toddler to play/eat/watch their iPad to their hearts content with everything in easy reaching distance in front of them.
Jenny from Kid Transit reminds us that it’s worth checking out your seats on SeatGuru so that you know their relative position to things like toilets, aisles, emergency exits etc. This is especially useful if you’re a large party and you’re booking your seats separately, so you can coordinate your reservations to be as close together as possible.
Carrie from Flying With A Baby has a genius tip up her sleeve for bagging the best seats on a flight, called the ‘spare seat trick’. She suggests always requesting the aisle and window seat as the middle seats are usually the last to go, meaning that you could end up with the whole row to yourselves! If it doesn’t work out, whoever has been allocated the middle seat will almost certainly be willing to swap with one of you, so either way you’ll all end up seated together! Clever hey?
As for us, we always book overnight flights so that Baby Sunshine doesn’t have time to get bored because she’s asleep for most of the way. For her waking moments, we have colouring and sticker books at the ready. We also never travel without our Mamas & Papas Acro Buggy, which weighs only 4.9 kg and folds up into a very small transit bag which you can take right onto the aircraft and store in the overhead storage – a blessing for transporting our tired toddler up to and out of the plane. For taxi rides and hire cars, we also pack our Urban Kanga Uptown Portable and Foldable Travel Car Seat, which is compliant with all of the EU safety standards but also folds up into another small carry bag.
3. At Your Destination
Ayla from Mrs Ayla’s Adventures‘ main piece of advice for travel with a toddler is to be realistic. Go at a slower pace with more regular breaks – a snack break for them, a coffee (and maybe a little cake!) break for you. With a bit of research she’s found some amazing cafes in European cities with playrooms for kids which gives them something fun to enjoy in between the sight seeing.
Leona from Wandermust Family and her husband advise embracing the nap time micro-date! Travel with a toddler = next to no couple alone time, but from wine tasting in Monterrey to browsing a museum in Virginia, or simply enjoying a nice cup of coffee together, the Wandermust couple managed it!
On a more serious note, Catherine from BattleMum reminds us about how important it is to have purchased travel insurance before departing when you have young ones in tow. They’re more susceptible to germs and illnesses and if anything goes wrong, it could save a lot of money, time and worry.
Polly from Our Seaside Baby recommends making a draft itinerary but also not making rigid plans and taking each day as it comes. You might find that in a different time zone your toddler may have different sleeping habits, so you’ll need to adjust your schedule accordingly. You might find that they get very tired after visiting several tourist attractions in one day, or perhaps they will find it harder to nap when they aren’t in their own bed and will need to go to bed earlier as a result. Flexibility is absolutely key when you travel with a toddler.
Eliza from My Everything Beautiful agrees with the flexible approach but emphasises the importance of sticking to sleep schedules while you’re away. Missing afternoon naps does not make for a happy toddler!
Helena from Babyfoote says it’s a good idea to take it in turns with bed times if you’re all in one hotel room, and let one parent head to the gym or out for a walk, so that one of you doesn’t have to sit in the dark with nothing to do.
Sam from Travelling With Our Kids advises that where possible, it’s best to book an apartment, villa, suite or adjoining rooms rather than one hotel room so that this bed time dilemma isn’t an issue!
As for me, I think the most important thing is to remember to have fun!
Emma from Wanderlust and Wetwipes sums up my feelings entirely:
“Take a large dose of perspective for a successful holiday! Toddler melting down on the plane? Perspective helps you remember you’ll never see these people again. Restaurant doesn’t serve dinner until after their bed time? Remember a few late nights won’t kill anyone. Finding it super stressful to pack in all the sights? Remember this is a family holiday and you will have time in years to come to return to becoming a tourist.
“In the meantime, enjoy the little things with your toddler and look for ways to make boring adult stuff fun for them. You can sightsee from a boat or tuk tuk, or try new food including ice cream!”
Travel is supposed to be fun. Believe me when I say that travel with a toddler in tow can be even more so. Good luck!
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