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10 Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

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I think I have the only child in the world that hates the car. I know so many parents who say their baby and kids sleep in the car, without fail, but that’s not how things have gone so far with Thomas. ;). He loves to move, look around, explore, etc. So when he’s restrained in a carseat (facing backwards no less), he hates it.

The furthest Tommy and I have ever traveled with Thomas by car is to the mountains which is a 1.5 hour drive. But we’re planning a trip to the beach at some point this summer, which will be a 4-5 hour drive (plus stops!). And I’m also taking him to Utah again this year. Needless to say, I’m already trying to prepare myself for that car ride AND the plane ride. I need all the tips I can get, especially because Thomas is also a challenging sleeper. We try our best to keep him on a sleep schedule that our consultant Molly lays out for us, so when we have to work around car rides (where he won’t nap), it’s definitely challenging.

In preparation for our trip planning, I did what anyone would do, and asked for ideas on Instagram. And come to find out, I’m not the only mother with a child who hates the car, AND people had some good ideas. While I won’t be using all of them, I thought it could be helpful to share the responses in case anyone else needs a little help too.

10 Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

I know traveling with a toddler can be challenging, but I also know the memories we make as a family far out way the stress it may take to get there. I want Thomas to explore and experience the world, so I know it’s worth it every time. It takes patience and preparation to travel with a toddler, but hopefully this post will help you as it did me while I researched to write this!

Here are some tips for traveling with a toddler, and if you’re looking for tips on flying with a baby, read this post! I haven’t thought about flying with a toddler quite yet.

1. Make multiple stops

Let’s talk about car travel first since it’s our biggest struggle at present. Like I mentioned above, Thomas hates being restrained, so a car seat is always an issue for us. One of the best tips I’ve heard (and plan to do, for SURE) is to make multiple stops on our next car trip (assuming it’s over 2 hours). On our trips to Boone, we typically just grit and bare it since it’s only an hour and a half.

But for our upcoming beach trip, I plan to stop every 1.5-2 hours.

We’ll try to find either a rest stop where there’s some grass for him to run around on — small children need to move and stretch ever 2 hours or so for their development, so it’s for more than just getting their energy out! A Target or grocery store is another good option if there isn’t a convenient rest stop or park along the way. Tommy and I will appreciate being able to stretch our legs too, and we’ll need gas anyway. There’s no such thing as a quick and easy car ride to the beach anyway, right?

If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll be able to get up and walk around more often, so take advantage of this. Assuming you have a helpful crew on board, you’ll be in great hands. I was so nervous to fly with Thomas when he was a baby (never mind I already have flight anxiety) but everyone around us loved him and made it such a pleasant flight. Handling toddlers on a plane is a totally different experience than handling a baby, so I may have more personal tips in a few months! We haven’t had experience flying with a toddler, but I plan to let Thomas walk up and down the aisles as much as possible (especially on long flights to Utah!).

2. Try new snacks

I thought this tip from a friend on Instagram was super smart. There are lots of snacks that I could easily go snag at Whole Foods to give Thomas as a treat. He LOVES to eat, so this may be a great way to distract him. Obviously, make sure everything you’re feeding your child is safe.

If you’re planning to stop for food while you travel, bring wipes. They’re easy to forget if you aren’t using a diaper bag anymore, but you’ll want to make sure to keep their little hands clean.

Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

3. Sit in the back of the car with them

This is a tip we already implement and it is helpful. The only issue is that Thomas wants to play even MORE when I’m back there with him, so if you’re trying to get your toddler to nap in the car, this may not work well. But, if they’re awake and it’s not nap time, sit back there to entertain him or her! If you can bring new toys or even a roll of toilet paper or box of Kleenex for them to unravel or pull out, that’s a great distraction too.

On a plane, you’ll be able to sit next to them and there’s less of a need to be buckled the entire time. If your child loves to move and squirm, pass them off between mom and dad, let the flight attendants hold them if they offer, walk back and forth, and take advantage of the times when the seat belt sign is off. Book an aisle seat if possible, and that way you won’t feel bad for needing to get to the aisle each time your child needs to move.

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4. Play a movie

This is obviously not my ideal situation since I try to limit the amount of screen time Thomas has, but when you’re desperate you’re desperate! This was also the most recommended tip when I polled my Instagram followers. All rules out the window for a road or plane trip. ;). You can find lots of iPad mounts for your car on amazon that are super handy if you don’t have a movie screen in your car (or if you child is still rear facing).

Some of my friends have said that movies in the car have been a true game-changer since they’re only a treat the kids get on long road trips. I felt like this was a good way to set up screen time boundaries while still maintaining a sense of calm in the car. You can also take the screens away as soon as you arrive on your trip, and make it a treat for when you head back home.

5. Dress your child in cozy clothing

Since Thomas already hates being restrained, uncomfortable clothes are a no-no. I make sure to put him in pajamas, or a soft comfortable set, rather than jeans because a seatbelt (even the car seat ones) are uncomfortable as is..  Both Thomas and I LOVE Lake Pajamas.

Traveling with little kids

6. Keep your AC on

If you’re dressing your child in cozy clothes, make sure they’re getting enough AC as well so they aren’t getting hot and cranky. Same goes for an airplane trip — make sure your child has comfortable, cozy, clothes that are warm enough (and not too warm) for a cold plane.

7. Pack travel toys

A great tip I got from a friend is to buy toys specifically for the travel days. Something new is always fun for a kid, and if you pack a few, you can give them the new one when they tire of the old one. Pack enough for the travel home too! It may be fun to keep a toy basket in your trunk for traveling days.

8. Travel around nap time

I say “around” since this is definitely subject to your child’s needs. We’ve tried driving during nap time so that he’ll sleep in the car and he botches his nap every time, causing him to struggle at bed time too. And now that we know that, we travel before or after a nap so that he’s happier, less cranky, AND so that he goes to bed when arrive to our destination. For some, traveling during a nap works perfectly, but for others, make sure you travel before or right after their nap so that they don’t skip their nap AND get a late bedtime. An overtired kid in the car and in a new place is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately there’s no “right” way to do this, so you’ll have to learn as you go.

9. Travel super early or late

We haven’t tried this yet, but I like the idea of traveling early… in theory. Not only does it help you arrive to your destination in time to still enjoy it (and allow for an afternoon nap), but sometimes we’re all just less cranky first thing in the morning. However, Thomas has the most energy in the morning so it probably wouldn’t work well for us. Conversely, you could try  traveling in the evening when your little one would normally be sleeping, so keep this in mind if you have an easy sleeper.

As for flying, you could also try taking an overnight flight. I can confidently say it likely would NOT work for us, since I HATE HATE HATE red eye flights, even without a baby or toddler, but it’s worth thinking about if you have a heavy sleeper.

10. Gate check your stroller

If you’re traveling by plane, make sure to bring your stroller to the gate versus checking it when you arrive at the airport, where it will be inaccessible after your flight. Your flight crew will help you gate check the stroller so that it doesn’t have to fit in the overhead bin, but you’ll have it right up until you get on your flight. If you do want to a stroller to fit in the overhead bin, we took this Cybex stroller to Utah and LOVED it. It collapses with one hand and folds up SO small.

Bonus tip: Lower your expectations

This sounds depressing but it is sound advice. If you don’t set high expectations for traveling with babies and toddlers, any hiccups you have while you’re traveling won’t cause disappointment. Sometimes there are just going to be tears during family travel and that’s okay. The goal is to get there, and once you’re there, all will be well. Set the bar low and any wins will be a happy surprise!

If you have other tips for driving or tips for flying with toddlers (especially a long haul flight), please leave a comment below! We need all the help we can get!!!

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