Life with a toddler can be challenging, but just because you have a toddler in tow, that’s no reason to stop your travels. Take your tot on the road for some family adventures and, with these tips, do so just a little more easily. Here are 13 ways to make traveling with a toddler a little easier.
Do not assume that you can just go on a trip and keep the same schedule that you might if you were traveling sans toddler.
Additionally, don’t get your hopes up and try to make your normal, day-to-day schedule that your toddler is accustomed to fit into a travel scenario. It likely won’t work, especially when you take into consideration all that can happen while traveling, from flight delays to standing in long lines. In terms of your toddler’s schedule, then, this is what you’ll need to do.
1. Take account for changing time zones
If you’re traveling over multiple time zones, everyone’s going to feel the effects, including your toddler. So, when planning out an itinerary (and you should have an itinerary; don’t expect just to wing it), think about how your child (and you!) will feel after your travel day. Will you need more sleep? Less? Adjust accordingly.
2. Don’t try to skip a nap — whatever you do
Just don’t try it. No matter how much you want to keep going and seeing more of your destination, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Because of this, try to fit in your most strenuous activities in the morning or right after nap time, when your child will be at his or her freshest. Don’t try anything too active or testing right before nap time. Instead, choose to do low-key things near your hotel, in case you need to pop back to the room when someone gets cranky.
3. Don’t pack your itinerary; leave room for changes
Just like anything can happen when traveling, anything can happen when traveling with a toddler. A sudden tantrum means you likely won’t be able to visit that super-quiet museum. An exploding diaper means you need to head back to the hotel early, possibly making you miss your next activity.
Be flexible and easy-going when things like this happen and leave plenty of room in your itinerary for changes and delays.
Put just as much care into picking individual activities as you will scheduling them out throughout your trip to fit your toddler’s schedule.
4. Get outdoors
Firstly, try to plan some outdoor activities. Your kid needs to burn off some energy somewhere, at some point, and letting them roam about in a space where they can be as loud as they want will ease everyone’s nerves.
5. Go free
You never know when a toddler’s temper tantrum means you have to leave the museum that you paid $40 to enter. So, if you think there’s even a chance that your toddler might interfere with your high-priced plans, if you don’t want to risk the money, skip the activity. There are plenty of free fun things to do in every city.
Evan Porter, parenting writer for Dad Fixes Everything and veteran toddler-traveler recommends, “bring an iPad or other tablet and don't forget to load it up with cartoons BEFORE you leave! While you're on your WiFi at the house, download everything, Disney.”
He also says, “small games and puzzles are a good backup, but for surviving a long trip nothing beats the magic of screens. You'll also need child-friendly headphones and not just whatever earbuds you have lying around.”
6. Find toddler-friendly activities
Yes, you can find activities suitable for both toddlers and adults.
Traveling to Chicago? Visit Millennium Park and the iconic bean sculpture, before heading to the kid and adult-friendly Museum of Science and Industry.
Headed to Charlotte? There are several toddler-suitable museums in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
If your child is bored or you have more downtime, Eileen Gunn, Editor of FamiliesGo!, suggests having “lots of small busy toys are best, building toys with magnets, sticker books, magic pen coloring books, small tubs of play-doh all work.” She also adds, “anything new will hold their attention a bit longer, so buying a new sticker book or raiding the dollar bins at Target can be helpful.”
Picking a Hotel
Some hotel brands are more family-friendly than others. Make sure to do your research!
Related: How to Find Last Minute Travel Deals
7. Look for hotels with toddler-friendly amenities
Be on the hunt for hotel brands that offer toddler-friendly amenities, from cribs to car seats you can rent for the duration of your stay to even kits to baby-proof your room.
One great example of a hotel brand that caters to kids is Loews. The brand offers tons of items you might need for traveling with a toddler, from toddler bath amenities to night lights, board games to books, strollers to sound machines.
8. Look for hotels with indoor pools or lawns
So, your toddler wouldn’t go down for a nap, you don’t want to stay cooped up in the hotel room, but you’re terrified if you go out into a crowded tourist spot, they’ll start screaming at the top of their lungs?
Try a safer activity close to the room. If you choose a hotel with outdoor space or an indoor pool, the entire family can enjoy being outside the hotel room and doing something fun, but you won’t be stressed in the event someone decides they actually do want their nap, and they want it right now.
9. Don’t settle for a happy meal
Don’t feel like you have to avoid “nice” restaurants or more adult-focused venues like craft breweries when you’re traveling with a toddler.
You’ll be surprised at how toddler-friendly many are. Look for specific restaurants to add to your itinerary and do some online research on each. It’s not difficult to find information on how kid-suitable a venue is, thanks to simple Google or TripAdvisor reviews.
10. Don’t forget to have snacks on hand
Corinne McDermott, Founder of Have Baby Will Travel advises, “healthy, homemade granola bites or dry cereal can pack a few nutrients into a tasty crunch. But don't shy away from offering treats that you know your toddler will enjoy as an incentive or reward for good behavior.”
McDermott continues, “ a small bag of chips can work wonders to encourage an excited toddler to sit still and munch away. And don't sweat a few days of less-than-stellar nutrition if you're typically very mindful of you and your family's eating habits. Routines and schedules are usually easily picked up where you left off once you've been home for a day or two.”
It’s always better to be prepared, so don’t worry about overpacking.
11. Bring every type of clothing — even the stuff you think you won’t need
Think just because you’re going to Los Angeles, your kid won’t need a sweater? Think again.
Assume that because it’s winter, your North Carolina getaway will require a coat? Again, you assumed wrong.
The weather can always change and you need to have a little bit of everything on hand.
12. Don’t forget sunscreen and any just-in-case meds
Toddlers always need sunscreen, regardless of the weather, and if there’s a chance you could need a medication, you probably will. Pack all the toiletries and medications you think there’s even the slightest chance you might need, so you’re always ready regardless of the situation.
13. Consider renting a car for your trip
There are several reasons while traveling families choose to rent a car once in a destination. It’s a handy place to keep all your toddler gear, so you’re not lugging it around a city. It means you don’t have to take a fussy toddler onto public transportation or into a rideshare vehicle. It also just provides a bit of privacy and a quiet spot if you need to take your toddler somewhere away from a crowd, whether they need a diaper change or to cry it out.
Porter suggests, “buy a travel booster seat. Bringing a car seat on a plane trip is a nightmare. They're bulky and difficult to install in a pinch. They have some pretty amazing foldable boosters now that are a lot more convenient if your child is big enough for them.”
Traveling with a Toddler?
Traveling with a toddler isn’t impossible and it can absolutely be enjoyable.
Just make sure to plan a flexible, toddler-friendly itinerary, considering their scheduling needs; look for hotels that provide kid-friendly amenities and space; pick activities everyone in the family will enjoy and be prepared when you pack.