When it comes to traveling with a toddler, even the most experienced parents may have to take several deep, fortifying breaths before embarking on their journey with arms loaded down with all of the stuff that babies seem to require for their health and well-being, as well as for their parents’ sanity.
The main issue that makes traveling with a tot so trying, is the fact that toddlers have a lot of trouble sitting still. In fact, as all parents are aware, that’s a serious understatement. Toddlers are tiny bundles of energy. And that energy can be channeled just as enthusiastically into an epic tantrum as it can into laughing and playing.
The key to traveling with a toddler is keeping them happily entertained so that all of that energy is kept channeled into cheery chuckles right up until they crash and take a long nap.
Fortunately for the faint of heart, practiced parents have shared their tips for traveling with a toddler on road trips and flights.
Hitting the Road with a Toddler in Tow
Road trips can be a challenge with a toddler, but they do have the benefit of being private. This means that unlike traveling on a plane, if your child has a screaming meltdown, at least there won’t be witnesses.
The key to tot travel is to plan your trip around entertaining your child while she’s confined to her car seat. One way to do this is with some great travel toys for toddlers. Keeping a few special toys only for travel can give these toys a special allure for young children.
If they know they can only play with this particular toy on a long trip, it will help to get your travel off to a good start because your child is anxious to get the chance to play with their special travel toy. Some good travel toys for toddlers include magnetic doodle boards, stacking cups, large linking beads, and velcro dress dolls.
Books are also great to have along for entertainment in a car seat. Bring cloth or board books with flaps that your toddler can lift and manipulate, and also books that you can read to your toddler in the car seat. Books about traveling are fun and relatable to read to a child while they are experiencing a long road trip themselves.
Prepare for Planned and Unplanned Stops on Road Trips
Another benefit of a road trip compared to flying is the ability to stop and take breaks. Toddlers will enjoy traveling much more if you plan enough travel time for your trip so that you are able to make frequent stops for breaks. Bring along a great lightweight stroller, and plan one or two stops per travel day at kid-friendly places along your route.
Children’s hands-on museums, petting zoos, and aquariums are all great choices. If your travel time doesn’t allow these kinds of stops, try stopping in scenic areas or in rest stops for a quick picnic. Most rest stops offer picnic tables where parents can rest while their toddler explores. This will help to stretch cramped muscles and to use the pent-up energy accumulated during car seat confinement. It may even help your toddler to go down for a nap when you get back on the road.
Bring a Snack Sack
Bringing along plenty of healthy and fun snacks is another way to keep a toddler content during car trips. Snacks like string cheese, raisins, graham crackers, cut fruit and veges, dry cereal, and squeezable yogurt are great for traveling. It’s also okay to bring along a couple of sweet treats such as lollipops to use as needed to stop a tantrum in its tracks when you are in traffic, or to give as a reward for good behavior.
Be sure to bring along sippy cups and bottles of water. Juice boxes are also great to have along on car trips.
Bring a Sick Kit
On any road trip, you should have a special bag or box with emergency items for your toddler such as bandaids for boo boos and children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen if they become sick. Tummy taming drops for car sickness may come in handy as well. You should also pack this sack with a change of clothes and a zippered plastic bag to store away any clothes that might have been vomited on or otherwise dirtied. Bring plenty of baby wipes for cleaning up spills, accidents, and sticky hands.
Screen Time for Traveling Tots
When all else fails, having a tablet or iPad with kid-friendly favorite programs downloaded can be a true sanity saver. During travel it’s okay to put the screen time limits on hold. After all, being in a car with a traveling toddler for many hours is considered extenuating circumstances. It can also be an important asset during bad traffic when the driver needs to avoid distractions from a fussing toddler in the back seat.
Air Travel with a Toddler
When your trip involves a flight, the same principle applies—entertainment is the key to a trip with less stress. Unfortunately, on a plane you not only are much more limited in the amount of items you can bring along for the ride, but you also have innocent bystanders in very close quarters to witness your child if he has a meltdown or tantrum.
While most of the things your child needs for a trip can be with your checked luggage, your carry-on will probably have to be a bag of tricks to keep your toddler happy during the flight. Most airlines will allow you to stow a stroller on board, which makes it much easier to reach any connecting flights in a hurry.
The best umbrella strollers are perfect for air travel. They typically open and collapse in one simple move, and are lightweight enough to allow you to carry both stroller and toddler if you have to. (And every parent knows that at some point you will be carrying both your tot and their stroller.)
Although most airlines allow you to hold a child on your lap if they are under age two rather than purchase a ticket, if your budget allows, it’s highly recommended that you get them their own seat and bring their car seat along. Your toddler will be much less anxious about the flight if they are in the familiar confines of their own car seat.
Make sure that your carry on contains essentials like diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks, water or juice, travel toys and books, and again—a device with your tot’s favorite programs downloaded for their entertainment. (and your sanity!)