Summertime is in full swing, which for many people is prime time for family vacations! Actually, let’s rephrase that to family “trips.” Coming from a mom of 16-month-old twins, traveling with toddlers is rarely a true vacation (at least for the parents!). If you are looking for a well-deserved, relaxing break, tip no. 1 is to leave the little ones at home. Ok, kidding (kind of). But if you are set on bringing the kids, or it just isn’t feasible to leave them with a sitter, here are my best tips to make your travel day as smooth as possible.
Buy a few new toys and books. Shiny, new play things will keep kids interested and occupied a lot longer than the same stuff they see all the time.
SNACKS! However many snacks you think you may need for your toddler on travel day, double it. They probably aren’t eating at their regular meal times on travel days, so they may be hungrier than usual at odd times. You’ll also want the extra snacks on hand to help calm a fussy kid when they start screaming on the plane or from the back seat.
Create a packing list well in advance. Then, figure out what items are necessary to travel with versus what you can ship to (or purchase at) your destination. If you are traveling by plane, you want to travel as light as possible to make zooming around the airport easier. If you are traveling by car, you will need to determine what items can actually fit in your vehicle. On a recent trip with our twins, we needed to conserve space in our luggage, so we packed enough diapers, wipes, and snacks for the travel day, and pre-shipped more from Amazon so our supplies would be waiting for us upon our arrival. If you are flying and renting a car at your destination, consider adding a car seat to your rental, so you don’t have to lug yours. Also note that children’s strollers and car seats are free to check as luggage (you will probably want to keep your stroller until you board, where you can gate check for free, as well).
Give your kids time to run around. Whether it is in the terminal before you board the flight or on a pit stop during a road trip, letting your toddler get out their energy will help them be less antsy when they are confined to their car seat or on the plane for extended periods of time.
If your child is not potty trained yet, make sure you give them a fresh diaper right before getting on the plane or in the car. You do NOT want to have to deal with changing a toddler in a teeny, tiny airplane lavatory if you can avoid it. You also don’t want to be forced to make a pit stop 20 minutes into your drive to change a dirty diaper.
Ease up on your screentime limits for the day. If you are a mom who is strict on how much TV or tablet time you allow your child, I strongly urge you to not care when traveling with toddlers. Trust me, the day will be exhausting enough, so if the screen keeps your kiddo quiet, just let them watch it. One day won’t ruin them.
Pack basic children’s medicines in your carry-on. Or have them easily accessible in the car (Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, antibiotic ointment, etc). You never know what will come up and it’s better to be safe than sorry when you need something in a pinch.
Be cautious of germs. COVID is certainly not over (as my family found out the hard way), and while masks are no longer required, it may be worth it to you to take some extra precautions. I highly recommend wearing a mask when you are in close contact with people, wiping down seats and tray tables if you are flying, and wiping down your child’s hands often. With that being said, toddlers are gross and will touch anything and stick everything in their mouths, so even this advice may be no match for your tiny germ magnets. During a recent travel day, my daughter dropped a container of puffs on the plane and started eating them off of the floor before I could collect all of them. Then after we landed, my son proceeded to rub his lovey all over the floor of the LaGuardia Airport restroom before sticking it in his mouth (I just puked in my mouth reliving it). So, naturally, all four of us caught COVID from that trip. Even if it’s not COVID, there is still the flu, colds, and other viruses, and we all know a sick kid is not a fun time for anyone.
Air Travel-Specific Tips
For younger toddlers: Children under 2 years old are allowed to fly for free if they will sit on your lap for the duration of the flight. While saving the extra money is fabulous, it may not be worth the lack of space, especially on longer flights. Toddlers need a lot of “stuff,” so even if they will sit on your lap, it’s nice to have the extra room to put snacks, toys, water cup, tablet, etc., during the flight. Also good to note that airlines do not allow more than one lap child in the same row (there is only one extra oxygen mask per row). So, if you are planning on traveling with more than one lap child, please be aware that they will not be able to sit in the same row, so you and your spouse/travel partner will have to split up. To avoid this, a family of four could purchase a seat for one of the children, and keep the other on a lap.
Be mindful of your toddler’s ears. The change in air pressure can be pretty painful for your little one. If they are still nursing or take a bottle, offer that during takeoff and landing when the pressure change is the most intense. The swallowing can help relieve the pressure. If they are a little older, sips from a water cup, snacks, or a lollipop work, too. If you know your child has a history of ear pain on flights, you can give them Children’s Tylenol 30 minutes prior to takeoff to help prevent the pain.
Bonus Tip: Be kind to your spouse/travel partner! It is going to be a stressful, tiring day for you both, especially with a toddler who is out of their element and normal routine. You are probably going to snap at each other at some point, but just remember that you’re in it together, and soon enough (or maybe not soon enough), you will reach your destination.
What tips do you have for traveling with toddlers?