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Imagine that you’re headed for a long, relaxing vacation. You’ve settled into your seat, gotten comfortable and close your eyes as you prep for a lengthy travel snooze. The background noise is just enough to be pleasant and the gentle bumps of the plane or car keep a steady rhythm that is comforting.
All of a sudden, you feel a wet spray of sneeze across your face, coming from the mouth of your toddler. “Mom! Mom!” they yell less than an inch away from your ear. They are pushing your shoulder back and forth, trying to rouse you from your dreams. “I need a tissue! My nose has snot!” they continue to shout.
You open your eyes to face the reality of what it’s like to travel with toddlers. There is no comfortable way to sit, the background noise is actually coming from your tiny human at an ear-piercing volume, and the gentle bumps are more like a rapidly bouncing booty going up and down vigorously on your lap.
Traveling with toddlers can be extremely stressful - especially if you’re doing it as a one-woman show. But the obstacles we face during travel time shouldn’t prevent us from going places. On the contrary, we probably need to get away, even if it means juggling the same challenges of motherhood in a different location.
Before you decide against taking a trip with your tot, consider these tips that are sure to make the experience much more tolerable.
Here are my Top Tips for Travel with a Toddler
Hit the Road (or Skies) Early
Depending on what your child’s sleep schedule is like, it is usually a good idea to book a flight that is really early in the morning, or coincides with your child’s naptime. Likewise, if traveling by car, get going while it’s still dark outside so that your child is more likely to zonk out during a good portion of the trip.
In the event that your child is like mine, and they refuse to sleep even though they are tired, an early start is still suggested because those flights and roads tend to be less crowded, so any outbursts or embarrassing moments that happen with your child will not be as dreadful to deal with.
Pack Travel Toys
Kids get bored easily, especially on long trips. And while packing toys is a good idea, you want to make sure that the ones you bring are conducive to travel. Toys that have a lot of small, moving parts can be difficult to play on an airplane or in a car, and there’s a good chance the pieces will get lost.
Toys that are specifically suited for travel, like magnetic drawing boards, are easier for kids to use. You also don’t have to worry about packing tons of pieces, since drawing boards generally only have one piece - a pen - and it’s usually attached.Other options that tend to keep toddlers occupied (even if just for five minutes) include coloring books, reading books, and workbooks. If you have an iPad, you can pop some headphones on your child and let them watch a movie.
Accept Help When it’s Offered
I was once on an airplane with my baby and she would not stop crying. I tried everything I could - breastfeeding, changing her diaper, holding her up, rocking her - nothing worked. Eventually, a woman walked over to me and asked if she could try to calm my baby down. I thought to myself, Pssh, if I can’t get my own baby to chill out, how is this lady going to do it? But lo and behold, she did! I don’t know what her secret was but she managed to get my baby to relax. While I questioned my skills as a mother, I was thankful that she had offered to alleviate some of my stress.
There have also been times when people chat with my kids, offer them games to play with or offer to “babysit” them on the plane. If someone offers to help, let them help! It’s not like they will kidnap your child from 30,000 feet in the air. And most likely, they have children of their own and know what it’s like to travel with kids. They are probably sympathetic to your situation and want to do something nice. Let them.
Take Lots of Potty Breaks
It sucks having to stop and take your toddler to the bathroom multiple times during a trip. But you know what sucks even more? Having your toddler wet himself or pee in the car or airplane seat. Even potty trained children should use the restroom before taking off. They might say they don’t need to go, but you should still make them try. Children are fickle and sometimes don’t realize that they actually have to go when they do.
Children sometimes don’t want to use the restroom because they are too excited about the trip, so they are distracted by the anticipation. But if they don’t go before you leave, they will probably end up saying, “I need to go potty” during takeoff when the seatbelt sign is on, or when you’re 30 miles away from the next rest stop.
Whoever said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his belly” has clearly never met a toddler. Those little creatures are bottomless pits that would eat 24/7 if we let them. So obviously you want to make sure they have enough snacks for the trip to keep them satisfied.
If traveling by air, this is especially important. Those small packs of peanuts and pretzels won’t cut if for kids. (Or grown ups, let’s be honest.) They need as much sustenance as possible. Fruit is easy to pack and is good for kids. Snacks like healthy fruit & veggie puffs are also a great choice.
If you’re able to take an actual meal, like a sandwich, on your trip, that’s even better! The more options for food that your toddler has, the fewer opportunities they will have to complain about being hungry.
Dress for the Ride
One of the worst things about traveling is not being dressed properly. I’ve learned by now that when traveling by plane, I should wear comfortable, easy to remove shoes and bring along a light cardigan or blanket. If traveling by car, you want to make sure you are dressed in a way that doesn’t require you to add or remove layers constantly during the entire drive.
Keep this is mind when dressing your children. If your journey is a long one, you don’t want your child to be uncomfortable (i.e. “too hot” or “too cold”) during the trip. Put together your best “Goldilocks” outfit for your toddler so that they are dressed “just right” and won’t make a fuss.
My children and I often get cold on airplanes, so I make sure to pack a large blanket in our carry-on bag. Even if we don’t use it, it’s nice to know we have it in the event we do get cold.
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Traveling before kids is fun. Traveling with kids, not so much. But that shouldn’t stop us from doing it. I loved traveling with my family as a child! And I’d like to think that my children will look back on their childhood and remember the fun times we had going places together.
Motherhood is always a challenge. But taking trips with toddlers isn’t so horrible if you know the tricks for making the experience easier to manage. You got this, mama!