Trips With Toddlers: How to Not Lose Your Mind

Taking trips with toddlers can be fun and exciting but also, exhausting and downright scary! Here are some tips to survive and not lose your mind!


Remember when you were a kid, and a road trip meant climbing into the family station wagon and heading across the country to see relatives you barely knew existed and stopping to see the world’s largest ball of yarn?

Traveling with children was a lot simpler then, it seems. There were no iPads or Netflix to keep us entertained, and we didn’t need them. We kept ourselves amused by fighting with our siblings or cranking the tunes on our Walkman. We slept. We read. We looked out the window and watched as the world whizzed by.

My, how things have changed.

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In just a few short decades, traveling with children — and particularly, planning trips with toddlers —has become a feat of monumental proportions, requiring extensive coordination, careful consideration of every possible scenario, and expert project management skills envied the world over.

Was taking a vacation this hard for our parents? It probably was. And no doubt they were faced with many of the same challenges we face as we plan trips with our own toddlers today. But if they could do it, so can you. You just need to be prepared.

Tips for Taking Trips with Toddlers

Traveling With Children Requires A LOT of Preparation

Traveling with children doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it’s usually our own impatience that creates chaos — not the kids.

As parents we’ve grown accustomed to functioning at two speeds: rush and sleep. There is no happy medium.

But consider for a second that small children have no concept of time. They’re not in a hurry because they don’t have to be. They don’t need to be at work at a certain time, they don’t have appointments or schedules to keep. Sure, they know they’re going on a trip, but they don’t understand the importance of getting to the airport on time.

What they do understand is a parent who’s stressed, miserable, and yelling at them to “Hurry up!” It’s what they’ll learn traveling is all about if you don’t give them a better experience to remember.

Yes, trips with toddlers can be challenging for you, but consider how exciting (and sometimes overwhelming) it is for them. Imagine seeing the inside of an airport for the first time. Imagine climbing aboard a train for the first time. There are so many new things for their little eyes and minds to take in.

The Number 1 thing you need to pack when traveling with children is extra patience. Give yourself a buffer when figuring out how much time you’ll need leading up to departure. Allow for extra bathroom stops, looking for lost items, or even a few minutes to explore. A melt-down almost always happens when you’re trying to get out the door; when you give yourself extra time to handle it, it won’t be so stressful.

Preparation is key when you’re traveling with children of any age, but especially when you’re taking a trip with a toddler. Save the spontaneity for when the kids are older (and a forgotten toy isn’t the end of the world). When they’re little:

  • Remember that a child’s passport needs to be renewed more often than an adult’s. Review your child’s passport at least once a year to make sure it’s up-to-date when you need it
  • Make sure everyone knows you’re traveling with children, from the airline to the hotel. There may be ways they can help make your trip easier
  • Pack appropriate clothing. If you’re heading to a tropical destination, throw shorts and a T-shirt into your carry-on so you can change your little one into cooler clothes as soon as you arrive. Do the same thing for the trip home, only with warmer clothes. Kids that are too hot or too cold can be miserable.
  • If your trip coincides with potty training, allow extra time for frequent bathroom breaks and pack training diapers in your carry-on

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Tips for Flying with a Toddler

If you’re stressed about flying with a toddler, you’re not alone. Everyone’s heard a story at one time or another about being on a plane with a child who wouldn’t stop crying. Maybe it was you who complained about being stuck on a plane with a crying baby. When you don’t have children of your own, those things seem like a big deal.

Guess what? Kids cry in cars, and on trains, and in the mall. All kids cry, but not all kids cry on airplanes.

Here’s something else to remember: Children can’t always tell you, specifically, why they’re crying. For a child who’s never been on an airplane, they probably won’t know how to explain the pressure they feel in their ears during take-off or landing. Nor can they explain if they’re feeling claustrophobic. A toddler won’t come right out and tell you they’re bored on a plane. These are things you need to clue into simply by putting yourself in their shoes.

If flying with a toddler is in your future, keep in mind they’re little people who experience the same sensations and anxieties you do when flying.

Ease the discomfort when their ears “pop” on an airplane by giving babies or toddlers a bottle during take-off or descent. Older children might find it beneficial to suck on a hard candy or chew gum.

Pack your carry-on sensibly. Pack snacks and games last so they’re at the top (and you won’t have to dig to find them when you need them). If you are traveling with a fussy child, you don’t want to waste time digging through your bag for their favorite toy or their sippy cup.

And speaking of favorite toys, it’s a good idea to keep your child’s favorite stuffy or blanket in a bag that stays with you during the trip – your purse or carry-on, for example. Don’t expect a stuffed toy to keep your child happy for a three-hour flight, though. Pack small activities, games, and toys that will keep your little one entertained, such as puzzles, a coloring book and crayons, play dough, and finger puppets. After the first 10 minutes, the novelty of being on a plane will wear off and they’ll look to you to provide a new distraction.

Above all, remember that stress begets stress. If your child does cry on an airplane, don’t worry about what the other passengers think. Focus on soothing and calming your child so you can all enjoy the trip.

Be Ready for a Family Road Trip

Traveling with children in a car isn’t much different than traveling with them by plane: To make the trip less stressful, be prepared and remember they’re just kids.

How many times have you wondered where your child gets the energy to run around non-stop for hours? Kids aren’t meant to sit still for long. Strapping your toddler into a car seat and expecting him to sit quietly for hours is unrealistic, so when you’re planning a road trip with a toddler, make a point of stopping at least every couple of hours to give Junior a chance to stretch his legs and burn off some energy.

A family road trip is also a great way to brush up on language skills with your toddler. Classic car games like I Spy are not only fun to play, but they get your toddler thinking about colors and letters. When was the last time you played Road Trip Bingo or I’m Going on a Picnic?

Traveling with children isn’t so stressful when you have a plan to keep their minds occupied with simple games and activities. And when all else fails, hook up the DVD player for an on-board movie.

A trip is meant to be an adventure! No matter how young they are, make traveling with your children fun. Encourage them to observe their surroundings and learn. There are child-friendly cameras on the market you can give your little one to take pictures of things that interest them, or pick up a travel journal for your child to sketch and note the things he or she sees along the way. If your child is old enough and capable of playing games on a tablet, make sure you have a charger ready to avoid a meltdown when the battery dies. When it comes to traveling with children, preparation is the name of the game.

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Dianne Duckett

Dianne Duckett is a 40-something mom of 2 pre-teen girls who manage to make her both proud and a little crazy every day. In her spare time she reads biographies and jogs. (Just kidding… she naps.)

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