Tips: How to Travel with a Toddler
As a child-free couple, it is a lot easier for us to pack and go on trips than those who are traveling with little ones; within 15 minutes we have our carry-ons packed and head out to the airport. Recently, we traveled with our 6 year old niece, 3 year old nephew and their parents for 1 week and it was quite a different experience for us both during the flight and once we arrived at the destination. As we met at the airport to board a flight together, we were introduced to a completely different world of travel; one of excess luggage, constant attention and oversight, and overall chaos…there may have been flying food, crying over a lost toy, and vomiting at one point!!
As we write these blog posts, we tend to focus more on child-free travel and so we have partnered up with our friend Deirdra (Pilates with Deirdra) to share some tips for those traveling with little ones. A seasoned traveler before becoming a mom, Deirdra will share her tried and true strategies for travelling with her daughter to help parents enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
- Packing: What are the top 5 things to consider when packing?
- Planning: Have you changed how you search for and choose accommodations? If so, what are some things to consider?
- Flying: What is the most difficult part about flying with Little P? What are the top things to consider when planning for the flight and during the flight?
- Routines: How does jet-lag affect your routine and how do you adapt?
- Mindset: Little P was an infant the last time you made the trek from Australia to Canada. How are you adapting your mindset this time as she approaches those “terrible 2’s”?
- Last minute thoughts/advice? Is there anything else you want to add or share?
Packing: What are the top 5 things to consider when packing?
1. Don’t underestimate how much you will need on the plane – A carry-on has never become so important! From formula to snacks, diapers to clothing, books to toys, you have several hours to fill. I try to consider every possible scenario with plenty of back-up solutions. And any mess won’t stay concealed to your little one: always pack spare clothing for yourself too.
2. Forget George Clooney’s character’s advice in Up in the Air – you are no longer a “carry-on only” traveler: Airlines make allowances for little ones, so take advantage of it while you can.
3. Kids clothing is light, even if you pack a lot of it! I shared a suitcase with P on both trips to Canada last year and plan on doing the same again. It restricts how much I can pack to a certain extent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
4. Leave room for purchases and gifts – If you’re travelling somewhere that has cheaper goods on offer, you will want to stock up. If you’re travelling to see family, they will of course want to have some little trinkets waiting for the little one that you can’t very well leave with them when you head home. Plan to pack more on the way back.
5. Pack for each leg of the trip – I have decided to pack in sections for this trip because what I need for the first leg will be on the top of the suitcase so that I don’t have to disrupt the entire packed bag.
Planning: Have you changed how you search for and choose accommodations? If so, what are some things to consider?
We’ve stayed at many hotels since P was about two months old and during that time we’ve had some great hotel stays, some less than memorable ones or the ones that are memorable for all the wrong reasons! One hotel ensuite was surrounded by frosted glass, which meant that as soon as we turned on the bathroom light, the whole room lit up! Not ideal and it meant showers – and getting ready – in the dark while P was sleeping.
We’ve started sticking with the same hotel chains when possible as it makes them more predictable. We’re points collectors so we’ve generally always stayed in the same hotels anyway, but when you’re needing some extra space for a travel crib / cot, extra baggage and a little crawler, you want to know the general room set-up in advance.
In-room dining also becomes an attractive option with a little one. You can worry less about timing for a meal when you don’t have to find a restaurant and work around your little one’s schedule. Side dishes can make great toddler-sized meals and some hotels will bring a high chair from their restaurant to your room upon request. Again, having space for something like a high chair can be handy.
Make friends with the Concierge for recommendations of all kinds and choose a hotel that’s walking distance to attractions (both for adults and little ones to enjoy). If you can avoid having to rent a car to get around, all the better.
Flying: What is the most difficult part about flying with Little P? What are the top things to consider when planning for the flight and during the flight?
1. Stressing about her ears: Ensure you have a pacifier or something for them to drink during ascent and descent.
2. Entertainment: Same as on the ground, really. You will want to keep them entertained!
3. Food and drink: Some airlines offer infant meals on international flights. You need to order these in advance. Some are really good; it all depends on airline and departure point. Bring your own boiled water for bottles (they will be fine through security) but flight attendants can warm bottles and food up for you during flight.
4. Make sleep time as much like your home routine as you can: Last year, I changed her into pajamas, put her into her sleep sack, fed her and sang the same song as at home. Little ones thrive on routines! I plan on doing the same this time: pajamas, sleep sack, book and bottle then sleep. But be a bit patient – they know they’re in a different environment and likely will need a bit more encouragement.
Routines: How does jet-lag affect your routine and how do you adapt?
When I was pregnant, several people advised I should “sleep when Baby sleeps”. That needs to be your motto when travelling and dealing with jet lag. You can bank on your little one waking at some ungodly hour as a result of jet lag, and guess what? When you’re all sharing small sleeping quarters it means everyone is awake. Go to bed as early as you can in anticipation of an extra early rise and try and make bedtime for you and your little one progressively later. It’s not that different to a strategy for adults. And don’t forget to keep everyone hydrated!
Mindset: Little P was an infant the last time you made the trek from Australia to Canada. How are you adapting your mindset this time as she approaches those “terrible 2’s”?
For starters, she’s now fully mobile although she tends to like to sit on Mommy’s lap so I’m lucky there. We recently did a short haul flight as a tester for the upcoming trip and she seemed content to stay seated, so fingers crossed she doesn’t decide to run rampant on the long haul!
We have an iPad for her loaded up with toddler-friendly educational apps that keeps her amused at home and on-the-go. I can appreciate that this may be contentious for some people but given that she quickly worked out our phones I figured it was only a matter of time until she needed her own gadget! You just have to remember to keep it charged…
I’m troubleshooting all the way. We never worried about airport transfers when it was just the two of us but there’s no way I’m waiting around for an airport shuttle at what will be 2am our time with a little one in tow! She can be patient but there are limits. Minimize your stress by pre-paying and pre-planning as much as possible.
Last minute thoughts/advice? Is there anything else you want to add or share?
- Extra Seat: Ask the airline to block out a seat beside you if there is one free. It’s invaluable for putting the little one down for a rest, keeping some key items handy and just giving you a bit more space during the flight.
- Bassinet: The bassinet is great and can be used for storage when your little one is awake and playing.
- Flight Attendants: Most flight attendants were all too happy to assist with warming bottles, food, helping me lift bags. I say most because I had a couple of nasty ones but thankfully other passengers made up for their ignorance.
- Strollers: Strollers tend to get broken on planes and I’ve had a few friends tell me that an airline wasn’t keen to pay for repair or replacement. We bought a second hand stroller for travel with the mindset that if it gets damaged, it won’t be the end of the world.
- Airport Security: Some airports have a section for families which makes it easier because they can accommodate the screening of larger items through the x-ray machine, there is more space. Recently, there have been restrictions on how much baby powder you can bring in your carry-on (no more than 12 oz. /350 ml) so I recommend looking at the airport security website for the country’s you will be traveling through in advance.
- Go with the Flow: Accept that you may have to alter your holiday for your little one but that doesn’t mean it won’t still be an enjoyable time away for your family.
Have you ever traveled with a toddler? Can you relate to any of these tips? Do you have any to add?
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