Traveling with toddlers can be torture.
New sights and sounds can be overwhelming to a young child and vacation excitement can quickly turn into temper tantrums if you’re not prepared.
Here are 10 parent-practiced tips to help make traveling with toddlers fun.
1. Choose a family-friendly destination.
Skip the crowded tourist destinations and opt instead for a locale that is accustomed to having kids around. Traveling with toddlers is easier when the location is not crowded or try avoiding peak hours.
2. Book the Safest In-Flight Options
Children younger than 2 years old typically travel for free or at reduced rates as a “lap child” when held by a parent, but experts recommend buying a seat and securing your little ones in a Federal Aviation Administration-approved CRS or infant vest. “Everyone from the FAA to [the] Academy of Pediatrics says young children are far safer in turbulent skies when restrained in safety seats,” says Eileen Ogintz, creator of online travel resource Taking the Kids and author of “The Kid’s Guides” series of travel activity books for ages 6 to 12.
3. Choose Quiet Activities for Flights
Entertaining toddlers on a plane, where you have to be mindful of other passengers and can’t pull over for breaks, is challenging. Quiet, engaging activities like coloring books and art projects with linoleum, felt, magnetic or adhesive cut-outs keep little hands and minds busy. Also, consider holding something back; surprising toddlers with new or forgotten toys is a sure way to grab their attention, at least for a few minutes. If all else fails and a tantrum erupts, offer to buy drinks for the passengers around you – they were all kids once, too.
4. Pack entertainment.
“Best bets for entertaining your child in the car and hotel room include favorite books, games and toys,” says Nancy Wolpert of Nickelodeon Home Entertainment. For all-inclusive entertainment, she recommends two new DVDs that feature a collection of kids’ favorite TV shows. “The Nick Picks and Nick Jr. Favorites DVDs will keep them entertained for hours,” Wolpert promises.
5. Stock Up On Treats Before Departure
Nicky Omohundro, the creator of the outdoor blog Little Family Adventure, describes snacks as “true toddler currency,” deeming them a must-have component of any family vacation. Barb Webb, a mother of three and founder of the Second Season Travel blog, agrees. “Pre-packing these items saves you a bundle, too, as you’ll avoid having to pay premium prices at travel stops,” she says. Whether traveling by car or plane, easy snacks like dry cereal, pretzels and baby carrots (boiled for a few minutes to eliminate choking hazards) are sure to please. A refillable water bottle or sippy cup is also a necessity.
6. Pack a Single Family Suitcase for Efficiency
Adults traveling solo with a toddler or other children should pack one family suitcase to keep things simple. “I find it helpful to pack each child’s clothing by day into packing cubes,” Omohundro says. “It makes the morning routine more streamlined and efficient.” You also won’t have to lug several bags on your own while traveling, and you’ll keep one hand free to lead tiny travelers through the airport.
7. Encourage Kids to Carry Their Own Belongings
If they’re up to it, toddlers may enjoy carrying a small fanny pack or backpack through the airport. Encourage kids ages 3 and older to bring along their toys and clothing in a child-size rolling suitcase. This can be a helpful way to lighten your load – and it will make your kids feel grown up at the same time.
8. Plan rest stops.
If you’re driving, break up the monotony by stopping every couple of hours (or more frequently if necessary). Kids need to stretch out after being cooped up in a car for a while. Consider bringing along a ball to kick or throw around during these breaks.
9. Fit in Naps When Possible
One of the best ways to avoid a cranky toddler is to encourage napping. Maintain a routine to help young ones get some shut-eye, such as changing them into sleepwear and putting them down with a favorite security blanket or stuffed toy around the same time every day. “If you can schedule your flight or long drive around their nap time, it can often lead to a very peaceful and quiet ride,” Webb says.
10. Reconnect Without Electronic Devices
Family vacations are an ideal time for everyone to unplug and enjoy time together. “Electronic items may seem like a good choice,” Webb says, “but they require constant monitoring and charging, which can detract from your vacation.” Instead, look for easy-to-pack interactive books, bingo sheets, and small animal-, science-, superhero- or sports-themed toys. This time together can also be a great opportunity to inspire kids with new topics.
10 + 1. Stick to your routine.
Eating, napping, and playing at the same time each day may be all your child needs to feel comfortable in a new environment.