By Cat Zuniga
Travel takes on a whole new meaning when you’re traveling with a toddler (in my case, a just-toddling toddler with another on the way). Your young companion is going to add a whole new dimension to your travel experiences. You might not always appreciate that dimension, but the good news is that it’s not bigger than you or your trip. You can cope with it.
Before I begin to share some of my own secrets, I want to make sure you dial down expectations, set realistic goals, and take it nice ’n’ easy. Just like when you first became a mom, things aren’t what they used to be. This will definitely be an adjustment.
Adjust if necessary
If you’re willing to be flexible, traveling with a toddler can be an extremely fun experience. Sightseeing and sitting still for long periods of time may get boring for your toddler, so try to keep your itinerary simple and go with the flow. Consider limiting yourself to one activity a day, and you’ll find it much easier to make any last-minute adjustments if your child gets tired or wants to spend time exploring at their own energetic pace.
Pick a family-friendly destination
Try to select a relaxing destination that is used to getting young visitors. Not having to sweat the details makes everything better. Consider a beach retreat, camping as a family, or a resort with play centers and activities. Skipping the crowded, overstimulating, touristy destinations that are hard for young ones and their parents will make things slightly more bearable for everyone.
Remember: We are talking about your first few trips as a young family. Eventually, the crowded, over-stimulated, and plenty-of-activity kind of resorts will be just what the family needs! But for now, just keep it simple and make the adjustment period more enjoyable for everyone.
Look for family-friendly hotels and resorts that offer larger rooms or family suites and include free meals for children or buffet-style breakfasts to save on costs and make your selections easier – even if your toddler is just starting on solid food.
Bring the fuel
Bring plenty of drinks or snacks on any trip. Children can easily get dehydrated when they’re out of their normal element, and they aren’t always patient enough to wait for food service on a plane. (And let’s be honest: they may even refuse food when it comes.) You know what your child wants/needs, so make sure there’s plenty of it. Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Handing out snacks in intervals can also be a great distraction for your toddler. Consider bringing along cleansing wipes for a good clean-up if you’re traveling in an airport or on an airplane, as they are some of the filthiest places you’ll commonly encounter. In addition, baby wipes that aren’t packed away let you make a quick wipe-down on a messy baby.
Plan frequent rest stops
If you’re driving, break up your trip so your toddler can stretch out, run around and blow off energy. Books are great for the car, but consider including some balls to roll around or kick if your rest stop permits the space. Identify some parks and picnic areas on your route, or areas when you can have your toddler run around. Taking a lunch break at a restaurant doesn’t give your child the opportunity to release that energy, so be prepared to put that fancy meal on hold.
If driving, consider ending your day early so all of you have time to unwind. I’m sure you’ve quickly learned that you have to catch up on rest whenever and wherever you can!
If driving, consider removable window shades to keep the sun off your child.
Dress your child in a brightly colored outfit, or something that’s instantly identifiable, so they can be easily spotted in a crowd, and then snap a cellphone picture of them in that outfit in case you need help finding them should you get separated. Put a small card with identification information in one of their pockets.
Bring the bag of distractions
One of the easiest ways to keep kids content on a trip is to take along a goody bag filled with toys and distractions. You know what your toddler likes, so consider those things as you fill the bag.
Build your toy stash a few weeks before the trip to pace yourself. Have some fun with it, and wrap some of them before you leave and present them to your child every once in a while.
Your child will have plenty to distract them when traveling to new destinations, but there is something about a familiar or favorite toy that makes their experience that much better. It helps the adjustment for them, too.
Take practice trips
To get an idea for what works for your little one when on the road and away from home, try taking several short day trips or weekend getaways in advance of a big trip. These trial runs may provide some key insights about things like what supplies you should pack, how long your child can last in a car seat, and which toys keep your toddler happy, and/or drive you nuts.
As you know, because things don’t always go the way we plan them (ever, let alone with a toddler), please be sure to protect your hard-earned money by getting travel protection through Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Their protection plans are some of the best out there, and they are extremely helpful and resourceful in times of need. Happy and safe travels!