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Are you taking a vacation soon with your toddler and worried it will be a complete disaster? You are not alone. Travel with toddlers is unpredictable! We share our top tips for travelling with toddlers from our own experiences, and how you can make it easier on you… and them!
Travel with a toddler (or children of any age) can be both a joy and a nightmare. Sometimes at the same time.
Some toddlers are fantastic travellers, adapting well to the change of scenery and enjoying every step of the way. While others prefer their regular routine and familiar environment. A challenge while travelling!
We have done many interstate and international trips with our kids when they were toddlers. Right from our very first overseas family trip to Vietnam with a toddler, we quickly learnt a few tricks to make our lives easier.
For the most part we got lucky. They were both fairly adaptable as babies and toddlers. But it wasn’t all sunshine and good times.
This post was first published in 2014 on our other website and updated for 2020.
Here are some of our top hacks and tips for travelling with a toddler:
1. Choose Your Destination Wisely
Not all destinations are kid-friendly. And while some may be fine for older kids, they may not be great options for your toddler.
You want a destination that is safe, relatively comfortable and with available resources and supplies should you need them.
We got unlucky with the fact that both our girls got sick for the first time while overseas. Before that, neither of them had barely experienced a runny nose. This is one downfall of having a work at home parent and no daycare to build immunity.
We had vomiting half the night on a Halong Bay cruise with our eldest. Then high temperatures and flu symptoms with our youngest in the Dominican Republic. Both of these are equally amongst my least favourite travel memories. Probably least favourite parenting memories too!
Travel with toddlers can be unpredictable and you want to be sure you have everything you need to keep them safe and healthy.
This means considering health care facilities in the case of an emergency. It also means having the ability to get essentials like nappies, formula and other toddler essentials should you run out.
Things to consider when choosing a toddler-friendly destination:
- Healthy care facilities
- Access to essentials – nappies, food, medical supplies
- General safety of the destination
- Suitable accommodation that is safe for young children
2. Flight Comfort
As adults, we know how uncomfortable take off and landing can be with ears popping and cabin pressure. Consider how this feels for your toddler who doesn’t really understand it.
Be prepared with snacks and drinks to keep them swallowing. This will reduce that initial bad experience when flying with kids.
Also make sure you dress them in comfortable clothes that are easy to change. Make it easy access for nappy changes too.
And don’t forget the spare clothes!
I recommend 2 spare sets of clothing for babies and toddlers… especially after that time I was vomited on in the middle of the night while in flight. Ewww.
If you are flying at night, pack pyjamas to help your toddler get into their normal bedtime routine.
3. Board Transport Later
While it’s great that most family-friendly airlines offer priority boarding for families with babies and kids, we tend not to take advantage of this priority option.
It may make life a little easier getting onto the plane, but it means you have an extra 15-30 minutes of keeping them entertained on board. No thanks!
Leave it until most of the plane has already boarded if you can and reduce the wait time.
Even better if you have a kid-friendly airport with a playground to burn off some energy too!
Toddlers are mostly new to the walking thing and they are still at a stage of loving their newfound freedom! Being confined to a seat or small area can be really frustrating for them and difficult to understand.
So let them run free when you can…
The best method when you travel with a toddler is to come prepared with lots of their favourite entertainment options. Preferably compact activities for that travel.
We have always made travel activity kits with age-appropriate toys and snacks for our girls. These have worked well right from when they were both toddlers.
Having some new and exciting toys is a great option, as the novelty will keep them occupied for a little longer than their existing toys. Bring these out sporadically as they are getting restless.
Onboard entertainment on planes can be great if your little one is a fan of watching movies or kids television shows.
You may find airline headsets aren’t very well suited to small kids, so consider bringing your own toddler headphones.
Many airlines also give small toys or activity packs to kids as well.
Here are some other good options for toddler entertainment while travelling:
- Pencils and colouring book
- Quiet book
- iPad with age-appropriate apps and programs
- Toy cars
- Books to read
- Age-appropriate travel games/puzzles
Travel with toddlers is made much easier if you have an variety of food available at all times. They are used to grazing between meals and having food on-demand at home.
Make sure you pack plenty of familiar snacks and favourites foods, particularly if you are travelling overseas to a place that is known for unique cuisine.
Toddlers can also be very fussy, so if you know you are travelling to a country with a lot of certain food types, you may want to start familiarising your toddler with it at home before you go to ensure they still eat well while travelling.
We were lucky when visiting Vietnam that our toddler would happily have lived on plain rice at the time. Europe meant plenty of pasta options, also keeping both kids content.
I packed small snack packs that we could add to our carry on or day bags our bags to offer our kids snacks they knew from home – crackers, sultanas, and her favourite toddler muesli snack bars, sealed in sandwich bags.
6. Meal Times
Following on from having the right food available for your toddler, you also want to make sure you are eating at times that suit them.
Consider time differences if travelling long distances and the fact that their little tummy will still be on your usual time zone.
You may need to adjust to earlier meal times to avoid them being overly tired and grumpy come dinner time.
This was one of our biggest challenges overseas, along with the wait times in restaurants for meals. Not ideal, but the episodes of Peppa Pig I happened to have on my phone were a saviour that first toddler vacation, to keep our daughter occupied while we waited for meals.
Otherwise, you may end up with either a tantrum or them falling asleep before the food arrives.
7. Make Time For Rest
Being in a new place can be a sensory overload for a toddler, so make sure you schedule in plenty of down-time to let your little one rest.
Even if they have already dropped their day naps, it is still a good idea to spend a bit of time in your hotel room or a similar quiet place to let them chill out and relax for a while.
And even you will likely appreciate the break from a potentially hectic travel schedule.
This is one of the biggest changes we made when travelling with kids compared to travelling as a couple – the need to be more flexible with your time.
Weather can be unpredictable at times and toddlers can be messy. While I am a master at packing light, it is important to have all occasions covered for travel with a toddler.
Outfits that can adapt to changing weather, plus a couple of spares in case you have no opportunity to wash clothes during your trip.
In saying that, there’s no need to go crazy either. It’s easy enough to hand wash a couple of items in a hotel room sink with soap if you get desperate.
Also, be sure to pack the other essentials – enough nappies and baby wipes to last your trip. Unless you know your destination has these things available and you want to pick them up when you arrive.
This is one of my favourite baby & toddler travel packing hacks – packing enough nappies to last the trip because as the nappies go down, I make room for things we buy on our travels, knowing we won’t likely exceed baggage limits.
A hat, sunscreen and all those other protective items are a must. And of course any medical items your child may require, with the corresponding letter from the doctor and scripts so you are covered if an explanation is required.
9. Stroller or Carrier?
Little legs get tired quickly and you don’t want to carry them around. But you also want to choose the right equipment for your destination.
Strollers are usually an easy option, such as a lightweight travel-stroller that you can fold down easily. It can also give you extra storage underneath for your day trip supplies.
But in some places, strollers aren’t ideal. We skipped the stroller entirely for our visit to Dubrovnik, instead, switching to our Ergo baby carrier for our toddler and the occasional piggyback ride for our 4-year-old.
If you want to avoid the extra luggage during your travels, consider hiring baby and toddler equipment where possible. Things such as strollers and car seats can be hired in many places.
10. Realistic Expectations
Perhaps this one belongs in the top spot, but we will round out with possibly the most important tip for travelling with toddlers.
Keep your expectations realistic!
This doesn’t mean expect to have a bad time because do that and you will almost be guarenteed a bad time! No, this simply means know that some moments will be harder than others but other times will be filled with joy and good memories.
Expect that you will need to take more breaks. Expect that there will sometimes be tears. But there will also be some amazing smiles, laughter and awe.
Expect that you may not see everything you hoped to see or that your experiences may sometimes be cut short, but focus seeing those things through the eyes of your toddler.
Travel with toddlers isn’t a walk in the park, but it sure is fun taking them for a walk in a whole new park, in a whole new place. Maybe even a whole new country!
You got this mum and dad!
There are many ways to make travel with a toddler much easier, with a little preparation and forward planning, so that you can enjoy a trip of the lifetime with your family.
Do you have any great tips to prepare for travel with a toddler?