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Travelling with toddlers can seem like a daunting task, but with a little preparation, you can make the experience much easier! We share the tips that have helped us with toddler travel over the years and provide you with a list of essential items to pack for your trip.
So, whether you’re planning a road trip or flying overseas, read on for some handy advice for your next vacation with tiny travellers!
This post was first published in 2014 on our other website and updated for 2022.
The first time we travelled overseas with a child was when our eldest daughter was just 14 months old. What was most daunting was visiting a whole new part of the world we had never been to before, heading to Vietnam.
The experience wasn’t without stress!
Not only did we experience our daughter’s first-ever stomach bug – an overnight horror during a Halong Bay cruise, but also her first head cold as we tried to enjoy a day at the beach in Hoi An. It felt like all our bad luck had come on this trip, but in the end, we all had a great time mostly.
Fast forward to her big sisters’ second international vacation and we had another similar experience with high temperatures and an upset stomach on a plane to Puerto Vallarta. This is why I always take a change of clothes in our carry-on bags!
Sometimes when travelling with kids, it feels like anything that can go wrong, does go wrong, but that’s not really the case!
In this guide, we share the toddler travel tips that made our experiences easier and some simple hacks to save you a lot of unnecessary stress so you can enjoy your family vacation too!
Tips For Travelling With Toddlers
With any travel, your vacation experience will go much smoother if you plan ahead. This is extra important when you travel with kids of any age. Especially babies and toddlers who have extra needs compared to older kids!
Here are some toddler travel tips we’ve learnt from our experiences:
Choose Your Destination Carefully
Not all destinations are kid-friendly. And while some may be fine for older kids, they may not be great options for your toddler.
When travelling with young kids, it’s important to pick a destination that is toddler-friendly. Do your research before you go and make sure there are plenty of activities for them to enjoy so they (and you!) don’t get bored.
You want a destination that is safe, relatively comfortable and with available resources and supplies should you need them.
The most important things to consider when choosing your destination are:
Are there any current political or environmental concerns in the surrounding region?
Are there any major health situations?
Do you need any vaccinations or medication to travel there?
What is the rate of crime and violence?
Will the weather be comfortable when you visit?
How easy or difficult it will be to get around? Is public transport readily available or do you need a car?
How much does it cost of travelling to and from the destination?
What types of accommodation are available and how much do they cost?
Are there activities available for kids?
Is the food safe to eat?
No destination is completely free of issues. But do your research to consider if the risks outweigh the desire to visit your chosen destination!
Other things to consider when choosing a toddler-friendly destination:
Healthy care facilities
Access to essentials – nappies, food, medical supplies
Suitable accommodation that is safe for small children
When it comes to family travel with a baby or toddler, comfort is key!
The best accommodation for travelling with toddlers is somewhere that has plenty of space for them to move around, is clean and safe, and offers all the amenities you need.
You also want to be close to attractions and activities so you don’t have to spend hours travelling every day.
While many hotels do offer family rooms that have facilities to accommodate babies and toddlers, such as cot hire and high chairs, it may be worthwhile considering a holiday home instead.
Holiday homes are often more spacious and offer a self-contained place to stay to feel more like a home away from home.
Here are some things to look for when choosing accommodation for your toddler travel:
A cot or crib for your toddler to sleep in – or access to a toddler bed rail
A safe place to play both inside and outside
Close proximity to attractions, activities, restaurants and cafes
Easy access to public transport
Family-friendly facilities such as a swimming pool, kids club or babysitting services
It is also worth researching if there are any major works going on near the hotel at the current time, such as renovations that may disrupt day naps from noise. Often reading the recent hotel reviews on websites can help identify a lot of these concerns.
Planning Your Travel Itinerary
When it comes to travelling with kids of any age, a fully loaded vacation itinerary is rarely ideal! Kids can get easily overstimulated in new places and all the different attractions, extra walking and new sights can leave them overwhelmed and in need of some downtime.
It’s important to consider your child’s age and energy levels when planning your itinerary. If you’re travelling with a toddler, make sure to schedule plenty of rest time and downtime in between activities.
For example, if you’re planning on going to a theme park with your toddler for the day, make sure you leave early enough so you can leave by early afternoon when your toddler is likely to get tired.
Or if visiting a major park like Disneyland with a toddler, consider staying at a partner hotel so you can duck back to your room for a midday nap.
It’s also important to consider the time of day when planning activities. If you’re travelling with a child who still has a regular nap schedule, it’s best to schedule any outings around their nap time to avoid the exhaustion kicking in mid-tour!
As your child gets older, you’ll find that they have more stamina and can handle longer days out exploring.
But even then, it’s still important to consider their energy levels and moods when planning your activities.
A good rule of thumb is to always have a backup plan for any activity in case your child gets tired or cranky halfway through. Flexibility is key and it’s okay to change your plans!
Not only do you have to contend with the usual stresses of travelling, such as packing and getting to the airport on time, but you also have to keep your toddler entertained and occupied during the flight!
This is mega nerve-wracking for long haul flights!
Here are a few tips for flying with a toddler:
Try to get a seat with extra legroom so your toddler can move around and stretch out.
Check the bassinet weight limits. Some airlines offer their onboard bassinet to suit older babies and it may still suit your small toddler. Our girls were still light enough until they were around 16 months old. This means you get the bulkhead seat without paying extra too!!
If you’re travelling long haul, consider booking a night flight so your toddler can sleep for a lot of the journey.
Bring along enough snacks and drinks for your toddler to keep them fed and hydrated during the flight. Not all airlines offer toddler or baby meals since they aren’t required to have a paid seat.
Is it worth booking a seat for your toddler? This is an extra cost but may help you all to be more comfortable.
Choose a child-friendly airline that offers in-flight entertainment and activities for kids. This will help keep your toddler occupied during the flight.
Bring along some small toys or activities (more on that below)
Dress them comfortably in layers so you can easily add or remove to suit the cabin temperature
Give them a bottle or dummy if you use one during takeoff and landing to help reduce ear popping. This experience can be traumatic for babies and toddlers who do not understand what is happening
If you are flying at night, pack pyjamas to help your toddler get into their normal bedtime routine. And don’t forget the spare clothes!
Arriving at a destination in the afternoon after moving between time zones can help keep jet lag to a minimum, giving you the chance to get some natural sunlight as you settle into your accommodation, have dinner and get to bed.
Toddler Travel Hack: 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 so we like to wait.
Here are a few of our favourite travel toys for toddlers:
A quiet book or busy book (this was the best gift we ever got for travel)
Small cars or trucks
A small soft toy
Crayons and a colouring book
Washable markers (won’t stain clothes or anything else they mark, just in case)
We also create a homemade travel activity pack for our kids whenever we travel and have done so since they were toddlers. The items we include have changed over the years to suit their ages.
Toddler Travel Hack: You may find airline headsets aren’t very well suited to small kids, so consider bringing your own toddler headphones.
Make sure you avoid bringing anything noisy, messy or unsafe. Be careful with any small parts that might get lost or roll down the plane aisle too.
Getting Around At Your Destination With A Toddler
Once you arrive at your destination, you will need to think about how you are going to get around with a toddler.
If you’re travelling by car, then you will need to bring along a toddler car seat or booster seat (if your child is old enough) or hire one if you are renting a car.
You may also want to consider bringing along a portable car seat or travel car seat if you are using public transport or travelling by taxi.
When getting about during the day, visiting attractions and sightseeing, you need to have a comfortable way of moving around with your toddler. A travel stroller may be a great option if you are heading somewhere with footpaths.
Another option is to use a baby carrier, which can be great for exploring busy tourist attractions. Just make sure you choose a comfortable carrier that is suitable for your child’s age and weight.
There are a few toddler travel essentials you will need to make travelling with your toddler easier and more comfortable. While some of these items is dependent on your destination, this list will give you a guide on items to consider bringing with you when you travel.
Nappy rash cream
Booster seat/car seat
Sunscreen suited to toddlers
Bug spray suited to toddlers
First Aid kit
Comfortable clothes and shoes
Extra clothes and socks
Toys and books
Special items such as a comfort toy or blanket
Swimwear & hooded towel
Winter travel gear
Food While Travelling
Travelling with toddlers is made much easier if you have a 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 favourite foods, particularly if you are travelling overseas to a place that is known for its 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.
Make sure you abide by the country’s food laws when passing through customs and declare appropriately.
Toddler Travel Hack: I pack small snack packs to add to our carry on or day bags to offer our kids snacks they knew from home – crackers, sultanas, and her favourite toddler muesli snack bars, sealed in sandwich bags.
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 in 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 a little screen time with episodes of Peppa Pig I had 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.
Potty Training While Travelling
Potty training while travelling is not for the faint-hearted. It can be done but requires a lot of patience and preparation. Make sure you have lots of toilet stops for them to try, as you don’t want to get caught out far from the nearest public toilets!
If you are potty training your toddler, consider using pull-ups or nappy pants as they will be more forgiving if there are any accidents.
Make sure you have plenty of spare clothes with you and a travel potty or toilet seat reducer to make using public toilets easier.
Pack wipes and hand sanitiser to clean up any accidents as well as for general use when travelling.
It is also a good idea to have a few small rewards on hand to encourage your toddler if they do manage to use the toilet while travelling.
Set 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 guaranteed a bad time! No, this simply means knowing 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 on 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’ve got this mum and dad!
Travelling with toddlers can be a challenge, but it’s also an amazing experience. With the right preparation and realistic expectations, you can make travel with a toddler much easier. We hope these top tips have given you some ideas on how to make your next family vacation a wonderful one!