How To Travel With Toddlers And Survive To Tell The Tale

If you thought going on a trip with an infant was hard, you clearly haven’t experienced the nightmare trip that is planning one with a toddler in tow. When children are younger travelling is fairly simple. Infants barely recognize the change in their environment. They’re content as long as they’re with their primary caretakers. The only thing your baby needs to be pacified is a breast or a bottle, a nap, and a clean nappy. On the other hand, a toddler needs to be constantly entertained because they’re much more conscious of their surroundings. They’re also much more excitable, courtesy of their exhaustingly short attention span.

I’m on holiday in England with my 4 year old at the moment. We’ve more or less had the same struggles every year since she first learned to walk. The only difference between then and now being how much her mind has developed! Her holiday feels like the furthest thing from what a holiday means for me now. A mothers job is never truly over, as they say.

In all honesty, I was fairly nervous about our first long haul flight together a couple of years ago; changing nappies in a tiny aircraft bathroom, and handling a tired and cranky infant (while being worn-out myself) was something I certainly did not look forward to. Now with a little more experience under my belt with a 4 year old, I’d like to believe that I might have just cracked the code to toddler travelling!

The oldest trick in the book — and trust me, this works, is booking night flights if you’re intending to embark on a long haul flight with a toddler at the hip. My toddler is always hilariously excited at the thought of boarding a plane. We sing songs and look out the window the entire flight! She, like many other young travellers, tries to resist her natural sleep pattern. She doesn’t want to miss a thing. The only way to ensure that she’ll get some rest and be less tired once she reaches our destination is to book a night flight. Whatever the situation, handling a cranky child is always harder than handling one that is well rested and fresh.

While travelling with children, it is important to be airline savvy. There are no two ways about it. If given a choice between the window or aisle seat while travelling with a toddler; I always choose the window seat. It gives the kids something to look out of and distract them with, and contains them by virtue of locking them in. This way they can’t run into the aisle. 

Don’t underestimate how much a toddler can snack on a flight either. They’re little monsters with insatiable appetites. Although I love airplane food, I’ve come to realise I’m the exception rather than the rule. My kid despises airline food, or more or less, most food in general. Usually that’s a battle I can fight, but it’s not worth one delving into on a plane. So like all good soldiers, we pack all the snacks! From good old Fruitella to crisps and cookies. We save a lollypop for the descent — just in case the change in pressure irritates her ears. 

Flying with a toddler means that the task of travel entertainment lies squarely on your shoulders. Pack some new travel toys just for the flight! Over the years I have carried everything from play dough to stickers, and this year we got new Barbie mermaids that my daughter is obsessed with. Her obsession equals my respite! Just to be on the safe side though, I also pre-downloaded Peppa Pig and My Little Pony to give her some screen time for a while on the long haul flight. There’s no such thing as being too prepared. Toddlers have a limited attention span to begin with, but some screen time might buy you about 15 – 30 minutes of diverted attention. It could even be just the thing to stop a meltdown.

Another pro tip is to always take extra clothes in your carry on, medicine, and tons of wet wipes. You never know when your kids might get a temperature or feel unwell! Over the years we have experienced missed flights, children throwing up, and leaking nappies to name a few tricky situations. The one saving grace in each scenario has been our oversized hand luggage!

Once the first challenge has been overcome — the flight — you can commence with the vacation excitement! Albeit, a different kind of excitement.. Before we had kids, a day on holiday for us would have included a visit to a new restaurant, some shopping and some partying. Now? We get to choose one activity per day — and, of course, it has to be safe for a very (almost too) mobile toddler, must occur outside of scheduled nap times, cannot be after bedtime or at mealtime, and not too far from the hotel in case a swift return is needed. Preparing for the activity itself requires a different combination of hand gear: swimsuit, sunblock and a change of clothes for a water related activity, or closed shoes and mosquito repellent for a picnic in the park.

Toddlers and high end restaurants rarely mix. You can take your two year old to a generic, mid tier, kid friendly restaurant without too much hassle. If you’re desperate to sample the fine cuisine of a highly rated restaurant, your best bet might be grabbing their signature items to-go and finding a baby friendly park or playground to eat them. Not ideal, but could be worse. 

Travelling with kids is all about the kids — and rightfully so. Family holidays and travelling play an intense role in a child’s personal development. Children learn first hand about new cultures, make memories, take precious photos, and then those pictures serve as great memories forever and ever. They’re the kind of thing you can pull out and reminisce over in five years or fifteen. The kids (and you as well) come back happy and enriched, having experienced a beautiful world outside their home, having been exposed to different cultures and ways of living. This increases their confidence and also improves their social and interpersonal skills, which are a key thing to learn for a child early on.

As adults we count the days till we can head out on our summer holidays and recharge. While they’re a break for us, and entertainment for the kids, if done right, can be profoundly more beneficial for children. Parents are focused not on work, but on play, which automatically gives their children the prized gift of family time and togetherness. Dad or Mum (or both) building sandcastles, playing games, jumping over waves, hitting the cinema. It’s not just fun, it’s also known as ‘attachment play,’ and it’s vital for bonding. Even later in life, our best childhood memories often involve the adventures we had on vacations. 

I’ve personally always found that family holidays can result in a greater understanding of the world around us, and integral to the development of kids — and even parents. I also feel that it is much easier to introduce new concepts. Children and parents alike are more likely to experiment more when they’ve taken themselves out of their usual routine. According to the 2017 Family Survey conducted by Expedia, an online travel company, 97% of teens felt that family vacations brought them closer to their siblings, while 69% said their favourite memories had occurred while on family vacations. It could also be because parents are more relaxed and let go of some of the strict rules and chores they enforce at home while on holiday. That’s not just our assumption — 63% of parents are much more easygoing on vacation, and it’s definitely something children pick up on. 

It doesn’t matter if the vacation is a day trip or a longer sojourn abroad. Initiating these trips and going is unarguably important. Going on vacations refreshes the mind and rejuvenates it. But along with that, it also refreshes and rejuvenates the relationships within a family. Take your child and go on an adventure! Create new memories.

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