We traveled with our son since he was just a few weeks old. We started with short road-trips and we built confidence step by step. By the time he was 2 years old we were confident enough to adventure into a full time travel year.
We visited together with our little one 26 countries on 4 continents and flew around 50 flights. Of course we were nervous at the beginning and we had tough, tiring moments. But these should not stop anyone from traveling with kids, no matter their age. So I’m putting together some of our tips on how to have the best experience when travelling with toddlers.
1. Start early and be consistent
There’s never too early to travel with you child. I was very nervous when we took the first longer car ride when he was 2 months old or the first road trip at 6 months. But now I realise each period of the kid’s life is different. Each stage are both beautiful and complicated and you don’t have to wait until a certain age or milestone if you want to travel together. Just go there and do it, the sooner you try, the easier it will be for him to get used with it.
2. Keep him rested
Try to organise the trip around his schedule as much as possible. Take a night flight for long distances or plan car rides during his nap. The whole family will enjoy the whole trip better and will reach the destination rested and ready to explore. Moreover, we try to have a relaxing day with no particular schedule after each very busy day, when we skip a nap or travel long hours. This helps Eric to re-establish his routine and balance his mood.
3. Have realistic expectations
Don’t expect to spend hours in museums, walk the whole day or the relax an entire morning on a sun lounge. The day will look similar with what you do at home, just that it will be in a different setup. Visiting new places with a young kid is not necessarily about what you do there, it is more about spending time together.
4. Plan ahead, but stay flexible
Try having a flexible itinerary for a few days in advance. You can’t afford big surprises when you have a kid with you. So book in advance where you stay and research for places to eat, shop or anything else you might need. But still, be aware that the day might not go according to the plan. You might spend more that 1 hour in the park or he may be hungry before you reach that top notch restaurant you read about.
5. Always have a snack with you
We all are grumpy when hungry, so keep something on hand for the little one when you are on the road. For sure you want to avoid the snacks sold in gas stations or airports, the kids need something more nutritious and with less sugar content.
6. Make him responsible of something
A small luggage or a larger toy, it doesn’t really matter what you chose. But as soon as he can understand and act accordingly, give him a task for the trip. He will feel important and spend time on his responsibility, hence he will get bored later. Plus that it will be more difficult for him to grab toys or other stuff in airport shops!
7. Carry some small interesting toys and a favourite book
Traveling, you always need to wait at some point, whether in the airport or on the plane/car etc. Having some quiet, interesting toys or some of his favourite books might keep your child busy for a while. We also used, with great success, playing cards with various images or colouring books.
8. Travel light
Yes, this is possible with a toddler. The last thing you need is to worry about luggage. So try a minimalist approach and pack light. You need to be able to hold the kid’s hand or even carry him while carrying all your luggage too. Plus that you don’t want to dig into your bags to look for the kids stuff; you must reach anything you carry for him in just a few seconds. Moreover, we preferred to switch our troller with a large backpack, to have our hands free all the time. It was an awesome improvement!
9. Child-friendly accommodation
Traveling with a young kid, it is awesome to have age appropriate attractions for him or proper food for breakfast. Even if you travel on a budget, try booking a guesthouse with plenty of outdoor space. Eric enjoyed a lot such places and still remembers playing with the dog our hosts had in Colombia’s coffee triangle or walking around the pineapple plantation near our room in Chiang Rai.
10. Avoid early boarding
Most airlines offer priority boarding if you travel with kids, but this is rarely helpful, especially with toddlers. We usually board among the last passengers on the flight and take the same approach when boarding on other means of transportation. It is way better to burn the extra energy in the terminal or waiting room than to be forced to stay on a chair a few extra minutes. The only time we board early is in case of night flight or when the kids is super-tired, as in these cases he usually falls asleep by take-off.
Let us know if you have any other tips to share about traveling with toddlers.