18 tips for traveling with toddlers

My husband and I have traveled a LOT with our daughter, Hope. My in-laws joke that Hope has been on a plane more in her first two years than some people are in their entire lifetime. When people hear how much we've traveled with Hope, they often look at us as though we're crazy and ask, incredulously, “Isn't it hard traveling with a little one?”

Yes it is.

But it's also do-able. And it can be downright joy-filled.

So, for those who are interested, here are some of our tips for traveling with a toddler.

1. In the weeks before your trip, talk about it with your toddler. My husband and I talk about our trips as “adventures”. Hope has quickly learned this word and I suspect, senses the excitement we have before our adventures. Before we left for Africa, she wheeled her travel car seat to the window and stood looking out the window shouting “Big adventure!” When you're on your trip, take time to stop and explain things that seem mundane to you. For example, after you deplane stop and point out your plane. Explain, "That's the plane we were just on!" Toddlers are curious and these simple explanations help them make sense of their world. 

2. Bring treats... And lots of them. Make sure you have snacks for plane and car rides... And if you're going to a foreign country, bring snacks that can get you through any questionable meals. For our two-week trip to Africa, I packed 20 bottles of Pediasure since it's filled with nutrients and I knew I wouldn't always have access to pasteurized milk. Our other travel go-to is squeezable fruit.

3. Take something from home to help give your toddler security in a changing environment. For us, it's a blanket and stuffed animal of Hope's choice. Then guard them with your life because God-forbid you lose them while traveling!

4. Pack extra clothes and bring layers. Toddler clothes don't take up a ton of room so bring extra. While traveling, your toddlers' clothes will get much dirtier than you are accustomed to (I don't think I'll ever get some of the clothes Hope wore in Africa clean). Plus, you never know when you might experience a blow-out or throw-up. So be prepared!

Hope's Ladybug Backpack June 2017

5. Get your toddler their own backpack and help them pack it with toys and snacks. Be careful not to weigh it down too much though. You want your toddler to be able to be responsible for their bag and carry it (and they will take great joy in doing so!)

6. If you travel a lot, reserve some toys for travel only. This will give your toddler something to look forward to! For example, we have Magnatiles, Tegu Magnetic Blocks, Melissa and Doug's Paint with Water, and a Crayola Coloring Tablet (You use crayons on it, but it can be erased. It's SO nice for travel because you don't have to worry about running out of paper.) that ONLY come out when we travel. Hope looks forward to playing with those toys whenever we're away from home.   

7. If you're traveling within the United States, pack enough diapers for your first day, but buy what you need there. They're just too big and bulky to pack a lot of. However, if you're traveling abroad – bring diapers. You won't always find the brands you're used to and even if you do, they're often much more expensive than you're used to paying.

8. If you're flying and buying your toddler a seat, travel with a car seat. Hope is used to sleeping in a car seat so she did well sleeping in her car seat on the plane to and from Africa. Plus, you can hook a car seat to a luggage cart and use it as a stroller. Plus, when you travel with a car seat, you don't have to worry about trying to rent a car seat whenever you get where you're going.

Hope With Dory Headphones May 2017

9. When driving or flying, be prepared to break all your normal television rules. At home, we limit Hope's screen time. But on the way to Africa, she watched Daniel Tiger, Tigger, Finding Dory, and Cat in the Hat pretty much non-stop when she was awake. And you know what? I didn't feel at all guilty about it. It kept her entertained and contained. The people around us sure appreciated that.

10. When flying, pack a drink for your toddler and encourage them to drink (or nurse) at takeoff and landing. This more than anything will help your toddler's ears deal with the pressure changes.

Amsterdam Airport June 2017

11. At airports, ask if there are any special play areas for kids. In Vancouver, I stumbled upon a fantastic indoor play area. In Amsterdam, we discovered an airport library that our little bookworm loved!

12. Always request a crib in advance. Hotels don't always stock as many cribs as they need for guests, so it's important to request one early. Even if you suspect your child won't sleep in the crib, having a crib in a hotel room is super helpful for containment.

13. Pay the extra money for a hotel suite or stay some place where most rooms are suites (Extended Stay facilities are great for this!) A little bit of extra room in a hotel makes a big difference when traveling with a toddler.

14. When you're out to eat, order an appetizer or your toddler's meal right away to ensure they have something to eat quickly!

15. Share your toys. Whether you're at the airport, in a restaurant, or taking a break in a sandbox, share your toddler's toys. Not only does this teach your toddler good manners, but it also helps you make friends.

16. Say “yes” when someone asks you if they can help. While returning from Africa, we were delayed for 5 hours in Amsterdam. We spent three of those stuck on the plane. Thankfully, we were sitting next to a bunch of college students traveling for class credit. One asked if she could play with Hope and proceeded to pull out her adult coloring book and spend the next half hour coloring together. I was SO grateful and Hope was SO happy (and I think her college-aged friend was too!)

17. Let your toddler run and play when the opportunity presents itself. Stop at playgrounds when you see them... And turn ordinary things into playgrounds. At the Amsterdam airport, Hope had a blast running in between and climbing on rows of deserted seats at an empty gate. Letting her run also allowed her to burn off some energy before we boarded our flight, something that made the flight better for all involved! 

18. Be flexible! Not everything will go as planned, but that's okay. It will still be an adventure!

What are your best tips for traveling with toddlers? 

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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