Now that we’ve been full-time travelers for nearly three years and are in the thick of the rebellious toddler stage, we have some tips for traveling with toddlers.
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We’ve been asked many times how we travel with a toddler without going crazy, and the answer is my wife is a saint lol.
She was a preschool teacher for 10 years, so she knows techniques to make traveling with a toddler easier for everyone.
Some tips for traveling with toddlers I see on social media aren’t realistic. Simple things that we often overlook make a difference.
These are the 12 things we do that make traveling with a toddler easier.
1. Snacks are everything
I know our toddler is not the only one that turns into a little monster when he gets hungry. This description is not an exaggeration. He gets VERY mean when he’s hungry, so we always have snacks tucked away for him.
We love using the Zip Top pouches for snacks. They do not take up much space and are reusable.
We usually fill the pouches with pretzels, goldfish, gummy bears, or fruit to keep the hangry monster at bay (think Baby Jack-Jack from the Incredibles when he turns into a monster when he doesn’t get his cookie).
We’ve been doing this so long that our son looks in his mommy’s purse for snacks or a juice box when he gets hungry or thirsty while we are out.
He knows there is always something for him to eat or drink to hold him over until we get to our destination.
2. Keep them hydrated
Keeping your toddler hydrated will help their mood and decrease their need for snacks. A lot of the time we think we are hungry when in reality we are thirsty.
We like to keep our son hydrated with Pedialyte packets of liquid IV. It has half the amount of sugar as Gatorade or Powerade.
Although our little guy is a water drinker, having flavored water is nice and keeps him nice and hydrated.
Our Favorite Toddler Drinks
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3. Less is more
When you travel with kids you need to leave room in your itinerary to do nothing. We try to only plan one major activity or excursion per day.
That gives us time to get out of the house and do whatever we want and make it back in time for our toddler to have a nap, for us to relax, and get ready for the second half of our day.
This is especially true if you have older children, so you can have fun with the little one during the first half of the day and the older kids can have their fun in the latter half of the day.
4. Make time for fun
Sometimes parents forget that their toddler is on vacation too, so planning things just for them will make them happy.
Head to an aquarium, children’s museum, or even a park. You do not need to always do something spectacular.
Toddlers are explorers, so giving them a place to just run free (while keeping an eye on them of course) is a dream come true.
One of the things we did during our road trip from Ohio to Florida was pack our son’s scooter.
When we stopped at a rest area we’d take his scooter out of the trunk and let him ride on the sidewalk. It gave him a break from his car seat and released some energy from sitting in the car for so long.
5. Give a little to get a little
Imagine being 3 years old and being dragged to museums all day to look at stuff you can’t touch and have large areas you can’t run.
Put yourself in their shoes. If it were me, I wouldn’t be happy, so take a moment and try to be understanding.
We all know toddlers aren’t rational but giving your toddler some choices makes them feel like a big kid and gives them a sense of control.
Small things like asking them if they want to walk or get in the stroller can be a start.
You’d be surprised how your little one will rise to the occasion when you give them the benefit of the doubt. There have been many times when we thought the worst and our son proved us wrong.
6. Strollers aren’t just for your toddler
Now that our son is getting older, it’s sad to say that we may be retiring his stroller soon. Strollers are great because they can be a part of all your stuff when your toddler wants to walk.
I put my backpack inside the stroller when our son decided to walk to give my shoulders a break from carrying my work laptops.
We throw all sorts of things in the storage basket of our stroller. Honestly, I think it’s more for us than him lol.
Plus, strollers are great ways to carry more onto an airplane. We put our stroller in a stroller storage bag when we gate-check it, so we can throw extra stuff in there that may not fit in our luggage.
7. Make screen time strategic
A few days before we travel, we restrict our son’s screentime to a minimum, typically only allowing him 30-45 minutes a day.
After a few days of no screen time, he is ready to watch some of his favorite shows (which we download) during long car rides or on an airplane.
We’ve been using this technique for a while, and it’s been working. Some parents take a different approach, but whatever works for you.
If we are planning to go to a nice restaurant, we will allow him to watch a movie on our phone, if he gets bored.
We don’t like to take a large tablet, but other times we let him bring a few toys and keep himself occupied.
8. Be flexible
My favorite tip for traveling with toddlers is to be flexible. Everything doesn’t need to be planned.
Overplanning can lead to meltdowns and tantrums, so try to leave some free time in your itinerary for spontaneous activities and downtime.
Things like jet lag and time zone changes can throw off even the best-laid plans, so try not to let yourself get too stressed if things don’t go exactly as planned. Instead, roll with the punches and enjoy the adventure.
9. Pack light
We’ve been traveling for nearly three years, and the one mistake we made was overpacking.
When we decided to become digital nomads, we left the US with five suitcases, a duffel bag, a stroller, and a car seat.
It was a terrible idea to bring that much stuff. I did not have fun trying to drag all of it around Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala.
We had one suitcase dedicated to medicine and toys, which was a terrible idea. The medicine expired and he didn’t play with the toys. Kids need less than you think.
You do not need to pack your entire house when traveling with toddlers. Only bring the essentials. You can purchase nearly everything else when you arrive.
After two and a half years, we cut our luggage in half. We only have two checked suitcases, a carry-on, our backpacks, and a car seat.
10. Talk about the upcoming trip
Get your little one excited about the upcoming vacation by talking about it. Show your toddler pictures of the places you plan to go and how fun the trip will be.
Our little guy is a seasoned traveler, but we get him excited when it’s time to get on a bus, train, or airplane.
He watches videos of other kids, and we show him pictures. It makes it easier for him to understand what is coming, and he can look forward to it.
11. Stay positive (You got this!!)
One of the best tips for traveling with toddlers is to give yourself grace. Toddlers are not rational, so don’t take anything personally.
My wife is big on feeding our son positive energy, so having a positive attitude can go a long way. If you are anxious, your toddler can feel that and feed off your energy.
One of the most popular sayings in the Army is “fake it till you make it”, so false positivity is better than no positivity.
Everything will be fine, and even if it gets a little shaky, there are 7 billion people in this world, and you won’t remember if you see them again.
Toddlers are allowed to be toddlers, so give yourself a break. You got this!!