There’s no denying it – the reality of travel with toddlers while on vacation can be tough! Toddlers are arguably the most challenging to travel with because they are at such a transitional age; this period in their lives is filled with potty training, learning to walk, lots of first times, and…unfortunately…a fair amount of temper tantrums. In spite of these challenges you may face, whoever said that having children stops you from traveling was wrong! Traveling with your children doesn’t have to mean two weeks of endless tantrums – it can be an amazing experience, where you’ll create everlasting memories as a family. Here are our top tips for incorporating your travel with toddlers, and making it more enjoyable for everyone.
Choose a family friendly destination
When you travel with toddlers, this is a seriously important point. My husband and I once made the mistake of traveling with two children less than 6 years old in Paris, France. I can’t tell you how many dirty looks we got when we pulled up in a café not with one stroller, but two. In fact, there were even some cafes that wouldn’t serve us at all because they didn’t “have space” for the stroller. And the dirty looks didn’t come just from the snobby Parisian waiters, they were from the other restaurant clients as well! We were shocked. Throughout the whole trip, the French made it plenty clear that children were to be neither seen nor heard…and let me tell you, we never made that mistake again.
So, with that in mind, pick less snooty destinations for traveling with your toddler. One of the most family friendly locations that we have ever been to is Mexico. Most Mexican people absolutely love children…and they understand the “kid-stuff.” They’re not going to glare at you if your child runs through the restaurant or drops their silverware on the floor. They’re not going to ask you if your toddler should be wearing a diaper in the pool (we’ve been there) or insist on giving you endless parenting advice. They will understand when your little has a fussy moment (notice we use the word “when” not “if”) or two. Picking the right destination is really worth it. Pick a spot that is laid-back, child friendly, and relax.
Vacation mode versus travel mode
There is a distinct difference between “vacationing” and “traveling.” Vacationers tend to spend a week in the same spot. They enjoy nice big pools, room service, a room with a view, on-site restaurants, maid-service and a concierge. Relaxation is the key word for a vacationer. On the other hand, a traveler can’t stand the thought of staying for seven days in one spot. They like to move around. They could care less of their room has a view. To a traveler, the hotel room is just a place to crash at the end of an action-packed day. “Adventure” is the key word for a traveler.
Now, with that being said, neither vacationing nor traveling is better than the other…they’re just different experiences. When you’re traveling with a toddler, however, we highly recommend the “vacation” mode of traveling versus the “travel” mode of traveling. Trust us, your little one just isn’t up to a day full of adventures in exotic new cultures. They don’t want to try new foods, or to sightsee all day long. They need their regular nap times, their favorite foods, and maybe even they’re favorite stuff or blanket. So, we suggest enjoying at least a few years of “vacationing” when you have little ones versus “traveling”.
As soon as your little ones are out of strollers, strap on those hiking shoes and go for it, but until then, slow-down and enjoy the simple pleasures in life like making a sand castle for the first time, or jumping little waves on the beach, or teaching your little vacationer how to swim in that great big, and very exciting, hotel pool.
Pick the right hotel or resort
Obviously, when you travel with toddlers, you’re going to want to steer clear of the adult-only hotels. But even after weeding out the adult-only properties, not all hotels or resorts are created equal in the family friendly spectrum. We really recommend that you consider staying in a timeshare resort. Timeshare rentals are on the rise, and are a perfect accommodation option for families. For instance, most timeshare resorts have kids clubs which will help keep the little ones entertained with activities such as mini-Olympics, arts and crafts, and bingo – and will provide you with some well-deserved time to yourself.
Timeshare rentals also generally feature rooms with kitchens. This is super great feature for vacationing with a toddler because it means you can keep favorite snacks on hand. Also, we all know that our little ones have tummies like humming birds: tiny and always empty. Kids need lots of little snacks to keep them happy all day long. If your toddler is still using a bottle, then you’ll be happy you have a kitchen for bottle preparation and sanitation instead of trying to clean that bottle in the bathroom sink or begging a hotel employee at midnight to sterilize a bottle for you (we’ve been there).
Also, if it’s in the budget, swing for a one bedroom suite. This means that mom and dad will have their own little retreat at the end of the day, while your little traveler is tucked away snuggly in their crib in the living room.
For suggestions on great timeshares to stay in please see Latitude21Resorts.com. We have plenty of great timeshare rentals available in Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
So now that the perfect family friendly destination and resort has been picked, it’s time to purchase those plane tickets. We highly recommend spending a few dollars extra so that you can pick your own seats and make sure the family gets to sit altogether. If at all possible, avoid super early morning or late night flights. The closer you get to stick to your routine, the happier your toddler will be.
Prepare your paperwork
If you’re traveling to a country where you need a visa, check to see if the requirements are the same for the kids as well. If you have adopted children, investigate to see if you’ll need to bring adoption papers with you as proof, or if you’re a single parent traveling alone, check to be sure if you need to get written consent from the other parent. For step-children or children with different last names, you will probably want to bring a birth certificate that shows parental guardianship with you.
Get them adjusted
If it’s your child’s first ever flight, prepare them by playing ‘airplane games’ at home leading up to the flight. This could make them feel more comfortable, or even excited, about their first airborne journey! You can also get them ready for the vacation by introducing them to your destination through maps, pictures of the hotel, or other fun activities that you have planned. Why not teach your little one how the locals say “Hi!” or “Bye-Bye” (it’s “aloha” in Hawaii, “hola” or “adios” in Mexico, and it depends on where you’re traveling to in the Caribbean).
Pack for the plane
Make sure that everyone is wearing loose, comfortable clothing on the plane, with plenty of layers to put on or take off depending on temperature. Bring security blankets and your toddler’s favorite stuff animal. Try to think of anything you can do to make the plane trip more comfortable. Make sure you have emergency essentials, including wet wipes, sick bags, and pull-ups: even if your little one is toilet trained, this could be a real life saver on a delayed flight! Pack some extra entertainment, such as picture books, or a coloring book like this one to keep them busy on the flight.
Also, remember that babies and toddlers probably haven’t learned how to clear their ears for take-off or landing. Inner ear pressure can really hurt! So, we suggest using simple techniques to help them clear their ears during take-off and landing.
For babies, giving them a bottle to suck-on at just the right time will do the trick.
For toddlers and older children we recommend chewing gum, or a really thick milkshake which requires some good sucking action (bought ahead of time in the airport waiting area) or some extra sticky, extra chewy, candy.
The sucking or chewing actions will keep little ears cleared during both take-off and landing. As soon as you feel your ears clearing or popping, your little one’s ears are also likely feeling pressure. So be prepared for this ahead of time by packing special “ear-clearing supplies.” The little bit of sugar will be totally worth it, if it prevents a scream-fest in the back of the plane.
Pack an iPad
Yes, that’s what we said. PACK THE iPAD…and do NOT feel guilty about it. Your energy filled little traveler is going to be stuck for several hours in a teeny tiny little space. Frankly, teaching your little ones to sit still for the first time on an airplane is just not fair to them or to the rest of the passengers stuck on there with you. Just pack the iPad and load it up with lots of new games and movies just for your trip (don’t forget the comfy, child friendly headphones). This one tool could you’re your toddler happy for hours, so it’s well worth-it.
When you arrive to your destination, hide the iPad so that you can refocus on family time. We have yet to meet a single toddler that wouldn’t prefer swimming in the great big hotel pool with mommy or daddy, so don’t worry about it interfering with those fantastic memories you will be creating. Remember the goal is to create happy vacation memories, not creating ordeals that the whole family has to survive. So…yes…toddler traveling essential item is the absolutely the iPad.
Check out our article on vacation packing for more luggage tips!
Buy some groceries/Bring the must have snacks
Again, we simply cannot recommend the kitchen dimension of your accommodations enough, especially when you travel with toddlers. With your own kitchen, you can buy or even bring the must have snacks that will keep your toddler fed and in a good mood all week long. Keep in mind that Mexican or Caribbean destinations won’t have your typical items in their grocery stores. If there are items that your little traveler simply cannot live without, then pack it and bring it with you. The only items that won’t make it past customs are fruits and vegetables. After that, anything goes. Trust us, the little bit of extra weight in your bag will be worth it if your little one ends up not liking the local food offerings.
Arrange emergency cards or bracelets
It’s a good idea to purchase an emergency bracelet for your children anyway. These bracelets show your contact information if they get lost, as well as important medical information. These silicone bracelets from The ID Band Co, are durable and waterproof, and come in a range of colors. If you or your kids have any allergies, it’s worth considering a USA Allergy Card, which can translate your allergies in up to 43 different languages.
Consider the climate
If it’s hot, remember to take plenty of water out and about with you, and encourage your toddlers to sip all day long. Make sure they’re wearing sunscreen all over, and are dressed appropriately, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. If you’re out for the day, make regular stops where they can sit in the shade – you’ll likely welcome the rest as well.
Avoid a jam-packed itinerary
As a parent, you’ll have to be flexible with your plans, but also be aware of your child’s short little attention span – don’t plan more than one thing each day, and if you want to do some sightseeing, make sure it’s child appropriate. This probably isn’t the vacation to try out kite surfing, for example. Be realistic about what you can cover, and go for an overall slower pace. It can be refreshing to watch your child experience a new country or culture for the first time, and you’ll take more notice of the little things. This probably will not be the trip that you spend hiking up the highest peaks or scuba diving the deepest depths. Set realistic expectations. You’re vacationing with a toddler. The priority is creating memories for yourself and your little one. Let that be your focus.
Take advantage of family discounts
Most tourist attractions or tours will offer a lower price for a child or family ticket. Attractions such as Selvatica or Xcaret Park in Mexico offer discounted child admission, and often have online family deals that can save you some money on a family day out.
Keep it sensatory
Listen parents, you’re not going to teach your toddler the entire history of the colonization of Mexico or the cultural takeover of emperial America of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s just not going to happen. Children at this age are sensatory. Meaning, they’re still figuring out the basics. Let them experience dry sand versus wet sand. Let your little ones feel the difference between floating in a fresh water pool versus a salty ocean. Watch a sunset or a sunrise from your hotel balcony. Let them taste local tropical fruits. Allow them to listen to mariachi music or watch a hula dancing show. Remember the sights, sounds, flavors, smells and textures of your vacation destination are different than they are at home. Remember to capture all of these “firsts” on camera. This is the reason you’re braving a trip with your toddler. Treasure every one of these sweet little moments.
Stop for ice cream
Just do it. Travel with toddlers may require a little bribery … and it definitely works with toddlers. If in doubt, pull the ice cream card. Trust us, it works every time.
Bring the stroller
Again, just do it. You’ll be really glad you did. Travel with toddlers can be strenuous, and you really don’t want to resort to carrying your growing toddlers around when they get tired!
Find creative ways to remember your trip
When you travel with toddlers, make sure to take plenty of photographs! You will want them for the family album that you’ll pore over in years to come, but find other ways to remember your vacation as well – perhaps bring home a souvenir, an item of furniture or clothing, a badge, or a local toy. Consider keeping a scrapbook journal that you can all contribute to with journal entries, doodles, stamps, postcards, tickets, travel maps, and foreign language words you’ve learnt.
Keep it fun when you travel with toddlers!
Despite the challenges it can sometimes present, we strongly encourage vacationing with your toddlers. Seeing them encounter travel for the first time, in a safe and reasonable way, is a great way to encourage curiosity and wonder. Build memories that will last a lifetime. And remember to schedule time to relax. Just keep it easy, keep it real, but most importantly keep it fun.
For more family-friendly travel tips, check out our blog!