3 Secrets to Happy Travels With Toddlers

Although travel can be tough with kids this age, you can minimize the hassles and maximize the fun with these tips.

Traveling Toddlers Two Boys Suitcase Walking In Airport Shutterstock

If you thought leaving town with a small baby was challenging, just wait till your child turns 1. Unlike infants, who are readily portable and sleep much of the time, toddlers are increasingly aware of their surroundings and eager to explore. Plus, disrupting your kid’s routine often leads to crankiness and tantrums. He may resist napping on the go or won’t understand why he’s confined in a five-point harness for hours on end. And on top of these roadblocks, you still need to lug as much gear—car seat, stroller, portable crib—as ever. But you don’t need to ditch the idea of going away. “You can avoid a lot of these travel challenges if you’re prepared,” says Tammy Gold, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.

Pack Well

“Traveling with a toddler is like being on the road with a rock band—she needs a lot of stuff,” says Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., a family and child development specialist. Bring along more than you think you’ll need, including extra diapers, wipes, and clothing changes. Keeping these items within easy reach is key. Lindsey Hunter Lopez learned this the hard way as she and her husband were flying from their hometown of Los Angeles to Idaho with their 2-year-old daughter, Ruby. When Ruby’s explosive poop left her needing a new outfit, Hunter Lopez couldn’t reach her carry-on bag (which was crammed in the overhead bin). “Because of this rookie mistake, I had to wait until we landed and then run with my dirty, ornery child through the airport in search of a changing station,” she says. Another thing to keep accessible: smart snacks. “Don’t pack only yogurt squeezers that she can gulp down quickly. Bring tactile snacks like Cheerios that she can pick up one by one,” suggests Gold. If you’re flying, tote along a sippy cup or a pacifier your child can suck on during takeoff and landing. This will help prevent ear pain caused by the change in air pressure. Don’t forget about ways to keep your child entertained. Download her fave music or audio books to your phone or tablet. Bring along comfort items such as a stuffed animal. “Buy inexpensive items—like puzzles and mess-free coloring books—and wrap them like presents,” suggests Gold. Then give them out during the trip, one by one, when your child gets fussy.

Time It Right

Consider your child’s sleep schedule. “You can bundle him up and leave on a road trip during the middle of the night so he snoozes through the first several hours of the drive,” suggests Alyson Schafer, family therapist and author of Ain’t Misbehavin’: Tactics for Tantrums, Meltdowns, Bedtime Blues and Other Perfectly Normal Kid Behaviors. Go to Roadtrippers.com (or download the free app for iOS and Google) to map out rest stops that offer a chance for your toddler to stretch his legs and burn off energy. The less cooped up he feels, the less likely he is to melt down. Plane travel is more difficult to control. Early morning flights tend to have fewer delays, but you’re better off picking a departure time that jibes best with your child’s sleep schedule. Follow a consistent nighttime and nap routine the week before your trip so that he’s well rested prior to your departure. Also don’t be shy about letting him run around the airport corridors to tire him out before you board.

Create a Safe, Comfy Space

Whether you’re staying with friends or relatives or at a hotel, always inspect your toddler’s room carefully. Make sure there are no dangling wires, exposed outlets, or unstable objects (like a TV) that your child could tip onto herself. If you’re renting a crib, ask the vendor or hotel in advance if it meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Then create a sleep environment that’s as close to home as possible. Pack the blanket she likes, the bedtime books she’s used to, and the sleep-sounds app that soothes her. Allow enough downtime during the day (so she’s not overtired and unable to settle down at night), which may mean reducing your activities. And try to put her down at the usual time, even if you’re changing time zones, so that she wakes up cheerful and ready to explore with you.