In my daughter's first 18 months of life, our family has visited 38 countries across four continents. Why would we make such crazy life choices? Why NOT?! Parenting on the fly is what we're all doing, isn't it? We simply took it a step further and literally parented 35,000 feet in the sky, and often between time zones. As Americans living abroad who love to travel, this was basically our version of throwing our child into the deep end of our lifestyle pool.
For all the moments where we question our sanity (and there are many!), there are also some pretty amazing ones to remind us why we do this. Our daughter, Nala, was born in South Africa, learned to crawl in Monaco, climbed her first set of stairs in a 13th century castle in Ireland, ate her first solids in the tapas bars of Spain, learned to walk in a rug shop in India, and said her first words in the UK. She's been carried up 1,000 steps in Petra, Jordan, and 700 steps in Tiger's Nest, Bhutan. (My butt, on the other hand, shows no signs of either accomplishment... oh, how cruel mom-life is!).
If you've seen our Worldwide Webers Instagram or Facebook, you might assume that we're blessed with a perfectly behaved child who never objects to our crazy hijinks. But, you know what they say about assumptions. Nala is a little Beyonce—an independent woman who makes sure we know when she's unhappy with our choice of routine or activity. So how do we say "Bye Felicia" to a Sasha Fierce toddler moment in the making? By using the travel tricks we've learned along the way. Here, our top 10 tips for traveling with toddlers that are Worldwide Weber (and sometimes monk) tested and approved. (Strong cocktail not included but heavily advised.)
1. Be prepared for UFOs
Unidentifiable Filthy Objects find their way onto a toddler like aliens to Will Smith. Guard against probes and germs by always having sanitizing wipes within easy reach.
2. Don't vaccinate and fly
What do diaper blowouts, fevers, and rashes all have in common? They're all usual side effects of routine vaccinations that you do not want to deal with during a travel day. Book vaccinations no closer than one week to upcoming travel to avoid any issues.
3. Two words about extra outfits: pack them
Think extra outfits are only for infants and award show hosts? Wrong. Toddlers find new and creative ways to destroy their clothing every day, so never forget that extra outfit (or two).
4. Master the art of negotiation
While not paying for your under-2-year-old to fly is great, having to sit with her on your lap is not. Ask every gate agent and flight attendant you meet multiple times if the flight's full and if they can move people around so your family gets a coveted free open seat. Hell, I'd flirt with the clean-up crew if I thought they had any influence in the matter!
5. Be a Mobile Mama Medical Unit
No, it's not the next CSI spin-off, it's the travel first aid kit you pack regardless of destination that covers the whole family, from hangovers (ahem, I mean "adult headaches") to feverish children. I always carry two during travel: a small carry-on version with travel-sized essentials like Band-Aids, Neosporin, adult Tylenol, etc., and then a slightly larger version that goes in my check-in bag with non-travel sized bottles such as children's Tylenol, Benadryl, etc.
6. Snacks. Snacks, snacks, snacks...did I mention snacks?
Forget toys, snacks are how you keep a child busy and happy during travel. Fruit, veg, dry snacks, pouches, biscuits, there's really no end to the snack rainbow that I can pull out of my carry-on at any given moment. Food coma ahead? One can only hope!
7. Book a night flight and carry a big scarf
The combination of a lightweight scarf and an overnight flight is what toddler travel dreams are made of. Use that scarf to block daylight or plane light and book overnight flights whenever possible so they can be tired enough and it be dark enough to sleep.
8. Pack for pressure
Water, food, pacifiers, passionate conversations about your interests... use whatever it is that will get your tot's jaws moving during takeoff and landing to help with ear pressure discomfort.
9. Jump up, jump up, and get down
Have a mid-flight ants-in-your-toddler's-pants attack? Don't hesitate to get up and walk around with him. Sometimes a few minutes in the plane galley or a few trips up and down the aisle is enough to distract, refresh, and avoid an impending meltdown.
10. Divide and conquer
Grab that coveted overhead storage space and keep your kid off the plane for a few extra precious minutes. How? Send your partner with the carry-on luggage ahead of you and wait with your Tasmanian toddler in the gate area to burn off a bit more energy before having to sit down.
There you have it: Our short list of how to survive toddler travel. And just in case you were too busy trying to negotiate with your illogically passionate toddler to read all 10 tips, here's the Cliff Notes version: With enough diapers and snacks you can get anywhere in the world! So don't stress, pack some cookies, and enjoy your next family travel adventure.
Erica Levine Weber is a traveler, blogger, expat, and modern mom. Before her baby’s first birthday, she and her family explored over 30 countries across 4 continents, leaving only a trail of dirty diapers and duty-free catalogs behind. Her tips and tales have appeared in Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Business Insider, BabyCenter, and other publications.