6 Things I'm Glad I Knew Before Traveling With a Toddler For The First Time

From booking hotels to packing gear, there is a lot to consider when planning a family trip with young children.

Young girl points out of a window on an airplane

Maria Manco / Stocksy

I always admire parents who, in my opinion, are brave enough to travel with a baby. When my now 2-year-old was an infant in 2020, we were in a COVID lockdown so travel wasn't an option. That was actually fine with me. The anxiety I felt even bringing my son on a short car ride was enough, I couldn't imagine heading to the airport.

Fast forward to March 2023, when we were planning our first trip to Palm Beach County, Florida. It felt like the right time to bring our son on his first airplane ride—he was still in diapers (no emergency bathroom breaks) but could vocalize his needs (aka snack and TV show preferences).

Most of my friends with kids had travel experience under their belt before my first trip, so I asked for their advice. It helped me prep, pack, and level my own expectations ahead of our first family trip—and one of the first things I learned is that it's now called a trip when you travel with kids, and no longer a vacation. Now that we are home and slowly coming out of the post-trip exhaustion phase, I am reflecting on what I learned, hoping you, too, can be prepared before your first travels.

Flights Are Scary—Even If Your Toddler Loves Airplanes

My 2-year-old is obsessed with airplanes. He is always watching out the window of our New York City apartment as planes fly in and out of JFK and Laguardia airports. He thinks he knows that every flight he sees is JetBlue, which he yells at the top of his lungs. To prep for his first flight, we read books—Maisy Goes on a Plane by Lucy Cousins was the favorite—and watched tours of the inside of an airplane on YouTube.

The book really prepared him for our experience in the airport. He understood when we had to give our suitcases to the attendant at check-in, and was even excited to go through the "security doorway"—what he called the metal detector. But I was shocked at how scared he was to actually get onto an airplane. They are big, loud, and crowded. This is something I did not prepare him for and wish I did.

Stop Trying to Make Naps Happen

When I planned my trip, I broke each day into two sections—before nap and after nap. But I quickly realized my 2-year-old was never going to take a snooze mid-day when he learned how much fun he could be having outside of the hotel room. My son has never been a great napper outside of his own bedroom. I fully blame it on him being a COVID baby—who has time to get used to sleeping away from home when we never leave home? Once I finally accepted that he’d pass out in the car seat if tired enough and maybe would go to bed earlier, we opened up so much more time for fun in our days. This did mean we had to wait in a parking lot for about 40 minutes for him to wake from a car nap before we could start driving through Lion Country Safari, but it was worth it.

Ask for a Floor Plan of the Hotel Room

Not all hotel rooms are created equal. That’s important to keep in mind when you’re trying to squeeze a travel crib into a small space. When you book your stay, ask the hotel representative what they suggest and what they offer in terms of cribs and other baby necessities. Is there a walk-in closet that could act as a makeshift nursery? Are you better off in a king-sized bed or two queens? Is there a balcony so you don't have to sit awake in a dark room? Are there any suites available?

At the PGA National Resort, in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, we were provided with a pack 'n' play-style travel crib. The room was long and wide with more than enough space for the crib to sit in the corner—and had a balcony where we could escape outside with a glass of wine and wait until he fell asleep. Nearby Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa also has a standard room floorplan that accommodates travel cribs, but if you're traveling with grandparents or other extended family members, I suggest looking into their suites with separate bedrooms and a large common area.

Pro tip: Resorts often have kids' clubs with drop-off hours. While my toddler was too young to stay alone at PGA's Banyan Buddies program, he loved taking breaks from the pool at Eau Palm to play with toys and games in the air-conditioned Loggers play area. Ask about these types of programs before you book your stay.

The Limit on Screen Time Does Not Exist

It’s vacation. Give yourself and your little one a break. I was visiting family and friends in Florida and planned a few meals that I knew would be long, full of cocktails and conversation. It would be unfair to expect my 2-year-old to sit through a 3-hour dinner with only stickers and crayons. While we usually limit screen time, we let the rules slide on this trip. We gave him my old iPad for the vacation and I’ll admit it was a lifesaver on flights and in the hotel room (where we didn't have all our usual toys), too.

Know Which Medication Works for Your Kid

My son got motion sick on a very turbulent flight down from New York to Florida. I’ve never had to give him anything for motion sickness before so we had nothing to comfort him with. Luckily, the flight home was smooth, but it would have relieved my anxiety to already know that we had a medication option for him. Oh, and pack extra plastic bags for the flights—just in case. Those airplane barf bags just don’t cut it!

Skip the Car Seat

For babies, I’ve heard that nothing beats a Doona Car Seat & Stroller on flights. But once your kid's a little bigger, you might not want to lug a car seat through the airport. We used the Amsafe CARES Child Aviation Restraint System, which is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, on the flight and it was amazing. It's basically a harness-style seatbelt that wraps around the airplane seat at the top and connects to the standard seatbelt at the waist. We then rented a car and a car seat, too. Just be prepared to install the car seat yourself upon pickup. Most rental places don’t have certified car seat experts on hand for installation.

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