Family trips and vacation mean time spent with loved ones, delicious meals shared with family and, perhaps most challenging, traveling with toddlers. Whether by train, plane or automobile, embarking on a trip with young kids can test everyone’s patience, but the key is to plan ahead. From healthy eating to having a variety of entertainment on hand, here’s how to make the most of traveling as a family.
Traveling by car with your toddler
Road trips can create memories your kids will remember for years to come, from beautiful scenery to memorable conversations in the car. Road trips also mean a lot of time in a confined space together, but a few simple tips can help keep everyone happy until you reach your destination.
Try to stick to their schedule. Plan to drive when your toddler tends to take naps or is sleepy. If your travel is longer, drive at night or leave early in the morning, but make sure you’re well rested!
Prepare for pit stops. If your maps app says your trip will take 3 hours door to door, plan on 4. From restroom breaks to refueling to simply stretching your legs, you likely won’t be driving the entire time you’re on the road. Save some stress by assuming the trip will take longer than the time it takes to cover the distance. When you do stop, take extra time to get active with your little one.
Manage the wiggles. As any parent knows, toddlers have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. Even with entertainment, snacks and naps, your little one will probably need a few stops along the way simply to get out the wiggles.
Keep them comfy. Stiff clothing with lots of buttons or zippers isn’t ideal for travel. Dress your toddler in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that give them room to breathe and will be conducive to napping on the road. If your toddler insists on wearing a certain item that will eventually become uncomfortable, try to compromise to avoid a potential tantrum: Have them wear what they want, but be sure to pack another outfit that’s easily accessible in case they become uncomfortable or require a change of clothing.
Snacks, snacks, snacks. Though you don’t want to be snacking the entire drive, make sure to prevent your toddler from getting too hungry along the way. Keep plenty of nutritious snacks on hand so you don’t have to rely on fast food or convenience stores. Consider packing a variety of items for your toddler to choose from, whether it’s whole grain cereal, sliced apples or cut-up grapes. As for drinks, stay away from juice with added sugar. Instead, keep plenty of water on hand. If you have a longer drive, make sure to stop to have a well-balanced meal.
Rock out. Toddlers love music, which can be a great distraction to pass the time. Before the trip, create a playlist with songs your little one enjoys and can sing along to. If you’re traveling around the holidays, include a few seasonal tunes to evoke an extra-festive mood in the car.
Flying with your toddler
The hustle and bustle of an airport can seem overwhelming with a toddler at your side, especially during the busy holiday season or school breaks. A few easy ideas can help keep you organized and your kids entertained.
Gate-check the stroller. Though you’ll be checking your luggage before going through security, hang onto your stroller until you get to the gate, as it will come in handy as you make your way through security and your concourse. Check your stroller at the gate so your toddler can hop in whenever they want—or if you need to move quickly. Your stroller will be waiting for you when you deplane, which will be helpful as you retrieve your luggage. Be sure your stroller is tagged with your name, address and phone number.
Sign up for TSA PreCheck. Save yourself the headache of long lines by signing up for TSA PreCheck beforehand. This way, both you and your kids can keep your shoes on and get through the security check as quickly as possible.
Extra time? Playtime! Some airports have a dedicated play area for families with a little extra time on their hands. (Check your airport’s website or ask a gate agent.) Expending some energy will help toddlers sit still on the flight, and you’ll be able to have a moment to breathe before boarding the plane.
Board early—and with a busy bag. Get to your assigned seats as soon as you can so there’s plenty of time to get seated and organized. Be sure one of your carry-ons is a busy bag filled with activities for your toddler—anything from coloring books to puzzles to new books they haven’t read yet.
Seat them by the window. If one of your assigned seats is a window seat, let your little one sit there. They’ll love looking out on the bird’s-eye scenery and clouds, and they can also lean on the window during a nap. Try to avoid placing your toddler in the aisle seat, which can be quite distracting and risky if they like to lean their head or limbs over the armrest.
Prep for takeoff and landing. If your child has a hard time swallowing during takeoff and landing, be sure they are sipping water to prevent any ear pressure issues.
Bring your own bites. Airplane snacks usually aren’t the most nutritious, so consider packing your own healthy snacks. Nut butter and banana sandwiches, sliced fruit and string cheese with whole wheat crackers are toddler-approved and portable, so keep them with you during the flight
Walk the aisle. Slow laps up and down the aisle can expend some of your toddler’s energy, stretch their legs and give them a break to enjoy new scenery.
Keep allergies in mind. If your toddler has allergies, discuss your travel plans with their pediatrician or allergist. Pack all recommended medicine in the original container with prescription labels, and keep them in your carry-on instead of checking them with luggage. Make sure the snacks you pack are allergy-safe and let the flight crew know that your child has an allergy. You may consider bringing your own disinfecting wipes to wipe down your seat and surrounding area to be extra cautious.
Staying at a hotel or home rental with children
Whether you’ve booked a hotel or home rental for your trip, consider these tips for a successful stay.
Spread out. Since you’ll likely be in tighter quarters than you’re used to for a few days, make sure you have enough space and don’t feel too cramped. Though more expensive, upgrading to a suite or renting a larger space will be worth it in the long run.
Request what you need. Most hotels offer cribs or pack-and-plays upon request. Don’t be shy about asking the front desk for things you need—the less you have to pack, the better, and hotels are used to accommodating families. Many major cities have baby equipment rental companies you can book in advance that dropoff and pickup cribs, pack-and-plays, strollers, car seats and more.
Consider food delivery. Just because you’re not home doesn’t mean you can’t order fresh food to be delivered. Consider having a few groceries delivered to your hotel so that you don’t always have to dine out. Looking for complete meals to cut down on restaurant visits? Nurture Life ships throughout the country, right to your hotel or rental door.
While traveling with toddlers can be challenging, spending school breaks and holidays as a family in a new location can be a wonderful bonding experience. Some advanced planning is all it takes to keep the family having fun.