Traveling with a Toddler: All the Tips You Could Ever Need

Travel with Toddlers

Traveling with a toddler is a bit of a crapshoot. One trip you’ve got a little angel who quietly watches his or her screen the entire flight. The next you’ve got meltdowns around every corner. And, really, all the tips in the world probably can’t change that aspect of toddlerhood, but for everything else – here are some tried-and-true tips on general toddler travel, as well as tips for flying and driving!

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General Tips

  1. Toddlers don’t always enjoy all aspects of travel. Count on them getting bored, fussy, fidgety, climbing on seats, acting out by tipping over their juice…count on it all. Pack your patience, lower your expectations, and roll with the punches.
  2. Always bring a change of clothes or two.
  3. Always bring more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need.
  4. If your child needs a passport, think well ahead as the process is a bit different than getting one for yourself (as in, both parents will need to be there so scheduling can be a little trickier).
  5. Most hotels have Pack N Plays or travel cribs you can inquire about, but as your toddler gets bigger, there are inflatable travel cots as well as fold-out cots you can bring along as well if you don’t want to bedshare.
  6. Toddlers don’t always love change, including sleeping in hotel rooms. Bring along familiar things, whether that means their sleep sack or blanket, a familiar stuffed animal, or something else that they usually have at bedtime.
  7. Check the weather at your destination before you pack so you know what kinds of clothes to bring.
  8. If your child needs any medications, don’t forget them!
  9. Don’t travel right after a round of routine vaccines just in case your child has any reactions to them.
  10. Travel with a first-aid kit whether you buy a pre-made medical kit or create one yourself! Either way, just be sure it doesn’t have any liquids more than 3 ounces if you’re flying.
  11. If your toddler will still go in a carrier, carriers can be an amazing travel accessory, especially if you’re going somewhere with uneven sidewalks (Europe) or if you want your hands free.
  12. If you have a diaper bag you usually tote around, consider using a combo diaper bag/backpack that will travel better.
  13. If you have a toddler who naps, you can of course try to skip the nap and adventure right on through it. However, it can be a nice break to stick with the routine and have some quiet time for everyone midday (catch up on that jetlag). Bonus, it means your toddler can stay up later for some evening adventures, which can be nicer than turning in at 7 p.m.
  14. Allow extra time at every crucial step. Give yourself some wiggle room for meltdowns, surprise diaper situations, and general toddlerness.
  15. Teach your child to say thank you in the local language, if you can. In our experience, a child lisping “arigato” or “danke” or “gracias” is some next-level cuteness that will (hopefully) charm your waitress into forgiving the screeching that comes later when you don’t let your kid dump all the salt on to the floor.
Travel with kids
Two boys ready to face a long and boring plane ride.

On Flights

  1. Schedule your flight in the best possible time. Don’t book that early morning, super cheap deal of a flight where you’ll have to wake your toddler at 4 a.m. to get to the airport. Likewise, don’t schedule a flight that starts right at naptime or bedtime if you can help it.
  2. Pre-board airplanes. Feel no shame. Just do it.
  3. If you aren’t opposed to screens, bringing along a tablet loaded with things your toddler loves to watch and/or play will get you plenty of quiet time on a plane, in a car, on a train, in airports, wherever.
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk up and down airplane aisles with your toddler. As long as the seatbelt sign is off, toddlers do best with some time to stretch their legs and many travelers enjoy a kid walking by and waving at them.
  5. Bring treats that your tot loves.
  6. And then bring a few more treats and snacks beyond that. Bring all the snacks your carry-ons can bear. You can probably kill a good hour of the flight just snacking.
  7. Bring along a leakproof cup or water bottle and fill it with water after you make your way through the TSA checkpoints.
  8. Bring snacks that require a lot of chewing, a pacifier, or cups with straws to help toddlers pop their ears during takeoff and landing.
  9. If your toddler is still in diapers, most lavatories have changing tables, but – like everything in airplane lavatories – they aren’t very big. Don’t be afraid to ask a flight attendant where you can change a diaper if you need to.
  10. Bring several small toys that don’t have too many pieces so you won’t have to fish them out from anywhere. Get creative with entertainment – think Cheerio necklaces, activity books, or even a roll of Scotch tape.
  11. Aim for quieter toys, too.
  12. Think ahead on seating arrangements. If your child is over two, you’ll need to buy a seat for him or her. You can bring most car seats onto planes. You can also get CARES harnesses and check your car seat. Or you can buckle your kid straight into an airline seat.
  13. If you want to bring a car seat, double check to make sure yours is okay to bring on flights. Also, if you have a larger one, you might consider getting a lightweight seat for plane use as carrying a huge car seat onto a plane along with carry-ons and a toddler is…a lot. Cosco Scenera Next is a popular choice for flights as it’s simple, lightweight and easy to carry.
  14. If you’re bringing a car seat, you can get car seat covers and rolling carts to make getting through the airport smoother. Covers/car seat bags protect your car seat if you check it, and rolling carts help you cart that thing around.
  15. Don’t forget that you can gate check baby gear if you’ll need it through the airport, but not on the flight. This is great if you want to use a stroller through the airport.
  16. Children under 18 don’t generally need a photo ID when flying, but it doesn’t hurt to carry a copy of their birth certificate just in case.
  17. You can usually ask the flight attendant for wings as a souvenir for your child.
  18. If you’re traveling internationally on a flight where you want your toddler to sleep, you can buy inflatable seat extenders that allow them to lay down in the seat, like this one by FlyTot. Note these don’t work as well if your toddler is very tall.
  19. Book a direct flight whenever you can.
  20. If your toddler is potty trained, hit up the airport restroom right before you board.
  21. Dress your child in comfy layers, like a t-shirt and sweatshirt, just in case the plane is too warm or too cold.
  22. Bring some sanitizing wipes – for tray tables, for your child’s hands, for when your toddler touches everything in the airplane lavatory, for whatever. You’ll be glad you have them.
  23. Toddlers under 2 don’t necessarily fly for free internationally. It varies from airline to airline.
  24. Learn to roll with any judgy people. For the most part, people get that traveling with toddlers isn’t always a picnic, but if you run into anyone giving you rude glances or comments, shake it off, so to speak. Letting it get to you won’t make anything any easier. You are awesome and doing your best!
Car seat travel tips
Pro tip: Don’t let the toddler drive on road trips.

In Cars

  1. If you’re renting a car at your destination, bring your own car seat rather than trusting a rental at a car rental place. You can never know for sure if the rentals have been in a fender bender, if the seat will be totally clean (because, come on, toddlers use it), and you don’t want to chance showing up and having a surprise out-of-stock situation.
  2. Just like flying, bringing along a screen can make a big different on a long (or short) road trip.
  3. Also just like flying, bring as many snacks as you can bear to carry. Lots of time can be killed just snacking.
  4. Bring a box of things to do, and for best results, throw a few new toys that require some figuring out in there. New toys are always a hit.
  5. Cheerio necklaces and bracelets are always a hit (unless your kid doesn’t like Cheerios).
  6. If at all possible, travel with someone else if you’re in for a long road trip. Having someone in the backseat can help deal with all kinds of situations and provides bonus entertainment as well.
  7. If you’re on your own, keep that box of things to do next to you in the passenger seat so you can hand back new things to do or snacks as needed.
  8. Bring some music that your kid loves.
  9. Stop frequently to let your toddler get their sillies out. Most rest stops have some green space to run around, or look for schools or parks that might have playgrounds.
  10. Bring some bubbles, a Frisbee, a ball, or other toys that are fun to play with outside for those stops.
  11. If you’re doing a multi-day road trip, look for hotels with pools. Toddlers will forgive you for driving all day a lot faster if there’s a pool to play in!
  12. If your toddler gets carsick, be prepared. You likely already have tips to combat it, but if not, putting some mild mint tea in a sippy cup can help. Also consider not using a tablet in the car as looking down at a screen or book can make carsickness worse. Rear facing can also make carsickness worse for some kids.
  13. If you’re going to take Uber, Lyft, taxis, etc. while you’re traveling, make sure to ask in advance if possible if car seats are allowed. 99.9% of the time, they will be just fine. Practice installing your car seat quickly if you’re not already good at it.
  14. Just remember: you got this! If we can survive a road trip with a 1-year-old, so can you. Just follow our ten rules for road trips with kids.

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