With the summer season coming up, and the many anticipated vacations that are synonymous with it, I thought I might provide a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for traveling with little ones.

(Keep reminding yourself it's worth it...)

  1. Plan for extra time. If you’re flying, really do get to the airport 2 hours early, so you don’t have to worry about those ridiculous factors you can’t control. Like that nasty TSA agent. If you’re driving what should be a 5-hour drive, plan for 8. Because if you’re anything like me, you can be damn proud of yourself for getting there early, but might just be ready to maim the next person you see if you’re late.
  1. Bring lots to do. LOTS. The younger your kids are, the more they’ll need to keep them entertained. Seriously, 1-year-olds are lucky to play with a toy for a full 10 minutes. For that 5-hour car trip, it’d be best to bring along 30 different toys. Or maybe 48. Since that’s somewhat impractical, make sure you bring toys that your child really likes. Toys that are new to them or they haven’t seen in a few weeks will keep them entertained the longest.
  1. Pack ahead of time. With kids, there are so many extra things to bring (diapers, wipes, lovey, birth certificates, the letter from your husband ensuring that you are not, in fact, abducting your child…) that are so easy to forget if you pack at the last minute, but not only that, if you have kids they’re likely to be around to distract you while you’re packing. And we all know kids can cause even the best planner to forget things. Packing ahead of time will (hopefully) allow you to remember those forgotten items. And packing up the oodles of required toys ahead of time will keep them out of sight for that last week so they can regain maximum amusement value.
  1. Bring nothing to do. Nothing. For you, that is. If you’re remembering those long, boring flights back in your childless days when you watched a few movies, read an entire book, the in-flight magazine, the safety manual, and still had time for a quick nap, forget it. Completely. Put it out of your mind forever. That might be something we parents can do again when we’re retired. If we’re lucky and get there before the grandkids are sitting next to us on the plane. For now though, don’t even consider bringing your book, your laptop, some work or a travel game. In those three quiet minutes when I think I can pull out my book and settle back, and think to myself, “I’ve got this parenting crap DOWN,” I’ve realized I’m just setting myself up for disaster. It’s really best not to have those things on hand at all.
  1. Pack tons of snacks. Either on the road or in the air, if blood sugar gets low (the kids or the grown-ups), the entire trip can take a downward spiral and fast. Bring more than is likely necessary, you never know when your 2-year-old will start hating yesterday’s favorite snack, your 4-year-old will form yet another opinion of his own, or your 1-year-old will flat out refuse to eat something for no good reason at all. And don’t forget drinks! (They do let you take drinks through airport security if it’s for the kids.)
  1. Let the kids run free. Either before the flight in the airport or on your layover, let the kids run. It makes me cringe when I see parents forcing their children to stay in their strollers or to sit quietly while they’re waiting for their plane. Maybe they just have fantastic kids, but…they’re going to be trapped in a 12×20-inch box for the next few hours, it doesn’t make sense to keep them contained in the gigantic airport too. And if there are a few dirty looks from cranky business travelers (it’s always the business travelers), just imagine their dirty looks if your kid spends the entire flight screaming and crying. This advice goes for driving trips too: plan to stop at places the kids can get some energy out. A lot of states have grassy areas at their rest stops and some even have playgrounds. McDonald’s lists restaurants with playplaces on their website, and has an app for smartphones to find the closest restaurant (As if they needed a way to get more business from kids.).
  1. Accept the inevitable. The baby isn’t going to nap, the 3-year-old will need to stop every hour to pee, the flight will be delayed, and your husband will be cranky (or at least mine will be). If you accept that the worst will happen, then none of it seems quite so bad when it does. And if it doesn’t, awesome! You can tell yourself how superior you are to all the other parents out there realizing all the things that could have gone wrong.

    ALMOST there!

  1. DRINK! You should probably stay hydrated, and make sure the kids drink and all that… but after you’ve successfully completed a long (or short) trip with kids, definitely, definitely, definitely allow yourself a celebratory Cosmo. In fact, if you’re flying, it might just be worth the five bucks to celebrate your success a little early. After all, you are an awesome parent. Way better than those poor souls whose kid has been crying for the last hour of this flight… “Excuse me, stewardess?”

We’ve got just under 100 trips in the next 3 months, so if anyone wants to send me some tips, healthyish-but-exciting new snacks, fascinating children’s toys, alcohol, or tranquilizers (for the husband only, I promise), I’ll accept any and all donations!


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2 Responses to Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

  1. Anne Boodheshwar Anne Boodheshwar says:

    Its been awhile since my girls were that young, but I always tried to pick them up a few new treats for the car (we usually drive). A new dvd to watch, plus their favs. A new toy…One toy that was a favorite for the car was the tavel magna-doodle! No mess…lots of fun. Now they have their ipods to listen to or play on which makes life great! They both always loved packing their “own” backpacks of their favorite items…while this is always great I do suggest looking through them before you leave…a kids favorite things can sometimes be quite odd (and if your flying might not be allowed!)

  2. Great suggestions Anne! Our four year old has just gotten to the point where he enjoys reading with his Leap Frog reading pen with headphones in and it keeps him entertained for at LEAST twelve minutes 😉

    So…should I assume the alcohol and tranquilizers are in the mail??

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