Running from the Law: One Year and Beyond - Traveling with your Toddler

Thursday, June 5, 2014

One Year and Beyond - Traveling with your Toddler

Welcome to Week 5 of our “One Year and Beyond” toddler blogger series.  I was a bit late on posting last week's topic (Unsolicited Parenting Advice), so if you missed that one, please check it out.  Today’s topic is another one that is near and dear to my heart: Traveling with Your Toddler.  Just last week I had the absolute pleasure of traveling with my toddler from St. Louis to Florida.  Oh, the joys of traveling with a two-year old.  I can honestly tell you that it was much harder than I expected it to be and much harder than it was a year ago.  Traveling with an immobile baby is a breeze, compared to traveling with a wild, energetic, opinionated and curious toddler.  Somehow within the last six months, things got exponentially harder.  What worked when Mac was a baby does not necessarily work now that he's a toddler.  Lesson learned. 

Most of the travel we've done in the last couple years has been by plane.  In Mac's life, he's taken 6 trips by plane - twice with me and Ryan (St. John, Chicago), twice with me and the nanny (Florida) and twice with me alone (Naples, Dallas).  We've taken one road trip to Kansas City (about a 4 hour drive) and quite a few shorter trips to my parents' farm (about a 2 hour drive) and other locations around the state.  Mac has never been a fan of riding in the car, so we tend to avoid that if at all possible.  I'm not sure if he hates being rear-facing, hates being restrained or hates his particular car seat, but unless he's napping, he's relatively terrible in the car.  I will say that he is getting a bit better about this though (knock on wood).  I'm hoping it's something he'll outgrow soon (and Mim won't inherit) because it would sure be nice to be able to drive for longer than 15 minutes without needing a Xanax or singing the Wheels on the Bus on repeat.  

So below, I'm sharing a few of my top travel tips for traveling by car, traveling by plane and what to do when you get to your destination.  I'm definitely not claiming to be an expert on traveling with a toddler, but I have learned a few things over the last couple years.  I know there are some other mamas out there that do this much better and more frequently than I do, but I'm here sharing what has worked for us and our wild child.  I hope some of this advice helps you out on a future adventure.
Road Trips
Travel during nap time - This may be my biggest piece of advice for car travel (particularly for a kid that doesn't like to be in his car seat).  If you can travel during your child's nap time (or through the night while they're sleeping), I highly recommend it.  We've had pretty good luck traveling during nap time and getting Mac to nap in the car.  Sometimes we'll play white noise in the car for him (like we do at home) and sometimes he doesn't need anything and falls asleep with the radio blasting.  For a lot of kids, there's something about being in a car that lulls them to sleep.  However, we've also had plenty of times when we've traveled during nap time and ended up with no nap and an exhausted kid upon arrival.  Usually though, the newness of being in a different place (or being home after being gone for a while) is enough to keep his exhausted little self from having major meltdowns the rest of the day and he just goes to bed a bit earlier that evening.  

iPad - Around 18 months, Mac was proficient enough that he could play on the iPad in the car on long rides without much assistance from us.   He was able to switch between apps and watch movies/shows of his choosing.  He played puzzles/games and listened to music.  The last few times I've taken Mac to the farm, he's sat in the back in his car seat and entertained himself the entire time.  AMAZING.  I always try to download a few new apps before we take trips, just in case he's looking for something different, but usually he wants to play the same ones over and over (you know how toddlers love repetition).  Just make sure that your parental locks on the iPad are set and it's on airplane mode so your kid doesn't accidentally send emails to your boss or a member of the board of directors of your company (true story).  

Books - If one of you can sit in the back with your child, books are a great way to pass the time. Bring a stack of books (favorites and a few new ones) and sit next to them in the backseat and read together.  Ask questions about the pictures, make up your own story, etc.  Almost as good as an iPad at a fraction of the price.

Kid-friendly music - Yes, this might make you want to gouge out your eyeballs with a screwdriver, but it could make the difference between hours of crying and hours of entertainment.  Get a couple of those awful kid-friendly CDs of nursery rhymes, silly songs, Disney songs, songs about trains, etc. and play them for your kid.  Sometimes you'll end up playing the same song over and over for an hour, but it's better than listening to them scream or cry.  We play the CDs from Mac's Kindermusik class and he loves them.
Airport/Plane Travel
Get them a seat on the plane - If you can afford it, I'd highly recommend getting your kid their own seat on the plane.  This past trip was the first time we'd ever done that for Mac and only because he just turned two and is now too old to be a free lap infant.  However, it really made a huge difference.  I can't imagine trying to keep him on my lap, entertained and restrained for hours at a time even a few weeks ago (before he "officially" turned two).  Not just because I'm majorly pregnant and have very little lap room as is, but because he's CRAZY and cannot be contained.  Having his own seat (and a bit of extra room) made a huge difference.  Of course he didn't stay in his seat for a majority of the flight (he was either crawling on me or on the floor in front of the seat), but it helped.  If your kid doesn't despise their car seat like mine does, I'd recommend taking that with you and strapping them in.  Actually, that's a brilliant idea. 

Snacks, snacks, snacks - When Mac was younger, I'd stock my travel bag with all kinds of little toys, gadgets, stickers, crayons and other things to try to keep him in my lap and entertained on the flight.  He used to love tape, measuring spoons, silly putty, chopsticks, stickers, flashlights and basically anything I could find in the dollar bin at Target.  However, those tricks don't seem to work anymore.  Now he's much more interested in what's going on around us than what I'm trying to get him to play with.  He'd rather open and shut the tray table 600 times or climb over his seat into the laps of the people behind us.  However, snacks (sugar!) seems to be the one thing that he is interested in and will kinda behave to get.  I pack a huge bag of absolute crap (all the stuff that he doesn't normally get at home) for trips and I bribe him.  Maybe I should feel slightly bad about this, but I don't.  It works.  If you're not comfortable pumping your child full of processed junk and sugar, bring fruit and protein snacks.  Lots of them!  In my opinion, the more food, the more variety, the better.
Use a carrier or umbrella stroller - If you have a kid that you cannot trust to stay by your side and hold your hand at all times, a carrier or a stroller is a great idea for the airport.  I feel like I just learned this lesson the hard way this past trip.  Every time I've traveled with Mac previously I've put him in a baby carrier on my hip and that's where he'd stay until we were on the plane.  It helps getting through security faster, keeps him close to me and prevents him from licking everything in the airport.  However, this past trip I did not have him in a carrier.  Mainly because I'm freaking 30+ weeks pregnant and those things don't work with a giant bump.  Big mistake.  Half of the time, Mac wanted to be (or needed to be) carried through the airport, which was very hard to do with luggage and a pregnant belly.  And the other half of the time he wanted to run wild through the airport, which was impossible to chase him through with luggage and a pregnant belly.  Had he been contained in a carrier (or a stroller), I don't think I would have had quite the battle (or fatigue).  He may not have liked it, but I would have been a much happier mama with him contained and safe (and not on me).

Expect the worst - I find it's easiest in these situations where you are stuck on a plane with a kid, surrounded by people that tend to be less than "understanding" to go into the situation expecting the absolute worst.  Seriously, spend 20 minutes before your flight imagining all the worst case scenarios like your kid screaming at the top of his lungs for the entire flight, people being rude to you, unexpected delays, horrible turbulence, your toddler having multiple meltdowns on the flight, a diaper blowout and/or puke explosion.  Don't give yourself a panic attack or anything, but mentally prepare yourself for the worst few hours of your life.  Now, back in reality, when all of that really horrible stuff doesn't happen to you, you'll feel like you just won the lottery.  Expect the worst and you'll be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen.  Even if things go wrong, remember it could be SO much worse.  (And if it really is that bad, flight attendants will usually give you free booze (for you, not the toddler) and unlimited looks of pity and sympathy, so there's always that.)
At Your Destination
Rent gear there - If you've ever left your house with a kid, you know that they require a LOT of crap.  Traveling for any amount of time with a child basically means that you'll be packing and taking at least half of the items in your house and every baby item that you might possibly need while you're there, including things you've never used before or never expect to use.  I'm a self-proclaimed TERRIBLE over-packer.  I pack anything and everything I possibly can...because, what if I need it?  I've learned that since I will inevitably pack more stuff than I could ever need, anything that I can borrow or rent at the place where we're going will exponentially cut down on the amount of crap we take with us.  There are all kinds of companies that you can rent really nice baby gear from nearly everywhere you travel - Google it.  We've rented from a few different companies and I've been pleasantly surprised by how nice all the stuff is.  I'd suggest renting at least a high chair, travel crib and stroller because those things are bulky and very difficult to travel with.  If you know people in the area with kids, ask to borrow a few items from them instead of having to pack everything.  I will say that we've found renting toys is a waste of money.  When we went to St. John I thought renting toys for the house was a brilliant idea.  Except Mac's favorite (and basically only) toy to play with the entire trip was a water bottle with rocks in it.  This past trip, he found a vacuum cleaner attachment in the closet and played with that for an entire week!  Toys are overrated.

Take your own car seat - Despite what I just said about renting gear, I usually take our car seat with us when we travel because I'm paranoid about car safety - I don't trust that anyone else will have a car seat properly installed and I don't want to worry about having to figure out how to install a different seat in a car while my toddler is waiting (and probably having a sugar meltdown) in the parking lot of the airport.  I take our seat because I know it, trust it and can install it myself in about 3 minutes.  If you've got enough arms to carry it though the airport (or one of those wheelie things), gate check it so you know it will make it to your destination.

Upgrade your hotel room to a suite - If you're staying at a hotel, I'd highly recommend trying (begging, pleading or paying) to get your room upgraded to a suite.  Ask if there are suites available at the front desk - sometimes the clerk will take pity on you and upgrade you for the same price (look desperate!).  And by "suite," I'm not taking about anything super fancy or with multiple bedrooms, but something with a door/divider between the bedroom and the TV.  Kids go to bed early (and take naps) and if you're not ready to go to bed when they are, you may find yourself stuck in a dark room, whispering to your husband and trying at all costs not to wake the baby for hours.  That doesn't sound like "vacation" to me.  Having a suite allows you to put the baby to bed and close the bedroom door so you can sit on the couch and read or watch TV while the little one snoozes.  What a huge difference this can make.  This is SO worth it.

Safety Items - When you're staying somewhere new, don't forget to pack safety items to ensure that your new location is baby-proof.  Night lights, outlet covers, antibacterial wipes, etc. are essential to making sure the place you're staying is safe for your kid.  Use the antibacterial wipes to clean the remote controls and anything else likely to end up in a little mouth.  Use the outlet covers to make sure your kid doesn't electrocute himself.  Move breakables out of the way and unsafe/unsecured furniture to another location if you can.  Toddlers are notorious for being curious and exploring, so you need to make sure they can do that in a safe location.

So that's my advice, based on our traveling experience.  I'd love to hear your experience and encourage you to link up with us below.  And please check out the other co-host mamas for more tips, tricks and advice.

From Here to EternityWords About Waverly
my delicious adventure Photobucket
My Delicious Adventure                  The Life Of Faith
Running From The LawThe Olive Tree

May 8:          Taming the temper tantrums
May 15:        Weaning from breastfeeding or from formula to cow’s milk 
May 22:        Dealing with "Mommy Guilt
May 29:        When people share their opinions and how to lovingly handle it
June 5:         Traveling with your toddler
June 12:       How to get your toddler to eat their veggies…or their food at all
June 19:       How to make time to blog in the busyness of motherhood
June 26:       Bedtime battles (nap or bedtime)

What's your best piece of advice for traveling with a toddler?


  1. Great advice!! Our next flight we will definitely be getting Scarlett her own seat! I also agree that bringing your own car seat is best (as inconvenient as it is)... We rented a car seat with our rental on our last trip and I hated it... It seemed so cheap and unsafe!

  2. Awesome advice, thank you :) We've travelled (by car) a lot already with Kiernan, but with a beach trip coming up, it'll be our biggest yet. Very clutch advice about renting equipment there :)

  3. I would agree with the advice on the hotel room! We are traveling in October for a wedding, and the "selected" hotel doesn't have any I've booked a suite at the hotel next door just for that reason. It's vacation and I don't want to be sitting in the dark with an almost 3 year old and a 3 month old!

  4. Great advice, thanks! This will be helpful for our beach trip in July!!

  5. Love, love seeing the beach pictures!! Can't wait to see more! :)

  6. Thinking about a plane trip in the next few months (after baby girl is born) with a 2 year old and a new born gives me so much anxiety. I will be bringing backup for sure... if we end up doing it! Great tips.

  7. For sure on traveling during nap time! We plan our trips around nap time just so we know he will sleep for at least part of the trip. Best thing ever. And yes, a suite is completely worth it -and really pretty much needed. Baby [toddler] needs his own space to sleep and it is no fun tip toeing around while they snooze and you aren't ready for bed for a few more hours. We're going on vacation this summer and I am hoping so desperately there is a little space [closet?!] for the little guy to sleep in. Love these tips, thanks so much for sharing! :)

  8. So I don't even have children (yet) but couldn't stop reading this! Great advice and def saving for future reference! haha xoxo

  9. These are really great tips! I haven't taken all three of my kids on a plane yet, but that time is approaching. We have done tons of very long road trips, and prepare for the worst is great advice. That way you are pleasantly surprised when things go well. Haha!

  10. Thank you SO much for this! I just booked a 6 hour flight to NYC with my almost 2 year old who will be sitting on my lap because tickets are $800 each. We will be traveling alone and I'm so scared.
    My daughter also HATES the car seat with a passion, I'm glad she's not the only 2 year old who does. I honestly didn't even think about having her in a carrier since she's 2. What kind of carrier do you suggest?

  11. Having their own seat makes it so much easier on the plane! The last lap infant fight I did with Callie was 15mo and it was AWFUL! So she's been getting her own seat for a while and we just bring a car seat and she's happy as can be with her iphone, headphones and snacks. We're hoping to get upgraded to a suite later this month when we go to Chicago for a few days - fingers crossed!

  12. Such good ideas! We've traveled with my nephew a few times since he was born and when we travel, we get him his own seat so his mama can strap his carrier in. We also got extra free bags because of the extra ticket!

  13. Loooove your advice! Can you believe we still don't have an iPad? We need to invest in one just to make our travels easier!!
    Most of the time you can seriously just ask to be upgraded to a bigger room, free of charge??

  14. Love those tips, totally going to use them!! Thanks pretty mama!!!

  15. I completely agree traveling with a stroller or carrier is essential. My little guy is a very determined mobile guy and he must be contained. I never thought about bringing outlet covers, a nightlight or other safety items. Definitely need to put that on my packing list!

  16. Such good advice! I share some of the same advice and I learned some great advice too. I would have never in a million years thought of bringing my own safety items. But SO SMART. You think you are safe in this little small hotel room, but really that's probably where it's most dangerous. Good advice!

  17. We're flying with Elyse for the first time in July and you can bet I'm going to be asking all sorts of questions.....and my first one, did you try to put Mac in the carseat in the plane? We're actually flying to meet family and a carseat will be waiting on us. We've already purchased a seat for her, but I'm so torn on whether or not to take a car seat or buy the CARES system for the plane. Her Britax won't fit so we'd have to buy a whole new seat! boo! thoughts?!?

  18. As much as I HATE kiddie music we have a CD on repeat in our car. It's about the only thing that will calm Marcus if he's in an extra pissed off mood.
    Like you, we're pretty proficient in flying with a toddler. And, no matter how many times I go into it all thinking I'm set, it never fails... Marcus ends up being *that* kid on the plane.