My Tips for Traveling with Small Children

April 8, 2016

“Changing your location doesn’t necessarily mean losing your problems. They’ll show up wherever you are.” -K.K. Hendrin.

This quote reminds me of traveling with small children—just substitute the word problems for toddlers. Going on a long trip with your family can seem like a daunting task, but I want to remind you that parenting, in general, isn’t a walk in the park. Traveling will be more difficult than it was before children, but I would argue it is no more difficult than taking them out in public in your hometown.  With April vacation around the corner, and summer vacation-planning in full swing, I thought I would share my tips for traveling with young children.

Learn to let go of what other people are thinking – This is a great life lesson in general, but traveling with small children can be incredibly stressful if you let every sideways glance get to you. I promise you, your children will cry, they might even have a temper tantrum in a public place, but remember that is part of being a small child. A child has just as much right to be on an airplane as the adult they are sitting next to. This is why I tend to cringe at the suggestions of giving gifts to the people who have to sit next to you on a plane; it’s as if you are apologizing for procreating. Also, lots of people will think your children are adorable and want to talk to them! Befriend these people, and thank them for their kindness.

Train travel with Toddler

Travel light – Rent everything you can upon arrival, which is incredibly easy nowadays. From bouncy seats, to cribs or toys, everything can be waiting (and assembled) at your destination when you arrive. For the plane, try to limit yourself to one bag per adult (a backpack works best) and check everything else. Bring your stroller through security, and gate-check it moments before you get on the plane.

Relax your screen time limitations – When your child is stuck on a plane or a car for hours, in my opinion it is OK to let them watch television or try out a new app, for as long as their little heart desires. Of course, make an effort to pack stickers and crafts, but if all your child wants to do is zone out to Daniel Tiger, don’t beat yourself up about it. For our smaller friends who don’t enjoy screen time, try the following airplane activities:

  • Let them eat a whole apple (this can take up to 45 minutes if they have no teeth)
  • Grab some toilet paper and allow them to destroy it
  • Take destroyed toilet paper, and encourage your small child to put it in an empty water bottle
  • Fake asleep and let your child poke your nostrils
  • The classic aisle walk
  • Pray the person in the seat behind you will play peek a boo
  • Hide Cheerios under your seat and avert your eyes while your child eats them

Say goodbye to your schedule – Particularly if you have a major time change, your schedule as you know it is over. Take a deep breath. You will survive. It may mean you have to watch your child more closely, as you did when they were a newborn. Look for signs of tiredness, rather than a clock, to determine when they should go to sleep. Or explore cities on foot, taking long walks while your children sleep in the stroller.

Sleeping baby London

Sometimes it is OK to go it alone – Have a museum you want to check out? Or want to explore a city without some little hand wiping ice cream on your leg? Go for it! No one will miss you for an hour or two. Or try venturing out solo after bedtime. There is nothing more lovely than sitting in a new restaurant alone with a cocktail.

Find Balance  Yes, it is a family vacation, but that doesn’t mean every activity needs to be child-oriented.  Even small children can enjoy an art museum. Show up at that restaurant you have been longing to go right as they open for dinner.  Ask for a table that is out of the way, and tip generously.

Natural History Museum London

Still want to travel with kids?  Check out our post next week on must have gear for your family trip.


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