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Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

Recently, the hubby and I did something that we have been hesitant to do for over two years: take a family vacation. We’ve been on a trip with extended family, and we’ve taken a few small trips chaperoning about 30 teenagers (my husband is a youth minister), but we’ve never made plans and hit the road with just the three of us. I have had wonderful excuses for not taking a family vacation- no money, no time, no energy. While these are all absolutely legitimate reasons, I never wanted to admit the core defense for side-stepping the family vacation: the thought of entertaining our two and a half year old daughter for four days in a cramped hotel room gave me nightmares.

In my feeble thought process, I reasoned that if a tired toddler could make a trip to the grocery store the worst life experience of my adult life, what damage could she do on a vacation? The best solution seemed to simply avoid the topic altogether. However, a long two years of the hustle and bustle of life finally got to me, and I caved to the hubby’s request to plan a family vacation.

Since I’m writing this, everyone knows that I came back alive. But the even better news may shock readers as much as it surprised me: Our vacation with a toddler will go down in the history books as one of our top three all-time best vacations ever. Comparable to on-the-job training (isn’t all parenting on-the-job training?), I learned a few tips about traveling with a toddler that I want to share.

– Splurge and upgrade from a normal small hotel room.

This may mean planning and saving up a little more money, but it will be worth it. Since we traveled to the mountains during the off season, we were able to get a two bedroom cabin for the price of a nice hotel. This allowed our daughter to have her own space to nap, play, watch cartoons, store her things, and sleep. The hubby and I were still about to hang out in the living room after she went to bed.

– Plan only one big adventure a day.

Nothing makes a toddler act out like being tired and over exerted.

– Plan at least one to two activities during the trip that are geared toward the toddler.

Toddlers usually have opinions of things that are “fun” or “not fun,” and they usually don’t mind letting their opinions be known loudly. Stopping by the art museum and the old-time grist mill are great and educational, but throw some kiddo activities in there, too. Most vacation destinations have aquariums or petting zoos at reasonable prices, or simply plan an afternoon at the pool or outdoor play center that may be provided by the rental facility. Local parks are another free toddler activity.

– Attempt to keep the toddler’s normal schedule.

Toddlers have a love/hate relationship with sleeping and eating schedules, but we can all agree that the closer they stick to their schedule (even on vacation!), the happier they are.

– Travel to a destination during the off-season and in the beginning of the week, if possible.

This may not be ideal for all vacations. I know many of our local beach and mountain summer hot spots turn into something akin to tumbleweed ghost towns during the winter. However, the off-season means fewer crowds and lines to test a toddler’s patience. We all know how toddlers feel about “waiting their turn”. This same reasoning applies to traveling in the beginning of a week rather than a weekend.

– Let go of the “screen time” regret.

I’m hyper-sensitive about how much TV my toddler gets, but there’s nothing that will redeem a parent’s sanity on a long car ride like a DVD player and a Leapster.

In short, remember the best tip of all: Have fun! Family vacations are all about reconnecting with family and learning more about what your toddler enjoys. When we returned from our trip, my sister asked my daughter what she did on vacation. Her answer? We “saw a shark, fed a pony, and bought stickers at the store.” Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. Now, I’m off to plan our next family vacation …

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Toys to Keep Them Busy

Traveling Busy Board
Spinners for the Car or Airplane window
Drawing Tablet
Water Reveal Activity Pad