Traveling with toddlers is always an adventure, but with a little preparation and a lot of flexibility, it can also be fun. We recently returned from a week-long trip to Gulf Shores, Ala., and we couldn’t have had a better time. (For more about Gulf Shores, see my posts from last year’s vacation here, here and here.)
Based on my experiences, here are my favorite tips for surviving a vacation with a toddler.
Have a magical bag (or box)
What do Mary Poppins and the Cat in the Hat have in common? They both carry a big bag full of surprises to distract children from their boredom. Long car rides or airplane flights are trying even for us adults, so make sure you bring plenty of fun, age-appropriate distractions and switch them out often. In our fun box for the eight hour car ride, I packed:
- A variety of sturdy board books ‘Lil Buddy could look at himself or have read to him. I surprised him with a new Touch and Feel book, in addition to several of his old favorites.
- Two of his favorite toy cars
- A simple puzzle
- A stuffed animal to cuddle with at nap time
- Our Kindle Fire, loaded with several toddler-friendly apps
- Reading materials for myself
Your list may vary, but the important thing is choosing a variety of different items, including some new things as well as some old favorites.
Make healthy eating easy
It’s hard to keep everyone in the family eating healthy in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar food, but it’s a lot easier if you start off your trip with healthy snacks for the road. We packed a cooler with fresh, convenient snacks like blueberries, pre-sliced apples, cheese sticks and (for the grown-ups) baby carrots. Having healthy snacks on hand helped us avoid hunger-induced meltdowns on the road and helped everyone feel more at home.
Know (and respect) your child’s unique personality
Different children experience new sights, people and sensory stimuli in different ways. For instance, a very sensitive child may need your help to ease into unfamiliar surroundings slowly, an introverted child may need your help finding a quiet place to take breaks and recharge, or a very energetic child may need opportunities to burn off some of that physical energy during a long day of sitting or waiting around. No one knows your children better than you, so throughout your travel, look for ways to give them the support they need so they can get the most out of the experience.
Remember, vacation is not a competition
I tend to dive into vacation planning all Clark Griswold-style making detailed lists and schedules and always striving to travel as organized, quickly, efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, nothing with a toddler is organized, quick and efficient–least of all travel–so vacationing was a good reminder to relax and live in the moment. If you accept that packing takes longer with a little “helper,” driving goes more smoothly when everyone gets a break now and then, and a mid-day nap is a necessity, not a luxury, you’re sure to enjoy traveling with a toddler more than you ever realized you could.
If you’ve traveled with a toddler before, what did you learn? Please share your tips with us in the comments.
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