Prev Next
The Truth About Traveling With Toddlers

The Truth About Traveling With Toddlers

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

Been reading your writing for a decade, and this is my first time writing to you. Bit of a Hail Mary since it’s time-sensitive but I’m desperate so I’ll take my chances.

I have a 25 month old who we’ve never travelled with. For good reason, namely that he is pretty intense, hates the car seat, and we are also first-time neurotic parents. We have a wedding on July 4th weekend that will coincide with a bit of a family reunion and we have been feeling really anxious about several things namely:

A) The plane rides, four total spanning half a day (two there, two back). Will he stay put in his seat? How do we keep him entertained? What were we thinking?

B) Adjusting to a new environment, namely sleeping. He is such a creature of habit and has had the same routine and crib for his entire life. My parents (where we are staying) don’t have black out windows or a rocking chair or all the ‘tools’ we’ve employed to secure healthy bedtime habits. Like all kids, sufficient sleep is critical to his moods (and tantrum outlook) so this has me especially nervous.

Lastly, is this going to be fun? We’re staying out-of-town for four nights/five days and haven’t even begun to orient him to what’s about to occur. I suppose you deal with neurosis and anxiety every day (not personally, with us writers I mean) so any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

Here’s the honest truth about traveling babies and toddlers: It’s a total, utter crapshoot.

I’m sure you’ve been frantically Googling any all travel tips for toddlers, and yes! There are some very good tips! Make sure he has something to drink or suck on when your plane ascends and descends! Pack plenty of snacks, cheap-o toys/activities from the dollar store that he’s never seen before! Or just admit defeat and bring an iPad like 99.99999% of the traveling-with-kids population does these days!

I’ve traveled with three different kids at all kinds of different ages, via planes, trains and automobiles. We’ve stayed in hotels and houses of all levels of child-friendly-ness. I still never know what’s going to happen. I never know who is going to sleep or behave or whine or freak out or suddenly run away from me at the airport into a TSA-restricted area oh my God I’m so sorry I’m so sorry. 

The most important thing about traveling with kids is that sometimes you just have to do it, so you do it. Que sera, sera.

From the sound of things, I think this trip is going to be a very, very good thing. For YOU. Reject that self-label of first-time neurotic parent. He’s absolutely old enough to travel, and to understand that things are different when he’s not at home, and that’s okay. You could all benefit from a little flexibility and go-with-the-flow-ness, I bet. Once you’re back at home you’ll be exhausted, glad it’s all over with…and likely, SUPER proud of yourself and him for doing it. And hopefully get to planning the next great adventure.

You won’t be able to GUARANTEE that he won’t fight staying in his car seat on the airplane. So maybe you’ll hold him in your lap for some of it, or let him walk the aisles when the seatbelt sign is turned off. Or if the flight is turbulent and he won’t stay still in your lap, you keep him in his seat despite his protests and do your best to keep him happy and entertained. (Seriously, just bring movies/TV shows and a crapload of Goldfish.) Maybe you’ll get dirty looks from other passengers when he cries, maybe you’ll get nothing but sympathetic glances  and people who are happy to play peek-a-boo with him. I highly doubt whatever worst-case scenario you’re picturing is going to happen, but even if it does…who cares? No flight lasts forever, and you’ll likely never have to see any of those people again.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine.

Same with all the worries you have about your parents’ house. Travel messes up kids’ routines. Accept that fact instead of fighting it with useless waves of anxiety, which will just beget more anxiety. People will understand if he’s cranky. People will understand that a 2 year old throws tantrums. Your parents might want to keep him up and mess up his routine simply out of excitement of seeing him and having them there — you’ll do your best to remind them that he needs to stick to SOMETHING resembling a food/sleep schedule but don’t freak out at grandparents just being typical grandparents.

This will be key to this trip being anything that resembles “fun.” Flexibility and non-control-freak-ness. And oh, do I speak from experience on this, since I also tend to stress out majorly while preparing for a trip — we must pack ALL THE THINGS! we must make all kinds of extra purchases because they will save us from…I DON’T EVEN KNOW!  And then I wind up tight like a coiled spring, ready to lose my mind at the first child who whines or asks for an inconvenient potty break. This is…not helpful. Traveling is much more pleasant when I take my own advice and just…roll with the crapshoot. Travel is essential. Travel is good! New places and people and a break from THE UNBREAKABLE ROUTINE! are good! Good for him, good for you as a family. You’ve been essentially grounded for 25 months. It’s time to get out and see the world. Or the inside of a wedding reception hall, just as a start.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine. (And even at its most not-fine moments, it won’t last forever and you’ll be back home before you know it.)

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Allison
Guest
Allison

How about a practice day trip before hand? Somewhere fun, at least an hour away, and new. Then he gets a little practice in the car seat, but you can use it as a remember when we did this? Wasn’t it fun? And use it to encourage him when he gets sick of the plane/traveling.

Cheryl S.
Guest
Cheryl S.

Amy is spot on. If at all possible, RELAX! I can actually feel your stress just reading that letter.  As I’m sure you know, your son will pick up on it too. Things will work out.  Try to make this a fun adventure for your family.  To your son:  Guess what? We’re going to the airport! We’re going to go on an airplane! Etc. Will his schedule get messed up? Most likely. Will he have a tantrum or two?  Most likely.  But, you have to focus on the positives.  he’ll see his grandparents/extended family. You get to go to a… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Also, black garbage bags taped to the windows make awesome makeshift blackout blinds!

Lydia
Guest
Lydia

Bring painters tape so you don’t take paint off the walls!  And yes, I garbage bag all the time.

Niki
Guest
Niki

Yup, yup, yup. This is an exercise in Zen parenting. What happens will happen, and you will deal, and then it will be over. It might be fun, it might not. You might have moments of light in the darkness, or you might discover that your kid loves traveling. There are a few things I would recommend for travel, if you can afford to stock up on stuff, and a few things to think about. Are you going to bring his car seat on the plane? If so, we had great success with a strap-on dolly-like thing (Go Go Baby,… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I’m a pilot’s wife and our 3 year old has probably been on 50 flights in his life already and countless road trips. My tips: 1. DO NOT STRESS. Stay calm, stay zen, do. not. stress. They can sense it and it makes the whole thing worse for everyone involved. 1a. Have a sense of humor, 2. Bring (fun) snacks. 3. Bring a small backpack full of activities. We like crayons and a smallpad of paper, hot wheels, ipad, books. 4. Embrace the lack of routine, it’s good for him. He can’t have the same routine for his whole life,… Read more »

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

I bet you’ll have a blast! I’ve flown/road tripped with my kids from their infancy on (far-flung family). Amy’s advice is spot-on, you’ll be happiest if you embrace the vacation mentality. Pick a few things that you’re not willing to compromise on, and let go a little on the rest. In my family, my kids aren’t allowed to play with our phones, but when we’re on the plane, they can have three hours of screen time (and I recommend buying toddler headphones that protect their ears from too-high volume…you can buy them at Target.). We’re normally pretty crunchy in terms… Read more »

Megan
Guest
Megan

My first big road trip with a kid was when my oldest daughter was 4 months old – 14 hours to Texas. My daughter was in the middle of the 4 month sleep regression and didn’t nap all week unless we were driving. But it was fine and we were glad we went and went again. Now we have a 3 year old and a 9 minto old and we’ve traveled many times on planes or by car. There are always stressful moments, but even when our car broke down or our rental got broken into or a baby didn’t… Read more »

Joanna
Guest
Joanna

Our 22 month old has been on several flights, most often a 1 hour flight to the grandparents but a couple of times the 6 hour trek across the country to extended family events (i.e. weddings.) Our experience has been that the actual travel part (flying, driving, shuttles, airports) sucks but the experience of the trip makes it well worth suffering through. My tot does pretty well on long plane trips, often taking at least a couple hour nap on my lap, but the time he is awake is just plain exhausting for me. When I fly I like to… Read more »

Leigh
Guest
Leigh

Two easy ones.

Car seats rear facing on the plane. Safer, but also they can only kick their own seats. Planes are white noise machines and grumpy kids don’t sound nearly as loud to everyone else as they do to you.
For black out shades temporarily, contact paper over the window pane. Families vary, but ours find it strangely fun to put kids to bed.

Amber_S
Guest
Amber_S

My daughter was 22 months the last time we flew with her. And I think it’s getting better.  She kind of understands. We can kind of talk to her. She thinks the plane is exciting and fun! We do a round trip flight every 2 months since she was 2 months old, so about 12 round trips.  Like everyone else said, try not to stress. Your son is 2, and he’s a legitimate human with honest experiences and emotions. If he irritates other people, who cares? Yes, we do as much as we can to keep them happy and content… Read more »

Tiffany
Guest

We’ve flown with my 21 month old several times. Here are my top tips: – We bought a Cosco Scenera carseat for travel- it weighs less than his usual one and is easier for lugging around the airport.  – Overpack the diaper bag. You could be late to the airport and not have time for lunch. Your flight could be delayed or have to circle for a while. He could get motion sick. You will never be sorry to have extra snacks, extra diapers, and a spare set of clothes. – I will break almost every parenting rule to keep him… Read more »

yasmara
Guest
yasmara

Order an Amazon box delivered to your parents’ house with diapers, wipes, toddler snacks, new board books, whatever else you might want/need…or mail yourself a box there this week…or if you have that kind of relationship, give your parents a shopping list so everything is there when you arrive!  Rent/borrow/steal a pack-n-play so you have a container to put him in for naps/bedtime. Alternatively, if he’s already out of the crib, we’ve had awesome luck with the Aerobed brand toddler blow-up air beds. We have taped tin foil to windows for a makeshift black-out solution. Bring your own monitor if… Read more »

Heather
Guest
Heather

I just wanted to add that when I recognized that my own son was behaving the way I WANTED to but don’t because I’m a grown up (rolling eyes and flopping out because COME ON PEOPLE IN FRONT OF MEEEEEEEEE) then instead of embarrassment you have the option of “I feel ‘ya dude but that isn’t how we are going to act, even if it is how we feel. It doesn’t make them move faster” At the airport last weekend when the luggage was taking for.ev.er. he started being cranky and I made the man next to me laugh when… Read more »

Cobwebs
Guest
Cobwebs

One tip for planes: If possible, request “bulkhead” seats. They’re the row directly behind the partition between first class and coach, and they have extra legroom. There’s usually enough room for a small child to sit on the floor and play, which helps keep them from getting too antsy in a seat for hours. (We took my son to England when he was 18 months old, and there were definitely a few occasions when I thought, “This sucks.” But, as Amy says, it doesn’t last forever. The suckage abates, and you move on. Just like life in general, come to… Read more »

Janna
Guest
Janna

My daughter is going to be 2 next week and she’s been on 10+ long car trips and 20+ flights. Kids can be incredibly resilient and flexible and usually she surprises everyone with what a good traveler she is. But of course the one time I flew with her alone she projectile vomited all over both of us twice and I was totally unprepared. She ended up running up and down the plane in a diaper and I had a huge, smelly puke stain down the front of me for ~ 6 hours. Make sure you bring extra clothes! It… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

We have a Cosco Scenera we use just for traveling because it’s so light weight, paired with the Traveling Toddler Carseat accessory (A strap to fasten the seat to a rolling suitcase, have also used the strap to turn the carseat into a makeshift high chair by strapping it to a standard hotel room chair)  We don’t put the kid in the seat while rolling it, we pile her stuff in it and have her walk with us holding her hand.  Or she “helps” us pull the suitcase if we have time with the connection.  If there are 2 of… Read more »

CeeBee
Guest
CeeBee

Biggest on airplane tip: if it’s open seating, DO NOT SIT BY OTHER CHILDREN. Oh man. If one set of kid(s) is cranky, it makes the other kids cranky. If one set of kids is loud and rambunctious, the other kids have a hard time getting to sleep. Also, benadryl. Judge me if you want but I’ve got two intense strong willed children who don’t like to miss a thing. Sometimes they can’t wind down (especially if you have a connecting flight), but half of a weight appropriate dose should help him nod off. Once at your sleeping quarters, lower… Read more »

June
Guest
June

We have had mixed luck with our kids. There were trips where our son slept and happily played very quietly and trips where he screamed bloody murder for hours. We’ve found that making sleep a priority worked best. Play, go crazy, eat gallons of ice cream during awake hours but naptime and bedtime are a must. Also: during the trip where our son screamed I finally turned to the older woman next to us to apologize for his shrieking and she said “honey, I raised twin boys. There is not a thing he could do that would bother me. Let… Read more »

Erica
Guest
Erica

I also am strict about sleep schedules, but was helped when the Baby Whisperer taught me that children with a strong sleep routine do well with occasional disruptions.  This is because their habits and attitudes have been developed in positive directions so they can bounce back well.  My oldest is now nine and I have found this to be true in all of their lives.  Take along the blankie or lovey or pillow or “bear and blanks and Alfred and Happy Baby ” my toddler currently sleeps with, go through your regular routine once you get there, and chances are… Read more »

Becky
Guest
Becky

Great advice here. One more thing to add (/reiterate I guess)….TRY TO SEE THE FUNNY SIDE (and if there isn’t one, find one). It will make it into a lovely adventure if you and your partner are giggling about it. Nothing nothing nothing will be solved by being pissy and stressy at each other…you’re a team! We flew major long haul with a baby with pre-measles (awful. It was awful) and molars coming through…she did not sleep for 25 hours!!!!! But it was a lovely bonding time with my husband and bub because of (mostly his, to be fair) a… Read more »

C
Guest
C

We have traveled a lot with our just-turned-three year-old daughter, and just got back last night from our most recent flight.  She gets car (and sometimes plane) sick, but once she turned two we got the green light to give her kids dramamine – and things are so much better.  It also sometimes knocks her out, which is also a plus, since she doesn’t usually sleep on planes any more.  At about age 2.5, we quit taking the car seat on the plane because she did better with room to move in the seat and will sleep (a little) more… Read more »

Kitty Kat
Guest
Kitty Kat

I was the letter writer up until 3 weeks ago. We have 2 boys, nearly 4YO and 18 months, and we are just back from our first family holiday involving flights (we flew to France from the UK). I’m not a great flyer anyway, so I was super anxious beforehand (what if youngest screamed through the entire flight? What if the eldest had a tantrum? What if we all get separated? What if, what if what if…). But you know what? It was fine. The flights were fine. Eldest was a horror unless he had possession of the iPad, and… Read more »

radiem
Guest
radiem

LOVE the black garbage bag, painter’s tape idea. Where were y’all last week when we were in the brightest room ever at the beach!? I agree with taking the carseat on the plane. It’s familiar and your child will already have the expectation that he needs to stay in his seat. This is much better than spending the entire flight convincing him to stay in his seat and aisle. We always sit in the very back of the plane, close to the bathrooms, noisier so I don’t care as much about the random cries/screams that are coming from my child.… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

Take a picture of your kid before you leave to somewhere crowded (airport, amusement park, etc).  Maybe one with you and them and a time stamp.  It’s one less worry – if your kid wanders off, you have a digital pic of them and what they are wearing for the day.  It helps reduce my fear of “what if my kid gets lost”.  Then, of course, try not to lose your kid.  I asked my brother (a cop) if this was paranoid.  He said it was hyper-vigilant.  Also, aluminum foil over the windows.  Often the spoon utensil drawer and tupperware… Read more »