The Truth About Traveling With Toddlers
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.)Published June 24, 2015. Last updated July 16, 2017.