Traveling far with our kiddo has been a long time in coming. Our first venture was our Mendocino Getaway at the end of last year. Recently, we took a week off to Portland. Amidst these two car trips, we’ve learned a few tips for traveling with a toddler!
While I took videos of our little guy on the trip, I seem to have barely taken any photos (except the one above and some family selfies), so amidst these toddler travel tips are delicious food photos!
5 Tips for Traveling with a Toddler
So the thing is…we have a toddler. Right now, our little guy is 2 years old (a few months shy of 3) and with little to no experience traveling because we’ve been living the ‘demic life!
I’ve been traveling internationally since I was six weeks old (we went to Canada back in the days before US citizens needed a passport to cross the border). I’ve always known that I wanted my child(ren) to grow up traveling as I feel it was such an integral part to making me the person I am today. And my husband totally agrees.
I also didn’t want to only travel to amusements parks or the like. I want to travel to all the places I used to – just with a kiddo along!
When C was a few weeks old, we got on our first plane ride, and about 6 months in, my mom started taking him and I on longer plane trips and times away to get used to traveling with a baby. We even did a weekend in Texas!
And then came the time to stay home. To stop traveling. And it’s been hard. While we’re still nervous taking our little guy on planes, we’re feeling good about road trips and being in other domestic cities.
Portland is just under 600 miles north of Sacramento, so we had a two day drive up and back – with lots of time in the car together. I will also note that my mom was on our trip with us, which really helped keep things calm and going smoothly.
Even still, the following tips made traveling with a toddler (and life in general) that much more enjoyable.
1. Maintain a Schedule
We are big schedule people at home, especially with C. When we’re away (for the day or the week), we work to maintain that schedule as much as possible without driving ourselves bonkers.
Wake up times naturally occur at the same time. Eating times are fairly maintained as is nap time (more below), snack, dinner, and bedtime! Read about hotels vs airbnbs here.
While we don’t (can’t really) follow the schedule quite as tightly as we do at home, we do keep it pretty steady. IT’S BETTER FOR EVERYONE. Little kids aren’t good at flipping their schedule upside down. They can’t mentally justify why something needs to change like adults (most adults anyway) can, so we keep things calm and happy.
And a note of eating times. At home, we usually have lunch at 12 and dinner at 6. After a few days of traveling, you realize that this translates best to 1130 and 530 reservation or arrival times since it takes time to order and have the food cooked.
And, of course, our tips for limiting food waste with our toddler at home sometimes didn’t happen on vacation, but we always keep it in mind!
2. Build in Nap/Rest time
So. About that schedule thing. I suggest building in nap time. Honestly, we do it for our kiddo, but we’ve found that we’re all happier with that afternoon siesta time. After, traveling with a toddler is extra work for everyone.
Whether naptime is going to happen in the hotel room, in a stroller, or in the car, just make sure you’ve got your kiddos to the right place for nap time at about the right time (and plan to park it until their normal nap time is over).
When we were traveling with C as a baby, I remember thinking that he ate and slept more than normal. It’s so easy to get caught up in your enjoyment or planning of travel, that you lose track of time with them.
They’re also doing A LOT OF NEW THINGS, including just experiencing new stuff. On this trip to Portland, C rode his first trains and got more experience than he’s ever had with escalators, elevators, and eating in public. It was also the first time we’ve been traveling since he’s been potty-trained without our kid potty nearby. So, yeah, even if we skip all the new things you’re doing, kids are doing a whole lot more new stuff.
So they’re going to be tired.
Even if your kiddo isn’t taking naps anymore, I think it’s important to have a rest time back at your hotel/home. Whether it’s quiet time for them or a play session with their favorite items – this will serve as a resetting time when they can do their normal rigamarole. I tell you it’s the little things that you never knew you’d appreciate before having kids!
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3. Bring The Entertainment for your Toddler
Speaking of their normal rigamarole. We take entertainment for C. This looks like two things.
The first is entertainment for the hotel room. Because we’ve been taking car trips, we have space to pack more. On our last trip, we brought our small bucket of DUPLO legos and about 10 books (which we mostly just read before bedtime – JUST LIKE NORMAL). Nothing major, but things are fun for him and can entertain him (and us) for an extended period of time.
Second, is bringing entertainment for when you’re out. Many restaurants offer crayons and paper for coloring. Some don’t. Sometimes kids don’t want to color. You know, Because!
Because of these unknown factors, we went into every restaurant with a coloring book, a pack of 4 crayons, and one toy (lately a plastic dinosaur). My mom purse was AMAZING for all of this.
There were some instances when he wanted nothing to do with what I brought and we all had to improvise (or take turns taking him outside to walk around), but for the most part, this worked well.
4. Plan for Everyone’s Enjoyment Each Day
So let’s talk entertainment. Toddlers have a hard time understanding why doing something boring for someone else’s entertainment is a good idea. While C is a decently patient 2 year old, he is also a very normal 2 year old, so his boredom reigns supreme at times.
When planning out your trip, it’s IMPERATIVE to include entertaining ideas for everyone (yes, you too, parents). Usually each day had a main activity and maybe 1 or 2 smaller things to do, including social engagement with friends or family in the area. And you can bet at least one of those was specifically for toddler entertainment.
That doesn’t mean we were at the park all day, every day. One day, we went to a science museum and hung out primarily in the toddler zone. Another day, we hit up Powell’s Books with the understanding that we’d trade off hanging out in the kids section with him while the others looked in their desired sections.
It’s also important to note that sometimes entertainment isn’t planned. I knew the trains and buses were going to be fun for C, but I never guessed how much he’d want to just stand and watch them all go by.
Also, in the Pendleton store, one of the people working there gave him a Hot Wheels truck, which he then proceeded to drive all over the store, having the time of his life.
The entertainment doesn’t have to be big, it just needs to be included.
Check out summer activity ideas to check out no matter your destination!
5. Let it Go!
While I can give you all the tips and you can follow them to a tee, traveling with a toddler isn’t going to be like it was without kids. It’s impossible.
Some things you’ll have to play by ear. There will likely be a lot of times where you and the other adults alternate kid duty and doing your own thing.
And sometimes you’re just gonna have to let it go. You want to take your shoes off at the dinner table? Ok. Let me just grab them and put them by my purse.
You don’t like the dinner we ordered for you? Ok! What do you want that they have on the menu (also – most restaurants are very understanding of the need for different food or early served meals for kids).
You can’t even while mom wants to look for clothes? Ok. Dad will take you up and down the escalators and then we’ll switch!
Or sometimes. You all might just go straight back to the hotel and do your own thing until you want to coexist in public again! Traveling with a toddler can be exhausting, so listen to yourself and enjoy the adventure!
Check out these easy sustainable travel tips – most of which are perfectly feasible with a toddler!