Tips for traveling with a toddler
Traveling is amazing, but it can also be stressful. If you are traveling with kids, that stress can get too much to handle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, traveling provides kids with so many learning opportunities, and it gives the family time to bond in a meaningful and unique way. But it does mean that you need a little bit more planning and adjusting the way you travel and your expectations.
These are some of the things that have worked for us, and I hope they help you and your little world explorers.
1. Relax. The first thing I would tell you is that kids feel and absorb everything we are feeling and if we are stressed, they will react to that. I know that everything from packing to tantrums on the plane can make us as parents very anxious, but you need to let go. Prepare for the things you can control and let go of the things you can't. I used to be terrified of our baby screaming or disturbing in any way the people around us especially during a long flight, but I realized that I don't help anyone by getting stressed. Most people, if they see parents being attentive to their kids or having a hard time, will be very understanding, and we have even found a lot of helping hands. I am not telling you not to care, I am telling you, care and try to stop the screaming, but don't get overwhelmed. It's easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.
2. Plan ahead. Gone are the times when you could book a flight from one day to the next, and when the cheapest arrangements were best. Plan a trip to which your baby’s routine won’t be so disturbed. This depends on each family, but if you have a choice, maybe waking your baby up in the middle of the night to take a 5 am flight is not the best way to start your travels. Also, do some research in advance and be on the lookout for family options. For instance, Lufthansa has a special family check-in counter in Frankfurt Airport and there is a special security lane for families. Also, don't be afraid to ask for any concessions, for instance ask security to do a manual inspection of your stroller, so you don't have to fold it; They might refuse, but you already have the no.
3. Airbnb. I have never been a fan, a hotel is usually easier, no worries about cooking, cleaning, and no surprises in general. But lately, between Covid-19 and Max, it has worked great. We look for places with cots, so we don’t have to bring ours and a highchair. It is also great to have a kitchen which makes it easier to make sure that Max keeps having his normal diet and that way we don't worry when we go to a restaurant and all he wants to eat is bread. It also means that after putting him down for the night at 8 pm, we have another room to unwind and enjoy the evening playing cards and drinking wine.
4. Packing. Packing smart will make your life a lot easier, so make a list ahead of time and add everything that comes to mind in the days before. Trust me, you do want to write everything down because, of course, mommy brain.
Don't bring too many toys: as parents, we want to ensure we have enough to keep them entertained and happy, but travel is an opportunity for them to explore and they will find everything else a lot more exciting, so they won't want or need them. Bring a couple of his favorite and that's it. We love plastic books because they are lightweight, they aren't noisy (great for public spaces) and you can also use them for bath and they are soft so there are no dangers of using them in the car.
Speaking of cars. Always bring your own car seat. Car rental companies and some taxi companies have car seats available, but you have no way of ensuring the quality of the seat. Car seats have expiration dates and if they were in a crash they shouldn't be used anymore, and I can assure you no rental company is aware or cares. Be aware that it is recommended to check in your car seat at the gate because that way you avoid a lot of mishandling and possible damage. You basically have 3 options: First, if your car seat attaches to your stroller attach it and let them know at the counter, they will put a tag on it so that you can check it in at the gate and it will be waiting for you when you get out of the plane. Second, If you bought a ticket for your baby (which is the safest thing to do but honestly until he must, we won't) you can attach the car seat to the plane seat, just make sure its airplane approved. We always bring our car seat to the gate and ask if there is a free seat, usually, airline staff is very accommodating with parents and if there is a free spot, they will arrange for you to have it. If not, then you can check it in. Third bring it to the plane as a carry-on, This depends on the chair and the plane because they don´t always fit, for instance, our Nuna Icon seat did fit in the overhead compartment of the 747, but it didn't in the A320.
If baby is crawling or walking already, bring socket protectors. They don't take a lot of room and will allow baby some freedom, and you at least eliminate one potential death trap.
Emergencies. Wherever you are going, make sure you have the emergency numbers. Of course, we all wish we never have to use them, but if you ever need to, not having to Google it at the moment could save you precious time. This is something we should probably always do regardless of if we are traveling with a baby or not, but somehow, I never thought about it until I had Maximilian. You can find of emergency numbers around the world here. Before I go on my trip, I save the number to my phone and add it as a favorite, and then I can forget about it. In addition, bring a first aid kit, talk to your pediatrician about what they recommend to travel with. If you would like to know what is in mine, leave me a comment below.
Pack in travel bags. I hate doing this for myself, it doesn't work for me, but I found that for baby's stuff it's great. There is so much of their stuff and everything is so small that packing in bags will help keep everything organized, it will help unpack at your destination, then repack at the end of the trip. Keeping everything organized while you are packing will also give you visibility of what is missing.
Bring snacks. In my experience, snacks are the best distraction. They will put an end to a crisis and keep him entertained. Solid Starts (if you don't know about solid starts get to know them, they are the best resource when it comes to food) has an amazing snack guide with things that are great on the go, easy to make ahead, store, and not so messy. One of the options their founder has shared is pancakes, and they are a great idea. We also love cheese, celery, and edamame.
Diapers and wipes. Pack diapers, a lot of diapers, both for the way and for once you get there. I know this might seem like something obvious but when you must pack 10 thousand things you might start thinking that you only need some diapers for the way and in case of emergency. In the end, baby just uses "x" amount a day, and you find diapers in any corner of the world, so you will buy them when you get there. Well, think again.
When I was 3 months old my mom took me to Mexico so everyone could meet me, the flight from San Francisco to Mexico City is about 4 hours and apparently, I was a baby with the most regular bathroom schedule. One day yes, one day no. Well, the day of the flight was a no day and so my mom thought she would only bring a couple of diapers, she knew how many I used on a regular basis and packed maybe an extra one. Well, I will save you the details of a very uncomfortable flight for my mom and her seat neighbors, but in short, the first time I came to my mother country I was commando and wrapped in an airplane blanket. I guess this often happened because nowadays, most airlines have diapers for emergencies, but you never know. Also, an extra change of clothes for the baby and yourself should always be in your diaper bag.
We learned from that story, and I travel with enough diapers, my problem is always when I get to the destination. Once I run out of my travel diapers, it's always a problem. Once it was a public holiday at our destination, and we had to go to the end of the world to buy diapers; another time there was just one store, and they had run out of the size we needed, so he had to wear two sizes too big; recently I needed diapers in Italy, and it was siesta time, so we had to wait 2 and a half hours for the store to open.
Anyway, all I want to tell you is if you can bring your diapers with you and on the way back you will have extra space for the shopping you did.
Finally, and most importantly, be flexible and enjoy your trip because memories while traveling are the best.
If you have any other tips, make sure to leave a comment, I would love to know what works for your family.