My Hard-Learned Lessons From Traveling With My Baby and Toddler
For parents of young ones, long gone are the days of casual travel. Going to the grocery store with two kids is a mission—getting on a plane is like going into battle. As a mom, I tried to steer clear of traveling with my daughter as much as possible for her first few years of life. Traveling with kids—especially small ones—can feel pretty daunting. But after a year of restricted travel (due to a high risk pregnancy), I’ve been on a traveling bender with my little people.
With that in mind, I put together my favorite tips and tricks for any parents looking to navigate this adventure with a little peace of mind.
Whether you’re traveling by air, sea, train or car, the most important thing is to avoid being in a rush at all costs—because something will inevitably go wrong. There will be a diaper explosion, your toddler will have to pee 100 times and you’ll undoubtedly forget something back at the house. The key is to give yourself an ample buffer. Killing time at the airport is never much fun, but missing your flight sucks more.
Have you ever seen someone trying to break down a stroller and stuff it into the travel case in front of the boarding gate? He or she is probably sweating, frustrated and spitting profanities (or maybe that’s just my husband). My advice is to make sure you know how all your gear operates. If you’ve invested in travel car seats, strollers, electronics, etc., set aside time to figure out how they work (and that they’re fully charged). There is literally nothing worse than getting on a six-hour flight and realizing the LeapFrog LeapPad isn’t charged.
When we traveled with our 12-week-old to Lake Tahoe for Labor Day, I used Amazon Prime like it was my job. Whether you’re staying at a family home, hotel or rental house, you can absolutely schedule a delivery for the day you arrive. I asked the property office for the address, and had diapers, wipes, a bath sling and even cheap toddler bed rails delivered to the house. What I didn’t end up using afterwards, I donated to the local church. It ended up being way more cost-effective than checking another bag.
My best friend lives in London with her two children and travels often around Europe, as well as back and forth to California to visit family and friends. Her golden rule when traveling with kids is: the answer is yes. “Mommy, can I have another snack?” Yes. “I want to watch Frozen again.” Yes. “Can I put tape all over the folding tray?” Yes. There are times to set rules and be firm, but mid-trip is not one of them. There will be plenty of teaching moments later; save yourself the headache now.
This one might feel out of place, but it’s usually one of the first ones I give—especially to new moms. Even if it’s 10 degrees outside, you will SWEAT. Between the hormones and the stress, you will get totally flustered—so my advice is to wear a tank top, because anything could send a new mom into a spiral, including sweat stains.
A lot of websites will suggest not to over-pack, but I call BS on that. While I’m a firm believer in not taking what you don’t need (and sending as much ahead as possible), I also believe you need to plan for any situation while traveling—especially if you’re locked in a plane. Bring spill-proof water bottles (even for older kids), because they will 100 percent knock over the cup on the tray. Motion sickness happens, so bring a change of clothes for everyone traveling. Make sure you have whatever medicine you might need handy. Extra snacks are essential (because that’s the best way to keep the kids quiet).
Have a new backpack filled with brand new coloring pads, books, games, etc. The golden rule is one new item for every hour of travel. It can feel excessive, but you’ll be thanking high heaven when you’ve been in the car for eight hours and you’re certain your head might pop off if you hear “are we there yet?” just one more time.
If you’re traveling to a different time zone, don’t stress about getting your kids “on schedule” until you’re there. Consider it a free for all until you get to your final destination. And, if at all possible, the earlier you can leave, the better. Kids are usually in much better moods in the beginning of the day, so even though red-eye flights hold the hope your child might sleep, it may not be worth counting on.
Kids like to wander off—especially in new, exciting places. It’s inevitable, and unless you’re fulling leaning into that “toddler on a leash” trend, you’ll probably have them slip from your view once or twice during your trip. Some parents subscribe to child-locating devices (like alert bracelets) to make sure you can always find them. I’ve seen temporary tattoos with emergency information. My daughter has a bead bracelet with her name and my phone number on it. Whatever you choose, it’s just really nice peace of mind to have.
I didn’t realize this when my daughter was small, but I’ve recently discovered that most hotels and home rental companies offer services to help ease your load when traveling with kids. Many hotels have cribs, high chairs and car seats available for your use while on property; if not, there are lots of companies that will ship rental baby gear to your location!
The bottom line is this: Don’t avoid traveling with your kids until they’re teenagers. Not only is the experience a wonderful thing for all people—big and small—it’s also an amazing opportunity for quality family time. But seriously though, wear a tank top.
Leslie Bruce is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning entertainment journalist. She launched her parenting platform Unpacified as a place for like-minded women to come together on relatable ground, no matter how shaky, to discuss motherhood through an unfiltered, judgment-free lens of honesty and humor. Her motto is: ‘Being a mom is everything, but it’s not all there is.’ Leslie lives in Laguna Beach, California with her husband, Yashaar, their 3-year-old daughter, Tallulah, and newborn son Roman.
Published October 2018