We’ve been traveling with my son since he was seven months old. Our first trip was to Hawaii and it was a pretty rough experience. There was a lot of crying for everyone involved. After he turned a year old it started getting better, and now at three he’s an expert world traveler. We just returned from a trip to Ireland and by now I think I’ve learned enough to share my favorite tips for traveling with a toddler, for both international and domestic travel.
Traveling with Toddler Tips:
Don’t fill up valuable suitcase space with diapers
If you are still in the potty-training phase, and traveling to a place with grocery stores, just get diapers there. Bring only what you need for the trip there and a couple days. Otherwise you end up with half a suitcase of diapers for a two week trip.
Should you bring a stroller?
The answer with babies is an obvious yes, but what if they’ve pretty much grown out of it? We lugged a B.O.B. stroller all the way to Ireland and didn’t use it once! We should have brought the hiking backpack carrier. The only benefit was that is worked great as a luggage cart and we were put through the security line faster on the way back from Ireland. If you do bring a stroller, it’s very easy to just check them at the gate and pick up when you deplane. Unless somebody on the plane gets arrested. Then you don’t get your stroller. Because that totally happened to us and now there’s a very nice B.O.B. that we can’t locate. (I’m looking at you, Aer Lingus) *Click here if you want to read about that debacle
Stock up on toys, but leave the Play-Doh at home!
While going through security, I was pulled aside, searched and had my Play-Doh confiscated! Apparently it looks like C4 explosives. 🙄 Oddly enough, this was not covered on the many “What Not to Pack” articles I reviewed before packing. I highly recommend going to a dollar store and stocking up on cheap toy surprises. They make break and fall apart, but they will provide some entertainment and you don’t have to worry about losing them.
Give them their own suitcase or bag
I kept seeing people mention the Trunki which is a suitcase for kids. It’s a little hard to open and falls over if you turn too fast, so it needs some improvement, but my son did enjoy running around and pulling it at least. We only used it once when he was about two. By three and four, he started carrying his own backpack which worked out much better. He was able to open it easily and get toys out when he wanted, and carry some of his own snacks.
Have a sippy cup ready for take off and landing
The sippy cup (or bottle) will help with the ear pressure, which can hurt sensitive ears. Swallowing helps their ears pop. But also be ready for the cup to explode when you flip it open! I know this happens and I still do it. It will come shooting out like a fountain if you open it after take off. The way around it is to unscrew the lid, release the pressure and then pop the top open.
The Benadryl question.
One of the first things people usually tell you when asking for flying advice is to give the kids Benadryl to make them sleep through the flight. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t always work and can backfire. Yes, I’m guilty of trying it. It made my son grumpy as hell and he slept for maybe an hour and then woke up even grumpier. My personal favorite sleep encouraging supplement is melatonin. My son loves the gummy versions and he goes to sleep usually within 30 min. The trick is to give it to them near nap or bedtime though. It’s a natural sleep aid, not a drug to knock your kid out. Plan accordingly. If it’s a daytime flight and they are bouncing off the walls, you just better have that bag full of toys ready.
Should you get them their own seat?
We’ve always gotten our son his own seat when flying so I haven’t tried the “baby in lap” approach. I cannot imagine trying to keep him on my lap for six hours. If you have one of those sweet babies that just snuggles and coos then by all means, save some money and have them ride in your lap. My child is more of the “get up and run the aisles” variety. Some airlines offer a lower fare for children. It’s usually not that much lower, but worth checking out.
What about a car seat?
We used a car seat on airplanes until he was two, and then it was more of a hassle to lug it around. It also made it way easier for him to kick the seat in front of him, unless he was turned backwards. We spent one flight taking turns holding his feet down and apologizing to the person in front. It’s easier to skip it and just add it to the rental car. It’s usually only about $40 for the entire rental time. Our last trip was his first without the seat, and we just buckled him in and during any bumpy parts I employed the age-old “mom seat belt” method of holding my arm across him. I know there’s a lot of articles insisting they need a car seat, but after two it just gets in the way.
Plan your sleeping arrangements before you go
Hotels and a lot of Bed and Breakfast places will usually have a crib you can use, but you need to reserve it ahead of time. If you are past the crib stage, the safest option is a blow-up bed. I love this one I got on Amazon – the Intex Kids Travel Bed Set. It rolls up pretty small, doesn’t weigh that much and we easily packed it in our suitcase. It comes with a pump to help blow it up too. My son totally loves his travel bed!
Bring all the snacks!
Pack tons of snacks in plastic baggies so you can pull out small servings at a time. It’s better to have extra food than a hungry kid. Or a hungry mom for that matter! Just think easy and not messy. Things get messy fast in confined spaces.
* Bring your own kid-friendly headphones and a laptop or DVD player to use with them. (This goes for domestic travel too) The ones on international airlines have two plugs, so you’ll need an adapter, or have to use their’s and the ear buds don’t fit in little ears. Most airlines have little screens now, but it’s always good to have back-up incase they can’t reach it, figure out how to make it work, or just really need to see their favorite PAW Patrol episode before they freak out. My son refuses to wear anything over his ears- not the cool Captain America headphones I got him, and not even the soft and lightweight CozyPhones that I thought were definitely going to be a hit. So he ended up just holding the earbuds up next to his ears. Whatever you go with, don’t be that parent that lets their kid blare their movie or game with no headphones and disturb everyone around you. Yes, I will totally give you the stink eye for that.
* Be careful with the milk. On this last trip, after getting to Ireland and giving my son the full fat local milk, he got sick. He proceeded to get sick every time he drank it. My mother-in-law said she remembered that happening to my husband when he was little. She said just switch to low fat milk and he’d be fine, so we did and he was. Other people were drinking the milk, so it wasn’t bad. It could just be a coincidence that switching to low fat worked, but just keep that in mind if it happens to your child.
* Yes, you will need an adapter plug! If you are staying at a major hotel chain, most will have a USB for charging but everything else needs an adapter. The best thing is to get an adapter and then an extension with extra plugs so you can charge more than one thing at once. And if you buy a set and are not sure which one to bring, just research it first. Do not leave the biggest weirdest one at home because you are SURE you won’t need that one, because then you’ll get to Ireland and have every plug but the one you need. Yes, I did that.
* Make life easier, use your phone. Just call your carrier and see what options they have for international travel. We have AT&T and they have a cool day rate of $10 for 24 hours and you are just using your regular data and messaging plan. No extra charges besides the $10.
* Check with your credit card and make sure you are using one with without foreign transaction fees. And while you’re at it, make sure they know you are traveling. This is good for both domestic and international travel. You don’t want your card frozen due to what might look like suspicious charges.
* Get the bigger car. Even if you have just one kid, you are going to need the larger car size. Compact in the US and compact abroad are different! We had to upgrade after arriving because we couldn’t fit us plus the luggage in the vehicle.
General Traveling Tips
* Check your shoes. Especially if you are going to be hiking cliffs in Ireland and decide to pack the hiking boots you last wore two years ago. Shoes don’t always hold up, as I found out first hand on Day 1 of our Ireland adventure, when suddenly the sole of my shoe just crumbled away.
* Instead of packing full size toiletries, bring all your samples! I love experimenting on vacation and save up all my little sample sizes for trips. That way if you leave it, lose it, or if it explodes as soon as you take it out of your luggage, it’s not a big deal.
I think that covers it for my favorite traveling tips! I hope I answered some questions you might have had, and some you may not even have thought to ask. If there is something I didn’t cover, please post in the comments. I’m happy to answer questions!