Tips for Summer Travel with Toddlers

Picture “summer.” What do you see?

Maybe you’re at an amusement park, a mouse ear-shaped pretzel in one fist, churro in the other.

Maybe you’re on a summer road trip, wind in your hair, mountains in the distance.

Maybe you’re on a beach, cold drink in your cup holder, bestseller on your lap.

That was vacation before kids. What does vacation look like now?

Traveling with toddlers can be an exciting adventure filled with new experiences, on your kiddo’s first plane ride – the key lies in preparation and keeping your little one entertained throughout the journey. This guide will equip you with tips and tricks to make traveling with your toddler fun and stress-free.

Pre-Trip Tips for Traveling With Toddlers

One of the best things about traveling is getting excited for it! By taking a few simple steps, you’ll help your child prepare for this new adventure and you’ll help yourself by making this part of the journey that much easier.

  • Talking About Your Trip: Start talking with your child about where you’re going. By making your vacation a topic of conversation, you’re building anticipation, bonding with your child, and prepping them for new (and potentially dysregulating) experiences. What will you do? Who will you see? How will you get there? What new things will they experience?
  • Adjusting Sleep Schedules: Time zone changes can wreak havoc on your toddler's sleep schedule (and yours, to be honest). Start adjusting their sleep routine a few weeks before your trip, gradually shifting bedtime and wake-up times closer to the destination's time zone. This will help them adapt more easily and ensure everyone gets a good (or at least better) night's sleep.
  • Packing for Your Little Traveler: Pack familiar toys and activities that your toddler enjoys playing with. This provides comfort and a sense of normalcy during the journey. Additionally, consider packing a few new and exciting toys to keep them engaged. Wrap them up and present them one at a time throughout the trip to maintain their interest and stave off boredom.
  • Don’t Forget Healthy Snacks: What’s a trip without snacks? Stash plenty of healthy snacks in an easily accessible spot to keep your toddler fueled throughout the journey. Opt for finger foods that don’t need much clean-up like berries, baby carrots, cubed cheese, or whole-grain crackers. Stick with healthy snacks to minimize the possibility of bellyaches, which will put a crimp in your travel plans.
  • Planning the Essential Extras: Pack comfortable clothes and enough diapers or changes of clothes for accidents or spills. Don't forget essentials like sunscreen, hats, and any medications your toddler might require. Pack a first-aid kit with basic supplies like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers for unexpected bumps and bruises.
  • Mapping Pit Stops for Road Trips: Break up long journeys by planning kid-friendly stops along the way. This could include parks, playgrounds, or even rest areas with open spaces for your little one to stretch their legs and burn off some energy. Research beforehand to identify these pit stops and factor them into your travel itinerary. 
  • Extra Considerations When Flying: Check in with your pediatrician about noise protection for little ears and flying if your child experiences frequent ear infection. If you’re breastfeeding, you may also want to plan to take off and landing to reduce your child’s ear pain.
  • Bring a Comfort Item: Pack a familiar blanket, stuffed animal, or favorite bedtime book. This provides a sense of security and comfort for your toddler, especially in unfamiliar environments or when their schedule is disrupted.
  • Portable Entertainment: Pack small, packable activities to keep your toddler occupied. Looking for ideas for age-appropriate and portable activities for your baby? Happy Little People Co. activity cards include straightforward activities for children birth to 5 years old that can be used on the go.

Engaging Your Toddler During Travel

Now that you’re all packed, it’s time to get going! Making use of these few tips will help your family have a good time from take off to landing!

  • Rotating Toys Throughout Your Trip: Don't overwhelm your toddler with all their toys at once. Pack a designated bag of toys and unveil new ones one at a time, keeping them surprised and interested throughout the journey to ward off boredom. Be aware that offering all the toys at once can lead to overstimulation, especially if your child is finding travel to be stressful at the outset.
  • Getting There is Part of the Experience: Turn the journey itself into an exciting experience. Play games like "I Spy" or "Spot the color red" to keep them engaged, or other easy travel activities for toddlers. Encourage them to point out interesting sights outside the window, like airplanes, different types of cars, signs, or landmarks. This interactive approach fosters curiosity and makes the journey feel more like an adventure. Take advantage of the fact that this experience of traveling is totally new for your child by making the journey itself an activity. 
  • Movement is Mandatory: Your toddler needs breaks from sitting in the car or being strapped into an airplane seat. During road trips, pull over at rest stops and let them run around, stretch their legs, and burn off energy. On airplanes, stand up and walk around the aisles when it’s safe to do so.
  • Be Flexible: Road closures, flight delays, extra long lines at airports… it’s enough to make an adult feel antsy. When something doesn’t go as planned, take a deep breath, explain it to your child, and pull out your Happy Little People deck to redirect their attention from the issue to the activity.

Traveling with your toddler doesn't have to be stressful. By planning ahead, packing essential items, and keeping them entertained throughout the journey, you can create lasting memories and embark on a successful and enjoyable adventure together. Now, grab your bags, buckle up, and get ready to conquer the world with your little explorer by your side!

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