This is the first of a series of postings about traveling with toddlers (12-36 months). If you have a tip or advice to share on this topic, please feel free to leave it in the comments.
Preparing for Your Trip
Traveling during the toddler years might present the most challenging time for parents. Toddlers are notoriously squirmy little beings, don’t like being confined in small spaces for long periods, and are not yet able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. During this period, many parents opt to wait it out and stay home for a few months until they can figure out how to manage some of the behaviors, and allow the child to develop his or her own coping skills. We took a trip to Costa Rica when our son was 17 months that nearly made us give up air travel altogether, based on the crying and screaming that went on in the air (and that was mostly done by me). We perservered, and enjoyed the trip anyway.
If staying at home for a year or two is not an option for you, there are some things that you can do to make the trip more enjoyable for you, your child, and your fellow travelers.
When making airline reservations, think about the best time of day for your child, and try to schedule a flight that overlaps with naptime. Try to book a direct or non-stop flight if at all possible. If your child is a late morning napper, book an early morning flight so that your child is rested during the transition to and through the airport, but ready to sleep when the plane takes off. Also, when you make the reservation, ask if there are special meals available for children. Ask what it is, and if it is something your child will eat, order it. Airlines usually serve the special meals first, so you can feed your child and then have time to eat your own meal.
Although you are not required to purchase a seat for a child under two, you should try to do so if you can afford it. It is very difficult to hold an active toddler for long periods of time, and in the event of an emergency or heavy turbulence, your child can very easily slip out of your hands and be injured. The safest place for your child is in a carseat.
Probably the easiest vacations and trips are ones in which you are visiting other families with children. That way, you don’t have to carry everything—they will either have it or know where to get it. If this is not the situation, you can sometimes order gear to be delivered at your destination. Check out on-line rental services, such as Babys Away for information on strollers, car seats, high chairs, and other gear that you can rent in select locations.
What Carry On Board
- An extra set or two of clothes for your child, and an extra shirt or sweater for you and your partner. Even if your toddler is past the “spit-up” phase, the little one might get motion sickness and throw up all over you or your partner. Having a child who is prone to motion sickness, I know from experience.
- Diapers or Pull-ups, wipes, diaper rash ointment, disposable changing pads. Pack a few more diapers and wipes than you think you will need, and anticipate delays. (Potty trainees will be addressed in a future posting on Traveling with Preschoolers).
- Recycle your plastic grocery bags by bringing some along to dispose of messy diapers. Your fellow passengers will thank you.
- Favorite “loveys”: toys, blankets, teddy bear, or pacifier or other soothing tool.
- New toys, crayons, paper, and books to distract the child. We liked the Mini Etch-a-Sketch and Magna Doodle for long trips.
- Medications needed for you and/or your child.
- A small first aid kit with Bandaids, Children’s Tylenol, ibuprofen, Benadryl, decongestant, first aid cream, and anti-bacterial hand cleanser.
- Snacks: Be prepared that your special order meal might not happen or your child may not like it, so have food that you know your child will eat along with you. If you are traveling internationally, remember to eat any fresh fruit or veggies on the plane, since fruits and vegetables cannot be brought into other countries or back into the US from abroad. Use a plastic lunch container with different size compartments in it to fill with favorite toddler finger-foods. These pack up neatly in a carry-on bag and give the child a selection of snacks to choose from, but keep the snacks from getting crushed.
- Drinks: Purchase bottled water and boxed drinks (juice, milk, soy milk) at the airport. Also, some airlines do not carry much milk after breakfast, so purchase your own in a boxed milk pack at the airport, or bring along a thermos or a soft-sided cooler to keep it fresh throughout the flight.
- A small backpack that the child can carry with a few favorite toys, mini-sized books, a change of clothes and diapers. This will make her feel like a big kid (but be prepared to carry both the child and her bag at times, so the smaller the better).
For packing your checked luggage, the list is pretty much the same as for infants. I would also include a few extra toys and books to use when you arrive at your destination.
Photo: Alex in Yokohama, Japan at age 20 months, 2001 taken by me.