Traveling with Toddlers
Challenges, opportunities await energetic youngsters on holiday
The toddler years bring an explosion of social, intellectual and emotional development to your child. Milestones include learning to walk, starting to talk, cutting more teeth and potty training not to mention an increasing independent streak and more-than-occasional defiant will. Navigating these changes and challenges while traveling can be a trip itself.
On the surface, travel and toddlers seem to be an incompatible mix. An excursion away from home usually entails confinement as you get from point A to B; subjecting junior to line-ups, restaurants and public places that demand good behavior; sleeping in strange beds, eating strange food and meeting strange people. Not exactly toddler strong suits.
On the flip side, the rewards of watching your child’s reactions to new sights, tastes and sounds is immeasurable. Hearing a new talker express their wonder of the world in words is magic. Exposing your little one to foreign languages, scenic vistas or distant relatives is significant. Having the opportunity to slow down and focus on quality time with your child is essential. Plus, grown-ups need to get away once and a while, and you shouldn’t let the fact that you have an active toddler deter you from going.
Here are some strategies and pointers to help you all survive and even enjoy the journey.
Prepare your toddler
With an increasing vocabulary and understanding of life, it’s worth explaining your upcoming trip to your toddler – in toddler terms, of course. Your tyke may not totally grasp all that will be happening, but an overview of what is to be experienced can help build excitement and stave off fear and confusion when embarking on a new travel adventure. Take a toy car, train or plane and zoom it across a map to show where you’re going. Talk about where you will sleep and eat. Read stories or flip through picture books of places you’ll be going to. Look through photo albums of people you’ll be visiting. Count sleeps to build anticipation. Bring your child into the discussion and make him or her a part of the process.
Vent the energy
Perhaps the most notable (and enviable) characteristic of toddlers is their unbridled energy. It can be exhausting keeping up with a tyke. From the moment they wake, it’s go, go, go – running, jumping and climbing every chance they get. This is in direct conflict with the fact that travel often entails hours strapped in a car seat, cooped up in a plane or trapped on a train. Trust me, junior won’t be shy about expressing displeasure with this arrangement. Take a deep breath and brace yourself for some restraint resistance.
- Ideally, try to schedule the bulk of the journey for a time when your tyke is prone to sleep.
- Have a bag of tricks prepared – small books, toys and treats that you can bring out when attention spans wane. You can even wrap these in foil or paper to buy an extra minute of anticipation and manual occupation for your child.
- If possible, plan plenty of breaks and play stops along the way to let your child vent the energy. Pull the car over every hour or two if you see a park or playground. Let your toddler run around the airport gate rather than pre-board the plane. Stroll the cabin aisles or walk the length of train cars if it’s safe to do so.
- Arrange plenty of opportunities for active play at your destination – run around a beach, explore a theme park, splash in a pool, build a snowman. Cater to your child’s needs on this front and it’ll make for a more pleasant trip for everyone.
- Balance energetic activities with mellow moments such as reading a book or doing an art project together. Toddlers need to recharge their batteries so they can get up and go again!
If there’s one thing you can count on in parenthood it’s you can never count on a child to sleep when you want. Any change in routine can disrupt sleep patterns, and travel certainly qualifies as a big adjustment in a little tyke’s rhythms. The fatigue of the journey and the excitement of the day’s activities can make your toddler wired or overtired, which can lead to sleep resistance.
Take some time getting your child familiar and comfortable with the new room and bed as you settle in. Everything from new smells, different light patterns on the wall, itchy blankets and hard pillows can throw your child for a loop. Bring a special blankie, pillow or stuffed animal friend from home, if you think it’ll make the transition to a new environment go smoother.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination and have gotten over any jet lag, time zone change or exhaustion from getting there, try to re-establish a semblance of your bedtime ritual from home – for example, bath, book, lullaby, lights out. This will be a comforting, relaxing trigger for your child, and this sense of security should help lead to slumber. Don’t be a slave to the clock or your schedule, though – you can get back on track when you return home.
Try not to pack in too much stimulation or socialization especially towards the day’s end, as this can make it difficult for your toddler to unwind. Similarly, you don’t want to burn the candle at both ends yourself, as a tired, short-tempered parent does not make the ideal travel companion.
Just like at home, brace yourself for the possibility of a restless night and hope for the best.
Stranger anxiety can persist throughout the toddler years and can make for some awkward moments if visiting people on your travels. Be sensitive to your child’s shyness, clinginess and discomfort, and don’t try to force him or her to be more sociable than their instinctive comfort level dictates. Try not to be upset if junior doesn’t instantly take a shine to grandparents, friends and relatives they don’t see often. It’s nothing personal, just a passing stage.