How To Travel With A Toddler…
(If you Must)
The internet is full of advice on how to travel with babies and toddlers. As an American married to a European and living in the UK, I am particularly familiar with blog posts about preventing jet lag in children, having done lots of frantic googling in preparation for the eight hour time change from England to California with an infant.
Posts about traveling with kids usually include lots of tips and tricks designed to help you manage every moment of your trip. While helpful in theory, these tips are mostly useless for me in practice. For example, the internet told me to alter bedtime by exactly 15 minutes every night for a few weeks before flying internationally at a time when my son was going to bed at 6pm one night and 9:30pm the next…
My 20-month-old just completed his twelfth plane ride, so at this point, I’m a seasoned veteran of schlepping a baby through airport security. Armed with all this experience, I feel a little more confident than I once did about traveling with a child. I am older, wiser, more wrinkled and tense, and I’d like to impart my hard-earned wisdom onto you.
So, here’s what you need to travel with a small child:
Being prepared with a variety of favorite snacks in large quantities means you can delight and surprise your child throughout your trip. Food will keep them busy, distracted, full, and happy. And, perhaps more practically, it’s a lot harder to send piercing screams down the aisle of an airplane when you have a mouth full of Goldfish.
Additionally, so much of life is about how you handle situations, and at no time is this more true than when you’re traveling with a toddler. Be patient with your little one. Traveling is hard for grown ups. It’s stressful and tiring and sweaty and sometimes people are speaking different languages and no one knows what’s going on. That is understandably much harder on kids. Letting go of expectations is key, because your toddler does not care about all the reading you did in preparation. Accepting that you have no control is actually quite freeing, especially when your child is having a 30-minute meltdown in a sweltering train car in a foreign country.
Because: toddlers will freak out. No matter what you do. And even when they’re not screaming their faces off, they will continue to be the chaos tornados they are at home as you drag them through airports and train stations, all while praying they’ll stop kicking the seat in front of them. Books will be ripped, crayons will be thrown, and you will, inevitably, be “that person” on an airplane, wrestling a shrieking child who is suddenly all limbs while the other passengers either turn up the volume on their earphones to no avail or tsk tsk to themselves about your horrible parenting. (Many parents traveling with young children worry about what other people will think about them, as if it’s a mark against your character that your overwhelmed, exhausted baby is crying. In actuality, your toddler’s epic tantrum at cruising altitude is proof you’re raising a human child with feelings. Congratulations!)
On our most recent trip, we took two flights (total flight time: 4 hours), three trains (total ride time: 7 seven hours), two car rides (total ride time: 5 hours), and countless taxis, and the only things that made survival possible were: my ability to provide endless carbohydrates to my child and my steely nerves. I could tell you that you should only book red eye flights or travel during nap times, or that you need to book a seat for your under-2 for extra room, or that you should load a bunch of videos onto an iPad, but honestly, in my experience, none of that matters. Your toddler will be so jazzed about the massive, filthy, humming jungle gym that is an airplane that he will not sleep, even if it’s nap time. He will not sit quietly and watch episodes of Mickey Mouse Club House in that extra seat for an entire flight. He will, invariably, touch everything and eat Cheerios off the floor and insist on walking the aisles for hours while poking every single elbow in an aisle seat.
If you prepare yourself for a different kind of travel experience, one that requires juggling diaper bags, carry ons, and car seats, as well as constantly monitoring a tiny person bent on total destruction, you will be fine. A meditative zen state and a bag full of treats is all you need. And if all else fails, even the cheapest airlines have mini bars in the rolling carts.
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