Those of you who follow along with me on Instagram may have noticed that we’ve been hanging out on the beach the last week. We decided to take our first vacation with our daughter and headed down to Galveston TX. It was an absolutely amazing week and I can’t wait to share more of it with you here on the blog soon. I’ll be posting a full travel guide within the next couple of weeks. So, stayed tuned for that.
In the meantime, I want to share with you my best tips for traveling with a toddler. This was our first trip as a family. So, I learned a lot. Traveling with children comes with a pretty steep learning curve. We made some mistakes, but we learned a lot of great lessons. Today I am going to share those lessons with you. I’m sharing all of my travel tips from packing the bags, to getting through the airport, to setting up your hotel. I hope that these tips will help make your next travel experience run smoother and be more enjoyable. Let’s get started!
Disclosure: All advice shared in this article is based off of my own experience. Every family, city, airport, and hotel are different. I am not an expert, but I am here to share with you my advice based off of our trip. For reference we flew with United Airlines and stayed in an Airbnb.
Packing For a Trip With Toddlers
One of the best things you can do to ensure a successful trip is taking the time to pack efficiently and properly. Learning to pack for a vacation with toddlers was where I struggled the most. I made a few mistakes during our first trip. So, I’ve got a lot of great tips and tricks to share with you today. I’ve even created a free packing list for you work from. Simply enter your information into the form below to have it sent straight to your inbox.
Packing the suitcases
When packing for a trip with toddlers it’s important to find the right balance between traveling light and still having everything you need. Here are a few tricks I found to help you reach that balance. First, you’ll want to save as much room as possible in your luggage. This helps reduce the amount of bags you’ll have to bring with you to the airport. I always roll outfits instead of folding them as this is a huge space saver. I also prefer to leave items like diapers, wipes, and formula at home and purchase them when we reach our destination instead. When packing up your items try to fit as much into your checked bag as possible. Navigating an airport with your toddler isn’t a simple task. So, you’ll really want to reduce the amount of luggage you have to carry along with you.
Packing the diaper bag
In my opinion, the most important item you pack for your trip will be the diaper bag. So, you’ll want to take the time to make sure it is nearly perfect. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of diapers to get you through your travels for the day. Here’s a rule of thumb I follow. Add up how many hours you will be traveling that day. Then, take how many diapers you would usually use during that time frame and multiply it by 2. That’s how many I would pack in the diaper bag. You’ll also want to include at least one extra outfit for you and for baby in the diaper bag in case there are any accidents on the flight. We had one on the way down and the way back, so don’t skip this step!
The diaper bag is also where you’ll pack all of your child’s activities for the flight. You’ll want to make sure you have a good variety to help keep them occupied. Our flight was pretty short (2 hours), so the amount of activities we brought will reflect that. If your flight is longer, then you will want to bring more. We brought sticker books, coloring books, board books, her favorite toy, the iPad, and my secret weapon a box of tissues. When handing them activities, I recommend starting with the least stimulating or interesting and working your way up. For example, I know my daughter’s favorite activity is pulling tissues out. So, I saved that for the end of the flight when she was getting pretty fussy and something like stickers wouldn’t have done the trick. I also brought her favorite comfort items (her lovey and her blanket) in hopes of getting a nap in.
Packing food and drink
The trickiest part of packing the diaper bag is getting snacks and drinks packed properly. I can’t speak to taking formula or breastmilk through because we didn’t bring any. So, I will just touch on what we did bring. This information was shared with me by a TSA agent and was based on my experience. You can bring food or drink through TSA as long as it is for your child. The best way to do so is in clear containers so that they can see what’s inside. I packed my daughter’s snacks in individual clear ziplock baggies. Each snack had it’s own baggie. Then, I took all of those baggies and put them into one large gallon ziplock bag. This made it easy for me to pull it out when we went through security.
When packing liquids for your child a TSA agent must be able to see what is inside the container. So, don’t bring something like a juice box through. We did that and had to throw ours away. They will not let you open it and pour it into a cup in front of them. Our agent said that in order to keep it we would have to exit the security completely, pour it into the cup, and then re-enter. The best way to bring liquids onto a flight is to purchase them after going through security. However, if you do want to bring them just have them in the cup before you enter. According to our TSA agent the clearer the cup the better the machine can detect whats in it. If for some reason the machine could not clear our liquids we would have to a) throw the cup away or b) exit security, pour the liquid out, and come back in. Reminder – this is not talking about formula or breastmilk. It’s liquids like juice or water.
Navigating the Airport With a Toddler
The biggest key to success when it comes to navigating an airport is to arrive early. This is especially true with toddlers. When traveling you can expect things to take twice as long when bringing children with you. For example, when going through security all bags pertaining to your child will have to be run through the scanner and then personally checked by a TSA agent. That’s not a quick task. Another situation to consider is that you’ll want to take your children for a last minute bathroom trip before the plane boards to do a quick diaper change or let potty trained toddlers use the bathroom. This will help you avoid having to use the restroom with them once the plane is in the air. You’ll want to take situations like these into consideration when choosing what time to arrive at the airport.
Once you arrive to the airport there are a few things you can do to make your time there go smoother. I recommend bringing a stroller or a baby carrier with you to carry your child in – depending on which one fits your lifestyle. If you do choose to bring a stroller, then it’s important to note that you will have to remove your child from it and fold it up to be scanned at your TSA checkpoint. After going through security you can use it up until you board the plane and then gate check your stroller for free. Speaking of checking items for free, did you know that you can check a carseat for free? I love that because it means I am able to use a carseat I am comfortable with and trust when I reach my destination. Of course, you are welcome to bring your carseat on the plane with you as long as you have purchased a seat for your toddler.
Here are a few last minute tips for you to consider before you board the plane. Once you arrive at your gate allow your child to get down and explore. They will love walking around to look at the little shops or to take a peak out the window. This is a great opportunity for them to run off all of their energy before having to sit still for a few hours. Hopefully, this will even help get you a nap on the plane. Once boarding begins be sure to take advantage of priority boarding. Our airline allowed it as long as you were traveling with a child under 4. Priority boarding allows you to get your child situated, find a place for your carry ons, and install your carseat (if you’re bringing it) without feeling rushed or crowded.
Making a Vacation With Toddlers a Success
A key part of having an enjoyable vacation experience is making your toddlers “home base” feel comfortable for them. It doesn’t matter if you are staying at a hotel, Airbnb, or with a friend. There are a few universal tips you can do to make that space work for your toddler.
The first thing you want to do is to set up a sleep space that is familiar to them. This includes steps like setting up a pack and play (if they use a crib at home), turning on their sound machine, making the room darker, handing them a comfort item like a stuffed animal, etc. The closer you can get to mimicking their room at home the more successful this step will be. Even though your day will be packed full of activities, try to allow them to take at least one nap in this sleep space. Remember, a well rested baby equals a happy baby.
Making their new “home” feel comfortable doesn’t just stop with a sleep space. I also like to add a few of their favorite snacks to the kitchen as well. The truth is, your child will probably be trying a lot of restaurants and foods that are unfamiliar to them. Exposure to that is an awesome thing! However, they may not take to it right away. Having foods that are familiar in the home ensures that they will eat something before going to bed.
The last piece of advice I will leave you with is probably the most important. The best thing you can do to have a successful vacation is to be patient with your toddler. Even the best children are bound to have at least a couple of melt downs during the trip. Remember, they are in a new environment that is completely unfamiliar to them. On top of that, their days are going to be filled with new and exciting activities. They will also be going off of their regular set schedule. It’s only natural for them to become overtired or overstimulated. It may be difficult at times, but try to remember that they aren’t giving you a hard time they are having a hard time. Be patient with them and give them the grace they will so desperately need. The tantrum will pass and you can all go back to enjoying your vacation. Have fun!