Let me be honest, I don’t look like one of those moms who has her act together at the airport. You know who I mean: That woman strutting through B terminal with a fresh blow-out, pulling a roller suitcase that works, while two well-behaved children walk swiftly behind her, each carrying his or her own Trunki without complaint. Yeah, I’m the frizzy-haired one in sneakers, yelling at my kids to hustle, like a farmer might herd cattle.
Here’s the thing, though. I may look like a train wreck, but I really do know my sh*t. Since having kids, we’ve traveled everywhere from Barbados to Great Britain, South Africa to Albuquerque. We’ve been on planes, ferries, cars, busses. That’s why I have a pretty good handle on how to travel with toddlers—without losing my mind. Have a look at some of these tried-and-tested tips, and see what’s worth incorporating into your next adventure.
- Travel early, and remember the sleep schedule. You have probably experienced “the witching hour” with your toddler (if you haven’t, I’m jealous!). There are certain times of day when our kids turn into absolute nightmares—usually when they’re ready for a nap or bedtime. If you’re flying, get an early flight, and leave plenty of time to get to the airport. You’ll experience less traffic, fewer lines, and your kids will be “fresher” and hopefully won’t have any over-tired Exorcist-level meltdowns. Alternately, start your road trip when the kids are halfway to dreamland and let them sleep in the car.
- Prepare for motion sickness. Whether or not your kids get carsick regularly, it’s best to be prepared for the possibility. Maybe you’ll be taking a few windy roads to get to your destination, or a choppy boat ride on the beach. My kids puke at the drop of a hat, so I always carry OTC motion sickness meds, no matter what.
- Wrap new toys. I’m a big believer in wowing my kids with something new and shiny. Not only do they love the opportunity to unwrap a present, but then they’ve got something they’ve never seen before, which makes it all the more fun to play with. Doesn’t have to be anything crazy, simple stickers or a new book can be wrapped and are a great way to pass the time.
- Pack snacks. Hi, have you met your kids? They like to eat. As a mom, I have learned to travel with a wide variety of snacks, in various compartments of the bag. Some healthy (for earlier in the trip) and a few junkier treats (for when you’re struggling through hour 11 of a 15-hour flight, and your kids are starting to become psychotic). Decant boxed snacks into plastic baggies, or get a large pill container to create a variety of portioned snacks—I like to think of this one as the Advent calendar snacking method.
- Bring extra clothes. If it’s an overnight flight, car ride, or boat trip, pack a pair of PJs in your carry-on. Always bring extra undies (or pull-ups) for the recently potty-trained crowd. And, I hate to say it, but be prepared for the upchuck factor. If someone voms—on themselves, or most likely on you—you’ll want to avoid smelling like pizza puke for a seven-hour flight (#beenthere).
- Load up on plastic bags. We’ve all got plastic grocery bags around the house, right? Use them to organize clothes in your suitcase, and then they can double as trash bags, diaper bags, or somewhere to stash wet bathing suits.
- Skip the hotel and rent an apartment. Unless you’re planning on staying at an all-inclusive resort with all the bells and whistles, renting a house will save you money while also providing a more relaxed space, and allowing you to prepare food for your picky eater rather than suffering through fancy restaurant meals they won’t eat.
- Don’t forget the apps. Whether you’re on a plane, at the beach, or visiting a museum in Rome, you’ll be glad you have an arsenal of trusty apps and games to keep your kids entertained. Apps can fend off meltdowns and keep the kids entertained while the grownups attempt to soak up a bit of the local culture.
- Pack a first aid kit. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing your little one has a fever. Always pack a thermometer and children’s pain relievers, as well as the rest of the first aid staples in case of cuts and scrapes.
- Don’t over-gear. If you’ve got all the baby gear, from carriers to strollers and travel cots, think about your destination before lugging it all to the airport. Going to the beach? A stroller might be too cumbersome for the sand. Planning on bringing a travel cot? Double check with your hotel or rental to see if they might be able to provide one. Believe me, you won’t be lacking for things to lug through the airport.
- Prep for a good night’s sleep. Consider bringing blackout shades if it will be light at bedtime where you’re going. Also, you might try getting your toddler on a new sleep routine a few days before you head to a different time zone. That way, you’ll get more out of your vacation time.