You made it! You're finally at your destination and ready to enjoy the fruits of your travel labor! But how do you make your toddler feel at home at someone else's house or hotel? And how do you keep them happy when their routine has gone out the window? Here are ten tips to have fun on your toddler's terms.
1. Hope for the best and plan for the not-so-great. Pack doorknob locks and outlet covers, just in case, since hotel rooms and grandparents' houses aren't always designed with curious kids in mind. Having child-proofing tools on hand will help you feel a lot better grabbing a quick shower while your child naps or catches up on the latest kid-friendly TV.
2. Look over the schedule with your kid in mind. You know your child best, so don't be shy about vetoing plans to make room for a nap if you know he'll never doze in the stroller while you take in one more tour.
3. Plan for snacking. Make sure you have your child's familiar snacks on hand just in case dinnertime brings out your kid's inner picky eater. Travel-weary toddlers may be too overwhelmed to test that fancy new dish the waiter just set in front of him so having favorite old stand-bys can buy you the time you hoped for to linger over dessert.
4. Bring along your headphones. You might not get to read a book before bed if your nightlight keeps your child awake, but you can bring along an audio book on your mp3 player to "read" yourself to sleep.
5. Get ready to run interference. Relatives who are awfully excited about handing out hugs can be too much for any clingy kid. If an over-crowded reunion gets to be too much, step out for a quick breath of fresh air. Taking lots of breaks can – hopefully – stave off those too-tired tantrums.
6. Expect backsliding. Whether you're toilet training or letting go of the pacifier, don't be surprised if your child goes back to habits you thought were long-gone. Plan for coping ahead of time whether that's bringing emergency pull-ups or easing up on your plans for weaning.
7. Warm water works wonders. Splashing in a warm bath can go a long way to calm kids and get them ready for bedtime. Plastic bottles and travel cups make terrific last-minute bath toys. (Another trick? A dip in the hotel swimming pool each night before bedtime is a great way to wear out a busy toddler sick of sitting in the stroller!)
8. Take turns. If you're traveling with your partner, take turns giving each other breaks even if it's just the chance to get coffee in the hotel restaurant or take a quick walk around the block to clear your head before bed. If you're traveling along, some veteran parents recommend putting the port-a-crib in the bathroom (if it fits!) so you can take a time-out to yourself with room service for a treat in the main room. Or ask for a room with outside access so you can rest on the balcony or patio while you're toddler dozes in the room behind you.
9. Embrace routine when you can. Do as much as you're able to keep things predictable like packing your child's favorite jammies and sleeping toy (even if it means dragging along that light-up fish mobile to put at your hotel bedside) because there's a whole lot of other stuff you just won't be able to do (like guarantee breakfast in her favorite teddy bear bowl). And don't forget to pack your child's favorite sleepy-time books! Finding ways to bring familiarity along will make stave off the worst of the homesickness.
10. Be kind to each other. Traveling is always stressful and even fun trips can be overwhelming. Cut yourself some slack and don't worry too much about how you'll get back into the swing of things at home. It's OK if you relax on some rigid rules to keep everyone happy. Your child might not be allowed in your bed during typical home time, but if extra cuddling at night gets him to sleep faster to prepare for tomorrow's big day, go ahead and cuddle up. Vacations are all about exceptions whether it's fancy desserts, later bedtimes or relaxing of some of the rules. Once you get back and get settled, you'll be back to normal in no time.
Dawn Friedman lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, where she also homeschools her two children.