Whether you're traveling by train, plane or automobile, getting to your destination with a happy toddler can be a challenge. But with careful planning, lots of energy and little time to run around doesn't have to be a recipe for disaster. You can keep everyone safe, sound and sane! Here are 10 tips to help you get there and get back home without ruining your vacation.
1. Arrive early and assume you'll be getting there late. Traveling with kids always takes longer than traveling alone, so give yourself extra time to check in and get settled. If you'll be driving, remember you'll probably need to make more stops than usual for impromptu clean-ups, snack breaks or run-around relays. Be sure to overpack the snacks, the diapers and the toys, just in case you hit bad traffic or flight delays. It's better to have too much than to find yourself overpaying for goldfish crackers at the airport lounge.
2. Fuel up. Make sure you have bottled water tucked into the baby bag or backpack so you can keep your child's sippy cup full. Thirsty kids can't help whining. Likewise, keep growling tummies at bay with plenty of healthy snacks as well as a few treats to make the long trip easier. Fruit and crackers will help keep kids goings between meals and a few fruit gummies or oatmeal cookies will keep everyone cheery.
3. Remember the old favorites. Be sure you have your child's favorite toy on hand and do a spot check anytime you change locations to be sure that all-important blanket or teddy bear isn't left behind. (Better yet, pack a back-up just in case the unthinkable happens and your child's security blanket gets lost during a lay-over.)
4. Wrap up something new. Pack a grab bag of busy toys to dole out slowly over the course of your travels. Kids want busy things to do so think Velcro pockets, lacing shapes (easier to keep hold of than lacing beads) and little animal figures. A tiny amount of Play-doh with a garlic press to make spaghetti, and crayons with a fancy new notepad are good, too. Veteran travelers swear by wrapping anything and everything, so get out the tape and turn the toys into presents since unwrapping will also keep boredom at bay. (You may even want to wrap up the snacks!)
5. Keep it close. Bring along a mesh bag (like the ones to hold bath toys) and a couple of safety pins. Pin the bag to the seat back in front of your child or to her carseat so that she can pull toys out and you can keep track of them. You can also use an old pacifier strap to keep toys clipped to your child's carseat so you don't have to go fishing for them if they fall out of reach.
6. Sing 'em to sleep. Get some kid-friendly headphones (no earbuds!) and load your mp3 player with your child's favorite lullabies or stories. Headphones can screen out annoying noise and help kids calm down and even fall asleep.
7. Layer up. Dress in easy-to-add layers so that you can keep your kid comfy whatever the weather.
8. Stash your sling. Even if your child has mostly grown out of being carried, a sling can come in handy. A ring sling without padding is easy to tuck away and can help you balance your child on your hip while you're pulling luggage through a busy airport. Some parents also use slings as impromptu leashes if their hands are full and they need to keep kids close. Simply wrap the sling around your child's waist and tie one end to your belt buckle or diaper bag strap.
9. Talk to your doc. Get a heads-up about what must-haves you should have packed in your travel emergency kit including motion sickness medicine and something to relieve sinus pressure (especially if you're flying). Having it all on hand will stave off midnight disasters that might otherwise send you on a wild goose chase in the middle of a strange city.
10. Expect some setbacks. Toddlers especially like their routines, so missing out on them – even for the trip of a lifetime – can be hard on everyone. Don't fret if potty training, sleep schedules or discipline efforts fall back a bit. Have patience and plan for mishaps by packing extra clothes and diapers and assuming that everyone will get a little off kilter. Expecting some upset will make accepting it a lot easier.
Dawn Friedman lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, where she also homeschools her two children.