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traveling with my toddler

liz lamoreux

The idea of traveling with a toddler can bring up so much stuff for parents, partly because people sometimes talk about how "horrible my flight was because I was stuck next to a two year old" and mostly because life with a toddler is full of the unexpected. Before our trip earlier this month, I worried about how to keep my daughter entertained and safe and next to me and how the list goes on. 

The night before we left, a friend sent me an email saying that she hoped our travel day would be "shockingly wonderful." I held onto those words and the day traveling to my dad's was actually one of the best days we've ever had. For real. Ellie was delighted by the trip...by the airport and boarding the plane and watching the clouds and eating snacks. Of course, during our trip itself we had the usual intense toddler moments and some really beautiful moments too. I learned a lot about what worked and some things I want to do differently. Here are some of things I did that I think helped make our travels smooth overall and a few things I will tweak next time:

Practice practice practice

For about ten days leading up to the trip, Ellie and I practiced. From deciding on what outfit she wanted to wear on the plane, to sitting on the couch pretending we were on the plane and talking about why we don't kick the seat in front of us, to what she will do if she's tired or hungry, and how she will need to wear her seatbelt. This helped so much, we talked about a lot of possibilities and scenarios. As soon as she got in her seat, she put her seatbelt on and said, "I'm not supposed to kick that seat." Yes!

The toddler backpack

Ellie really wanted to carry her own backpack and this turned out to be an awesome idea. She loved deciding what to put in it (snacks + a stuffed animal + her art journal and crayons of course), and I love that she was feeling responsible for some of her own things. Because I don't have a lot of mom friends I talk to about these things, I am always delighted to find lists of helpful things on blogs, so I thought I would go ahead and share what she carried and how:

  • She has a great backpack from Pottery Barn Kids, but they aren't currently carrying that style. Though this one is similar and pretty great because it has extra pockets.
  • This little zippered pouch held her small Moleskine + Hello Kitty stickers + plus these crayons that don't roll as much as other crayons and were easier to find when they fell on the floor.
  • A little Minnie zippered pouch filled with snacks she picked out: goldfish crackers, raisins, and pretzels
  • Her sippy cup ready for me to fill 
  • And one of her stuffed animals
  • On the trip home she added her sunglasses and a tiara from Grandma because what more could a girl need on an airplane (I heart her)

There were times when she didn't want to or couldn't carry her backpack, so I had a carabiner attached to my purse so I could hook it to me whenever needed. This made it very easy for both of us. Oh and I totally made one of these but forgot to give it to her. Saving it for next time.

The iPad

So I know this one won't be for everyone, and that is totally okay. We all make the best decisions for our own family's needs. We've found some great educational games for Ellie to play on my iPad and she also loves to listen to music/watch videos. So I downloaded a few episodes of Doc McStuffins and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse + a couple of new games (she loves puzzle games and ABC games). And this kept her really entertained at different parts of the trip. And she loved listening for the words "electronic devices" to be said over the speaker so she could take out the iPad (or put it away). We also used it when she just needed some down time during our trip.

Bringing her favorite clothes

Having some of her "go-to" favorites made getting dressed each morning much easier. Even though this meant she wanted to wear a summer dress (we paired it with tights). Even though this meant wearing her pajama top under a dress one day. Even if this meant wearing the same thing for three days in a row (I did laundry while she slept). And letting her wear her new favorite "I got this from my cousins" dress on the plane home even though it had cheetoh "cheese" on it was also a good choice. Every kid is different, but think about what helps your kid feel comfortable and at home and maybe even a little in charge. For Ellie, she loves very specific clothes right now.

My laptop

I left my laptop at home. This was huge for me because I am basically connected to it a lot of the time. I am so glad I did. It made traveling in the airport so much easier. Usually I carry my laptop in this backpack, which is super comfortable. I love it! But I didn't feel up for wearing a backpack + diaper bag + purse and potentially carrying a two year old because we were traveling alone. So I left the laptop at home and carried my purse + pulled a small rolling bag (with a change of clothes for both of us + extra diapers + ipad + my camera) and then had a soft foldable bag in my purse that I pulled out after we got through security and used for our drinks + clean diapers. Using a rolling bag was awesome and I'm now on the hunt for one that will fit my laptop for when I need to take it while traveling with EJ. 

Things I will do differently:

Breakfast

Next time we travel, I'm going to try to give better choices when it comes to breakfast. For example, eating oatmeal or raisin bran for breakfast before she eats any of the other fun stuff that is at Grandma and Grandpa's would be a really good choice to give. And then give better choices for an afternoon snack, such as fruit. I noticed how much I did not want to "fight" with her about food because I didn't want her having a meltdown, so I gave in...a lot. This is partly because for so long we've been trying to get her to gain weight (because of her heart stuff she has always been really thin). And giving in seemed okay on the trip because what she often wanted was carrots and more carrots and edamame. But she also a lot of other stuff. And by the time we were ready to fly home, her belly was hurting in a big way. Which made for an intense car trip to the airport + wait in the airport + first 30 minutes of our flight. Good to (re)learn. 

Self-care

I didn't practice self-care very well while we were gone. There were lots of reasons but now that I'm home, I'm thinking about the things I could have done. Next time I'm making a self-care list right next to the packing list and then taking the list (and a few self-care supplies) with me. I really encourage you to do this. From taking a favorite book to journaling a bit each day to waking up a bit early to take a hot shower before your little one wakes up. Think about what you do at home that you could do on your trip. 

Bed-time routine

This was really intense most nights. New bed. New room. New timezone. All of it. And doing it alone was hard. For several nights we Skyped with Jon and he read to her, which was awesome for Ellie. But it meant an even longer bedtime experience because then she wanted the same number of stories with me. Next time, we are going to practice the bedtime routine too...talking about it and probably having her choose three books to take with her.

Share your tips

These are just a few of the highlights of what I learned. I'd love to hear your "go-to" traveling tips for toddlers and younger kids. Let's make a big list in the comments to help out other parents doing the best they can while traveling with their little ones.