ten tips for travel with toddlers

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I love looking back through the pics of our trips and seeing shots of Burke and Piper Jane, backpacks strapped on, trouping through airports (or sitting on the metro next to sweet Greek grandmas).

Who would’ve guessed that they’d turn out to be such great little travel buddies? I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how well they did!

So many people gave us suggestions and offered travel advice before we left- and many of the tips made such a difference for us! Since my inbox has been brimming with travel-with-toddler questions, I thought I’d compile those terrific tips in one place.

Our top ten tips for traveling with toddlers and babies-

Plan with them in mind- Your days (and thus your entire trip) will be more successful if you arrange your schedule with your kids, their schedules, and their interests in the forefront of your mind. That means building things into each day that will interest and delight your kids (yep, that’s a picture of an indoor carousel in Muscat, Oman. And, yes, the indoor amusement park was one of our stops that day).

For example, after our incredible success visiting beaches in Oman, we planned beach days intermittently for the rest of our trip. They loved it and we loved it- perfect!

On this note, we also visited playgrounds in each city we visited (we joked that we were on the playground tour of Greece and Turkey). Even though the thought, “We could play on playgrounds at home” ran through my head more than once, those little just-for-the-kids side trips were such a highlight for the Smooches that they were completely worth it.

Always have snacks on hand- At all times, there were enough Clif Kidz bars and Lara bars, almonds and dried fruit, Clif Twisty Fruits, trail mix and apple sauce pouches in my purse to substitute for a meal for all four of us. I know that sounds way overboard (and Adam and I never pack that many snacks when the two of us travel), but hungry kids are grouchy kids. And those snacks came in handy more often than I’d expected.

Pack diversions for the flight(s)- Burke and Piper Jane each had their own backpack- and you’d better believe that I crammed those babies with as many distractions possible (while keeping a watchful eye on the weight of the backpack).

Piper’s bag included her snack bag, a couple small coloring books and a crayon roll-up, a MadArt dry erase book (which quickly became our go-to for distracting her on airplanes), stickers, paperback Elmo books from the dollar bin at Target, and Elmo Pet flashcards.

Burke’s backpack included his snack bag, a couple small coloring books and a crayon roll up, a MadArt dry erase book, stickers, a magnet board and a Cars 2 coloring book (with markers that only work on that specific paper).

Pack small presents (aka- more diversions)- After reading your suggestions in my Call for Travel Help post, I hightailed it to Target to find little presents to wrap up and open along the way. Piper’s pile included lots of plastic jewelry, a flip book, a mini brush and fruit snacks. Burke’s presents were coloring pages, sticker books, fruit snacks and small plastic snakes/lizards/insects (which were mostly lost the way, and that’s totally fine with me).

Don’t underestimate the allure of Scotch tape and pipe cleaners– Although the Scotch tape and the pipe cleaners were both in the ‘small present’ category, they were so magical and such a great way to kill time that they get their own point. At the end of each flight, my kids were covered in Scotch tape, with pipe cleaners wrapped around their wrists, ankles, etc. I was thankful that I brought two packs of each one. Brilliant (though, not my brilliance- thanks smart blog/facebook friends for the tips).

Slow your pace- Kids aren’t fast explorers (or walkers, or climbers, or museum perusers), and that’s part of their charm. Build in at least twice the amount of time you think it’d take you (or you and your spouse) to see sites or explore neighborhoods. You might find, like I did, that the slower pace suits you.

Give your kids ownership and input- Before we arrived in each new place, Burke and I would sit down at the computer and decide on things we might like to do there (Piper is still too little to have many opinions, plus she just copies Burke’s level of enthusiasm anyway). Even though there were definitely sites we visited that weren’t on Burke’s priority list, we made sure that we did something that he chose each day. And his level of excitement was much higher when we were doing something he planned- a bonus for everyone.

Things that were high on Burke’s list- the Acropolis, the ‘zoo’ at the National Gardens in Athens, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Red Beach in Santorini, the aquarium in Dubai, sandcastle beach in Samos.

Prioritize food- Our kids loved trying local fare- they could eat their weight in Manakeesh (Omani cheesy bread), Naan (not quite ‘local’ to anywhere we visited, but still everywhere in Oman and so yummy), Simit (Turkish sesame pretzel-esque yummies), gyros, pomegranates and Turkish pizza. Even better, we endeavored to try the local sweets- little cakes, Turkish delight, gelato and loved every minute of it.

Find the wildlife. For kids like mine that are animal lovers, spotting animals of any kind is such a highlight. And you’d be surprised at the urban wildlife that you can find if you’re looking for it. We ran into camels (in Oman), cats and kittens (TONS of cats and kittens), peacocks, goats and bunnies (at the National Gardens Zoo in Athens), donkeys (in the islands in Greece), a hen and her chicks (in a park in Istanbul), frogs (again, National Gardens), crabs and fish in our beach-y locales, and pigeons (my kids loved chasing them). At one point near the end of our trip, Adam asked Burke what he would remember about Greece and he said, “THE CATS!” Haha!

Eat ice cream– We don’t go out for ice cream much at home, so it was such a treat to our kids (and to me!) to get ice cream/gelato in the evenings. What a great way to end the day!

Lest you think that every minute of our travels was a blissful, amazing adventure, I wanted to share this picture of Burke after a HOT day in Ephesus. Even though my kids were Travel Champions, and even though we had a really great time as a family, travel with kids is just so different than pre-kids travel, and sometimes harder too. Worth it, but totally different.

Happy family travels to you!

If you have any other fabulous kid and toddler travel tips, would you leave them in the comments? And if you’re looking for more (GREAT!) ideas, check out the comments of my call for travel help post!

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  1. Awesome tips! I’m taking a week long trip by myself with my little ones next week. MayI ask where you found the kids backpacks? My kids backpacks are too big for the flight and I haven’t been able to find anything smaller.

    1. Hey Jenette- traveling alone with little ones is not for the faint of heart- I’ll be thinking of you! 🙂
      Piper Jane’s backpack is by northface (we found it online at Cabela’s on sale) and Burke’s is from REI (also an online sale). Have a great trip!

  2. I used to take my two teens to Europe every summer when they were small, before the dollar fell . I wasn’t smart enough to pack snacks and sometimes they were so hot and grouchy, but those trips are some of my best memories. These photos bring it all back!

    1. I love this Justine! Mostly people think we’re nuts- so fun to find someone similarly crazy. 🙂

  3. You.Are.A.PEACH!!! for writing this!! Is it embarrassing that I literally am taking notes as I read through this? I’m about to click through to the comments on your other post as well for more tips. I don’t think we’ve “talked” since you were away on your trip, but hubs got a new job and we are moving to London at the end of the summer!! Ya-hoo!! But I am secretly terrified of that long flight with my sweet Thing 1 and Thing 2. 🙂 HOW WILL I keep my 14 month old Hannah happy for an 8 hour of flight?

    But truly, so many wonderful ideas. The tiny gifts, scotch tape, pipe cleaners, multitudes of snacks…all such super good ideas! And a backpack stuffed with these goodies sounds perfect for Jayce, he’ll just love it. But how did you keep Burke from diving into it all at once?

    Anyway, thanks for this abundance of good info. I’ll be back as I’m packing his bag. 🙂

    1. Erin- I LOVE everything about this! Are you beside yourself with excitement??? I would be! YAY!
      And the flight should seriously be no problem- I can’t say it enough- it was way way better than I thought (though, I seriously went into it with expectations for TERRIBLE). 🙂
      Can I come visit you??? 🙂

  4. This is so encouraging to hear about how awesome your trip was! My boyfriend and I both love to travel and he is convinced that once we have kids we won’t be able to travel as much. I mentioned your trip to him, but now I’m going to share this with him and make note of all of this stuff for down the road when we have kiddos of our own.

    1. Amy, I love finding other people who love travel like we do! We did a decent amount of pre-kids travel, and have traveled some with Burke and Piper, but usually only for a week or so at a time. This was our first big, more than a month, multiple country affair. Definitely tell your boyfriend that travel with kids is do-able. TOTALLY different than pre-kids travel (get in all of your hostels, bungee jumping, jam-packed days and late nights out now), but definitely doable and definitely worth it (isn’t it fun to think of raising another generation of kids that love to travel too?). 🙂

  5. i read this back when you posted it and now get to plan a trip with my own toddler so keep coming back to your post! 🙂 one question though…did the security give you any hassle with the snacks you carried on the plane? did the gogo squeez make it past the checkpoints? 🙂

    1. Hey Kate! We never had any trouble- international ‘security checks’ are way more lax (they didn’t make me walk through the metal detectors in Amman, Jordan, because I had Piper with me!?!).
      But we did take them through the checkpoints in the States and it was no problem. 🙂

    We are off to Greece from Ottawa (Canada) Am interested in hearing more on how the flight went – My Savannah will be almost 3 when we go in June and the first leg will be an hour light over her nap time (not sure if she will nap or not though – she is pretty difficult with where she naps) this is my biggest stress factor – the nap or lack of. Anyway – had to get it off my chest. Thanks for the tips and suggestions

    1. Hey Dee! The flights went much better than anticipated. We had backpacks full of activities, snacks, and an iPad and they both did great! Neither one napped though (and Piper NEEDS a nap still). It turned out allright (they slept really well went we finally got there), but definitely stick to their ‘normal’ schedules during travel.
      I am so excited for you- I’ve been looking at our pictures and thinking about how much fun we had! Have fun!

      1. Hi Kristen – Thanks for the reassurance the nap skipping wont be as bad as I know it can be. I suppose with the excitment you cant expect her to really nap. We are flying from Ottawa to Toronot (1hour) at 1pm arriving at 2pm and then leaving from TO at 5:50pm for Athens (direct) I am sure she will crash on the long haul and am honestly frighten she will not want to be on the second flight (from being over tired) My nerves 🙂 We have the ipads and DVD player etc ready to rock and roll – 100 days till we leave and i am nervous and excited. Will keep you posted. Or reach out if i need you to steady my nerves and a glass of wine wont do it. 🙂

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