Beach vacation with a toddler? Yeah, right! Most parents gawk at the idea of traveling to the grocery store with their toddler, let alone an extended trip away from the comforts of their own home and bed.
“To travel, whether by plane or car, is challenging because kids have to be confined for long periods of time,” says Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “Toddlers are busy and very active by nature, so expecting them to sit still can lead to tantrums.”
Not to mention, your child may resist napping on the go, and a tired and cranky toddler on the verge of a meltdown doesn’t bode well for anyone. On top of that, you’ll have to lug enough gear with you to fill a carload, including a portable high chair and crib, stroller and car seat.
But don’t let these roadblocks get in the way of spending quality family time away. Family getaways are important for bonding and making memories that will last a lifetime — and they don’t have to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Adams offers these three tips for happy travels with your toddler. Rest assured, it will be worth the effort.
1. Plan Ahead
First and foremost, prep your little one. Flip through photos of the hotel online, as well as family pictures if you’re traveling with relatives. Show or tell them where they’re going to sleep, who they’ll meet and what you’re going to do to eliminate any surprises.
It’s important to get yourself mentally prepared, as well.
“You’re going to have to make adjustments based on what your child’s needs are,” Adams says. “If you’re driving, for instance, set it in your mind that you’re going to have to make frequent stops to use the potty or change diapers, and to let your toddler burn off some energy.”
When packing, put essentials — diapers, wipes, snacks and a change of clothes — in your carry-on bag or make them easily accessible in the car. Be sure to bring your child’s comfort item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, and toys or books for entertainment.
“Many toddlers aren’t three-meals-a-day kids, instead they’re snackers and grazers,” Adams says. “So, be sure to bring healthy snacks and drinks that aren’t choking hazards to keep them occupied.”
If you’re flying, make sure you have a snack and drink, and a pacifier if one is still used, for takeoff and landing to help prevent pressure in little ears.
2. Time it Well
Try to plan your travel days around your child’s sleep schedule. If you’re driving, you could hit the road at bedtime so your child sleeps through the first several hours of the trip. If you’re traveling by plane, schedule it during the normal nap schedule.
“Toddlers are a product of their routine,” Adams says. “If you mess it up, they can get out of control sometimes. Try to maintain their normal schedule as much as possible.”
Make sure your toddler is on the schedule the last few days before your departure, so they are well rested. In between flights or at rest stops, let your toddler run wild to burn off some energy.
3. Recreate the Comforts of Home
Whether you’re at a friend’s house or a hotel, create a sleep environment that’s as close to home as possible. Pack the blanket your child likes, the bedtime books they’re used to and the same soothing white noise.
Many hotels allow families to rent portable cribs and high chairs to lighten the luggage load. Just be sure to ask in advance if the products meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Also, bring along antiseptic wipes to ensure they’re clean.
To make them more familiar to your child, bring your own mattress cover and sheets, especially if your child has allergies.
However, Adams doesn’t recommend renting a car seat.
“You don’t want to get to your destination and realize it’s not what you expected,” she says. “There are so many variables with car seats and you want to make sure it fits your child — and stroller, if you need the travel system — correctly.”
Click here to read: “Nix Airport Anxieties when Traveling with Baby”
This story originally appeared on Akron Children’s Hospital’s parenting blog, Inside Children’s at inside.akronchildrens.org.