Traveling with Toddlers: Tips for Flying, Driving & Long-Haul Travel

Reading time:

Traveling with toddlers can feel like a mammoth challenge, but with careful planning and preparation, family trips can be enjoyable for both parents and little ones.

This comprehensive guide provides practical tips and advice for smooth travel whether flying, driving long distances, or taking a long-haul trip.

Why Travel is Important for Toddler Development

Traveling offers many developmental benefits for toddlers beyond just having fun. It promotes independence as they navigate new environments and adapt to new schedules and routines. Exposure to different people and new places can also help to build social skills.

With the right mindset and game plan, you can minimize stress and cherish this precious travel time together.

Pre-Travel Planning

Laying the groundwork ahead of time is key for smooth travels with toddlers. Here are some tips to help you do this.

Create a Travel Checklist

A checklist ensures you pack all essentials like:

  • Diapers, wipes, extra clothes
  • Toddler-friendly snacks and drinks
  • Comfort items like blankets or stuffed animals
  • Medicines, thermometer, first aid kit
  • Toys, books, coloring books and pencils
  • Playlist with soothing music

Also check passports, IDs, travel insurance, and documents.

Buy Travel Accessories

Invest in useful gear like a lightweight compact stroller, back carrier, or safety harness strap. A portable potty seat and travel crib will also make long journeys easier.

Pack a Toddler Entertainment Bag

Fill the bag with engaging activities like storybooks, coloring books and pencils, and some favorite toys. Wrap new surprise items too. Rotate these during the trip to maintain interest.

Pack Travel Snacks

Keeping hungry tummies full makes everything run better. Here are some great nutritious snacks to take on the go:

  • Protein: hardboiled eggs, turkey or chicken slices, unsweetened natural yogurt pouches, cheese cubes.
  • Fresh fruits and veggies: blueberries, banana, sliced apple, steamed or baked carrot or sweet potato.
  • Colorful and juicy dried fruit like sultanas, mango, apricots.
  • Small snack bites like Little Bellies veggie tubes or animal crackers.

Stock up on non-perishable snacks at home. Then replenish as needed on the trip. For more guidance on age-and-stage appropriate snacks for toddlers, please read our Toddler Food & Snack Guide for 12+ Months.

Choosing the Right Travel Mode

Select the best option by weighing the pros and cons based on your situation.

  • Flying: It’s a quick way to travel to faraway destinations. On the downside, you have to deal with managing airport stress and potential ear discomfort.
  • Driving: It gives you lots of flexibility as well as the ability to pack more stuff. On the downside, there may be long travel times and you will probably have to deal with agitated, restless toddlers.
  • Long-Haul Trips: This is a great way to experience new exotic places. But you will have to deal with jet lag and confinement to small places.

Your toddler’s personality is also a factor to consider. Frequent movers may tolerate planes better. Anxious toddlers do better with the comforts of a car.

Tips for Flying with Toddlers

These tips ensure smoother aeroplane journeys.

  • Book Off-Peak Flights: Flying at odd hours when toddlers usually sleep avoids disruptions. Early morning or red-eye overnight flights work best.
  • Request Toddler-Friendly Seats: Bulkhead, front row, or extra legroom seats let toddlers roam a bit. Near bathroom access helps too.
  • Pack Toddler Comfort Items: Bring blankets, favorite toys, books, snacks, etc. Downloading videos, apps, or new games can help distract and kill time.
  • Manage Ear Discomfort: Feeding, pacifier sucking, or chewing gum while ascending/descending can prevent ear pain. Toddler aeroplane ear muffs are another option.
  • Prepare Portable Toddler Meals: Pack wholesome snacks, milk, and finger foods to curb hunger tantrums.
  • Use Toddler Safety Harnesses: Wrist straps limit wandering while allowing movement. Backpack child carriers prevent escapes during boarding too.

Tips for Driving with Toddlers

Use these car travel tips for smooth road journeys.

  • Ensure Proper Car Seat Installation: Check the car seat is securely installed facing backward. Never place toddlers in front seats due to airbag risks.
  • Plan Engaging Activities: Rotate toys, books, games, etc. from their entertainment bag every 30 minutes.
  • Limit Screen Time: While tablets can entertain, avoid excessive screen time. Use them only during truly fussy moments.
  • Schedule Stops Strategically: Every few hours, stop for leg stretching, bathroom breaks, and meals.
  • Pack a Portable Toddler Snack Bag: healthy munchies, milk sippies, and mess-free finger foods keep hangry tantrums at bay during long drives.

Long Haul Travel Tips

Use these strategies to minimize struggles on extended flights.

  • Fly Overnight: Jet lag is less disruptive when flights coincide with sleep schedules. Kids sleep on overnight red-eye flights.
  • Request Bassinets: Many international flights have attachable bassinets. Ensure your toddler meets size/weight limits.
  • Utilize Inflatable Footrests: These portable cushions allow toddlers to sleep comfortably stretched out on planes.
  • Pack Familiar Bedtime Items: Bring blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, etc. to create a cozy sleeping environment in their cabin seat.
  • Pack wholesome, hassle-free and sugar-free bites like the Little Bellies snacks in the TODDLERS IN TRAINING range.  
  • Reserve Layover Baby Care Facilities: During connections, utilize airport nurseries to nap, clean up, and re-energize for the next flight leg.

Managing Toddler Behavior

Tantrums are normal, especially when tired or over-stimulated.

  • Stay calm yourself, take deep breaths, and speak gently in an encouraging tone.
  • Provide hugs, back rubs, hand massages. Physical touch can be very soothing.
  • Offer snacks, drinks, and toys from your bag of tricks to change focus.
  • Play calming music or white noise on headphones and minimize environmental stimuli.
  • Take bathroom breaks for alone time. Also, walk laps in the aisle.
  • For extreme meltdowns, take the child to the bathroom for privacy to work through emotions.

Health & Safety Tips

Follow these practices to keep toddlers safe during travel.

  • Carry Child Health Records: Keep doctor contacts, medical history, vaccination records, and insurance details handy.
  • Maintain Hygiene: Use hand sanitiser frequently. Keep faces clean with wipes. Change diapers promptly.
  • Ensure First Aid Accessibility: Pack children’s medicines, thermometer, bandages, antiseptic creams, etc. in your handbag.
  • Prevent Dehydration: Encourage frequent sips of water. Dehydration exacerbates toddler travel crankiness.
  • Protect Against Sun Overexposure: Use light long clothing, hats, and child-safe sunblock when outdoors.
  • Monitor Diet Changes: New foods can cause digestive upset. Stick to familiar foods and introduce new foods slowly, watching for allergic reactions.

Accommodation & Arrival Tips

Pick toddler-friendly lodging using these insights.

  • Seek Toddler Sleeping Amenities: Request cribs or rollaway beds when booking hotels. Soundproof rooms are less disruptive too.
  • Choose suites with separate bedrooms, allowing you to sleep separately from night owl toddlers.
  • Look for Play Areas: Kid zones in lobbies with toys, games, and slides delight energetic toddlers.
  • Unpack Essentials First: After arriving, set up sleep and diapering areas immediately before exhaustion hits.
  • Maintain Familiar Routines: Follow your normal naptime, bedtime, and meal schedules to avoid disruptive jet lag.

Adjusting to New Time Zones

Minimize jet lag’s effects with these tips.

  • Gradually Adjust Schedules: In the weeks before travel, shift bedtimes and naps 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
  • Reset Clocks Immediately: Right after takeoff, adjust watches and devices to the destination time zone.
  • Choose Day Flights: These allow sunshine to reset toddlers’ circadian rhythms upon arrival.
  • Stick to Regular Sleep Rituals: Keep pre-bedtime routines consistent in new time zones.

Maintain a Patient, Flexible Mindset

Despite meticulous planning, toddler travel involves unpredictable moments.

  • Expect the Unexpected: Your toddler’s schedule will get disrupted – be mentally prepared to stay cool, calm, and collected.
  • Go With the Flow: When tantrums or setbacks occur, stay flexible rather than forcing rigid schedules.
  • Focus on Fun: Don’t overschedule activities. Allow time for your toddler to enjoy new places at their pace.
  • Appreciate Every Age: Each age brings new precious experiences. Cherish your family travels as fleeting toddler moments.

Final Thoughts

While travel with toddlers has challenges, preparation and patience will allow you to make the most of your adventures together. Stick to consistent routines when possible, move at a slower pace than adults, involve your toddler’s interests, and remain flexible when the unexpected arises.

Most importantly, treasure this magical travel window before your babies grow up too fast! With a little bit of resilience, travelling as a young family is a great way to create priceless memories to last a lifetime. Happy travels!