My Best Tips for Traveling with Toddlers – Part 2
Summer travel can be a whole lot of fun… and a whole lot of stress and hassle. If you’re approaching your family vacation with caution or even trepidation, I understand. Let’s face it; traveling with toddlers requires a lot of preparation and patience from you. In Traveling with Toddlers Part 1, I gave you my secrets for a stress-free travel day, and now I’ll share with you my best tips for enjoying your time away once you’ve arrived.
Lower your expectations. This is number one on my list because it can make such a big difference. Remind yourself that your toddler can only handle so much before he or she becomes overwhelmed and fitful. It’s tempting to want to see and do it all as soon as the plane lands or you arrive at your destination, but your excitement and eagerness may very well backfire. Your toddler doesn’t share your drive to go, go, go! Lower your expectations about what can be accomplished in a single day, and by doing so you will tend to be more in sync with what they can realistically do—and enjoy.
Give her 24 hours to Adjust. Jet lag can take a toll on your toddler and it varies from child to child how quickly he or she can adjust to a new place. My best advice is to take it slow. If the flight or car trip was long, consider putting your toddler down for a nap as soon as you arrive. (You might also benefit from a little shut-eye yourself.) It’s normal to want to jump into an activity as soon as you arrive, but try not to pack too much into a day, especially at first. Toddlers get overwhelmed and are much more pleasant to be around when given a full day to relax and get settled in. When children are jet lagged and find themselves in a new, unfamiliar place, they can become more irritable, demanding and whining. Not your ideal vacation, right? Bear with them and gradually move meals, naps and bedtime routines to the time zone you are in. If your trip is less than 3 days long, you may want to stay on your home time zone while away.
Take Him on a Toddler-Tour. Time change or not, a new place is just that- new. And newness triggers separation anxiety in our little ones. Toddlers like the familiar. It makes them feel comfortable, safe and in control. They really wouldn’t mind it if their environment always stayed the same. Knowing this, as soon as you arrive to the hotel, campsite or your relative’s house, take your toddler by the hand and show him where he will sleep, eat his meals, take a bath, go to the potty, etc. Also show your toddler where you will sleep. By helping her become familiar with her new environment, she will adjust faster (and probably with far-less protest). Remind your child that ‘We are all staying here together,’ and let him know you are visiting for a little while and then ‘we will all go back home to our house and friends.’ Toddlers get worried about where their home is, so this reassurance helps to ease their concerns.
Recreate a Similar Sleep Environment. Sleeping in a new place can throw your toddler off. Little ones sleep best when they’re in a familiar spot. Do what you can to recreate their home sleeping environment by including 1 or 2 familiar items: a favorite blanket, crib sheet or small stuffed animal in the hotel crib, pullout bed or Pack ‘N Play. If your toddler falls asleep to a sound machine at home, pack it in your suitcase and bring it along! This way there is a piece of home with them. A family photo also helps them to feel that you are still close by. Tack it on the wall above where they will be sleeping. Families often tell me their child will only sleep if they’re in the same bed with them on vacation. If that works for you, do it, and then return them to their own crib or bed when you get home.
Create a Daily Routine. Your ability to do this will make or break your vacation. Because toddlers have no sense of time, being in a new, unfamiliar place calls for an even stronger necessity to have your child’s day organized. Again, it helps them to feel safe and in control. The bonus here is that by following regular routines and building structure into their days away, your toddler will actually be more flexible. You don’t have to be rigid, but try to keep eating, nap, bath and sleep times as similar to home as you can. Familiar, home-like schedules mean fewer adjustments and a happier toddler. I suggest organizing the day into 4 parts:
1. Morning- breakfast, out the door and an activity. This could be going to the beach, visiting a relative or the zoo.
2. Lunchtime/Nap- return from your activity, eat and enjoy some quiet downtime in the middle of the day. Try as hard as you can not to skip naps! A missed nap can throw the day off for both you and your child. If your toddler doesn’t nap, still treat midday as a time to rest and reset.
3. Late Afternoon- your toddler will be rested and ready for another activity- the pool, visit a relative, or a local park.
4. Evening- dinner, bath and bedtime.
Enjoy Small Gatherings. Lots of family and new people is a lot for a toddler to handle. If you can get together in smaller groups and smaller doses, do so. If you’re attending a big family event, take breaks, and follow your child’s lead. They may need to hang close or even cling to you before they feel comfortable and ready to interact.
Eat Breakfast at Home. If you’re staying in a hotel, try to get one with a refrigerator in the room so you can at least eat cereal and milk in the room. It helps not to rush out the door with a hungry child. If you are staying in a rented house or cabin, eating some meals at home makes for fewer transitions in the day. Less transitions equals less stress and provides them with more energy to enjoy the day.
Dine Family-Friendly. Look for family friendly restaurants with child menus. They tend to serve meals at a faster pace for your toddler and won’t fret if he or she is a bit noisy or active.
Don’t forget to read The Secret to a Stress-Free Family Vacation- Part 1 and From Vacay Back to Real Life- Part 3 of this series.
To hear more about why toddlers tantrum, listen to my recent NPR broadcast, What Goes on inside the Toddler Brain.