Traveling with Toddlers: How I keep my sanity

Mauritius - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

After dragging my now two-year old to quite a number of countries, I’ve often wondered why I don’t publish a lot more tips to help other traveling parents, considering the number of miles my family puts in every year.

It’s been hit or miss a couple times but now, I feel like I have a system that works for my daughter. She’s at that age where she’s no longer a baby (over two years old) but not yet a fully cognitive toddler (three years and above).

So in other words, we’re at the stage where the potential for throwing random tantrums is exceptionally high. Whether she’s naturally well-behaved or not.

Having just returned from Mauritius, Seychelles, and the United Arab Emirates with her in tow, here are a couple tips I always use when traveling with my toddler.

Early airport arrival

I don’t play with this one. I’d rather spend an extra hour sitting at the gate twiddling my thumbs than trying to rush through security and passport control with a toddler. So we always plan ample time to get to the airport and get through all the necessary sections.

This also allows me to feed her before we get on board because the last thing I need is to force her to eat something she doesn’t recognize on an airline food tray and then subsequently have her wailing out of hunger and frustration.

Take a travel stroller

Once your child hits the toddler years, I’m a huge advocate for taking a small travel stroller along with you whenever you travel. Sure you might want to save space or the headache of having to deal with lugging a stroller. Before she turned two, I always carried her in a BabyBjörn on my chest which freed up my hands.

But trust me, for a defiant toddler who constantly tests your nerves, nothing screams “temporary prison” more than strapping them down in their stroller. I use a BabyTravel Bombay Sulky which has a raincover and reclines so when she passes out from exhaustion, we can lie her down in the shade while grabbing lunch or taking the opportunity to rest.

While you can hold most toddlers by the hand and lead them along, my daughter is already training to qualify for the Olympics marathon. She’s a natural born runner. I’m not. Pair both of us together on an unfamiliar street and you can guess who outruns who.

CARES Safety Harness for plane rides

I’ve never brought a carseat onto a plane before. Besides them being clunky and heavy, even though they’re supposed to protect your child, and especially if I’m traveling along with my toddler, the less baggage I have on me, the better.

I would of course encourage you to take your carseat if it would make you feel more comfortable and you plan on primarily using a car at your destination so I’m not advising against that option. Safety first of course.

Once my daughter turned two and graduated from sitting in my lap, I bought her the CARES safety harness which hooks onto the seat’s own belts and converts them into sturdier seat straps for her.

Granted, the first time we used it, it was a bit of a hassle to attach and secure it properly without her slipping and sliding, but now that we’ve used it a couple times, it’s such a lightweight convenient option for traveling with a toddler.

I also ask for a baby strap as well for backup because sometimes, she doesn’t want to sit in her seat and wants to cuddle up and sleep on mommy so I use the airline’s own infant-in-lap belt to secure her to me while she takes a quick nap in my lap.

Pack light

Yep. You’ve heard it preached multiple times. And for someone like me who also has to carry a camera with lenses and a portable laptop for editing photos while traveling, it can be quite challenging. But somehow, I make it work.

For me, this means a roll-on bag where I squeeze all my supplies and gadgets and then my toddler’s own bag with her own supplies, diapers, water, snacks, books, and a toy or two.

So for those of you who don’t have to lug camera equipment, try to limit everything on board to one single carry-on bag.

Bring favorite activities

Whatever your child likes that keeps them calm for an hour or two, bring it. Within reason.

For mine, it means watching episodes of Pocoyo or Dora the Explorer so I make sure I have a few apps on the phone she can play with or watch mini episodes. I also bring a book or two that she likes and then ask her the most detailed questions to tire her out.

If she wants to check out the in-flight magazine, I hand it over. If she wants to play with the laminated instructions, I hand it over. If she wants to browse through the in-flight shopping guide, I hand it over.

In other words, I pick my battles.

Allow laps down the aisle

Once she starts getting fidgety, I unstrap and walk her down the aisle. I even let her run down them. As long as it’s safe and we’re flying through smooth skies. I’ve never had any looks of disgust or irritation from having her run down the aisle. Far from it even. Apparently, other passengers will take a giggling laughing child over a screaming crying one.

Large lunches and early dinners

We consume the bulk of our meals around lunch time because by 6pm, trying to take a toddler out to a restaurant is like playing the lottery. You tend to lose every time.

So plan accordingly. You may have to skip that fancy late night dinner atmosphere at that recommended restaurant and opt for their boring lunch menu instead.

For those of you who travel frequently with younger toddlers, how do you keep your sanity during the journey?