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A lot of people assume that traveling with babies, toddlers, and just all young children is just an impossible task. Many say it’s best to just wait until they are older, and it gets a little bit easier. But don’t feel discouraged. Travel with young children can be easy if you plan it right. Trips with littles are certainly different than when you are traveling with only adults, or even when you are traveling with older children. But they can be magical just the same. And honestly, going at a slower pace to accommodate your younger kids might just change the way you travel for good. There are so many things you see when you just take the time!
In our travels, we have done lots of things right, and even more things wrong. But we’ve learned a whole lot on the way, and we’ve had a lot of fun and gained a lot of great memories. For us, a successful vacation means that you, and everyone in your family, actually enjoys themselves. Sure, there may be a few un-fun moments, but overall, you come home refreshed and happy, with a ton of new experiences under your belt. These are our top tips for a successful vacation with your small children.
1. Know your Limits
If you are traveling with a baby who naps three times a day and cannot fall asleep on the go, don’t plan days stuffed full of activities. You’ll only wind up disappointed, rushed, and frustrated. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a great vacation though. Just make sure you keep their needs in mind as your plan.
Timing is everything when it comes to small children, so pay attention to their rhythms as you’re planning.
Things to consider:
- nap schedule
- morning wake up time – for example, for an early flight
- meal and snack times – make sure you are prepared!
Babies and toddlers can get overstimulated and just need to take a break from all the hustle and bustle. For some babies, a break in the stroller with the shade pulled down is enough. For others, a break in the room with mom and dad is required. Make sure you are prepared for whatever your child needs.
2. Skip the Car
Strapping babies and toddlers in the car seat, and parking the minivan, and then unloading the mountain of gear your need is no picnic. And even worse- you’ll probably be packing up to head back for a nap or a break after just a short while.
So what can you do instead? Pick a location where you are SUPER close to the action.
We like a VRBO on the beach, or a resort with tons of amenities so you can stick around the resort. This allows you to head on back to the room for a nap, or to get away from the hustle and bustle for a minute and take a break. Plus, it means you won’t have to carry a WHOLE DAY’S supply of diapers, bottles, snacks, water, etc..
2. Make a packing list
Packing for kids is NOT as simple as packing for yourself. Babies and just need more gear. If forget something major, it can make your trip harder than it really needs to be, for both you and your children.
Start thinking through your packing list early. I love to use an app called Google Keep because I can add little notes whenever I think of them (when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting in the car at pick up, whatever). Plus, I can share the list with my husband so he can also add items, and check them off when the time comes to actually pack.
When making the list, there are a few things you want to keep in mind:
- Sleeping situation: a safe place for your child to sleep, any comfort items or bedtime routine items they need, and also consider lighting- nightlights and/or blackout curtains may be required
- Play: we don’t like to travel with a TON of toys, but we do bring a few durable favorites. Toys are most important for travel time.
- Eating: Anything special you need to feed your child- perhaps a nursing cover, bottles, a baby spoon, sippy cup, or a plastic plate.
- Special gear: Things like lifejackets, swimsuits, sunshade, special shoes, cold-weather gear, travel journal
It also helps to have a basic plan for how you’ll spend your days. As you think through the days, you’ll have a clearer vision on what you’ll need to bring with you.
3. Plan for free time
As you come up with an itinerary or just a list of things you are hoping to do on vacation, keep in mind which of these are going to be hard for your child. For example, waiting in long lines, sitting still at a nice restaurant, or just being somewhere they have to stay close to you and always hold your hand will be tough for them.
Make sure you have a mix of difficult for children, and easy/relaxing options like a playground where they can run wild. Maybe even limit the ‘difficult for children’ options to one or 2 shorter activities a day for younger children. Allow flexibility where you can. Sometimes kids just wake up tired and need a rest day, or cranky and can’t be expected to do grown-up things.
4. Pick a comfortable place to stay
Choosing hotels or vacation rentals is hard work, but as you review your options, make sure you prioritize comfort for you and your family.
Things to consider when picking a comfortable place:
- Breakable items: check photos for items your younger child can reach and potentially break. You don’t want to spend every minute worrying about them, so skip those places.
- Space: When you need to fit more than a couple of people, and their baggage, into a hotel room, it can feel small really fast. Pick a place a little extra space.
- Cleanliness: little kids tend to crawl ALL over the floor and touch everything. Your best bet is to read reviews and search for the words ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’.
- Noise: A noisy room might mean that no one is getting good sleep, and parents know how important sleep is! Again, just read reviews and search for ‘noise’, ‘loud’,’quiet’.
- Temperature: especially for climates that are very warm or very cold, make sure the place has adequate heating and cooling. For example, we’ve seen several places in Hawaii do not have A/C, which probably isn’t a problem for most people. But my kids get SO hot when sleeping and they’d really struggle to sleep with A/C. So we skip the no A/C vacation rentals.
Of course, every family is going to be different. What feels comfortable to me may not feel comfortable to you. But as long as you keep comfort in mind, you’ll be sure to pick a great place.
5. Find Sleeping arrangements that work for your family
Young children, and probably actually EVERYONE, have a hard time falling asleep in an unfamiliar place, so make it as familiar as you can! Bring a lovey and maybe a familiar blanket, and stick to your normal bedtime routine. You’ll also want to think about whether your kids tend to fall asleep with you IN the room, or alone with the door closed. It’s not always possible to recreate a home environment for them, but try to be creative in coming up with something similar.
We are lucky that my kids sleep best when we are in the room (at least when it comes to travel sleeping arrangements, less lucky for everyday life LOL), so we are pretty comfortable in a hotel room. If your child needs to fall asleep alone, you might need to get a little bit creative if you are staying in a standard hotel room. Perhaps head out to the balcony?
Also, make sure whatever your child will be sleeping IN (perhaps a pack ‘n play, or an air mattress or something similar), try to introduce it BEFORE bedtime on the night they will be sleeping in it. Otherwise, the thing will be very new and exciting and make it even more difficult for the child to fall asleep.
Check out our favorite toddler travel beds here.
6. Plan ahead for Meals
When it comes to hunger, kids just aren’t able to wait as long as adults. If you are waiting at a restaurant for a table or waiting for food at a nice/slow restaurant, there is always a non-small chance of a meltdown before their meal arrives.
Bring snacks, or just be proactive to make sure you don’t get behind when it comes to meals for your little ones. We love to stock up on healthy snacks for our kids when we travel. That way, we can put together something nutritionally equivalent to a meal without the hassle. My kids are picky eaters, and honestly, it’s a vacation for me to just let them eat what they want for a while.
If possible, plan to cook some of your meals. Even if you don’t have a full kitchen, you might be able to grab supplies for some simple breakfasts or lunches. That’ll leave your child’s patience a bit higher when it comes time to go out to dinner. We also do take-out in our hotel or vacation rental a LOT.
7. Go OUTSIDE
Our easiest, most relaxing vacations are always the vacations where we spend a ton of time outside.
My kids thrive when they are outdoors. Honestly, I believe all kids, and probably at least most adults, thrive outside. And the outside time is even better if you can add water. Beach trips, lakes, river, or even a swimming pool seem to keep everyone happy and busy.
The best part about a beach trip or lake trip is that there is so much to do! Little kids love playing in the sand, throwing rocks in the water, or taking a ride in a kayak. And older siblings and adults will have fun as well.
8. Rest days
Vacation days can be intense for little guys. And after a few days, you expect to have a very tired little guy. We plan on a rest day about every 3 days.
On those days, they are just moving a little bit slower and wanting to do a little bit less. On these days, we might plan a more relaxing day, or even a day with more car time, like a day trip for sightseeing or whatever. We don’t completely take the day off, but we definitely allow for lower energy activities. It’s been super helpful for us to just acknowledge that it’s coming so we don’t overburden ourselves with too much to do.
Through our trials and tribulations, these tips have helped us master travel with our young twins. When followed, these tips keep our vacations truly relaxing, even when traveling with twin toddlers, and we all come home feeling great- refreshed, and full of memories that’ll last a lifetime. I hope they will help you out as well. Traveling with littles is such a great experience if you are willing to give it a try. Read about some of our wonderful trips with littles here, here and here.