New parents, here’s a little secret: Traveling with a baby is much easier than travel with a toddler.
Your infant will likely feed and sleep through plane rides, dinners out, museum visits and walking tours. And they are happy pretty much anywhere as long as they’re with you.
Toddlers, on the other hand, are energetic, curious and easily frustrated. They nap less, get very cranky when tired and have a limited attention span.
However, just because you have a toddler (or two), don’t assume that you have to put your travels on hold. Here are five ways to make traveling with toddlers a bit easier.
5 Essential Tips To Make the Most of Vacation With a Toddler
1. Rethink Your relaxation (and Beach Reading)
Even with a 2YO in tow, it’s still possible to get an hour or two of daily relaxation in during your trip. One method for lounging around at the beach or pool while your little one plays is to create a toddler playpen in between lounge chairs, tables and other props with a toy you know will engage him or her for a while.
For inspiration, here’s an example of one my husband and I made. Once you’ve got one set up, your tot can play in his or her new space while you get a bit of beach reading done.
If your child is to active to say penned in, switch off with your spouse. One of you gets to snooze by the pool, take a walk or hit gym while the other builds sand castles for an hour; then trade. If you’re lucky you might have a child who will sleep at the beach.
In addition, take advantage of naptime by making sure your hotel or vacation rental is a place you can really relax. While your child rests you can enjoy a leisurely couple lunch or sit on the balcony with that neglected book. You can return to the balcony or a comfy living room for a glass of wine and uninterrupted conversation after your toddler falls asleep for the night.
2. Find the Playground
In my opinion, playgrounds really are one of the best toddler-friendly vacation activities. They are free to visit, are sure to entertain your little one, and often lead to a cool off-beat neighborhood or scenic spot you wouldn’t have sought out otherwise.
3. Travel When Your Toddler Sleeps
My little one won’t like to sit still when he’s awake, but will sometimes take a longer nap in transit than he ordinarily would. So consider timing your driving or flying to coincide with naptime or bedtime when possible. You lower the odds of an in-transit tantrum and need less on-the-go entertainment.
If you’re flying, make sure to gate check your stroller, so you can plop your child into it as you deplane rather than having to jostle a sleeping tot through the airport.
I almost always let my son travel in pajamas, especially for early morning or evening departures. They are cozy and familiar. And if they spill something, arriving at your destination with dirty PJs is better than starting the vacation with dirty clothes.
4. Bring Lots of Things To Do
Toddlers are notorious for having short attention spans and not wanting to sit still, which makes flying, driving and even taking the train somewhat fraught.
Think about fun and entertainment in 20-minute increments, about the max for attention spand that this age.
My strategy is to carry a big bag of other entertainment. Like most parents, I find that stickers work wonders for occupying little hands on planes and in car seats. (Melissa & Doug are my go-to brand for these). Play-Doh can be fun, even if they don’t make much with it. The small ones meant for party bags travel well and make it past the TSA most easily.
Anything new and novel will hold their attention a bit longer. So I always raid the dollar bins at Target for small toys and crafts.
In addition, food and drinks provide entertainment as well, so bring lots of snacks with you. Or try asking the flight attendant for a kid-friendly cocktail.
5. Make The Most Of Your Under-2 Travel Savings
Sometime before your little one’s second birthday, consider flying off to an exotic (and relatively expensive) destination with your toddler as a lap baby one last time. I like to call this trip a toddlermoon. While you’re at it, take advantage of off-season and shoulder-season discounts while you still can. Before you know it you’ll have to plan your trips around school breaks and the peak rates that come with them.
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Jennifer Saranow Schultz is a writer based in San Francisco, where she lives with her son and husband. You can find her hints to help make parenting easier and cheaper at HintMama.com, She was the lead writer for The New York Times “Bucks” personal finance blog and spent seven years as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal.