How To Prepare For Long-Distance Travel With Toddlers
Taking kids across the country or abroad can be daunting. It can also be life changing. Tot Mama of two and American expat, Summer Land, shares her tips for traveling and exploring the world with toddlers.
As an American living in Australia with two kids under five, I’ve had A LOT of practice traveling internationally with babies and toddlers. Being able to see my friends and family and watching my kids explore the world around them makes the 36-hour door-to-door adventure essential.
In this article, we’ll go over:
- Mentally preparing for long distance travel with toddlers
- Advice for long distance travel with toddlers
- The best products for long distance travel with toddlers
- Materials and ingredients to avoid in kids products
Scroll down to learn more.
Mentally preparing for long distance travel with toddlers
One of the best ways to prepare for traveling with a baby and/or toddler is to set expectations from the start. Accept that:
- there may be tears (from both you and your child).
- you might get a dirty look from a grumpy traveler. (It’s not personal.)
- there will be sticky hands, poop explosions, and very dirty clothing.
- it’s going to be hard and prepare to work your butt off. You’re going to be singing songs, playing games and naming inanimate objects for hours.
- it will probably take you longer than usual to get where you want to go.
Advice for long-distance travel with toddlers
If you’re flying
I may be a worrywart, but I always arrive for an international flight at least 3 hours early.
With the airlines we fly, we’re not always guaranteed a bassinet seat until check-in, and even though your baby may not want to be in it – you’re going to want the extra storage space and to be near the other moms and dads. These people are your tribe. So are the flight attendants. They want your baby to be quiet as much as you do, so don’t be afraid to ask for a bottle to be warmed up or if they have a banana left over from first class (unless you’re in first class, and then may I suggest gifting your banana to the toddler in Row 59C?).
When it comes to boarding, I never rush to get on and settled. I use this time to let my kids run off some energy. I also like to talk about what to expect on the plane. If you’re potty training – getting up can be difficult so I’m going to go ahead and just own that I put my toddlers in pull-ups throughout the flight. However, I still ask them if they need to go and encourage them to try.
If your kids are a bit older, they may have an attention span for the inflight entertainment or a tablet. Some parents may worry about the screen light keeping them awake, buy my kids seem to sleep okay. (This also gives me a solid hour to eat my meal in peace!) However, I do know of some pretty awesome screen-free options (listed below).
I also recommend bringing more child outfits than you think you’ll need.
When my daughter, Daisy, was 11 months old we had an unexpected 10 hour layover at LAX and she wanted to do nothing but CRAWL. The knees of her special travel outfit were black from all the grime on the floor! On that note – also bring a bag for dirty clothes, a bag for garbage, wet wipes, natural hand sanitizer and be sure to wash everyone’s hands at every opportunity. There’s nothing worse than sick kids while traveling.
Before you go – make sure you’re all up to date on your immunizations and everyone is healthy. It’s helpful to pack a thermometer and any other first aid items you might use for a rough night at home.
If you’re driving
When you’re planning on hitting the open road, try to work your drive times around your toddler’s sleep schedule. I also suggest breaking up the trip.
My mom and I went on a multi-state two-week road trip when my kids were 1 and 3. We always tried to leave after dinner and bath and would drive until about 10 or 11 p.m. From there, we’d simply transfer my kids into a hotel room. Note: I would NEVER recommend driving so late alone, but felt safe with my mom driving. By doing the bulk of the driving during their sleep, our days were much more peaceful.
As with flying, make sure you have plenty of extra clothing, wet wipes, snacks, diapers/pull-ups and entertainment!
The best products for long-distance travel with toddlers
While I know you don’t want to add even more to your packing list, I promise that the following products are total lifesavers when it comes to traveling with toddlers:
- Travel stroller
- Diaper bag backpack
- Extra outfits, PJs & blanket
- Wipes & diapers/training pants
- Food storage & water bottles
- Toys & activities
- Travel car seat
- Pack ’n Play (for when you get where you’re going)
Scroll down to see my picks for each!
While you may be all sorts of obsessed with your current stroller because it can quite literally hold a case of wine in the under seat basket, chances are it’s not compact enough to easily hop on a plane, in a taxi or on the subway.
That’s why I’m all about a compact stroller. An option like the Nuna Mixx Next folds compactly and in one piece, stands when folded (a handy feature you’ll be grateful for when you’re in transit) and also has a trolley function when collapsed.
I think the number one item I used with my kids was a baby carrier.
They’re so comfortable to use, easy to clean and can help you soothe a fussy baby or tote a tired toddler! I love it because it can be adjusted to fit parents of all shapes and sizes and offers multiple wearing options.
Diaper bag backpack
Once you have a toddler, you’ll need to be able to have your hands free. That’s why I swear by backpack diaper bags.
Currently, we are LOVING this eco option from Jem & Bea. Complete with a travel change pad, wristlet and internal pockets to keep you organized, it’s also super stylish.
Extra outfits, PJs & blanket
I don’t know why or how, but toddlers become even messier when on the road! I always advise having plenty of back-up outfits. In fact, have an outfit for getting to the airport, being at the airport, sleeping on the plane (x 2) and one for getting off the plane!
The other thing to consider is the clothing’s fabric. Because cars and planes can be quite stuffy, it’s best to dress your tot in breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like organic cotton or bamboo rayon.
Does your toddler get cold? Always travel with at least two swaddles and a blanket. They’re fantastic for keeping kids warm and snuggly when they finally drift off to sleep.
Wipes, diapers & training pants
My daughter stopped using diapers around age 2, but when we traveled, I always convinced her to wear training pants JUST IN CASE. I would explain that I trusted her to know when she needed to go, but that she might not have the opportunity.
At the same time, my son was still in diapers. It’s incredible how many more you seem to go through! I don’t know if he was drinking more liquids or what, but pack more than you think! Oh and WIPES. You need LOTS of wipes.
Food storage & water bottles
Is there anything worse than an overly tired kid? Yes. An overly hungry kid!
Keep your tot cool, calm, collected and well-fed with ample snacks. Try opting for things like fresh cut veggies, rice crackers or granola. Steer clear of overly sugary processed foods, which can lead to a sugar-crash meltdown! Don’t forget about yourself! You’ll be working hard, so be sure to fill up a water bottle and snacks for yourself too!
Toys & activities
I guarantee that two minutes into your journey, you’ll hear a groan of boredom. Don’t worry — portable toys such as interactive books, magnetic scene sets, and a drawing tablet and an electronic storyteller can help pass the time
Travel car seat
Depending on what type of trip you’re going on, you may need a car seat once you get where you’re going.
The WAYB Pico is a total game-changer. Incredibly safe and comfortable, this wonder chair folds into a portable package!
Pack ’n Play
Again, depending on where you’re going (and the age of your toddler), it might be wise to bring a travel crib. We love the Nuna Cove Aire Go because it’s so easy to open and fold and provides endless comfort!