14 tips for easy traveling with toddlers from a reluctant mommy traveler
If you’re expecting a walk in the park, I travel with my kids all the time, we take 24- hour flights with a smile and I just grab their carrier and go type of blogpost, then click away. If you’re excited to read about moms who finish books on vacation and come home rested with a tan, click away. If you’re thinking about getting tips on how to be a relaxed mommy who pops her two littles in the stroller past their bedtime to check out the local French night-time market, then again… click-click away. But, if you’re someone who starts making lists of what to bring on a trip three weeks ahead, if you wake up in a sweat thinking about the flight, drive or ride with your family, if you look at a picture of a friend trekking in the Rockies with two kids, a newborn and a dog and think: that’s my idea of hell,… then WELCOME my friend!
Nice to meet you. I don’t know if you’ve always been like this but with me it’s a trait I got when I became a mom. I loved to travel – nothing too eccentric, but I’ve see a fair part of the world – and my husband and I were convinced that little would change once we had kids. However,… besides trips to the seaside (1 hour drive) and a first plane trip to an all-in hotel in Mallorca, we haven’t travelled much. (much sounds better but it really should be at all).
As my sister puts it: “you can’t just put your life on hold for x years”, but I actually don’t mind to change my travel expectations now that I have kids. Life has changed so drastically anyways since I’ve become a mother. But what is it that keeps me from traveling the most? First of all – I’m a tad autistic when it comes to preparing for a trip. I find it unsettling to not know what the destination is going to be like exactly. Obviously you don’t want to know, because then why still go? But I get twitchy thinking about food, no stroller, one stroller, or two strollers? Which carrier to take, how many rompers, diapers, etc… Second, I dread the trip. I hate traveling by car and favor the airplane but have had my share of delays and cancellations and get sweaty palms from imagining us being stuck in a stuffy departure gate with two hangry toddlers.
Our first plane trip
When we had Amelia though, we decided to book a family trip and benefit from Elliot flying for free (till the age of two) and Amelia still being breastfed (6 months old). Everything went just fine and we had a perfectly sunny week in Malaga. We enjoyed watching Elliot discover the premises. At the end of the week, however, we decided that for us, it didn’t really make the vacation we had expected. With two children, we were unable to get a tan – at all. We took turns during naps to relax by the pool alone a bit but as a breastfeeding mom, those moments were short-lived. It was nice though to have a buffet to choose from, and for the first time in months not to have to worry about feeding everyone! But the quality time we had there, could just as well have been spent in our hometown during a sunny week.
While writing this I am feeling the Italian sun in my neck and have a view of the Garda lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. We have been here a few days now and will spend two weeks here. It is amazing. There’s beautiful towns, shops, vineyard bike trails and child friendly restaurants to be discovered all over. We’re staying at a camping site, but have booked one of the bungalows. It’s basic but has all the modern comfort we need. It has a microwave (cheeeeeck), bathroom, kitchen and air-conditioning. We drove here and I hated every minute of those 12 long hours although everything went fine. The kids slept most of the time and we barely had any traffic. I’m just a sucky car traveler.
Because I am enjoying this vacation so much, I want to convince other mommies who are a bit reluctant to travel, to give it a try. So here are some tips that I, as chicken two-time traveler, will now reveal:
Stick to your routine (and sometimes don’t)
This is such a difficult one. At home I plan my day around naps. My kids nap, that is, I do tons of neverending sh*t. On vacation we try to stick to the routine as well, our kids are the cutest, most adorable angels you’ve ever seen but mess with their naps and they become howling, hair-pulling (their own!) extras from The Walking Dead. As you can understand this is something we prefer to prevent. But with Amelia in the middle of transitioning from two naps to one, we’ve made the decision to either let her do one nap on the road, or do one big nap with Elliot. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere (nap Amelia from 10-12 A.M. /lunch / nap Elliot 12-2.30 P.M / Nap Amelia 2 -4 P.M. / 4 P.M. snack time/6 P.M. dinner time.) At home she doesn’t nap very well in the stroller but here she’s actually had some really good quality naps en route.
So my not so professional advice is, wing it. But don’t fly too close to the sun. Get it?
Plan things for your kids
No kid enjoys being strapped in a stroller all day to then be put in a high chair at a restaurant and to then sit, once again, in the stroller. This is a family vacation. Stop by a lake, playground or park and let your little ones run free. This playing is their learning! Moreover, they need to be able to release all that energy. Consider a picknick instead of lunch at a restaurant. Try to avoid going out to eat every single meal. That’s why I enjoy the camping site so much – against all odds, rest assured.
Today for example, the four of us started our day with our familiar bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, then we took the car halfway to the village of Dro, got on our bikes there and stopped for a casual yet gorgeous lunch underneath wine ranks. The kids were free to run around and there was even a little playground in the shade. After that we biked back, took the car and I failed miserably at getting them to bed for a nap. It was one of those – let’s wing it days, and we crashed and burned. So I aborted mission naptime and took them swimming. Elliot ended up skipping his nap and Amelia took a nap in the stroller while I went for groceries downtown and Bart watched Elliot with his parents. We had dinner at Bart’s parents’ camping spot and put the kids to bed.
We had thought about checking out the town of Dro on the same day, but decided it was a bit of a stretch to bike, eat and walk around in a town and to then still have to make our way back. This is what traveling with kids is like,…
Be sure to choose a hotel room, house, bungalow, tent with two separate rooms AND an outdoors. Otherwise with two little toddlers you will be watching Netlix in the dark wearing headphones during their naps and again from their 8 P.M. bedtime onwards. With a little garden or patio, you can enjoy the sun or have a conversation with the baby monitor close by.
Make sure there’s a pool
This way you can introduce a new fun activity to your daily routine. Here in Italy we like to go for a swim before lunch and then they have a nap. An additional strange outing they have added to the routine themselves is to go check if the pool is closed before they turn in for the night.
Travel when you're breastfeeding
Yes, your baby is little and is probably not sleeping very well yet but traveling now will save you so much packing. No babyfood, milk, bottles, spoons, bibs,… just your boobies you already have with you anyways. Moreover, if you’re traveling by plane, you have a perfect way of comforting your baby during take-off and landing.
Take the stroller(s)
I don’t know what it is with me but I’m such a fan of the carrier and hate getting in people’s way with a stroller, that every time we go somewhere I consider leaving the stroller at home. Well don’t. It will limit your options. Even if you like sticking to routine, as we do, you’ll want to keep the options of a daytime nap in the stroller open. If you’re traveling with your partner or better yet, friends or grandparents take a stroller per kid. If you want to see anything of your destination, a carrier and scooter/balance bike won’t cut it.
Get a portable dvd player
Until now we’ve been able to keep iPads and such at bay but with the long car trip in mind, I decided to throw all my parenting resolutions overboard and got us a double portable dvd player. There were about a thousand times during the car ride over here that I was so happy that I had. (We left them in the car though because we don’t want to have to retrain our dragons when we get back to daily routine at home!)
Get diapers on location
If there’s one thing you can be sure of to find anywhere, it’s diapers. So just take some for the trip and pack some extras but get the rest when you’re settled at your destination. Here in Italy diapers are dirt cheap so it’s been a welcome surprise!
Ask family or friends with kids to go on vacation together. You might get the chance to go out on a date night with your spouse while the others watch your kids and might also be able to get some down time during the day.
Wash on site
We’ll be here for two weeks but I packed for one. I have some detergent with me for quick bucket washes but there are also washing machines here so this weekend I’ll wash everything and we’ll have fresh clothes for next week. I also like doing this again right before we leave because then you arrive back home and don’t have a huge amount of washing to do.
"Iron" on site!
I was sent a TADA! spray to try out and have to say that it's great to take on vacation. You know those items you're not sure you want to pack because they might be all wrinkly by the time you take them out of your suitcase, well this stuff makes all those wrinkles go away. Spray on the garment, wait ten seconds and pull on the fabric here and there. I wouldn't advise to use it instead of ironing but it's a great last-minute fix or vacation fix for a shirt you've ironed but has been sitting in a suitcase. I was able to bring my favorite kimono and I packed a bunch of dresses for Amelia I would have otherwise left at home. (including that gorgeous lemon print romper she's wearing in the picture from our trip to Limone. I sprayed the ruffles right before I dressed her and,... Tadaa!)
Don’t take too many toys
We just took some toys along for entertainment during the car ride over here. We bought some beach toys and a ball in the local supermarket here, and Elliot and Amelia have been perfectly content. This seems better than bringing along lots of toys they already know from home anyways.
Consider taking a play pen
This of course depends on what type of traveling formula you’ve chosen but here at our little cabin we’ve been very happy to be able to put Amelia in the travel play pen outside sometimes. She likes having the alone time and being away from all the stimuli for a bit. Elliot often joins her and they play with their toy cars or read a book for half an hour in the shade. In the mean time we can do some washing up or also do some relaxing without having to be vigilant the whole time.
Take some time off from cooking
At home I try to always prepare home cooked meals but here on holiday Elliot and Amelia have had their fair share of canned baby foods. It’s been such a treat for me to not have to prepare food all day, because with two toddlers that’s pretty much my life at home: prepare breakfast, clean up, snack, clean up, prepare lunch, clean up, snack, clean up, prepare dinner, clean up,…
Take the bike along
Again, this depends on what type of vacation you’ve got planned but we’ve enjoyed having our bikes here. I took my mommy bike with two kiddie seats along and we’ve been able to do lots of fun sightseeing in the neighborhood by bike. Of course, you can’t take the stroller along then so it’s for shorter trips or trips to the supermarket, but still it gives you the chance to leave the car, and it’s an activity the kids enjoy. Here in the Italian province of Trento they have amazing bike trails all around the Garda lake and through the vineyards. We done some great sightseeing like this!
Get your kids a tattoo
A wash-off sticky tattoo that is. I had some made with the text “Lost? Call my mommy:” and my cell phone number. Obviously I’m not planning on losing my children but especially Amelia is such a little adventurer, she runs off alllllll the time. With beach days in mind, this prospect worried me and now I feel a little more assured.
So these are my travel tips, if you have any to add – don’t hesitate to hit me up on my insta account @mommoiselle_com!