7 Travel Hacks to Make Vacations with a Toddler a Breeze

For a kid born on an island, my son has been to a lot of places. He’s been to three of the four main Hawaiian Islands, taken several trips to California and even made it out to Tennessee. As a little baby, it wasn’t so hard to package him up in a carrier and walk him back to my seat. All I had to do was breast feed during takeoff and landing and he was more or less good to go.

Times have changed. My now toddler takes more planning than he did as an infant. My personal concept of Hell is being stuck on an airplane with my son in full meltdown while everyone around me gives grumpy side-eye. Usually passengers are actually pretty understanding about kids, but not always. Skip the meltdowns and enjoy your next trip with a few easy tips.

Let them carry their own weight (sort of)

Mom of the year right here.

Toddler backpacks are great to let them feel like “big kids” and carry a few essentials. The bags aren’t big enough for more than a couple of diapers, a small pack of wipes, a small toy and maybe a change of clothes. Packing the backpack and letting them carry it will cut down on how stuffed the diaper bag is and most of them come with an optional leash to keep them from getting too far away in a busy airport or while exploring a new place.

Not everyone is a fan of leashing toddlers. I remember thinking they were funny and kind of terrible until I found a picture of myself at three wearing my own leash in Disneyland. Thanks, mom and dad. They explained that I used to run all over the place, and they were worried I’d get lost. Now that I have my own little runner, I get it. He wants nothing more than his own independence, and frankly a backpack with a leash gives him the illusion of independence and me the peace of mind knowing that he can’t get too far.

Money permitting, buy them a seat

If your child is under two, you have the option of not buying them a seat on a plane and having them sit in your lap. For our last flight, we took a trip to a neighbor island. It’s about a 45-minute flight and I didn’t want to waste $150 for my son to have his own seat. Once onboard, I immediately regretted the decision. At (then) 17 months, our son wanted to kick the seat in front and play with the tray table—every passenger’s nightmare. If I tried to get him to stop, he turned into a screaming monster. I gave him toys, snacks and juice, but it didn’t work. If he’d had his own seat, he would have either been able to move around with more independence (but without the reach to get to the seat in front), or we could have brought his car seat and set it up. He’s already comfortable traveling in the car seat and likely would have settled down right away. Plus, then we wouldn’t need to check the car seat.

Only pack enough essentials to get through your travel day

Diapers, wipes, snacks and juice take up a ton of space. Even using your child as a pack mule with his own backpack doesn’t make a huge difference. Don’t bother bringing the contents of your whole changing table with you. There are discount stores everywhere, and it is possible to get these essentials once you arrive. Our last vacation was to another Hawaiian island, and we were still able to find reasonably priced items in our resort area destination. You can look up shopping areas in advance, or, if you are staying at a private residence, you can consider ordering items in online to arrive the same day you do.

Take a redeye

Full disclosure: this wasn’t a redeye, and he wasn’t actually toddling yet, but still a fun pic.

I know, redeye flights suck. You never get enough sleep and it’s majorly uncomfortable. But if you’re going to be flying for several hours (which is usually the case when your start point is Hawaii), you’re going to want your kid to sleep. If they’re punchy and want to run around, you’re going to have a bad time. Bite the bullet and take a redeye so that even if you don’t sleep, your toddler should.

Bonus tip: have your toddler fly wearing pajamas and bring their favorite blanket to help get them in the mood for sleep.

Don’t vary the routine too much

Toddlers love routine. It helps shape their days and establishes boundaries. It’s impossible to keep everything exactly same when out of your home environment but try to maintain a time schedule if you can. So, if your child usually has breakfast at eight, snack at 10:30, lunch at noon, etc., keep that up as much as possible, especially at bedtime. If you’ve changed time zones, try to adjust the routine to the new time zone. Your toddler is going to be out of whack with the changes of location, so keeping the schedule helps with consistency.

Take turns with naptime

My husband managed to get our son to nap poolside at Aulani. Winning!

Toddlers need naps. We’ve all seen what happens when toddlers don’t get their rest, and unless you love meltdowns, you probably want to avoid the cranks with a well-timed nap.

The big downside to this when traveling is that it takes a big chunk of time in the middle of the day. My son likes to nap from 12-2 pm which is prime time for exploring new areas or relaxing poolside. Talk to your spouse or travel partner in advance about trading off days to spend naptime with your kids so that it doesn’t become a chore and one person gets an afternoon break to do whatever.

Plan ahead for age-appropriate activities

The Knoxville Zoo is actually really great and not depressing.

As an adult, zoos bum me out. The enclosures seem small and the animals look sad. To my son, zoos are magic. We know he likes them and aquariums, so those are the types of things we’ll look for in a destination. You can also check out stroller-friendly hikes or nature trails, small amusement parks, or good playgrounds. Whatever you do, make sure there are things that are entertaining nearby. Kids get bored easily and it’s always good to have a game plan.

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