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How To Travel With Toddlers

Planning for a vacation with the family is typically a fun occasion. However, if the trip includes traveling with a toddler, other factors must be carefully considered, especially if the toddler is going on an extended trip for the very first time. Here are a few practical tips on how to make a trip with a toddler a lot less stressful and a lot more carefree and enjoyable.
Starting Planning In Advance

Parents should plan their trip well in advance, especially if this is their first trip with their child. This includes deciding where and when to go, the length of the trip, creating a vacation budget, mode of travel and booking overnight accommodations. Planning in advance is especially important if the trip requires traveling by plane. On the other hand, there is always the possibility of securing a phenomenal deal on a last-minute travel package, but doing so will require other tasks, e.g. packing done more hastily.

Related: Ask An Expert: Tips On Traveling With Kids

Stuffed Animals (credit: Randy Yagi) Stuffed Animals (credit: Randy Yagi)
Prepare A Checklist

The planning process should also include preparing a checklist of all items that need to be brought along for the trip. Most items might seem fairly obvious, but a checklist can come in handy if a parent forgets to bring something for the trip, which could lead to an additional expense. Among the necessary things to bring for the trip are a first aid kit, toddler utensils and toiletries, potty seat (if necessary) and toilet paper, baby bottles, diaper cream and diapers, baby wipes and pads (if necessary). Other important items include travel toys, audiobooks, DVD players and tablets like the iPad.

An excellent example of a packing list for a toddler can be found on reliable sources like BabyCenter.

On The Road

Before heading out to enjoy America's scenic roads parents have a number of tasks to perform, including determining the proper length of time of the road, preparing a trip itinerary and a vehicle inspection.

Rear-Facing Car Seat (credit: Randy Yagi) Rear-Facing Car Seat (credit: Randy Yagi)
Safety Factors

For parents heading out on a road trip, certain tasks must be undertaken prior to departure. At the top of the list is ensuring the car seat is the right one to use based upon factors such as the age and size of the child. Additionally, ensuring the car seat is properly installed is critical. According to, seven of 10 children are not buckled in properly. Seat positioning is also important, as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both recommend a backward-facing seat until toddlers are at least two years old. One other safety factor that must not be overlooked is the vehicle itself, whether it's inspecting the tires for proper inflation, windshield wipers, an oil change and so on.

Car Entertainment

Various types of car entertainment are a must for any length of a road trip. Referring back to the checklist, audiobooks, DVD players and iPads are a great way to keep a toddler entertained and occupied. But arts and crafts, games and puzzles and educational toys are all useful items to bring along.

Disney Puzzle (credit: Randy Yagi) Disney Puzzle (credit: Randy Yagi)
Rest Stops

Parents should also plan on making regular stops along the way. This allows the toddler to have a chance to take a brief walk or play, as well as providing the parents time to stretch their legs, freshen up, serve snacks or even change a diaper.

Trail Mix (credit: Randy Yagi) Trail Mix (credit: Randy Yagi)
Food And Beverages

A great way to keep costs down on a road trip is by packing plenty of food and beverages that everyone will enjoy. Cut pieces of celery, carrots and apples are always smart choices, as are trail mix and granola bars. Parents can choose what type of beverages they want to bring along, but it's helpful to avoid sugary drinks like concentrated fruit juices and sodas. Healthier options include just plain water, coconut water, iced tea (for the adults) and sugar-free products like Crystal Light or a generic version.

Air Travel

A trip on an airplane can be one of the most stressful situations a parent can experience. Chances are no one will want to sit next to a family with a toddler, particularly when pouting and crying can't be easily controlled. Fortunately, there are some things parents can do to lessen the chance of something like this happening on a crowded plane.

Airport Terminal (credit: Randy Yagi) Airport Terminal (credit: Randy Yagi)
Arrive Early

The process of traveling to the airport, passing through the security checkpoint and reaching the departure gate can be a lot easier simply by arriving early. This is especially important if luggage needs to be checked in and if a baby carriage is being used. Another added plus of arriving early is that it can allow a toddler to play, which could translate into the toddler being more relaxed or falling asleep during the flight.

Security Checkpoint

Just like other travelers, a toddler must pass through the TSA screening. If baby formula, baby food or other food items are being brought on board, a parent (or legal guardian) must inform a TSA officer prior to the screening process. Parents are allowed to hold their child through the metal detector and it's possible a full body scanner may not be required. The TSA provides additional information on the screening process for children and their parents.

Boarding The Plane

Although most major airline carriers eliminated the policy of pre-boarding for families with small children, some, like JetBlue and Southwest, still have this provision. If that's the case, parents should take advantage of this policy to lessen the stress of the mass rush of other passengers as well as secure a guaranteed spot to store overhead luggage.

Taking Off

While a plane is flying towards a higher elevation, a toddler may experience pain or discomfort in the ears. To lessen this unpleasant feeling there are methods to help, such as keeping the toddler awake during take off, encouraging the toddler to drink plenty of fluids, using a pacifier or chewing sugar-free gum. The U.S. Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus offers additional tips on preventing or treating ear pain.

Baby on Board Sign (credit: Randy Yagi) Baby on Board Sign (credit: Randy Yagi)
During The Flight

Just as with a road trip, certain forms of entertainment should be brought along on a flight. However, it's helpful to bring along new or unfamiliar items to keep a toddler entertained and preoccupied. Examples include a new movie on a DVD player or laptop, new games or a new app on a tablet or smartphone.

Descending And Arriving At The Gate

Like the ascent, a toddler may experience ear discomfort or pain as the plane is descending. The same methods for lessening or reducing ear pain during the take off can be used on the descent.

After arriving at the gate, it's helpful to allow other passengers to de-board the plane first. It adds time to the trip, but it also allows parents to get organized and check around their seats in case of a dropped item. Additionally, the flight crew may also be available for to assist getting off the plane.

Related: How To Add Romance While Also Traveling With Kids

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on
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