Traveling with Toddlers
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 38-40
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
This summer we will be taking our first vacation as a family with our two-year-old daughter. Our vacation will include air travel and a cruise with my parents. We are excited to get away and have special time to enjoy each others' company, but I am nervous about keeping our daughter contented. What tricks do other parents have to keep a young child happily occupied while traveling?
We took a cruise with our two- and four-year-old daughters last summer and it was a huge success. We took our car seats and it was well worth hauling them through the airport because they knew on the airplane that when you are in a moving vehicle in your car seat, you don't get out. The markers that color only on special paper were a hit because they were a novelty for our girls, and we didn't have to worry about them marking up their clothes or the airplane seats. The reusable paint with water books were also a success. We brought a portable DVD player, but it didn't get much use. Once onboard the ship, we found a deck that was pretty quiet most of the time, so when they needed to run, we would go there and they could run laps to get out energy without disturbing other passengers. We planned beach excursions because most ships will not allow non-potty trained children in the pools, even with a swim diaper.
Waukesha WI USA
My husband and I traveled to Belarus (between Poland and Russia) with our daughter when she was 22 months old, so I understand your need to keep your daughter happy on your trip. Here are some things that worked for us; maybe some will work for you.
I am grateful that Addy was a breastfed toddler. While some other babies cried on the airplanes as the changes in pressure hurt their ears, nursing during takeoff and landing kept Addy swallowing and relieved the pressure. We made plenty of trips up and down the aisles whenever we were allowed to leave our seats. It let us stretch our legs and kept Addy occupied.
Keeping Addy in arms not only helped her adjust to new places, but it allowed us to get around easily. In the crowded airports, there were times when a stroller would have been hard to maneuver. I used my baby carrier to keep Addy on my back. Prior to the trip, I invested in a special pouch and backpack that attached to the baby carrier to replace our diaper bag. When traveling around the country it was easy to walk around with Addy on my back as she napped, or on my front as she nursed. We didn't have to worry about being back to our beds for naptime; she just napped while being carried.
Sleeping next to Addy made it easy for her to get used to new arrangements every few nights. Even when we were stuck in an airport for a long layover, I simply lay down across some seats and nursed her to sleep. She didn't seem to notice it was an uncomfortably long wait for the adults.
To keep Addy entertained, I brought along an assortment of small, interesting toys that were new to her. At that age it was a big deal for her to scribble with a pen instead of crayons, so I brought a handful of colorful pens and bought Addy her own special notebook. We decided that the normal rules wouldn't apply during the trip, so on the first airplane ride I let her waste every single piece of paper in her entire notebook. It was a small price to pay for a peaceful plane ride. We also introduced chewing gum to her at this time as a special treat that kept her content for at least a short period of time.
During our stay we pulled out some small books and flashcards. It was actually nice not to rely on the more expensive toys that were left at home, but instead to try singing together, making up games with rocks, and finding random objects such as a restaurant straw with which to play.
Because it was sometimes longer between meal stops than Addy was used to, we kept a generous supply of healthful, portable foods on hand such as hard-boiled eggs, dried fruit, and dried cereal. We were sure to keep a bottle always full of water since we never knew when we would next be able to access safe water.
Enjoy your trip! While many people thought we were crazy for traveling internationally with such a young child, I believe that having Addy breastfed and in arms actually made her quite portable.
Sue Stuever Battel
Elkton MI USA
A suggestion that I got from a mother of four that also worked well for us was to provide new small toys or books whenever the situation was difficult for our toddlers to handle. They weren't expensive toys, but they were something the toddlers had never seen and would be fascinated with -- at least temporarily. Of course the usual advice for toddlers still holds true: try to make sure they get enough rest and enough snacks. We would always have fruit, raisins, crackers, and cheese or peanut butter. Our toddlers didn't require much rest during the day, but we always made sure they had a good night's sleep.
Tyler TX USA
Taking family vacations can be such a great way to create wonderful memories, but they can also be a lot of work for the parents and grandparents if they're not prepared for near constant movement. I remember taking a cruise with my toddler a few years ago, and I learned so much about traveling with little ones on that trip. My husband and I spent a lot of time on the stairways (up and down, repeat) and in the gift shop (so many colorful, stuffed toys to play with). When it was time to eat, we requested extra munchies to keep our son interested. Sometimes, though, walking around outside the restaurant was necessary, especially when our son was restless. Most importantly, we had a flexible attitude because temperaments can change quickly. For example, when we'd planned to be in the pool we ended up back in our cabin for "yaya," our code word for breastfeeding, and a nap instead.
On airplanes, we have found bandages and stickers to be great fun for little ones. I also like to pack a small bag just for my child to carry, which is filled with snacks, little wrapped presents (from dollar stores!), and a few favorite toys and books. Some children do well on airplanes and show no signs of discomfort from pressure in their ears, while others are prone to being uncomfortable. Of course, breastfeeding during take off and landing can help as well as having a sippy cup handy. I do remember spending time walking up and down the aisles of the plane to keep my son occupied and happy when it was safe to do so.
Overall, keeping a flexible attitude and asking for help when you need a break will go a long way to ensuring your family vacation is full of wonderful memories.
Savannah GA USA
When we travel with our children, we let our friends know ahead of time and ask them if they have any toys they would be willing to give us. Lots of folks are eager for any excuse to get rid of games, toys, and those trinkets from fast food restaurants. So it's a win-win situation for everyone. Your child gets new and exciting toys to hold their interest and your friends get a chance to clean out the toy box. Of course, with a toddler, you want to make sure the toys aren't small enough to be a choking hazard and it's best to avoid those that make noise. Another tip is to have snacks -- lots and lots of snacks. Veggie slices and easy fruits work best along with whole-grain cereal. We try to avoid sugary snacks because the last thing I want is a hyper toddler confined to a small space. You can also bring packets of foods requiring hot water. Oatmeal packets work well. Hot water is usually available for tea, so you add that to a packet of oatmeal for a quick and hearty snack. I usually keep a small stock of lollipops in my bag. Yes, I know I suggested avoiding sugar, but I find those come in handy and can help with ear trouble. My kids wouldn't always nurse during landings and with toddlers, I found the flight attendants would insist they were in their seats at that time, which made nursing difficult.
With all three of our children, we often found that when we had sippy cups, they wouldn't always drink out of them if their ears hurt. So make sure you have ones that, if they have valves, they can be removed. We often had to take the tops completely off and really pour the water into their mouths for them. They were in pain, so all they wanted to do was cry, not drink, but swallowing helped. Of course, if you have children who are willing and able to nurse, that helps too.
Don't forget that, when flying, you must dump out sippy cups before going through the check point. It's a huge hassle to make it through the long line only to have to go back and dump it out then start again. So remember that beforehand and save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress.
Moore OK USA
I've never been on a cruise, so I'm not sure what advice to give about that. For plane travel, we pack toys and snacks in a very easy to reach container -- something you're stowing under the seat, not overhead. New toys can be helpful, even if it's just something you borrow from a friend, that's new to your child. Toys that can be played with for a long time are good, like crayons, play dough, or others depending on your daughter's specific interests. A friend once suggested we wrap some of the toys as presents, since opening them then becomes another way to pass the time, and also helps make them seem more exciting. We also play lots of made up games to pass the time. We play follow the leader in the airport, and head, shoulders, knees, and toes (even in the seat on the airplane). We played guessing games with our very verbal two-year-old, where we described something and she'd try to guess what it was, or we'd draw something and she'd try to guess what it was.
Nursing during takeoff and landing can help keep your daughter from being uncomfortable as the pressure changes. At two though, she may not be interested, so sometimes we'll play a game of pretending to yawn, or have a lollipop or drink with a straw.
The hardest time for us has always been after we board the plane, but before takeoff, when there's lots of movement and noise around us, but we're not able to move as we want, or settle in for a game. Because of this, we never board early, even though we have that option when traveling with kids. We use that time to run around a little bit in the terminal, or do something else active.
We also bring a portable DVD player or laptop computer. Although I know many families try to avoid videos, we find them very helpful, especially in situations where we can't just get up and move when we feel like it.
With a little preparation, we've found that by planning ahead, traveling with kids is not as hard as we'd feared.
Kingwood TX USA
My husband and I have been airline employees for years. When I quit to stay home with my first child, I knew we would still have flight privileges to visit my family. After over 100 flights with my two children (five years old and 21 months old), I've learned a few tricks of the trade!
First, only pack about one-third of the things you think you will need. Most of it ends up on the floor of the airplane anyway. Nursing during take off and landing (especially the descent) can help with air pressure on the ears and a bag of your child's favorite foods in small bags makes for a fun treat.
As for toys, I've found the following to be the most entertaining items: light-weight books, clay, a role of masking tape (pulling it apart and sticking it is great fun!), and easy to peel stickers with cardstock paper (less flimsy and likely to get ripped).
What I would avoid is the temptation to let your children out of their seats to play on the floor or walk around. Once this starts, it is hard to stop. Also, when you get a drink, ask for a child's lid and straw, otherwise you might be wearing your drink. With that in mind, have your wipes handy for quick clean-ups and ask your toddler to help you wipe things down -- this fills a few minutes of time and it sanitizes your space.
Most of all, relax! I've allowed myself to get caught up in the anxiety of keeping my children quiet and it only stresses them.
Dallas TX USA