Traveling with a toddler can feel like a daunting scenario for any parent.
Even the most vacation-savvy parent might shudder at the thought of boarding a flight or packing a car with young children in tow, but having a toddler isn’t the end of the road for globetrotters.
Katie Brown, an independent family travel consultant at Ciao Bambino and a mom, told TODAY Parents that parents who want to travel with a toddler “absolutely” can.
“There are loads of articles out there that are supposed to be funny about how miserable it is to travel with young children, but I’ve found that traveling with a toddler is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had as a mom, and I think that my clients think similarly,” Braun said.
Benefits of traveling with an infant
Brown said the benefit of traveling with a toddler is that parents can eliminate all distractions from their day and just enjoy watching their toddler explore and learn in a new environment.
“They’re young enough where parents can dictate most activities, but old enough where packing and getting around is easier than with a toddler,” she said.
For parents heading to the streets or the open skies, Brown shared six key tips.
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6 tips for traveling with a toddler
Choose the right location.
If you don’t like spending a lot of time in a busy city, a vacation to Paris with a toddler will likely leave you more stressed out. If you’ve never enjoyed the logistics and cleanup at a beach, spending your vacation trying to stop a 1-year-old from eating sand won’t feel relaxing.
“I recommend choosing a location that will be fun for the adults and/or the older children in the traveling family,” Brown told TODAY Parents. “You can turn any place into a fun vacation for toddlers, but it has to be fun for adults too.”
Choose a length that makes sense for the preferred location.
If you’re flying to Japan from Phoenix with a 2-year-old and only have a week of vacation, you’re going to spend much of that week adjusting to the new time zone and schedule and probably won’t feel like you’ve done so have the opportunity to really enjoy the destination or the time together.
If you only have a long weekend to travel with the group of 3 year olds, choose something that can be done in a short drive or flight.
“If you can spend more time in a new place, traveling the longer distance won’t be as scary,” Brown said.
Find the right accommodation.
Brown said finding the right place to stay makes a big difference in the quality of a vacation with young children.
“Ideally choose a property that has some separation between where your toddler sleeps and where you spend time during nap or bedtime,” she said. “No matter how nice the hotel is, sitting on the bathroom floor during your afternoon nap makes the experience a little less relaxing.”
When the budget doesn’t accommodate a unit or multi-bedroom suite, Brown shared that in her experience, she’s found breathing space with a balcony or patio.
“A villa or apartment can be a nice solution, but keep in mind that it can affect the feel of the trip, especially for the person in the family who usually cooks breakfast,” she said.
If the goal of the trip is to explore a new area or to visit family, an apartment may make the most sense.
If the goal is to break out of your routine and take a vacation from washing dishes, a hotel with a great breakfast and a pool will likely align more with the vacation vision.
Choose the right activities.
What these “right activities” are depends on family preferences.
“What I’ve found most successful is choosing activities that would be fun for the parents or older kids, but finding ways to keep your toddler engaged with them,” Brown told TODAY Parents.
She continued, “This might look like choosing to do a cooking class in Tuscany farmhouse with animals and a playground instead of in the kitchen of a professional chef. If the parents love art, maybe combine a quick visit to the Musee D’Orsay with a hands-on crafting experience where the kids can get messy and play.”
Brown said that when she traveled to Portugal with her young daughter, “it was so easy to bring a ball. We were able to enjoy a great al fresco lunch on a terrace and if our daughter was restless one of the adults would chase her as she chased a ball in a pedestrian street while the other adults finished their wine.”
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Pay attention to which schedule works for you.
“I hate to tell you, but your toddler isn’t going to sleep on vacation just because you’re at the beach — or maybe you have a unicorn,” Brown said. “If you have a kid who turns into a gremlin after 7 p.m., long late-night dinners just aren’t going to make your trip feel like a vacation.”
Instead, choose a great breakfast or a fun place for lunch, and for dinner instead, grab a great local bite to enjoy on your balcony while watching the sunset.
The opposite is also true.
“If you have a night owl or are traveling east and changing time zones, it’s not going to be fun to fill your day with early morning activities,” Brown said. “In that case, you should find ways to enjoy the evening. Of course, there’s no harm in deviating from your schedule at home, but you also have to remember that being around tired, hungry toddlers isn’t fun.”
Manage your expectations.
Brown said this might be the most important tip.
“If you try to force your child’s travel planning dreams on a 2-year-old, you’re going to spend your vacation feeling frustrated and exhausted,” she said. “If you travel knowing that your days are unlikely to go exactly as you perfectly planned, but with an attitude that you will find fun in the chaos, you will become more relaxed and happy when traveling with young children Find.”
How is traveling with a toddler different from traveling with a baby?
Brown said that when parents travel with a baby, babies are still very much on adults’ schedules, just with more gear.
“As they become mobile, it becomes important and fun to slow down on vacation and give your child time to play,” she said.
What types of excursions are best for toddlers?
It all depends on the family. Brown told TODAY Parents that any trip can work well for toddlers, as long as you tailor it to the family.
“I see the biggest trend for toddlers to associate the city or the ‘busier’ time with an area where there’s more room to play,” she said. “As with most travel, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, so having an advisor to help you sort through options, or doing research at destinations to see what accommodations and activities are on offer, is crucial.”
Traveling with a toddler
Before having children, Brown read many well-intentioned articles about the stressfulness of having children, emphasizing how you lose a part of yourself, that vacations are now “travel” and that you never have time for anything again become what you enjoy.
“I loved traveling grandchildren and was scared of having kids because of these ‘funny’ anecdotes,” Brown told TODAY Parents. “If I could go back to my new mom who was worried that traveling would be stressful because of my toddler, I would tell her that while it’s a different experience than traveling without kids, it’s also an incredibly beautiful experience. “