I am either brave or stupid, but we seem to do a lot of traveling with Walter. I suspect it stems out of grandparents in Virginia (or Montana) and Texas with Aunts and Uncles in Southern Cal and Pennslyvannia. Walter took his first cross country trip at 6 weeks (looking back this is the easiest time to travel with a little one!) and we have been steadily traveling with him ever since. The most recent trip was our first big road trip with him to Montana (visit the in-laws) and Colorado (my mom’s family reunion). We are gearing up for a trip back to Texas at the beginning of November before we begin the holiday travel too. So I thought this was the perfect time to review my best practices when traveling with a toddler. Here we go….
1) Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Figure out whatever your little one likes and buy it in bulk. In Walter’s case he loves the pouches with veggies and fruit in them, Annie’s bunnies and protein bars (I think this must reflect the fact that Alex and I seem to consume a fair amount of them ourselves!). I tried to load up a snack trap each morning with something so it was ready to go once hunger/crankiness/general toddler malaise hit.
2) Mommy bag. When we were traveling in the car, I kept a bag up front with Alex and me that contained all essentials: snacks (both toddler and adult varieties – you are just as likely as the toddler to get cranky and need something too!), water (in sippy cup and in a bottle for the adults), extra binkes, and a magazine for me (which never actually got read, but made me feel better to have it).
3) Toys. Before we left I put together a canvas bag of toys of Walter’s favorites things and several of his favorite books. Then I put them in the car a couple of days before we left so he hadn’t seen them lately and they were extra special when we pulled them out on the road. I brought them in each night to the hotel we were staying in and he could play with them a bit while we unpacked the car. This generally resulted in him dumping them on the floor and then making a run for the door to try to go exploring, but I think he did enjoy having them. This also means that you need to do a pretty thorough sweep of the hotel room in the morning before you leave and I still think there are bits and pieces that got left behind.
4) Portable high chair. This think became worth its weight in gold. We haven’t used it much since, but I am still glad we spent the money on it. Walter does much better at mealtime if there is a tray that he can dump food onto and then proceed to put some of it in his mouth and some of it smeared everywhere. When you are roadtripping especially we ate at restaurants, we ate at parks along the road, we ate on the hotel bed while we cooked over our little backpacking stove (ssshhh! don’t tell the hotel) and each time I had a good place for Walter to eat. This made meal time much less stressful for all of us. If you are traveling by plane if you can get someone to borrow one for you it would be just lovely. My parents just bought one with the hope that with 3 daughters they will get a lot of use out of it! However, there also seems to be circles of grandmothers that trade out baby stuff when different sets of grandkids come to visit so tap into your local one!
5) Pack and play. It had been a really long time since Walter had used his so the week before we left, I set it up in his room so he could get used to it. Then a couple days beforehand he started napping in it and then the day before he just slept in the pack and play. I think this helped him transition to using it while we traveled a lot. I also always used it for him to sleep in. It was quite tempting at the end of a long day of traveling to just use the hotel one so we had one less thing to unpack, but he did so much better with just it.
6) Drive less and find a hotel with a swimming pool. Toddlers (at least mine) do not do well with long stretches in the car so break it up. We tried to stop every couple of hours and not drive more than about 7 hours a day. We always stopped at a park for lunch so he could run around. If he was napping in the car, we did not stop come hell, high water, or a desperate need to use the bathroom. A napping toddler is prime time to get in some miles so take advantage of it! However, I will warn that if your husband’s family liked to put in crazy days of driving, there may be some disagreement on how many hours a day you drive, but try to do less, the munchkin pants will just be much happier. Finally, when my family did road trips, when I was young, we always stopped at a hotel with a pool. It was great to get out of the car and go burn off some energy (and give my poor dad a rest from all that driving!). Walter LOVES to swim and play in the water so we tried to get into the pool each night too and he had a blast!