How to travel with toddlers

Craig McClelland

Travel is an education – especially for young ones. Fear of the unknown and concern about what might happen can cloud your judgement when debating whether to hit the road with your toddler in tow.

So I’ve compiled some useful advice from first-hand experience to help put your mind at ease.

Take more time to plan

Remember the days when you used to travel on a whim? Jumping on the next flight to Bali at short notice, with a plan to overland to Jakarta by a certain date. It feels like another life.

A young one comes with a little more planning. You could decide to do this for every day of your trip before leaving your home country, or make it a nightly task when the youngster’s asleep. This latter strategy helps keep you on your toes and leave you still feeling like there is an opportunity for spontaneity in your travels, while still reducing the risk of things going pear-shape the next day (an easy cause for tantrums for adults and toddlers alike).

Travel light

Stuck in a blisteringly hot, noisy foreign city with a bunch of heavy bags (and a toddler) to carry? That’s a situation you’ll likely want to avoid.

Start with weight. Lay out everything you think you’ll need to travel comfortably so you can get a visual take on what you really need. Set out the number of bags you plan on lugging about and invest in some packing cubes! They’re brilliant for compacting and organizing your gear.

Link to pack light

Pack early, unpack and repack

Pack your bags well before your travel begins. Then unpack and repack. Use this process to reconsider whether or not you need some items.

You’ll have to determine how much weight you assign to:

  • Toddler life – your kids’ clothing, medical kit, care items, and entertainment
  • A travel pram (if you’re going to take one) and a baby carrier – how small does it fold down, will it fit in plane cabins, will you get charged extra for it, and is there enough space in your pram’s basket to fit your toddler’s daypack?
  • Yourself and your partner – focus on what you really ‘need’ versus what you’d like to take
  • A unique toy – find something that will last a long time and has minimal weight

Mail home any items you buy that you don’t need to travel with, like souvenirs or excess toys. Also, pack a ‘foldaway’ bag for transitional times when you’ve bought some local goodies but can’t yet post them.

Organise new books and toys

Anticipation – it’s one of your best friends when travelling with a toddler. Try and get your kid excited about more than just what they’ll see on your adventures, like discovering new toys and books along the way. Ensure these toys and books pack small and weigh little.

Lego or 3D puzzles are great because they can pack small and are only limited by your child’s imagination.

Tip: don’t play all your cards at once. Reveal these new goodies over the course of your travels, especially at moments of boredom or stress.

Three kids looking at a compassThree kids looking at a compass

Sightsee around nap times

Most toddlers take at least one nap a day so work your schedule around this. Consider how you’ll use your accommodation as a base retreat once or twice a day.

Variables like the weather, public transport and whether you need a pram will come into your thinking. For instance, if you aren’t taking a pram, walking distances and how you break those up might need some additional organising.

Can you use public transport? Is the country you’re exploring cheap enough to jump in a cab and reset at your lodging if things go pear-shaped?

Not long ago, I took my own toddler on a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. An example of planning a day with my toddler (pram in hand) in that heaving, bustling city was:

  • Walk a few hundred metres to a breakfast café
  • Bus to Hoan Kiem Lake and spend the morning wandering around it
  • Grab a takeaway ‘Banh mi’ and taxi back to your accommodation
  • Put your toddler down for a nap and use this time to plan or relax
  • Walk via a park or playground to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and explore
  • Taxi to Hanoi Old Quarter for an early dinner
  • Walk back to your lodging to begin your toddler’s night time routine

Save extra funds for transport

The cheapest form of transport isn’t necessarily the best when you’ve got a toddler on board. Those memorable days of refusing to pay for any public transport and walking everywhere around a new city may be over.

Daily planning will be the key towards managing how much you spend on public transport. When setting out to walk from A to B, think about how that walk could be broken up if your kid gets tired or bored of walking. Is there a park, playground, café with toys or any wildlife on route?

A huge positive is that most toddlers are obsessed with different kinds of transport. Play that up by:

  • Jumping on buses whenever possible, particularly free central city ones
  • Using taxis, Uber or the local equivalent in low cost countries
  • Riding long-distance trains – and even overnighters – to get to your next destination
  • Travelling by boat as a novelty when the opportunity arises
  • Taxiing short distances if the roads are dicey and you feel more comfortable strapping your toddler in
Family cooking on a fireFamily cooking on a fire

Prepare your toddler’s daily essentials

The saying goes, ‘you can never have too many wipes’ but in reality, you’ll need to figure out the optimal amount to carry.

Go through the process of packing your toddler’s daypack before you hit the road. You’ll obviously need:

  • A spare set of clothes
  • A few nappies and wipes
  • Snacks and a water bottle
  • Medical supplies – like soothing creams and anything for allergies
  • Weather protection – sunscreen, a sunhat, a beanie and a raincoat

Ideally opt for natural, biodegradable and compostable baby wipes that won’t weigh on you as you travel.

Bring back the fun of travel

Planes, trains and automobiles – all exciting machines for a growing toddler with a fast-developing brain – are all part of the fun of travel. It’s about the journey as well as the destination, so slow down, have patience and enjoy taking in the sights through your kids’ eyes.

For any toddler, flying is going to be one of the most exciting things they can do in their young lives – it’s exciting and hard for them to fully comprehend. Forget about the ‘adult’ issues and focus on the fun aspects of flying. Talk about it a lot in the lead up to the day, getting your kids excited about being in the plane and on all the little things that they will encounter. There will be less chance of a tantrum once those engines start firing off and will help you focus on what is important.

Your journey through the air will be smoother if you:

  • Book well in advance – choose flight times that promote maximum sleep for your toddler
  • Check in online if you can and select aisle seats or family-specific seats at the front
  • Ask about spare seats – you may be able to move where there’s extra space
  • Enquire about toys or kids entertainment on your airline
  • Stick to your bedtime routine – if you’re flying through the night, dress your toddler in their pajamas and read a few books to encourage sleep
Yound child looking at rocks with a magnifying glassYound child looking at rocks with a magnifying glass

In 2015, the Lorrimer family packed up their belongings and headed on a trip around Australia. The adventure hasn't stopped. Check out their story below. 

World Ready with the Lorrimers

Browse kids travel gear below...

More from the Summit Journal...