We love to travel. And we love to travel with our toddler. He’s three years old and he’s been trekking Central America and the Caribbean with us for the last two years. He’s a great little traveler. And I’d like to say that he makes it easy for us (and he certainly does) but we plan, pack and prepare pretty intensely on our own to make traveling smooth sailing from TSA screenings to full day excursions. A little planning and preparation goes a long way to ensure that everyone has a fun and relaxing time – including Mom and Dad. Here’s a list of helpful travel tips that we have learned and follow religiously when it comes to traveling with our little guy.
Choose Your Destination Wisely.
Everyone has their ideal vacation destination. Whether you love the mountains, the beach, the city, the snow or the sand – you have your first choice. Our first choice is usually somewhere tropical. We love Central America and the Caribbean. And luckily for us, tropical destinations with a toddler is probably your best bet for having a relaxing and fun vacation for everyone. We’ve done snow and we’ve done the big city trip with our toddler. It was not easy and it was stressful, in our opinion. From lugging coats and boots for yourself and your toddler, to busy city streets with a stroller, and big city dining with a high chair is just not relaxing. So I always have to recommend a tropical or island destination for traveling with a toddler. It’s fun for everyone. And Mom and Dad actually get to relax. The perks of tropical travel with a toddler: The bulkiest item in your suit case might be the sunscreen. Islands are full of toddler and family friendly activities from fun boating to marine life learning. Even the fanciest restaurant on the island will be casual and be happy to see your sun-kissed toddler. And what kid doesn’t love a giant sand box – otherwise known as the beach? So when choosing your travel destination with a toddler, think about your expectations for your vacation and consider something tropical!
Choose Your Accommodations Wisely.
Another key to a successful vacation with a toddler is your accommodations. Whether you decide to rent a house, stay at an all inclusive resort or a boutique hotel – do yourself one favor. Book something with at least one bedroom, a kitchen or kitchenette, and a balcony with a view. The key is to have a separate living area from the bedroom. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But I promise it will pay off for everyone. When we travel as a couple, we don’t really care what kind of room we stay in – we usually go for the cheapest corner garden view room because we know we won’t be spending much time in our room. With a toddler – you will spend time in your room. So make it comfortable. It is your vacation after all. It’s great to let your toddler nap in the bedroom, while you can still chat or watch TV in the living area. It’s nice to have a kitchen area to make your own coffee and lounge in the morning and let the kid have cereal so you don’t have to race down to a restaurant at the crack of dawn. And in the evenings, let them go to bed early (they’ll be worn out anyway) and that is the perfect time to enjoy a night cap and the salty evening breeze with your spouse on the balcony. Point is – the last thing you want to do on vacation is get stuck in a standard hotel room at 8 PM, whispering in the dark while the kid sleeps. Spend a little extra money and get the accommodations that will make it comfortable for everyone because it will go a long way. And if you can score a unit with a washer and dryer – that’s music to my ears. I know laundry on vacation is not luxurious. But it’s practical. And a couple quick loads can really save on your packing.
Accommodations Tip: Go for a balcony with a view. Although a first floor unit might be appealing to avoid the elevator or stairs – Don’t do it. First floor balconies or decks are usually open to the pool or beach. Take this opportunity to cage your kid in and use it as a play pen. You don’t want be enjoying your morning coffee on the balcony and have to chase your toddler running off to the beach.
I’m guilty of putting so much thought into our packing that I usually start a couple weeks before our departure date. It’s a real problem. But after several trips and several destinations with our toddler I have pretty much nailed our travel necessities down to a science. And though I like to be minimal and think that I can always buy anything I need at our destination, it’s nice to have a few things ready to go. And most things will cost double, if not more, at any resort or island destination. Aside from the obvious clothing you’ll need to pack, be sure to include these necessary items as well.
- Emergency Meds – Plan for the worst, hope for the best. And in case anyone gets sick – it’s nice to have what you know. Pack it for everyone. Especially the toddler. Just standard over-the-counter stuff that might be necessary. The last thing you want to do is wake up with a sick kid at 3 AM with no access to a 24-hour CVS down the road. Be prepared. On that note – be sure to pack some pedialyte powder packs. The powder is much easier to pack than the liquid. And it’s nice to have just in case.
- Snacks – Yes, you can buy snacks and all kinds of food at your destination. But, I like to pack a few snack staples for all of us – especially the toddler to always have something ready to eat and more importantly something that is familiar in a week of unfamiliarity. Some of my snack staples to pack are: a box of macaroni and cheese, a box of Jell-O, beef jerky, peanut butter, apple sauce pouches, crackers and cookies. Just the snacks your kiddo likes. It’s essential to always have a snack pack in my beach bag or purse.
- Coffee – This might be an odd one. But because we are NOT coffee snobs and we’re actually really boring coffee drinkers who NEED our coffee – I always pack a can of our trusty Folgers. Along with our Truvia and favorite creamer (non-refrigerated). There are some things in life that we just like the same every day. And coffee is one of those things. It’s kind of like shampoo – I just want to use what I like. And coffee is the same for us. So we pack our coffee (knowing that we’ll have a coffee maker) and enjoy our normal coffee every morning before we indulge in all the unfamiliar food and drink for the rest of the day.
- Diapers & Wipes – If you’re still in the diaper days of life, you know you have your favorite brand and fit of diapers for your kid. I always pack enough regular & swim diapers to get through our trip. Same goes for wipes. All the islands will have diapers but the selection is limited for brands and sizes. So I suggest making room for what you think you’ll need during your stay. With your kiddo eating all kinds of new food – you’ll want to avoid diaper rash. And familiar diapers are just a nice comfort to have. And on that note, plan to pack some good diaper rash cream! Even if your kid is not prone to diaper rash.
- Sunglass Wipes – This one is for you Mom & Dad. Toddler finger prints all over your sunglasses WILL happen. I’m talking the little pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes that are individually packed. Just throw a few in your purse or backpack. Your eyes will thank you.
- Beach Bag – If you’re going to the beach! And if you are – it might sound like a no brainer. But it’s amazing how many people end up buying a beach bag at the gift shop because they forgot to pack it in the suit case.
- Life Jacket – If you’re going to the beach! Pack a life jacket, puddle jumper or whatever your kid likes. It’s easy to forget, but it’s nice to have the one he or she is used to. If your kiddo knows how to swim – still consider packing one in case you plan to do any boating. They really should wear a life jacket on the boat (or at least have it with you), and again – it’s nice to have a good one that you and the child is comfortable with.
- Toys – Throw just a few toys in the suit case. Your kid will be happy to have a few of his favorite from home for the those down times at the hotel.
- My Favorite Packing Tip: Ditch the typical his suitcase / her suitcase packing method. Take all your suitcases and split the clothes up evenly between them. Just in case the airlines lose your luggage! True story – the hubs and I flew down to Key West (pre-child). The airline lost MY suitcase. I had to go K-MART for bras and bathing suits. The hubs on the other hand had a fresh outfit for every meal. I glared at him every time he changed clothes. He felt bad that he had clean clothes and I was stuck in disheveled rags. And I REALLY didn’t want to spend my vacation shopping for necessities. I don’t enjoy shopping. Let me tell you, shopping for clean panties on Duval Street in Key West just made for a comical experience. Fortunately, my luggage was returned to me during my trip and all was right in the world again. But, since then I have ditched the his/her suitcase method and we split it up. That way, if one suitcase gets lost, we’re in together. For better or worse. Ride or Die.
See…a few toys from home can go a long way. Pack ’em!
When you pack your carry on – consider this. Be prepared to be stuck overnight somewhere…anywhere…without your luggage. Now don’t get hung up on that. But consider it! And sift through – down to your bare necessities. Carry it on. Consider carrying on a back pack too. They’re way more comfortable than a shoulder bag – especially running after a toddler through the terminal. And always remember – the 3 oz. carry on rule for TSA when it comes to liquids.
- A change of clothes for adults – keep it small and not bulky (thin shirt, leggings, etc.)
- Two changes of clothes for the toddler (they’re messy)
- Diapers and wipes (they don’t sell them in most airports. Crazy, I know)
- Toiletries (the basics)
- Phone charger
- And most importantly, if you’re cruising through this stage of life…BABY FOOD and FORMULA. Carry on enough baby food and formula for 3 days with you. Three days is my rule of thumb. You just never know.
I hope these travel tips help you and your family out on your next family trip.
Travel Safe. Travel Smart. But most importantly – Just Travel!